Never has a small piece of sandpaper caused so much trouble. When Cameron Bancroft took a small piece of it onto the field at lunch on the third day of Australia’s test match with South Africa, even he wouldn’t have anticipated the events of the following fortnight.
The outrage that a single strip of sandpaper has caused is cricket’s greatest since the Pakistan spot fixing scandal of 2010. Obviously, I can’t compare the two in their severity. The spot fixing scandal put a stain on test cricket that it possibly still hasn’t recovered from. This one wasn’t nearly as damaging to the sport, but it has certainly called into question its integrity.
The actual act of cheating isn’t even the real issue here. Bancroft’s actions are indefensible, and there are no real arguments with this. It was the fact that this was a premeditated act of cheating that was so disgraceful. The fact that a number of players sat down during the lunch break, and planned to cheat to gain an advantage, makes this such a bitter pill to swallow.
Are we disappointed? Yes. Are we all a bit embarrassed for the sport? Yes. Are we surprised that it was the Australians? No, not really. Quite simply, for a number of months, if not years, this Australian team has looked totally out of control. Even as far back as 2013, when David Warner received a ban for punching Joe Root in a bar, there has been a cloud over the team. And there are numerous incidents. Former captain Michael Clarke once threatened Englishman James Anderson with a broken arm, Nathan Lyon said he wanted to “end the careers” of English batsmen during the Ashes, and the whole series against South Africa was ugly. Very ugly.
It wouldn’t be going too far to say that the ball-tampering incident has bought shame on Australian sport as a whole. Within 24 hours of Steve Smith and Bancroft admitting to cheating, and planning to cheat, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull went on record as saying he was “embarrassed” by the incident. That’s one of the reasons this such a big deal. Cricket is a massive sport in Australia, much bigger than it is here in England. If England captain Joe Root was to be involved in a similar scandal, Theresa May isn’t going to come out and condemn his actions.
There has been no defence for the actions. A number of Australian newspapers simply led with the word “Shame”, and almost all of them went with some form of disappointment or embarrassment. Apart from NT News, who under the words “Cricket’s Darkest Day”, produced the quite brilliant headline, “Why I’ve got some sticky near my dicky”, alongside a photo of Bancroft.
Even the initial reaction of the players was disappointing, despite admitting to cheating. Bancroft and Smith held a press conference where we heard a lot of embarrassment and regret, but not a lot of apologies. The closest we got was Smith saying he apologised for “trying to bring the game into disrepute.” He didn’t try to bring the game into disrepute. He did bring the game into disrepute.
The bans given to them by Cricket Australia were extreme. But were they harsh? No. The ban had to be a deterrent, and that’s what they are. Both Warner and Smith will be out of the international game for a year, while Bancroft misses out for nine months.
We want the game pure, we want the game played as it should be. This Australia team are nasty, vindictive, and malicious. This shouldn’t have a place on the field, and however ugly that scandal has been, it could prove as a watershed moment for that team, and that is what they need. Lehmann has gone as coach, and there is a chance we will never know if he had a say in the ball tampering scandal, but Australia can now move on without him.
It would be no surprise if in a year’s time, Smith and Bancroft return to cricket and are eventually forgiven for their actions. This will always be with them, their careers will be defined by this moment, but they may at least be allowed to return to the game. The press conferences they gave after receiving their bans were at least more regretful and apologetic than their original effort.
Not David Warner though. His international career is as good as over. His press conference was totally different. It didn’t come across as genuine, and even his tears, which were probably forced, bought no sympathy. You would imagine for cricket fans seeing a player this talented forced out in this manner is sad. The complete opposite. We are absolutely loving it. David Warner is a nasty piece of work, especially when he is on the field. We want competitiveness on the field, we even want to see some aggression on the field in the right place. But not him. Cricket, and any sport for that matter, doesn’t need characters like him. Thank god he’s gone, he won’t be missed, and the game will be better off without him.