The tapping-up controversy June 2, 2005

The tap which opened the floodgates

The tapping up controversy in English cricket

Ashley Cole: guilty © Getty Images

The outcry was understandable, but did the punishment fit the crime? Everyone knows that tapping up goes on, but when the teams involved are sworn enemies and the player so high-profile, there are bound to be vicious recriminations. No wonder David Graveney said he was "disappointed".

English cricket must learn from this fiasco. Football has managed to sustain months of front- and back-page newspaper coverage about a tea party in a posh London hotel. And then some people - Ashley Cole, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea - get fined lots of money and the lawyers kick it all off again, guaranteeing months more media frenzy. Impressive. The best cricket can manage when Graham Thorpe announces he's going to New South Wales is the chairman of selectors raising an eyebrow. Must do better, chaps. The future of the game's at stake.

But what about the reaction in Sydney? What does the signing of a 35-year-old English batsman with a dodgy back and a lisp whose team have just been penalised for ball-tampering say about the state of Australian cricket?

Desperation? Disarray? That's putting it mildly. New South Wales must be in danger of expulsion from the Pura Cup for opening the floodgates to a talent drain of ageing Poms. Goughie could be next, strutting along in Surfer's Paradise as player-physio for the Queensland Bulls. Kevin Pietersen says he looks up to Darren Gough and all Australians seem to be worshipping Pietersen at the moment so it seems inevitable.

Why do New South Wales need a Pom like Graham Thorpe to help them out? © Getty Images

"Why do we need a Pom to help us out when we've just won the Pura Cup and there is plenty of young talent to foster and develop?" wrote Steve Waugh in his newspaper column last week, displaying all the sort of short-sighted, head-in-the-sand thinking we've come to expect from a man who won only 41 out of 57 matches as captain of Australia. Waugh turns 40 today. Maybe age is catching up with him. Bless.

You can smell the fear in Waugh's words, but he will doubtless have changed his tune when Thorpe hits the winning runs at The Oval to complete England's regaining of the Ashes. You can hear it now. "We're delighted to welcome such a legend of the world game to assist us. There's a lot of work that needs to be done in our cricket and there's a long learning process ahead but we're confident Graham Thorpe blah blah ..."

It's conceivable, of course, that Thorpe may not complete the Ashes series. He may not need to. England may feel that by the fourth Test at Trent Bridge, say, it's time to blood Pietersen, to let him find his feet at Test level when the Ashes are already in the bag. That seems the most plausible scenario, when Thorpe has nurdled and nudged Shane Warne down to fine leg once too often so all that fragile confidence has drained from the Hampshire captain.

So, it's Graham Thorpe's 100th Test and Steve Waugh's 40th birthday. Soon they'll be on the same side. And Waugh will be glad of it.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer