Cheating Aussies and a mealy-mouthed apology

Fallen hero: Earlier this year cricketer Steve Smith was named “Australian of the Year”.

Have public apologies become meaningless? Australian cricket is in crisis after their team was caught blatantly cheating. Captain Steve Smith faces a lengthy ban as his tepid apology falls flat.

“It’s just not cricket.” For years, the old saying has been used to describe any situation in life deemed unfair or unseemly — cricket long-renowned for its sense of honour and fair play. But now the sport’s reputation is in peril after the Australian cricket team were sensationally caught cheating in their latest match.

Their specific offence was ball-tampering, considered by purists as one of the ultimate crimes in cricket. The culprit was Cameron Bancroft: a young player at the very start of his career who was recorded by an eagle-eyed cameraman illegally scraping the ball with a foreign object.

But it soon emerged that there was more to this story than one rogue individual.

In an astonishing post-match press conference, the team’s captain, Steve Smith, revealed that he and a group of players devised the ball-tampering plot as a “possible way to get an advantage”.

In other words, it was a premeditated conspiracy to cheat, with a junior player asked to carry out the dirty work.

The immediate reaction was one of outrage. Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, dubbed the episode a “shocking disappointment”, and called for “decisive action”.

Smith has been suspended as captain, and now awaits further punishment, with some even suggesting a lifetime ban.

And while his actions were bad, some have also taken issue with his reaction — specifically his unconvincing attempts at apology.

According to psychologist Harriet Lerner, a sincere apology focuses on the specific words or behaviours for which you are sorry. In Smith’s case, the words “cheat” and “ball-tampering” were absent from his remarks. Instead he claimed to be “incredibly sorry” for the vague notion of “trying to bring the game into disrepute”.

He also focused on collective responsibility, rather than his own culpability as captain. When asked who’s idea it was, he replied “the leadership group” — a phrase he used throughout the press conference, preventing the blame from falling squarely on one person.

Have public apologies become meaningless?


Afraid so, some argue. Elite sport is just like the entertainment industry — where personal reputation and endorsements are worth big bucks. Prominent people often make apologies in attempts to preserve their image, but listen carefully and it’s clear they don’t sincerely take responsibility. Steve Smith is a classic case.

Hold fire, others respond. To his credit, Smith admitted it and will be harshly penalised. Moreover, public apologies are about more than the guilt of one person. Whatever the issue, they inform society of what is acceptable. And whether Smith feels guilty or not, his words send out a message that cheats will not prosper.

You Decide

  1. Should cheaters be given a second chance?
  2. Are public apologies meaningless?


  1. Cheating has happened in sport for as long as it has been played. In pairs research some famous examples from history. Were the incidents career-ending, or did they make a comeback? Do you think the cricket players involved this time deserve a second chance?
  2. Watch the full press conference by following the link in Become An Expert. Take notes on the words the players use, thinking about how they are phrasing their confession and apology. What words seem significant to you? Do you think their apology is sincere?

Some People Say...

“I would prefer even to fail with honour than win by cheating.”


What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Steve Smith has been temporarily suspended as captain and will not play in Australia’s next match against South Africa. Cameron Bancroft, the player caught ball-tampering, has so far only been handed a fine. Despite their efforts to cheat, the Australia team still lost the game by 322 runs.
What do we not know?
Apart from vice-captain David Warner, we do not know what other players and coaches were involved in the conspiracy. Cricket Australia has opened an investigation into the incident, but it remains unclear if further punishments will be enforced. Furthermore, while Smith claims that this is the first time his team has engaged in ball-tampering, there are (unproven) suspicions that they have done so before.

Word Watch

Latest match
The third match of a four test series between South Africa and Australia.
Ultimate crimes
It is technically a level two offence (level four is the maximum), which normally carries a five run penalty and a one game ban. However, the premeditated nature of this particular incident means it is regarded as far more serious.
Roughing up one side of a cricket ball makes it more likely to “reverse swing”. This is when the ball deviates late in its flight, making the delivery more difficult to hit and thus more likely to result in a wicket.
Foreign object
A piece of yellow tape, on which had been stuck granules of earth from the pitch. It was originally mistaken for a piece of sandpaper.
The state of being held in low esteem by the public.
The leadership group
It is currently unclear who these individuals are, as Smith refused to name names at the press conference. Vice-captain David Warner is also known to be involved, and has been suspended from his captaincy role.

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