Australia ball-tampering scandal: Why there’s no place to hide on the cricket field

The sheer number of cameras at international sporting venues makes it impossible for players to go unnoticed when they commit forbidden acts.

Published: 26th March 2018 05:06 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th March 2018 12:27 PM   |  A+A-

Image for representational purpose only.

Express News Service

CHENNAI: On Saturday evening, three people connected to the South Africa-Australia Test being played in Cape Town were going viral on social media. One was Cameron Bancroft, the 25-year-old batsman who had just been caught taking a yellow substance out of his pocket, scratching the ball with it and then inserting it down his pants. The second was the Australian captain Steve Smith, who admitted, at the end of the day’s play, that he and the team management knew about everything Bancroft did. The third was Zotani Oscar.

It was Oscar who had trained his cameras on Bancroft when he was hiding the weapon after the crime. On a day that will haunt cricket for years to come, a cameraman’s name was being discussed along with that of the two chief protagonists. There are perhaps few better reflections of how sport’s relationship with cameras has evolved. It has certainly come a long way since that picture, taken in 1937, showing Arsenal players excitedly peering into a camera, after playing in the world’s first televised football game. Now the viewer is on the field, eavesdropping in on what the umpires were whispering to Smith, turning Bancroft’s pockets inside out and pointing fingers at Darren Lehmann as he frantically tried to warn his players through a walkie-talkie. On Sunday, he had not one, not two, but 30 eyes, peering in from the ropes from every possible angle.

This public intrusion into every single micro-second has changed sport as we know it. Every word Virat Kohli shouts after a century is played on loop till the cows come home. In 2013, Tiger Woods was handed a two-stroke penalty, when a viewer spotted that he had hit from the wrong spot and texted an official. A French TV network snuck in a thermal imaging camera, while covering a 2016 cycling race, and discovered that some of the participants had motors attached to their bicycles. And almost every incident of ball-tampering, this side of the millennium, has been spotted, not by umpires or match referees, but by cameras zooming in on players spitting/biting/scratching/stepping on/using their nails on the ball.

Covering a game has long ceased to be standing under an umbrella, letting the camera do its job. It’s now telling a story, narrating a plot that encompasses a lot more than just what’s going on in the field. “I can tell you exactly what must have happened in Cape Town,” says a director, who has worked on cricket, football and hockey for some of the biggest television channels in India and who prefers to remain anonymous. “That first shot where Bancroft appears to be rubbing something on the ball, that must have alerted the director. He must then have sent a message to one of his cameramen, the one with the slow-motion cameras to focus on what Bancroft did next, not on his face but on his hands. Simultaneously, he must have had somebody train a camera on Lehmann in the stands. And that whole story was told perfectly.”

The players have evolved too, covering their mouths when they speak and diving only when they think there has been contact. But how hard is it, engaging in something as spontaneous and emotional as sport, while knowing your every movement will be scrutinised? “When I first played a live game, I remember being conscious of the camera,” admits India all-rounder Vijay Shankar. “But you eventually learn to ignore it. When you are playing in an intense game, emotions are bound to flare up. No use trying to suppress it.”


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