Aussie opener Cameron Bancroft broke his silence last week, suggesting that it was not just Steve Smith, David Warner and him who were involved in `Sandpaper Gate’. A medley of explanations, clarifications, allegations (even if muted), from several quarters has emerged since, throwing Australian cricket into fresh turmoil.
Bancroft was a rookie when Australia toured South Africa in 2017-18 under Steve Smith. Warner was vice captain. The controversy broke when TV cameras picked up Bancroft tampering with the ball in the Test match at Cape Town’s Newlands Ground. Over the next few days, this was to precipitate into one of the biggest scandals in modern cricket history.
These three players were recalled home midway through the tour, all of them denying they had done anything wrong. In Australia, with more proof being made public through further TV footage, all three acknowledged their guilt in tear-filled press conferences that had the cricket world agog.
With anger mounting against these players, Australian cricket authorities had to move into swift, punitive action. Smith and Warner not only lost their captaincy and vice captaincy respectively, but also copped a one year-ban each. Bancroft got nine months for his role in the unsavoury incident that had humiliated not just the team, but the entire country.
At that time, Cricket Australia’s investigations had cleared all other players and the support staff of the ball tampering misdemeanour. Bancroft’s revelation last week, however, implies that the investigation was not diligent enough. More damningly, he indicates strongly that the bowlers in the team knew of the ball tampering.
Speaking to the Guardian last week, Cameron acknowledged his own complicity in the controversy. “All I wanted to do was to be responsible and accountable for my own actions and part,’’ he said of his admission. When asked whether bowlers in the team knew, he said. “Yeah, obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory.”
Wrapped in guarded language, without quite incriminating the bowlers, it is nonetheless clear that Bancroft is pointing a finger at Pat Cummins, Mitchel Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, Australia’s bowlers in that particular Test match, of knowing what was going on. This set the cat among the pigeons.
David Saker, who was bowling coach with the Australian team in South Africa in 2018 said that the controversy wasn’t going to die easily. “It’s not going to go away. You could point fingers at me, (Darren) Lehman (who was head coach then) or the bowlers,’’ Saker said, ostensibly in denial of Bancroft’s suggestion.
However, former Aussie great Adam Gilchrist, among the first to respond to the current situation, said that Cricket Australia’s original investigations into `Sandpaper Gate’ were not thorough. It’s a point of view that found currency among a lot of cricketers and cricket supporters Down Under.
Meanwhile Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon — under fresh scrutiny — put out an official joint statement refuting Bancroft on these two arguments:
1) We did not know a foreign substance was taken onto the field to alter the condition of the ball until we saw images in the big screen at Newlands.
2) And to those who, despite absence of evidence, insist that `we must have known’ about the use of a foreign substance simply because we are bowlers, we say this: the umpires during that Test match Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth, both very respected and experienced umpires, inspected the ball after the images surfaced in the TV coverage and did not change it because there was no sign of damage.
But former Australia captain Michael Clarke didn’t seem really convinced by the defence of the bowlers, saying the statement was `smartly worded’.
On the face of it, the position of the bowlers could well be factual: they may not have known that any substance was taken on to the field at that particular point in time when Bancroft was caught. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they may not have known something like this was brewing within the team, and of which they would be the clear beneficiaries.
The argument about umpires Llong and Illingworth not changing the ball after Bancroft’s offence was caught is disingenuous. What’s against the Laws of the game is not necessarily materially changing the ball, but even attempting to do this, to howsoever small degree. Why should Smith, Warner and Bancroft have copped punishment if the ball had not been materially altered?
Another former Australian captain, Ian Chappell, never one to mince words, blamed higher ups in Australian crickets for the controversy remaining alive. “It’s the usual backside-protecting protecting statement…the fact that nobody higher up was ever punished, well, that always made it just an attempt to brush it under the carpet,’’ Chappell told World Wide of Sports. “If I was Smith, Warner or Bancroft, I’d want the others publicly recognized for their part in what happened.’’
Though Cricket Australia has announced that if anyone’s in possession of new information the investigation will be opened further, chances of that happening look dim. Tim Paine, current captain of Australia, said that the bowlers have spoken to Bancroft, who is playing county cricket in England, and everything has been sorted out. If anything, that shows forces have moved in to quell the current controversy from snowballing.
As England fast bowler Stuart Broad quipped, he is looking forward to more revelations once David Warner retires.