MUMBAI, March 26 (Reuters) - Australia’s long held belief that they play their cricket “hard but fair” would appear to have little truck outside their own country if the splenetic reaction to the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal is anything to go by.
The intense interest in the incident around the world reflects not only surprise at Steve Smith blithely admitting the conspiracy to cheat but also a perception that the Australian team are serial offenders in bending and breaking the rules.
Australia captain Smith and his team mates have been rendered friendless in the cricketing world since he and Cameron Bancroft’s admission on Saturday that they had planned to tamper with the ball in the third test against South Africa.
The Times of India, the cricketing superpower’s best selling English daily, called the Australia side “Repeat Offenders”, listing six other controversial incidents they have been involved in the past.
The news of the stepping down of Smith and his vice captain David Warner for the remainder of the test won by the hosts on Sunday was the top story for the daily and was prominently placed on the front pages of most newspapers in India on Monday.
Australia have always asserted they do not use underhand means and never cross the ‘line’ — be it in sledging opposition players on the field or the aggression they show towards them.
The perception the rest of the world has is that the so-called ‘line’ can soon shift when the Australian players are on the receiving end.
“Clearly Australian team’s track record of its conduct on & off the field coming into play here,” former India test batsman and television pundit Sanjay Manjrekar tweeted.
“(Cricket Australia) must not look at this incident in isolation but see if this team is creating the right image of its nation. They have a far more crucial role to play here than the ICC (International Cricket Council).”
Twitter users reminded the world of Smith’s “brain fade” during the second test in India in Bengaluru last year when opposition captain Virat Kohli stopped just short of calling his counterpart a “cheat”.
Smith and batting partner Peter Handscomb were caught looking towards the area outside Australia’s dressing room, where television replays can be seen, while discussing whether to review a verdict, prompting the umpire to intervene.
Kohli accused Smith and his team of looking towards the players’ area on numerous occasions but the Australia captain rubbished the home skipper’s claims.
In Cape Town on Saturday, Smith asserted Bancroft’s use of the tape and dirt to change the condition of the ball had been a tactic used for the first time by an Australian team.
There was no shortage of cricketers and pundits ready to challenge that line.
Fast bowler Stuart Broad, who played in all five tests of England’s recent 4-0 defeat in Australia, was one of them.
“I saw Steve Smith in his press conference say it’s the first time they’ve tried it — which to me, it’s surprising why they’d change a method that’s been working,” Broad told reporters in Auckland.
“Look at the Ashes series we’ve just played, all those test matches, and they’ve reverse-swung the ball sometimes in conditions you wouldn’t expect it to. I don’t understand why they’ve changed their method for this one game.
“(But) there was no evidence that they were doing this in the Ashes series, from what I’ve seen.”
Cricket Australia’s official complaint to their South African counterparts over verbal abuse aimed at their players by the crowd during the series was also seen as hypocritical.
There was a heated exchange at tea on the fourth day of the first test in Durban, when Warner accused South Africa wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock of making comments about his wife, Candice.
The Australian players accused their opponents of crossing the line in making personal comments while coach Darren Lehmann called the crowd behaviour “disgraceful”.
Lehmann was the same man who identified Broad as a target for crowds Down Under to abuse during the 2013 Ashes, which England lost 5-0.
“I’ve always been a bit of a believer, in sport... if someone wants to take you on verbally ... then you’re allowed to say something back,” Broad said.
“Just from the outside, it looks like Australia have started a lot of fights and are moaning when someone comes back.
“Any England player, or probably media, that have toured Australia can laugh at those comments really, because some of the comments we hear on the pitch by Australian supporters.
“Having toured South Africa, I know it’s worse than South Africa.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Nick Mulvenney