Discarded Test opener Cameron Bancroft’s suggestion this week that Australia’s bowlers were aware of ball tampering in South Africa, made to the UK’s The Guardian newspaper, have reopened the tumultuous period that damaged Australian cricket three years ago.
The image of Australian cricket was tarnished in 2018 after Steve Smith and David Warner were banned from international cricket for 12 months and suspended from leadership roles for two years, and Bancroft handed a nine-month suspension, for their role in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, dubbed ‘Sandpapergate’ by rather unimaginative sections of the global cricket media.
To take a piece of sandpaper out of his pocket while on a cricket field full of television cameras, in a series already lit up by an altercation between Warner and Quinton de Kock was, by all means, a stupid thing to do. It was also illegal by cricket’s rulebooks, and smacked of arrogance and disregard for the laws of the game. As well-documented since, all hell broke loose within Australian cricket.
In an interview to The Guardian ahead of his return to English county side Durham, Bancroft, who was caught with sandpaper on the field during the Cape Town Test of 2018, has been quoted as saying: “Yeah, look, all I wanted to do was to be responsible and accountable for my own actions and part. Yeah, obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory. I guess one thing I learnt through the journey and being responsible is that’s where the buck stops [with himself]. Had I had better awareness I would have made a much better decision.”
The interviewer Donald McRae writes of how when he asked if some of the Australian bowlers were aware of what was happening, “Bancroft’s hesitation is even longer”. In response, Bancroft is quoted as replying: “Uh … yeah, look, I think, yeah, I think it’s pretty probably self-explanatory”.
These comments go against what Cricket Australia’s investigation three years ago found, which was that “prior knowledge of the incident was confined to three players, Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft”. At the time, Cricket Australia had requested any team member or management staff to come forward with information about a plot to tamper with the ball in South Africa, but no one did. Members of Australia’s bowling setup had said they were unaware of any such illegal activities.
The immediate outcome of the Newlands ball-tampering scandal was that Smith, Warner and Bancroft were suspended. Soon after, then Australia coach Darren Lehmann quit the job and CA chief executive James Sutherland followed.
Of course Bancroft’s comments have kicked up a storm and the headlines, specifically from Australia, will be dominated by this matter. But are we really that naive to imagine that members of a team’s bowling unit would not be aware that a cricket ball is being tampered with? If you have played the game at club level, you would be aware of this when the ball gets into your hands.
Just like many who watched a teary-eyed Smith falsely claim that he had overseen the ball-tampering scandal, instead of saying he had no idea to what the vice-captain Warner and Bancroft were doing, threw their heads back and rolled their eyes, there will be many now wondering what the fuss is about.
Ball-tampering has always been viewed as a dark art, but to believe that it can only be orchestrated by a member of a cricket team’s leadership group and the most inexperienced member of the squad is juvenile. The shrewdest exponents of ball-tampering have been fast bowlers themselves, albeit with the assistance of fielders and team-mates, and you cannot for a moment still believe that members of Australia’s bowling setup were unaware.