Cricket Australia (CA) chief executive James Sutherland is not a fan of the c-word.
Sutherland was repeatedly pressed on whether Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft cheated in the third Test.
Nine times the word “cheat”, “cheating” or “cheated” came up in the bevy of questions fired at Sutherland in Johannesburg on Wednesday morning (AEDT).
It kicked off when Sutherland was asked if he considers the ball-tampering incident to be cheating.
Sutherland – angry, disappointed, unhappy and exhausted after crossing the Indian Ocean to deal with the most momentous scandal he has had to mop up – wouldn’t bite.
“This is not in the laws of the game. It’s not in the spirit of the game, and again I am angry and disappointed,” Sutherland replied, when the topic was first raised.
The journalist was undeterred, sending down a near-identical delivery.
Sutherland shouldered arms, again.
“It’s not a good day for Australian cricket,” he replied.
It was a topic that several reporters – from Australia, England and South Africa – all revisited.
CA’s head of communications Tim Whittaker eventually asked journalists to move on, noting Sutherland had answered the question.
Order was finally restored and the press conference continued, but not before a brief clamour.
There are two schools of thought about why Sutherland refused to use the word cheat.
Firstly, is the damage to one’s reputation that comes from having such a frank admission beamed into the living rooms of millions of Australians.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has already called on CA to make “a statement to the rest of the world”, while other CA sponsors are also taking plenty of interest in the scandal.
TV networks, currently negotiating a new rights deal, are also keen to find out what CA is doing to improve the image of its team.
And secondly, the other possibility Sutherland held his tongue is because of CA’s disciplinary system that governs how players are punished, not wanting to prejudice any potential hearings.
CA will only conduct a formal hearing if Smith, Warner or Bancroft appeal and are unwilling to accept their charge.