I woke up the other morning at about 5.00am, switched on the television to watch the news. The ABC 24 hour news channel led with the story of the Australian cricket side had been involved with a ball tampering scandal and it went directly to a live press conference with opener Cameron Bancroft and captain Steve Smith. What they admitted to left me in shock and I think it will result in a few people losing their jobs. It will certainly leave a stain on the culture of Australian cricket and it will take years to recover trust from the Australian public.
I have a massive admiration for the cricket playing ability of Steve Smith. His record is nothing short of magnificent and it is hard not to admire him for turning his awkward technique into an impenetrable force. He has worked exceptionally hard and he has deserved the rewards he has received. He has started to grow into the role of captain and, even though his communication style came across as manufactured, he was certainly unchallenged as the leader of the Australian team. He was the best batsman in the world and the best cricketer in Australia. However, one day at Newlands in South Africa changed his career and damaged his reputation forever.
Good leaders are often respected because of the qualities they display. Qualities such as honesty, integrity, transparency, accountability and empowerment are often mentioned as the values displayed by truly great leaders. The ability to get the best out of others is probably the ultimate measure of a leader. However, I think that there is one quality and value that stands up above all others;
The discipline to never ask someone to do something that you would not be willing to do yourself.
In my opinion, this is the one area where Steve Smith’s leadership failed the test; the fact that he sent young Cameron Bancroft, a man playing his eighth test, to do his dirty work is nothing short of deplorable.
The culture created within the Australian cricket team has not occurred over night. The signs have been there for at least two decades and success on the field has led the public and media to overlook behaviour that was in no way aligned to the “spirit of the game”. Stephen Waugh used the phrases “aggressive cricket” and “mental degradation” to excuse rampant and often personal sledging and the Australian cricket public rejoiced in their 16 successive test wins. However, they set the example for the current generation and the poor behaviour has continued. The tradition of “aggressive cricket” has continued and is only an issue when the opposition crosses the line with their version of “aggressive cricket”. Recent examples from Quinton De Cock and Harbhajan Singh demonstrate that the Australian team can give it but cannot take it. We cry foul when opposition teams cross the line of moral decency but refuse to hold ourselves accountable to the same standards.
So, who is to blame for this recent issue and the issue of poor behaviour in general? Is it Cricket Australia who have continually issued minor discipline over many years for appalling behaviour? They have placed results above image and have been willing to compromise everything as long as the side wins. Is it the on-field umpires who have turned a deaf ear to the relentless sledging and rarely stepped in to discipline the team? Is it Steve Smith himself? Yes, in this instance, as the leader of the side, he is culpable. He can never captain Australia again. However, he was not alone. The coach, vice-captain, past captains and selectors have developed a culture where results are the be all and end all. Behaviour is almost irrelevant as long as you embrace “aggressive cricket”.
So, where to now for Cricket Australia and the peak Australian cap. Who will be blamed? I am not sure that it is a question of who; rather it is a question of what. In my opinion, the lack of quality leadership has let the group down. Leadership that has turned a blind eye to poor behaviour that would never been excused in general society. Lack of leadership has continually seen bullying behaviour excused as aggressive cricket. It has bred arrogance and allowed players to believe that they are above the laws of the game. Steve Smith will carry a massive scar from the events in South Africa. It will damage his reputation; potentially beyond repair.
I encourage Australian business to stop and think about their possible lack of leadership and how they may have enabled a similar culture to grow and exist.
Brad McMahon – Director