Will Sandpaper Gate put Cricket on global sports map?
Cricket, if you go by the number of people who follow it, is the second most popular sport in the world. However, this statistic, while correct, doesn't tell the complete picture. Cricket is a sport that exists in just a handful of countries, and its popularity is nothing more than a mirage, created by the fact that two of the countries which are crazy about the sport - India and Pakistan - are among the most populous nations of the world.
Cricket's popularity is a mirage
Outside of a select group of nations, cricket barely gets a mention in the news cycles, and by barely I mean never.
The ICC, the governing body of cricket, has tried to increase the number of cricket playing nations, but these attempts have not been helped by questionable decisions, such as limiting the World Cup to just 10 nations.
However, it seems the Sandpaper-Gate scandal is what has finally got the world talking about Cricket.
What is SandpaperGate
Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, you must know that Cameron Bancroft was caught trying to alter the condition of the cricket ball with the help of a yellow piece of tape or sandpaper, depending on which news report you hear, and was caught in the act by the cameras at the ground.
In the aftermath of this incident, Australian Captain Steve Smith shocked the world by admitting that it was actually a collective decision of the team think-tank to 'cheat', and later stepped down as the captain of the Australian Cricket team.
Naturally, this incident drew sharp rebuke from all over the Cricket community, but what the coverage of this incident was not restricted to just the traditional Cricket nations.
The ball-tampering incident has got the whole world talking
For instance here is how a Nigerian website's coverage of the story: Australia skipper Smith steps down amid ball-tampering probe
Here is a link to the story being covered in the French media: Australian cricket in crisis over ball-tampering scandal
Link to a Canadian website covering the story: Cricket's 'DeflateGate': Australian team rocked by ball-tampering confession
Well known US news channel CNN did an in-depth interview with former Australian coach John Buchanan in relation to this incident, and the incident has been covered extensively on CNN's website as well.
The coverage has not been limited to just the mainstream media but has also slowly crept into the popular conversation.
Chess lovers will be aware that currently, the Candidates Tournament, which is arguably the most coveted tournament in chess, is currently underway in Berlin. It's a tournament which decides the challenger to the Chess World Champion for the World Chess Championship Match.
During the live coverage of one of the games for a chess website, both commentators (GM Jan Gustafsson, a German, and GM Peter Svidler, a Russian) started discussing Cameron Bancroft's actions.
The conversation started when both commentators were talking about the game between GM Ding Liren and GM Vladimir Kramnik. In the game the square g6 was vital and Kramnik maintained a firm control over g6 with one of his pawns.
Gustafsson was trying to explain to the viewers how strong Kramnik's control over g6 was and in wrapping up the analysis, jokingly said (and I paraphrase) that 'Kramnik has even rubbed the g6 square with sandpaper'.
It was an obvious reference to the recent ball tampering incident. Both the commentators started laughing and then said (again I paraphrase) - 'the captain was in on it too. Cameron Bancroft (yes they used his name), who would have thought'.
Following this, they discussed in some detail the stupidity of trying to do something like that with a 100 cameras on the ground and how the whole incident had been a little comical.
When was the last time that a German and a Russian devoted a few minutes to discussing Cricket?
It's clear that the Cricket community would have preferred them to have been talking about some positive Cricket related story instead of a negative one, but at least they are talking about the game. Isn't that something in itself?
As they say, no publicity is bad publicity and when the dust has settled on the incident, maybe, just maybe, some good to the game would have emerged from it.