New Zealand Cricket’s wonderful and widely respected ability to maximise home ground advantage fell apart in humiliating fashion yesterday when they were caught repairing the pitch overnight on the second evening, an action that most people will interpret as an attempt to cheat.
The ‘error’ could easily have been passed off as a genuine mistake but suspicions that the action was a calculated and deliberate attempt to gain an unfair advantage by breaking the Laws of Cricket were confirmed by the behaviour of officials throughout the day who nervously evaded the issue and refused to take responsibility. They were the actions of guilty, cowardly men.
But first, let’s rewind to Thursday evening, the second day of the match. South African assistant coach, Vinnie Barnes, is walking in the vicinity of the pitch as the team complete their stretches and warm-down exercises at the end of the day’s play. Barnes sees the 4th umpire, local man Mike George, speaking to head groundsman Karl Johnson. He overhears the following conversation.
George: “Have you fixed it yet?”
Johnson: “No, I’ll do it when the players have left.”
Curious and even suspicious, Barnes took the precaution of photographing the damaged areas of the pitch.
The following morning, Barnes returned straight to the pitch. His worst suspicions were confirmed. In direct contravention of the ICC’s Code of Conduct which stipulates that the condition of the pitch shall not be artificially altered at any stage of a match, the damage had been repaired with glue.
The South African management drew the attention of the Match Referee, Clive Lloyd, to the alteration and he immediately ordered the groundsman to undo his repair work and return the pitch to its original, scarred condition.
When asked who had ordered him to undertake the illegal repair work, Johnson said he was under orders not to speak.
New Zealand officials were staggering in their frightened refusal to speak or even accept responsibility for the episode saying simply: “It has nothing to do with us. It’s not our issue, it’s a matter for the ICC.” The New Zealand Cricket Board is hosting a Test match against South Africa at the headquarters of one of their major, affiliated unions and it has “nothing to do with them?” That’s an attitude to make Kiwi cricket lovers feel proud.
Finally, if the pitch repairs weren’t enough to convince the South Africans that their opponents were prepared to stoop to any depths to gain an edge, no matter how low in the gutter they had to scrape, they had only to look at the sightscreens. Brand new and “much improved” according to coach Eric Simons.
When South Africa had batted they had been of the ‘slatted’ variety with awkward, dark lines between the panels. When New Zealand batted they were solid and freshly painted, white as snow.
South Africa will move on and forget this. They have no need to complain. This is New Zealand Cricket’s issue now. This is not idle banter, this is serious dirt and mud like this sticks.
If they had a shred of decency and humility amongst their officials, they would apologise.
“Dear Eric, Graeme and your squad. We would like to apologise for the unsportsmanlike behaviour that you encountered during the first Test in Hamilton. We regret the incidents involving the pitch and the sight screens and would like to assure you that you will encounter no such behaviour in the future.
That would be enough.
If that doesn’t happen, gentlemen of NZ Cricket, this behaviour will forever be interpreted and remembered as cheating.
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