The press conferences are in the bag, done and dusted. The tears flowed, the remorse was fairly easy to see and for three young men who previously felt the world at their feet, the realization that it was all being taken away was, in the main, gut-wrenching.
Being an Australian cricket fan has always been a rollercoaster sort of experience. The highs have been exceptionally high. In my lifetime alone the side has pieced together two record 16-Test match winning streaks. I’ve seen the leadership handed down from Mark Taylor to the gritty and aggressive Steve Waugh then to my childhood hero Ricky Ponting.
After Ponting came Michael Clarke, then, as a man ordained well before his time, Steve Smith became the 45th captain of the Australian cricket team. Since then, the results have slowly improved; the Ashes returned down under and Smith himself became the best Test batsman in world cricket.
Win at all costs
Along with all that has been the customary in-your-face-aggression and all-out attack in the face of any challenge from any opponent. Smith cut a similar figure to that of Allan Border during his reign. Grumpy, resolute, unwilling to even entertain the thought of being friendly with the 11 men he was charged with beating.
This approach has always had a large group of detractors. Some wish to see Australia win with grace and lose with dignity. I get that. and to a certain extent I agree with the sentiment. I also understand the need to draw a line and approach contests like the Ashes with a win-at-all-costs approach.
That’s not an endorsement of cheating, far from it. That’s an endorsement of the approach we’ve seen since the days of Border, Taylor and Waugh. I would not be so trivial to compare sport to the horror of genuine warfare. When it comes to that sort of thing, the two don’t compare.
What we do have in sport, though, is a throwback to more tribalistic times. It’s not war, but it’s a fight for survival and victory. If you don’t think the need to win in Australian cricket is cherished above much else, go back and read the column inches off the back of a lost Ashes series.
As a nation, Australia takes a distinct pride in victory on the sporting field and cricket has long been one of our more favoured fields to compete.
What David Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft have been involved in in South Africa is unacceptable and no pleas that they did it merely to stick to our need to win will suffice.
We are the real losers
With that said, as we face 12-months without the enigmatic left-handed opener and the effervescent, unorthodox skipper, it hits home that the cricket public are the real losers in the whole sordid affair.
As enjoyable as it was watching Smith cut swathes through the England bowling attack through the heat of the Australian summer was, we must now instead watch as those handed the task try and rebuild with the pieces that are left over.
The fearsome bowling attack remains intact, thankfully. The batting order, however, not so much. While the replacements for Warner are at least handy opening options, be it Matt Renshaw or Joe Burns or whoever else gets the nod, there is no batsman in world cricket who was on par with Steve Smith last summer.
Whoever is dropped into the side at second-drop will be trying to fill the single biggest pair of shoes in the modern game. I pity them.
As Cameron Bancroft said, these players have given up their spot in the side to someone else for free and while that will hurt them greatly, it hurts us too. Bluntly, as good as David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are, they can at least be replaced to some degree.
Steve Smith cannot. No one comes close.
Cricket will continue and the Australian side will survive and, one day, thrive but the next 12-months will be a constant reminder of what we are missing out on when we turn up to the ground, flick on the television or commence a long road-trip with Aunty on the wireless next summer.
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