(Reuters) - A photograph posted on Twitter of Steve Smith’s autobiography “The Journey” in the ‘True Crime’ section of a Brisbane bookstore cruelly sums up the spectacular self-destruction of one of modern cricket’s most illustrious careers.
Irrespective of whether he dons the fabled baggy green cap again, Smith has already checked in at Australian cricket’s hall of shame next to Trevor Chappell, whose underarm delivery in 1981 is considered the nadir of the game Down Under.
Few expected the career of Australia’s Ashes-winning captain to unravel in such spectacular fashion but signs of a demise had already been evident last year when Smith underwent what he called a “brain fade” in India.
The visiting captain triggered a storm by looking towards the Australian dressing room in the second test in Bengaluru, seeking guidance whether to review his lbw decision in a clear breach of the players’ code of conduct.
The bad blood it created overshadowed the series but even that indiscretion paled in comparison with what transpired in Cape Town on Saturday, where Smith presided over an orchestrated attempt to both tamper with the ball and the spirit of the game.
Both incidents illustrate Smith’s desperation to win at all costs, a philosophy that eventually cost him what otherwise would have been a great legacy of Australia’s Ashes-winning captain.
For in Smith, Australia boasted a stirring leader who was also their batting mainstay — two roles the 28-year-old juggled with ridiculous ease.
Many even found inspiration in how a player selected as a leg-spinner who came in at number eight on his test debut eight years ago emerged as arguably the best batsman of his era.
“I do feel for Steve Smith,” former Australia captain Michael Clarke told Australia’s Channel Seven. “Hundred percent he has made a major mistake and he and a lot of other people I think are going to have to suffer the consequences.
“That’s fair enough. But I think it’s important that we do over time forgive as well,” said Clarke, whom Smith succeeded as Australia captain.
Forgiveness may not come easy, though.
The scandal has already forced several sponsors to review their association with Australia’s favourite pastime and infuriated Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other less prominent fans.
In a single, ill-conceived stroke, Smith has ensured that his 31 international centuries, stints at the top of the batting rankings and inspired leadership in a successful Ashes campaign will not linger in public memory.
Instead, a second brain fade ensured Smith would be remembered more as the architect-in-chief of a dirty trick using dirt and some sticky tape, which only succeeded in causing the downfall of someone who put winning above everything else.
Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by John O'Brien