That's just not cricket
Oh dear Australia, what have you done?
Over the weekend news has seeped out that the Australian cricket team tampered with the ball in their latest test match with South Africa. Captain Steve Smith has been banned for one match and fined his entire match fee after admitting the team's "leadership group" came up with a plan for Cameron Bancroft to tamper with the ball using a piece of sticky tape with grit on it.
The sporting world - from retired greats to armchair experts - has exploded, as one might expect. An investigation is underway and people are calling for Smith and coach Darren Lehmann to be booted out.
If I am honest I have had a string of reactions to this. First was surprise, then amusement. There is a wonderful sense of Schadenfreude when you watch something like this unfold. Eventually, though, I did join the rest of the world in disappointment.
But my disappointment came in three waves: first at the Australians, then at the manner of the cheating and finally at the reaction.
Starting with the obvious; once I had picked myself up from laughing on the floor, I was disappointed that any professional sportsman had felt the need to cheat. I understand it. It goes back to the old Cool Runnings explanation: "I had made winnning my whole life."
In the film (which if you have not seen, then you really should), disgraced former bobsledder Irving Blitzer is asked by protégé Derice Bannock why he cheated. He replies:
"I had made winning my whole life. When you've made winning your whole life you have got to keep winning."
It is a story we are all very familiar with. Lance Armstrong is currently the poster boy for cheating, after admitting to taking drugs while winning seven Tour de France races. He was stripped of each victory. Here in the UK we often refer to Maradona's infamous 'Hand of God' goal, which gave Argentina victory in the 1986 World Cup quarter final against England.
Indeed, every week the papers are full of cheating on a much smaller level; people diving for penalties in football matches etc. But this does not lessen the initial disappointment at top sportsmen, who are idolised by many, for sinking to that level.
However, the second disappointment was felt more keenly. All the cheating listed above results in victory. The people in question cheated, but they also won. Their desire to win pushed them to break the rules and it paid off.
Australia's did not. They cheated and still lost the game by 322 runs. That is embarrassing. If you are going to cheat there are two simple rules:
1. Don't get caught
2. Make sure you win
These ridiculous chaps cheated, have been caught and globally shamed and still lost. I'm embarrassed for them.
But finally, my current disappointment is with just about everyone else.
Australians worship their sporting heroes in a way most other nations cannot quite comprehend. Sports are like religions out there and cricket is among the top ones. So to sully the game is going to cause anger and outcry. Apparently it comes with a fair amount of sniping too.
Former opponents are also lining up to take their shots. Mercifully Michael Vaughn is the only member of English cricket being widely quoted in his criticism. Most of the team should be keeping their heads down and thanking their lucky stars that the Australians' cheating has got their drubbing in New Zealand off the front pages.
English fans though? Not so much. Moments after the ball tampering news broke, pictures were circulating of Bancroft pouring sugar into his pocket during Australia's 4-0 Ashes win in January. This prompted offerings like this.
I get it. Australia cheated, strip them of every accolade. But, come on, really? England lost the series 4-0 and are currently being drubbed in New Zealand. I don't think that's cheating going on. Let us not allow the trials of another nation's cricket team to hide the fact that we're having a slightly rubbish spell.
There is a very rough time to come for Australia's players as their governing body begins a forensic investigation into what happened. The country's cricket team will be sullied in the eyes of both its fans and the cricketing world by the incident. But those of us currently whooping and dancing shirtless around the bonfire of Australia's misery might want to take a moment, lest we get burned ourselves.
You see, in Cool Runnings Blitzer offers another insight to the cheater's mindset:
"A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you are not enough without it you will never be enough with it."
And one suspects that trying to hide inadequacies behind adulation at another's failings will lead to, well, disappointment.