Apparently Steve Smith is not the one who has had a momentary brush with ‘brain fade’ in his own words. Cricket Australia could be accused of the same in the wake of the Tim Paine scandal and its fall out as also, what seems to be happening in the sports world when it comes to proxy participation and token activism.

As the New Zealand tour of India begins its Test tourney, the question will be asked if ‘bang for buck’ has been replaced by ‘take what you can get’, something that was also seen in practice at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2021 with taking the knee as players and team were divided not only over the collective act of protest but also, whether they should be compelled. One wonders what else can be covered under the rest and rotation policy?

It might sound like a Marvel character. But perhaps more like a villain, if one is to be found and labelled. Australian coach Justin Langer’s “elite honesty” went out of the window for the chronically short sighted Cricket Australia after they appointed Steve Smith as vice captain alongside Pat Cummins who took over as captain of the team on the heels of the Ashes.

What is ironic is that Cummins is replacing Tim Paine who was appointed captain at the eleventh hour in South Africa after Smith as captain chose to look the other way as certain members of the team indulged in ball tampering that was eventually caught on camera. His role is still unclear as also a black cloud on some of the others unnamed in the public eye, which is a sticking point even within Australia’s own cricket circles. Waiting for the right book deal?

While sections of the Australian cricket fraternity and fans want to believe Smith ‘confessed’ when in reality he was confronted with the truth by the wide eyed media, the fact of the matter is that Cricket Australia had assured that Smith would not become eligible for captaincy even after two years unless the fans were fully on board. Judging by the early reactions, that does not seem to be the case with the Australian proud cricket fraternity or their fan base.

Some would argue that Paine’s own embarrassment might not warrant stepping down from the captaincy for a four year old dalliance. But the fact of the matter is that Cricket Australia promised to clean up their act in the wake of the sandpaper-gate.

How? By appointing another player who fell into trouble early in 2017 when on the eve of another Ashes series, he chose to embroil himself in a lewd scandal with a colleague who later threw him under the bus for her own devices.

Whether an Ashes win will ease those feelings is hard to tell. What is easy to tell though is that Cricket Australia seem to be stumbling on their feet to keep the integrity of their commitments.

While some would say that the sandpaper-gate made it hard for Australia to find a captain at the eleventh hour in Cape Town in South Africa in 2018 after Smith and David Warner copped one year bans, that the cricket board choose to bury once more under the carpet Paine’s off field’s lewd shenanigans with a colleague and knowingly appointed him while committing to changing image perception has turned once more into damage control.

That the public resignation came only after a newspaper threatened to expose the story shows just how much standards have fallen. Could Paine have been spared the pain if Cricket Australia played with a straight bat in South Africa?

Tim Paine’s off field antics are no precedent; Cricket Australia having been put through the ringer before, when Shane Warne was stripped of the potential to captain Australia after being similarly involved in England that made for sleazy tabloid news but did not work for Australia’s image. Cricket Australia’s carpet cleaning is clearly not in the best place since another chapter has been added to the book of misdemeanours that included the sweeping under the rug of the bookie indulgence by Warne and Mark Waugh back in the day.

It is rather ironic that on the one hand, cricket is keeping its commitment to a full calendar schedule despite the pandemic lockdowns and breaks that threw most boards’ game plans askew. That said, while the pressure of living constantly in a bio bubble environment has necessitated a few changes such as the rest and rotation policy, it seems that in terms of drawing eyeballs, Test cricket is the poorer for it.

In the age of the glut of Twenty20, Test cricket could use all the help it can get. But it is not clear if that is quite the agenda with the cricket boards. The fact that six of India’s regulars are missing from the line up for the first Test against New Zealand at home, and this includes the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, shows the imbalance within the sport that would allow a powerful board with considerable clout to get away with this while playing hosts to a foreign team.

In the name of rest and rotation, the board did not think it in their wisdom to restrict these players from the insane workload that is the IPL even with the World Cup kicking at their heels. Putting priority in obvious perspective, some might say. The dressing room can scream bio bubbles late in the game, but who’s buying?

Even under normal circumstances, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has often had an upper hand in calling the shots, fielding second string teams on marginal tours such as Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka or the West Indies, particularly after a rich haul of the IPL season that is India’s summer. While these teams do not have the necessary depth in their voice to call out the disparity for what are essentially ‘A’ teams visiting them, teams such as New Zealand and Pakistan seem to have adopted a policy of take-what-you-can-get, travelling and touring at great risk to themselves at times if only to get their share of the tokens at the next ICC conference.

If two days’ gap between the Indian Premier League and the ICC Twenty20 World Cup and then the Zealand tour of India after New Zealand played the final of the World Cup is not an obvious bungling, oops…bundling, of token scheduling, what could be worse than token activism?

Cricket would know it because it did not take long for the sport to fall on its face when it comes to tackling racism. While the Indian cricket team were wildly criticised for taking the knee during the World Cup, Virat Kohli’s equally nonchalant explanation that they were directed by the board only goes to show just how poorly executed and little discussed was the subject matter at hand from the top down.

South Africa have already had their problems exposed last year when players like Lundi Ngidi and Makhaya Ntini opened the proverbial Pandora’s box. But to make matters worse, shock and controversy once again followed South Africa into the World Cup when Quinton de Kock decided he would rather sit out the match against the West Indies rather than take the mandatory knee as the International Cricket Council (ICC) belatedly decided to implement the plan across the sport.

At hand was not the issue of whether this was a ‘South African’ thing of whites versus coloured players but rather whether forcing the issue was a way to resolving the matter at hand. While de Kock seemed to backtrack when Cricket South Africa seemed to be sending the message of take the knee or kiss one’s career goodbye, the former captain of the white ball format raised a pertinent question over whether taking the knee was the only way to send the message or bring light to the problem and whether it was effective when enforced the way it was.

Even more importantly, what has token activism achieved?

But if that seemed to be the only hiccup towards implementing the policy on the international stage, further embarrassment was around the corner when Yorkshire cricket and indeed, England’s cricket legacy, was thrown into turmoil after it was revealed that racism had become a pungent odour in the county dressing room that even permeated amongst players of international repute including players like Gary Balance and former captains like Michael Vaughan.

England over the past couple of decades have copped a lot of criticism for fielding ‘international’ teams where at times, particularly at the peak of their success, they fielded as many as seven cricketers belonging to origin other than the UK, more prominently from South Africa and even New Zealand. So, for England’s cricketers to demonstrate deplorable behaviour and for England’s cricket to have another low should not be surprising although it is an eye opener. Can England really afford this kind of behaviour?

The level of angst over this local versus foreigner, which permeates all of society has perpetuated a sick mentality of vulgar superiority complex that sadly only shows a more narrow, deviated mindset. For the UK, it is a double blow after England became victims of their own bad behaviour, revealing disgusting racial discrimination towards their own black players after the Euro 2020 loss in football in July, now made even more obvious after the Black Lives movement gathered ground in the wake of the George Floyd momentum in the USA.

That it is inherent within dressing rooms and flowing through the veins of some of the international cricketers certainly cuts the carotid artery of the ICC’s activism attempt, which drew some rather illuminating fault lines.

It is amazing how the most conservative worlds will bend for a share of the fortune. After all, it is a small price to pay when the bank coffers are being filled, that attention is drawn to issues that are usually hidden under rather elaborate carpets, particularly in the Gulf where Formula 1 is temporarily nesting in the final three races of the gripping season.

Lewis Hamilton may be in the race for his life but he is creating ripples across the globe. After courting controversy last year over his open support for the Black Lives Movement by wanting to coerce other drivers into mobilizing the anti-racism movement which did not pan out, Hamilton chose the inaugural race in Qatar to draw attention to the very region when the rights of the LGBTQ community are non-existent for all practical purposes.

Sporting a colourful rainbow helmet, trading his most recent black one in support of the Black Lives movement, Hamilton drove his way back into contention and also, caused a few uncomfortable people to squirm in their chairs, blowing the lid wide open on the region opening up to the multi million dollar business of Formula 1 racing but having difficulty sharing global values.

This won’t be as easy as teams being forced to cover up cigarette advertisements in the past. Will Qatar rethink its brand or its investment?

While the coronavirus pandemic has noted a visible increase of attacks on Asian-Americans and Americans of Asian origin, particularly in the USA, one story from Chinese casts a differently disturbing story but also shows that China might cop more exclusion on its hands.

It is rather interesting how tennis star Peng Shuai’s story has met with mixed responses from the International Olympic Committee and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) as well as the world. If she was not famous enough before, she is now a household name but in the way she would have wanted it.

On the one hand, the IOC has accepted the China-released video about Shuai claiming to be safe and at home. On the other hand, the WTA, with millions of dollars riding on the sport, is not willing to give Chinese the right of way until they have more proof and also, a more transparent inquiry after the allegations of sexual misconduct by a Chinese vice premier emerged with regard to Shuai.

The determination of Peng Shuai’s well being is not only a political matter now but also, a matter of the bottom line for the Chinese as sponsors contemplate their next move in another multi million dollar sporting industry that is threatening to cross over into other more lucrative business like the NBA. Will this be an effective deterrent from carpet sweeping in the future?