05 February 2009

Tarnished gold

The footage of New Zealand batsman Neil Broom's dismissal (see below) in the first ODI at Perth last weekend is notable not only because Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin's eagerness to claim the wicket was so palpable and because it threatened to disrupt the New Zealand run chase. As you can see in the replays, it's clear that the ball hit Haddin's gloves before the bails were dislodged; indeed, if his gloves hadn't been encroaching in front of the stumps the bails would never have come off and the batsman would never have been given out. As Haddin's gloves were in front of the wicket the delivery should have been no-balled and the batsman should have continued his innings.

What the incident and the Australian team's public comments in the next few days showed is that the Australian team, which is under pressure due to its string of home defeats, is also in danger of losing its self-promoted reputation as straight talkers and honest dealers. Ricky Ponting's attempted mind games, in which he made the erroneous claim that New Zealand's captain Daniel Vettori had apologised to Haddin after the wicket-keeper took offence at his integrity being questioned, indicate that Ponting is under pressure in a period when the Australian team's former invincibility is being undermined.

While a certain degree of gamesmanship is acceptable in cricket, both on the field and in the media, Ponting's actions run the risk of alienating his most important stakeholders: the Australian cricket-loving public. Sure, it's commendable to back one of your players when they're criticised by an opponent. But to do so in the face of overwhelming evidence and to then make mischievously misconstrued statements? Unless his team starts winning again very soon, Ponting's reputation will suffer a quick decline. Australians have little sympathy for poor sports.

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