The year began on a poor note in South Africa. And it is ending on an equally terrible one in Australia.
The ball-tampering scandal during Australia’s tour of South in March-April was replete with disgraceful spats between teams which culminated in a near brawl between David Warner and Quinton De Kock outside the dressing rooms during the Durban Test.
Then, it went pear shaped in the Cape Town Test when Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera trying to change the condition of the ball using what was later revealed to be sandpaper. Team leaders Steve Smith and David Warner were banned for a year and Bancroft for nine months.
The ripples of that controversy are still being felt with Bancroft naming Warner as the mastermind of the ball-tampering plot this week, reigniting a fire that was long doused.
The Australian team, battling a crisis of credibility, promised ‘elite honesty’ as they prepared for a home Test series against India. The banter between rival players has been heated during the Border Gavaskar Trophy but it hasn’t been alarming.
What has grabbed attention is the noise outside the field. In the Melbourne Test, fans were ejected from the Melbourne Cricket Ground after multiple warnings following racist chants of ‘show us your visa’ directed at Indian players.
The atmosphere in the Australian commentary box at the MCG was unhealthy as well, although not as toxic. Former cricketer turned commentator Kerry O’Keeffe is a bit of a rabble-rouser, making a name for himself for edgy remarks and innuendo filled statements.
In the third Test, he first ruffled many feathers by mocking India’s first-class cricket, belittling debutant Mayank Agarwal’s runs as having being scored against a ‘Canteen XI’ consisting of chefs and kitchen help”.
Kerry O'Keefe can go blue in the face saying it was 'tongue in cheek' [which is standard procedure for when you've been caught saying something you shouldn't have been] - but all it will take is one listen of the conversation to know that this crossed the fabled line. https://t.co/GrH64qu5im— Saurabh Somani (@saurabh_42) December 26, 2018
O’Keeffe issued a non-apology, saying: “It was tongue in cheek. There are lots of runs scored so apologies if anyone out there took offence.” So basically – ‘just move on’.
A couple of days later, the antagonising O’Keeffe was at it again, mocking the names of Indian players like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja after being goaded by the legendary Shane Warne.
“Who names their kids Cheteshwar and Jadeja?” quipped O’Keeffe. Who indeed…
Anyone who cares to listen to the audio of those barbs in the veil of commentary will recognise the tone of contempt and casual racism. The utter disregard of an opponent’s system and people can’t be missed even if you tried.
And that is as big a tragedy as the ball-tampering scandal. In South Africa, the Australian team did what every other team does – work the ball to gain reverse swing. The host broadcaster followed players closely throughout that fateful day in Cape Town before catching Bancroft with his pants down, literally.
However, players understand it is an accepted practice aimed at giving beleaguered bowlers a fighting chance on flat pitches. Just avoid getting caught, if you can.
But what we have seen in Melbourne is abhorrent. Cricket commentators mocking players, their achievements, their system, their names… I guess all that remains is outright abuse.
While the Indian management has expressed its hurt at the caustic Australian commentary, the Australian commentators haven’t even received a rap on the knuckles from the broadcasters.
Hardly anything is being said from the Australian side about the casual racism in the name of cricket commentary being pedaled Down Under. What a shameful way to end 2018.
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