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Inside Sport - - Insider - – Jeff Cen­ten­era

In our cricket book spe­cial, this year's Wis­den, a trib­ute to Bill Lawry and what went into Sand­pa­per­gate.

BE­HIND AUS­TRALIAN CRICKET’S FALL BY GE­OFF LE­MON, HARDIE GRANT, .

When Cameron Ban­croft ap­plied sand­pa­per to ball less than furtively in Cape Town ear­lier this year, the pub­lic out­rage was at once un­mis­tak­able yet also com­pli­cated – peo­ple knew they were an­gry, but at what, ex­actly? Ball-tam­per­ing? That had long been cricket’s most tol­er­ated of­fence. Cheat­ing in such a bla­tant way? Plain naive. That other na­tions were mak­ing fun of us? Closer, but not suf­fi­cient as an ex­pla­na­tion.

The sharper ob­servers of our old­est na­tional game recog­nised some­thing else: a full-on malaise, some­thing that would be im­me­di­ately recog­nised as “bad cul­ture” in other sports. Sand­pa­per­gate was not merely one wrong­headed mo­ment, or a tour­ing party un­der stress, or a los­ing team that had just lost it – it was the end prod­uct of forces that had pushed Aus­tralian cricket into moral free-fall.

Ge­off Le­mon is one of those sharps, a con­trib­u­tor to ABC Ra­dio and The Guardian, among other places, who penned a mem­o­rably tren­chant cri­tique a few years ago of the Nine cricket com­men­tary style. Le­mon is the rare cricket writer who can drop a Ma­trix ref­er­ence af­ter a Car­dus ci­ta­tion, and not have it feel forced.

While the book plays as an ac­count of the South African se­ries, its great strength is in the por­traits of the pro­tag­o­nists, the play­ers whose per­son­al­i­ties set them in­ex­orably to­ward tragi­com­edy. The con­tra­dic­tions of a “bristling” David Warner are a cen­tral el­e­ment here, as is a Steve Smith who is yet to fully in­habit the role of leader. But from the level of the in­di­vid­ual, the pic­ture of the whole be­comes ev­i­dent – this was a play­ing group that had be­come en­ti­tled. But the worst crit­i­cism of all is re­served for Cricket Aus­tralia, the or­gan­i­sa­tion that en­abled this be­hav­iour with its com­mer­cially driven, just-win di­rec­tives.

Good for: A com­pre­hen­sive ex­pla­na­tion of what the ball­tam­per­ing scan­dal means. A su­perb read.

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