On 26th November Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith were sat in a press conference laughing off a ‘friendly headbutt’ from Johnny Bairstow on a night out. 4 months later, the same two men again sat facing the media, only this time it wasn’t so funny.
Bancroft had been caught on camera using a “bit of tape” with some “granules from the wicket” to “alter the condition of the ball”. We later found out that it was sandpaper that he used. The young Australian batsman was describing to the world the moment in which he cheated in a Test match. Using sandpaper to ‘rough up’ one side of the ball gives the bowling team an advantage as it means that reverse swing becomes more of a weapon when wickets are hard to come by. Bancroft has been banned for 9 months following an investigation and captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner have been banned for a year, as part of the ‘leadership group’ that put Bancroft up to it.
The way in which the media and fans have hounded the individuals following the event has been abhorrent and the emotion and disappointment displayed by Steve Smith to the media on Thursday was hard to watch. It is clear that the three individuals greatly regret the decision they made to bring the game of cricket into disrepute, but the fact is that they all took a conscious decision to tamper with the ball. There-in lies the real issue. It is the premeditated nature of the decision that the world of cricket has a real problem with.
At some point, the leadership group, apparently consisting of just Smith and Warner, must have had a conversation with Bancroft in which it was decided that he would ‘alter the condition of the ball’ to gain an advantage. This means that all three of these men have decided that cheating in a test match, where the world is watching, is a good idea. Unbelievable.
It is also inconceivable that other members of the team did not notice the ball-tampering. Whether others were privy to the cheating conversation or not, the bowlers, widely considered to be the best in the world, must have noticed the deterioration of the ball. Bowlers take the condition of the ball very seriously, and the alteration that would have resulted from using sandpaper would have been obvious. Were they simply turning a blind eye or were they all in on it?
It is also worth asking how likely it is that the first time they decided to cheat was the time they were caught doing so. It is surely more likely that the cheating has been going on for an extended period of time and went unnoticed. This Australian team are undoubtedly talented, but also renowned for rubbing opposition players up the wrong way. Both England and South Africa have complained over the last few months about some of the comments made on the field that they deemed inappropriate. The point is that the competitive nature of this Australian team suggests they will do anything they can to gain an advantage, on or off the field. Previously, they were famed for these ‘gains’ being within the laws of the game, but sandpaper-gate has now debunked this theory.
In Australia, cricket is their national sport. The prestige of the ‘baggy green’ has been a real source of pride for the country. With the cloud now shrouding the team, they have a lot to do to get their own fans back on side and eventually allow the world of cricket to trust that they are competing against an Australia team that shows the grit and determination we are used to, without ever again overstepping the line from competitiveness to deception.