The ravaging of the public image of Australian cricket, in the wake of a ball-tampering scandal that resulted in 12-month suspensions of the team’s captain and vice-captain, was a long time coming, according to Mickey Arthur, the former Australia coach whose own attempts to change the team culture came to an ignominious end in 2013.
Arthur, who was in charge of Australia from 2011 to 2013, was appointed in the wake of the Argus review with one of his mandates being the rehabilitation of the team’s dressing-room environment. However, he was sacked in the lead-up to the 2013 Ashes, with the players rounding on him in the wake of the Homework-gate saga, when he suspended four of the team for failing to complete an assignment he had issued during their tour of India.
Writing in a column on Players Voice, Arthur – who is currently in charge of Pakistan, having also coached South Africa from 2005 to 2010 – suggested that “every other Test playing nation feels Australia looks down at them and I say this as someone who has coached two of them”.
However, he also mounted a defence of the offenders Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. “I’ll admit that I was bitterly disappointed when I watched the ball tampering incident on television,” he added. “Again, these guys are good blokes. They’re not villains. That the culture within the team led them to believe this was an acceptable course of action is the great pity of this whole, sorry saga.”
Arthur returned to Australia for the first time since his sacking when Pakistan toured the country in 2016-17, and he wrote that the behaviour of their cricketers had been “boorish and arrogant” over the last few years.
“I know what my Pakistani players were confronted with in Australia two summers ago. I heard some of the things said to the English players during the Ashes. It was scandalous. And I have seen many incidents like Nathan Lyon throwing the ball at AB de Villiers in this series. There has been no need for the Australians to play this way.”
Arthur offered his thoughts on why the world has reacted with such outrage and why the punishments were so severe. “I get the sense that the Australian team felt like it had become untouchable. It was going to take something massive to change that. Now that has happened.
“Having worked with the Aussies, I know they are generally good guys. I had a really good relationship with Davey Warner. He was a real project for me as coach. I thought he was past all this bulldust. And Steve Smith eats, breathes and sleeps cricket. He was very proud to have been leading Australia. Losing the captaincy will be devastating for him.
“But I think the sanctions imposed, tough as they are, are the right ones. Cricket Australia needed to make a stand. These guys were the leaders. They were responsible for what transpired.
“So here we are. A cultural issue that should’ve been addressed a long time ago wasn’t. It has all gone bang. And Smith, Warner and Cam Bancroft have been punished for it.”
Arthur was particularly scathing on the Australian interpretation of “the line” to which players need to adhere for proper conduct on the field.
“I’ve hated this talk about ‘the line’. What is the line? Who sets it? Who dictates how it is enforced? It is totally different culture-to-culture, yet the Australians believe they’re the ones who should be setting it? That it’s OK to intimidate a person from another country, another culture during the day and be buddies with him afterwards? Nonsense.
“The Aussies have played the victim when they deem the other team has overstepped the mark. And when they’ve been in the ascendancy and behaved badly, everything is OK because they have determined as much.
“The line, whatever it is, has to be determined by the ICC and the laws must be abided by. It’s not for [Nathan] Lyon to ‘headbutt’ against.
“I see very little in the way of personal responsibility within the Australian team. Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith admitted what they had done at a press conference, but they didn’t have much choice. They had been caught red-handed. And even then, they didn’t come completely clean. They said they had used an adhesive tape on the ball when Cricket Australia’s own investigation ruled that it had been sandpaper.”