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Australia throwing a game is the grim fantasy of conspiracy theorists | Geoff Lemon
Cricket Sport

Australia throwing a game is the grim fantasy of conspiracy theorists | Geoff Lemon

For a couple of hours, as the night wore late on the island of Saint Lucia, you could feel it bubbling. In the bars of the Caribbean, spreading through the travelling tourists watching muted televisions. Across the reaches of the internet, slowly because most of the likely candidates were in England asleep, but it was there among the late-night listeners and the expats scattered across time zones. Reflected in the kind of profiles with St George’s Cross emojis in their display names, bristling at the one concern.

Scotland beating Australia would knock England out of the T20 World Cup. Scotland were not supposed to be good enough to beat Australia. But Australia had dropped six catches while Scotland marauded to 92 inside the first nine overs.

Already the accusations began to be voiced, some joking, some not at all, that Australia were throwing this match to see off England. The back half of Scotland’s innings slowed but reached 180, one of the best totals of the tournament.

Then a strangely diffident chase, more singles than big strikes, regular wickets. In the 14th over when Australia needed 87 from 39 balls, the seethe was at its peak. In beds across England, newspaper columnists who pay attention to cricket once annually when there’s a chance to get angry began stirring. Channelling the resentment from Jonny Bairstow’s idle wander at Lord’s a year ago this fortnight, building it across time to meet this latest imagined insult, the scene would end in an explosion of self-righteousness.

And then Marcus Stoinis timed a couple of sixes and a couple of fours. Travis Head decided he was set enough to send Safyaan Sharif for three sixes in three balls. Tim David made sure the rate didn’t drop. Australia looted the runs with two balls to spare, and a different component of the Union Jack was the one leaving the tournament at the first exit. The accusations dissipated. The indignation poised to spill had to be reabsorbed. Antacid sales must have risen like reflux.

Marcus Stoinis of Australia batting as Matthew Cross of Scotland keeps wicket during the T20 Cricket World CupView image in fullscreen

The idea that any current international team would deliberately lose a game is something easily said and almost impossible to do.

Even deciding to try would lay every player open to career-ending sporting and criminal sanctions. There would have to be explicit agreement between most members of an XI. That could only come by a conversation that would then need to be covered up. The Australians know better than anyone that getting a story straight to tell investigators is never the prelude to anything good.

When you’re looking for something in particular, it’s easy to imagine that you see it. Search parties in a forest whip their heads around at every snapping twig. Human brains stare at noise and find patterns. The fielding standard-setter of the world would never drop six catches, right? Except for, say, the one-day World Cup last year, when Australia dropped six catches against South Africa to lose a game that they badly wanted to win.

Clearly they were tanking by resting Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood? Only if it’s weakening the team to bring back a strike bowler in Mitchell Starc, or to use Nathan Ellis, who has played three pool games out of four, or to pick Ashton Agar, who opened the bowling and took a wicket within six balls. What about Glenn Maxwell twice being brought back after bowling an expensive over? On both returns he took wickets to vitally slow Scotland’s rate. The dropped catches involved Head going airborne, Adam Zampa diving at fine leg, a split-second edge to the wicketkeeper standing up, and a bad day for Mitch Marsh, who nearly broke a finger in one of his attempts.

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Ramped up by the Ashes last year, there is still a lot of unpleasantness from some sections of supporters around the Australia-England contest. There are the tiresome digs about moral victory this and sandpaper that. There has always been rivalry but the tone feels cheaper. It doesn’t much come from the players themselves, although Bairstow still simmers away like a resentment paella, and Australia’s players haven’t helped by popping up as glibly grinning headshots in the promotional rushes of their latest Jeff Bezos movie.

Australia’s Mitchell Starc watches the ball into his hands to catch Scotland’s Michael LeaskView image in fullscreen

A willingness to claim a fix after a few overs reflects something heavy. It derides both the seriousness of Australia’s team and the ability of Scotland’s. The Associate side that so nearly pushed past two of the richest three nations to the Super 8 stage deserves to be recognised for what it has done, not pressed into service as a prop in the endless psychodrama between the other two. We can only claim betrayal for sporting sins if we first extend good faith.

In the final over, David hit an attempted six high to deep midwicket. Had Chris Sole held the catch, Australia would have needed three runs from three balls with Agar coming in. He might have won the game with one hit. He might have had two air swings and chipped a catch. Had it been the latter, Australia would have tried no less hard, staged no less dramatic a comeback, and used identical tactics. The effort would have been exactly the same. The way the result would have been interpreted would have been the opposite.

Source: theguardian.com