JIM COOMBS: The “moral crisis” in Cricket is a “beat up” with media frenzy making a mountain out of a molehill.

One would have to assume that all these outraged commentators have never played cricket with anything more substantial than a used tennis ball. For those of us who have played the game with any interest in the techniques and science of the game (alas, I am one such eccentric) know the true facts. The ball used in the “big boys” game has a leather exterior, and, in the course of play, that exterior, which has two sides, with a seam around the ball where the two sides meet, being leather, is affected by the course of play: being hit by the bat, landing on a rough surface (the pitch) at least once each ball, and rolling on the ground in the outfield, and even striking the boundary fence.  This has some effect upon the ball, as a matter of course. Over the years the relative shininess of one side or other of the ball has been found to affect its trajectory through the air. As a player, you are entitled to take that into account.

So it is that “attention to the ball” has been long a part of the science of bowling.  Keeping one side shinier than the other improves the chance of the ball “swinging” in the air, thus deceiving the batsman. The ball is polished on one side on one’s flannels or shirt. Many these days have small towels which can assist in the exercise. Players sometimes roll the ball down the harder pitch area to roughen up the ball. Players apply saliva to one side of the ball in this endeavour. Notwithstanding all this, these activities seem not to offend against “tampering” rules.

Well, what does ? Players have been penalised for altering the shape of the ball, raising the seam on the ball, using artificial means to roughen the surface of the ball. One of the South African heroes of the last test was penalised for using saliva adjusted by sticky lolly juice, but his penalty was relatively minor.

So where do our chaps stand? They have introduced a foreign substance, sand-paper, which may or may not have a very considerable effect on the lack of shine on one side of the ball. Dare I say, no great shakes. A bit silly and perhaps attempting an advantage against the other side. Well, who hasn’t wanted  a bit extra to win ? How much of the tax-payers money was Mathias Cormann willing to use to bribe the two senators ?

The “moral outrage” expressed in the media, and, with typical misjudgement by Malcolm Turnbull, is way over the top. The sorry sight of Steve Smith weeping before the press for something which he previously thought was nothing much, is sick-making, even if scripted by employed publicists.

The punishments meted out are way out of proportion, by the standards of the game (It IS a game, isn’t it ?).

Our media should hang their heads in shame, as should hysterical pundits who know little of cricket, let alone desperate politicians, seeking to deflect attention from their own moral bankruptcy.

Jim Coombs opened for his school second XI, and played three seasons with the English Cricket Society (wandering) XI, a fine knock of 25 at Broadhalfpenny Down, and a gritty top score of 19 at Britwell Salome (Oxon). Has used reverse swing.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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7 Responses to JIM COOMBS: The “moral crisis” in Cricket is a “beat up” with media frenzy making a mountain out of a molehill.

  1. Rosemary Lynch says:

    Apart from the invitation to outrage by the PM, there really is a very basic cultural thing about cricket. It has the aura of a cultural norm. When a thing is “not cricket”, it is dishonest, shonky, underhand and not underarm. When the US invaded Granada, my brother said to his American wife, “You can’t invade Granada, they play cricket, for God’s sake!”

    So despite the commercialisation and greediness it brought, the whole idealised version of cricket has been a better mode for us, a kinder world. Indians I have spoken with see it the same way. That is what offended me, I think. I am sorry for those young men, but we all face a test to do the right thing under pressure. Let’s just do it.

  2. Mike Yewdall says:

    Nice piece from someone who is obviously a cricket tragic, as am I. However the “sin” was not the ball tampering which is spotted fairly regularly. Generally, with the exception of the Michael Atherton occasion where he had the gravel in his pocket, it is a spur of the moment thing and not premeditated (howls of disagreement ). The problem with the latest slip from grace in South Africa was the planning, by some team members, and the apparently negligent way Smith abandoned his role as Captain and simply didn’t want to know.

  3. Judith Morrisey says:

    How interesting to read of the reason why the ball is rubbed on the pants – I have always wondered!! (You can tell that I am not cricket devotee.) Nevertheless, I was shocked by this ball tampering incident. In and of itself, it was not a major action. It was that I had observed, at a remote distance, media filtered, admittedly, that the overall tone of Australian cricketing had deteriorated to this extent of winning to the exclusion of moral behaviour. While international cricket is a game, one of its core values has always been, in my understanding, that of being gracious on the field, of playing not just to the rules but also to the spirit of the rules. This is the moral dimension of the game which I see the Australian international team has long ago abandoned. Games are played not just to win but to show how we cooperate with each other, that we can agree on rules – to acknowledge that there are rules and these rules demonstrate respect for each other and the ‘other side’. That is a core purpose of any game. Winning is just cream on the cake. Once winning becomes the cake itself, we lose sight of the fact that the game is about how we interact, cooperate, learn to live together, be fair to each other despite being on ‘opposite sides’. We lose sight of the moral dimension of our lives as it is played out through the example of ‘a game’

  4. Tony Ryan says:

    “The punishments meted out are way out of proportion, by the standards of the game (It IS a game, isn’t it ?).”…

    No, Jim, it is not a game. It has not been just a game for some decades now. International Cricket is no longer amateur. It is big business, with players pocketing $1 million or more. Cheating now is for substantial profit, which makes it criminal. Criminal behavior attracts prison sentences, not fines and missed matches.

    Cricket Australia would have been told this by their lawyers and have shrewdly kept ahead of the game by imposing “heavy penalties” before a stunned public wakes up to the real world scenario. They hope they have captured the psychological advantage and I think they are right.

    But, judging by your apparent thought processes, Jim, I suspect you are blind to the moral overtones. I guess you, like so many other sports fans consider that rape, bashing, and cheating are ascribed only to the behavior of the prole masses. Sports elites are immune from such accusations.

    • Harold Christensen says:

      So curators who prepare pitches more appropriate to the desires of the home side should be gaoled?

    • Jim Coombs says:

      No, I am not blind. This conduct may be seen in proportion with “accepted” conduct. As I said, no great shakes. “attention to the ball” is part of the game. What counts as excessive, rather than downright cheating, is the issue.
      Don’t get me started on real moral issues, like theft by banks, persecution of refugees, polluting Indian cities for a buck, regardless of General global pollution , etc.
      Jim, Sense of Proprtion Coombs

  5. Had me in (six) stitches

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