Sandpaper scandal — a stain in Australian cricket, which probably won’t be erased from the mind of the cricketing world anytime soon and definitely not from the glorious history of Australian cricket. Two blokes, one in the path of becoming one of the greatest test players ever, and another in the becoming of successful explosive batsman across all formats the world has ever seen, made a serious error in judgment. Little did they know, just being the architect behind ball tampering – the type of incident which has been prevalent throughout the history of cricket and which involves some of the big names — was about to bring their unprecedented downfall. A young opening batsman, who showed a glimmer of a promising career boasting the baggy green, seems to have missed one and only opportunity that he ever wanted and will ever want. They lost what they had to or even more than what they deserved. Did the punishment from CA exceed the line than what it had to be? How much will CA loose from its own decision? Only time will tell.
How dearly will Steve Smith be missed? It’s not that every day you can replace the person of Steve Smith’s caliber. Whether it is an overstatement or not, Australia hasn’t been able to produce a player of Smith’s caliber or any equivalent at least in test format barring David Warner since a decade. Also, how can a country produce once-in-a-generation batsman multiple times in such short space! Remembering what he has done recently, it seems impossible to fill the hole created by his departure. It would be fair to say his contribution of 141 not out in Gabba was not only the game changer but the whole series changer. Otherwise, Ashes could have taken a different flow. Had there not been the innings like that of Smith, Australia would have found the victory as a far-fetched dream in the all-important first match. Going back to test series against India, Smith’s play had been in a different league. For someone like a non-subcontinental batsman, to play the innings like he did in India is unheard of. Yes, there might have been some great players like Amla, Cook, etc who had been impressive in previous instances. But, unlike in other’s case, Smith’s magnificence of 499 runs came in mines, not in cricket pitch. In his glorious career, there has not been such kind of pitch in the earth where he hasn’t passed the examination with the score of A+.
When it comes to performing across all formats, David Warner is right at the top in Australian Cricket. He is such a player when he plays his best, in any format, there is only one possible outcome for Australia. The pace at which he takes the game away from the opposition has always been a headache for his nemesis. Also, there had been some talks of David Warner taking over the captaincy over Steve Smith in the limited format, at least in Australian T20 team given his recent captaincy in Tri-series with two good T20 teams: England and New Zealand. During the tussle between Australian cricket association and cricket Australia, David Warner was the most vocal player. As the relationship of Warner with Cricket Australia is only bitter, the CA officials don’t want him back in Australian jersey. But, the more interesting thing is what independent Australian selectors want. Because of positive remarks from Mark Waugh, a member of the selection committee, Warner still has some chance to wear the baggy green again.
So, what’s next? Whose shoulder is strong enough to carry Australian Cricket forward?
Tim Paine showed a good leadership but has still got a lot to learn. Given the moral questions surrounding Australian Cricket and guarantee of Paine’s spot in the Test team, he seems to be the right choice in unlimited format. But, limited format demands the exuberance and explosive batting. So, he might not be the right choice in the limited format as he will find difficult to win the race against Southern Australian Alex Carey. Aaron Finch, who had a good stint captaining Australian T20 team, seems to be the front-runner in leading Australian cricket.
What changes might we see in Test/ODI set up?
Glenn Maxwell has a wonderful chance of cementing his spot in Test format. As the next big test of Australian Cricket is in spin-friendly pitch, Maxwell being good at those conditions than other batters, he would like to grab the opportunity with both hands. The big test will be for Usman Khawaja if given opportunity. He, till now, has the worst record in spinning pitch in the current Test team. Also, Peter Handscombe has a lot to prove with his unusual technique despite having a good average in Test cricket. Top performers of Sheffield shield Joe Burns and Matthew Renshaw are given the immediate chances.
But, a few bad performances from them, and other openers in Australian domestic set up will be licking their mouth. Shaun Marsh who had an ordinary outing against Proteas will look to have an immediate impact with the bat. If Australia embraces any streak of humiliating defeat, it might not take a long time for Australian selectors to make tough calls. But, can they afford to make those decisions?
What does it mean for other cricketing nation?
The happiest cricket team right now, looking at the positive aspects of this incident, will be India. The biggest series for Australia this year is up against India. Removal of three players from Test team means India is clearly the favorite. They will look to win a test match after 15 years on Australian soil. And, what’s more, they might be able to win the series too. Add the possibility of injury of fast bowling spearheads to that and you can ready to witness one of the all-time lows in Australian cricket. Also, other small teams have a great chance to write some history.
Tip:- Just look at Tim Paine. The man, who had considered giving up and looking for a job at Kookaburra – manufacturer company of cricket bat and ball – is the highest paid cricketer in Australian set up right now. The box is never empty. Just wait; keep the effort and open it.
By Sudarshan Regmi