CHENNAI: Banned for one Test for getting his players to work unfairly on the ball. That’s the penalty for Steve Smith in the Cape Town sandpaper saga.The ICC announced the decision on Sunday after its chief executive Dave Richardson levied the charge on the Australian skipper, which resulted in the suspension. Normally, the match referee does this. Only in cases that warrant special attention does the chief executive step in. The last time Richardson got into the act was in November 2016, when he fined South Africa captain Faf du Plessis 100% of his match fee for applying sugary saliva on the ball during a Test in Australia.
In Smith’s case, more than the sanction, the degree of it draws attention. A one-Test ban for an orchestrated attempt to change the condition of the ball? Here is an international captain admitting that he and his senior players were cheating and the penalty is lesser than what was given to Kagiso Rabada, who was banned for two Tests for acts of less grievous misconduct, which was eventually overturned.
“This is contrary to the spirit of the game... As captain, Smith must take full responsibility for the actions of his players,” said Richardson.
If the ICC deems Smith’s misconduct ‘serious’ enough, the punishment doesn’t appear appropriate. His offence is more serious than indiscretion in the heat of the moment. The pre-planned nature of the offence makes it rare on a cricket field and that’s why the penalty doesn’t seem exemplary enough.It can be argued that the ICC has followed the rule book. In that case, rules need revision. In football, players get banned for multiple games based on TV replays even if the wrongdoing goes unnoticed by the referee. This became law after it was seen that players are getting away with these. By sticking to rules instead of changing with times, the ICC is not doing its lenient image any good.
Curiously, Richardson himself admits that. “The ICC needs to do more to prevent poor behaviour and better police the spirit of the game, defining more clearly what is expected of players and enforcing the regulations in a consistent fashion,” he said in a statement. It’s up to the world body to act. Otherwise, cricket risks getting branded as a game run by a spineless administration.