The Steve Smith apology, exhumed as part of a Vodafone ad last week (which gauchely and literally depicts Smith having a look at himself in the mirror), a follow-up press conference and an exclusive interview on Fox Cricket this week is not an act of contrition or by any means redemptive, as much as it is… well, an ad itself. A campaign.
The campaign, as it would appear, is to take the events of Cape Town from nine months ago – events that you could wrap whole novels around – and turn it into a simple narrative that can be digested in half a minute.
The way our memory works is that a sweep of events gets explicated by a handful of specific images, and these images then stand as a narrative where PR hacks, and increasingly media, invent the ligature to bind it together.
The aim of the campaign is to firmly establish the image of Smith as the man who took responsibility for an act not of his doing, but a failure of leadership nonetheless. But it is broader than this.
Cameron Bancroft too reprised his remorse as part of an exclusive pre-recorded interview with Fox Cricket (full transcripts of Smith and Bancroft’s interviews set pieces with Adam Gilchrist are both available on cricket.com.au).
When you boil down Bancroft’s interview to its core, it simply reinforces the image of the 26-year-old as the team’s ingénue opener who was simply trying to fit in as part of a team where the culture was toxic.
“Dave [Warner] suggested to me to carry the action out on the ball given the situation we were in in the game and I didn’t know any better,” Bancroft said, seemingly unaware that using sandpaper on a cricket ball was not within the rules.
“The decision was based around my values, what I valued at the time and I valued fitting in … you hope that fitting in earns you respect and with that, I guess, there came a pretty big cost for the mistake.”
Many would regard Bancroft’s interview a further “mistake” revealing little more than Bancroft remains as dull as he was in South Africa in March, although perhaps not as stupid as those advising he or Smith – neither of who come out of this with their “brand” enhanced.
Neither interview demonstrated personal growth as part of their suspension, but simply reprised cricket’s story of the year, neatly packaged on the biggest day of the Australian cricket calendar.
“From a wholly journalistic approach, you can understand the reasons why it was aired today,” former Australian captain Ricky Ponting told cricket.com.au.
“You’ve probably got a big percentage of the population watching the cricket today and they’ll be reading about it tomorrow. I can understand how that could happen.”
Yes Punter, it’s because this whole thing is an orchestrated attempt to establish Dave Warner as the black hat.
Smith and Bancroft’s contrived confessionals came as Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts said Smith, Bancroft and Warner would need to buy into a refreshed culture should they return.
“It’ll be important that the players make a commitment to the new culture of Australia’s men’s team and really to commit to making Australians proud in everything they do on and off the field,” Roberts said.
Rightly or wrongly, throwing the villain Warner to the cricketing media and public like stew beef to a lion makes it easier for Cricket Australia to transition Smith and Bancroft back into a struggling XI without having to do any of the awkward heavy lifting themselves.
It’s so much easier to simply speak in the LinkedIn leadership patois that put “elite honesty” on a wall.
Craig Little has spent 20 years in advertising, PR and public affairs and is well versed in the dark arts of the media. He can sometimes be heard on 774 ABC and was a member of The Spin team that once explored the murky side of politics and the media on Triple R.