By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • Cameron Bancroft is caught on camera using sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball and then putting it down his trousers.
  • Steve Smith and David Warner admit they are involved and the Australians’ actions are widely condemned.
  • Smith and Warner get 12-month bans and Bancroft is ruled out for 9 months.
AUSTRALIA – In the wake of the ball-tampering scandal currently dominating cricket headlines around the world, we examine the consequences for Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, as well as Australian cricket as a whole.

 

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From Glory to Scandal

Australia had several outstanding cricketers on the field when they beat England 4-0 in the 2017/18 Ashes series, but some of their sledging seemed excessive and it was clear they would do whatever it takes to win.

Two and a half months later, when Australia were in danger of going 2-1 down with one to play in their bad-tempered series against South Africa, we found out just how far they were willing to go.

During session two on day three of the 3rd Test, Cameron Bancroft tampered with the ball and captain Steve Smith later told ESPN Cricinfo that “the leadership group knew about it”.

 

Tears as the Australians face the media

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ESPN Cricinfo reported as the guilty parties faced the press. Smith said in a tearful statement:

“It was a failure of leadership, of my leadership. I’ll do everything I can to make up for my mistake, and the damage it’s caused.”

“If any good can come of this, if there can be a lesson to others, then I hope I can be a force for change. I know I’ll regret this for the rest of my life. I’m absolutely gutted. I hope in time, I can earn back respect and forgiveness.”

Warner took full responsibility for his own actions during an emotional press conference, and admitted he was “resigned” to the fact he may never play for Australia again.

He said, “It is heart-breaking to know that I will not be taking the field with my team-mates I love and respect and that I have let down.”

Warner also made three specific apologies: to South Africa for bringing the game into disrepute on their soil, to Cricket Australia for his actions, and to all Australians for the impact his actions have had “on our country’s reputation”.

Bancroft told the media: “I will regret this for the rest of my life. I just want to show how sorry I am, and at the end of the day, they are my actions that I am accountable for, and they don’t reflect on my values and what I have grown up to be.”

 

Did Smith and Bancroft get what they deserved?

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Due to the nasty way they have gone about their cricket in recent times, Smith, Warner and Bancroft received no sympathy for their offences. And they did not deserve any. Not just because they cheated, but also because their team has tested the boundaries of what is acceptable in terms of sledging, aggression and gamesmanship for so long that it was bound to catch up with them eventually.

Despite all that, two of the sentences handed out by Cricket Australia seem harsh. Bancroft did something very stupid. However, he was clearly following instructions from his captain or vice-captain and probably wanted to please them so they would consider him an important member of the side.

The opener obviously deserves a ban, but nine months seems too long to keep him away from domestic cricket. Perhaps Cricket Australia could have considered a five-month ban from all cricket and a nine-month ban from playing for his country.

Steve Smith should know better. As the captain of Australia, it was his responsibility to set the example for the rest of the team to follow and he has let everyone down badly by cheating. Consequently, a twelve-month ban from playing for his country seems apt. However, it is hard to understand why Cricket Australia has felt the need to rule Smith, 28, out of domestic cricket for so long.

He is obviously very upset by what he has done and seems genuinely contrite. Therefore, it would surely be better to let him go back and play for New South Wales in six months and begin to, in his own words, “earn back (the) respect and forgiveness” of the public. That way, if he is then recalled to the national side next year, he will have had the chance to foster some goodwill from the people first.

After all, as Andrew Wu put it in his column for The Sydney Morning Herald, “Australian cricket is littered with players who have overcome disgrace and been welcomed back to the fold.”

 

Has Warner gone too far this time?

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Despite his tearful press conference, it is hard not to suspect that Warner was the ringleader in this whole sorry affair. His reputation for bad behaviour stretches back to 2013.

Warner’s Rap Sheet:

June 2013 – Punches Joe Root in a Walkabout bar in Birmingham during the ICC Champions Trophy

July 2013 – Has to be restrained during a heated exchange with Thami Tsolekile on an Australia ‘A’ tour to South Africa

February 2014 – Accuses South Africa of deliberately scuffing up the ball

January 2015 – Confronts Rohit Sharma for taking an extra run after he had, in the Australian’s opinion, deflected the throw from one of Warner’s teammates. As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian famously told the Indian to “speak English” and was later fined 50% of his match fee for the incident.

March 2018 – Clashes with Quinton de Kock during the First Test. According to The South African, the Australian insulted the South African and the wicketkeeper responded with an inappropriate comment about Warner’s wife during a confrontation in the stairwell outside the dressing rooms.

March 2018 – Exchanges angry words with a South African spectator in the Third Test

The spat with Sharma in 2015 prompted Cricket Australia Chief Executive James Sutherland to caution Warner that “he needs to stop looking for trouble” (as reported by cricket.com.au).

New Zealand great Martin Crowe was furious. As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, he wrote in his Cricinfo column:

“Warner can play, but he is the most juvenile cricketer I have seen on a cricket field. I don’t care how good he is: if he continues to show all those watching that he doesn’t care, he must be removed, either by Cricket Australia or definitely by the world governing body.”

Crowe continued, “The more he gets away with it, the more others will follow his pitiful actions. Already we see one or two of his teammates enjoying being close to his hideous energy.”

As if that was not already enough foreshadowing for the current saga, Darren Lehmann told The Sydney Morning Herald:

“We’re always going to teeter pretty close to it (the line) – that’s the way we play. But we’ve got to make sure that we don’t cross it.”

That episode seemed to trigger something – at least temporarily – in Warner and, for the next three years, he stayed more or less out of trouble. He became teetotal and behaved much more calmly, which earned him the nickname ‘The Reverend’ among his teammates. However, the old Warner resurfaced in the ongoing series with South Africa and the current scandal soon followed.

We do not yet know the whole story behind Australia’s ball-tampering offences. Whether or not Warner orchestrated events, he has a sordid past. This makes him appear far guiltier than either Smith or Bancroft, and renders his road to redemption much more difficult, if it is possible at all. Perhaps that is why Warner is so resigned to the fact that he may never again pull on the Baggy Green and play cricket for his country.

 

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