The shocking behaviour of the Australian Cricket Team continues to reverberate around the sporting world.
Ball tampering and match fixing, probably the two offences that contravene the spirit of cricket above all else.
In recent years it seemed cricket was finally coming out of the dark ages, there have seemed to have been far less instances of match fixing and ball tampering of late. The days of Kiwi match fixer Lou Vincent, jelly baby gate and Faf du Plessis’ use of his trouser pocket zip to scratch the ball seemed to be in a recent, but somehow different era. Even the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals are being reinstated into this April’s IPL after their own match-fixing scandals.
What thousands upon millions (of not just cricket fans) across the Globe have seen, pictures of Cameron Bancroft ball tampering under instruction from the Australia test team leadership group, somehow seems even worse than all of the above. Arguably the biggest test nation, the Ashes holders, led by a man dubbed second only to Don Bradman by many have gone and ball-tampered. And this was not one slight scratch, this was thoroughly thought out, planned cheating, out-and-out cheating.
The fact that Steven Smith readily admitted to the press how the leadership group encouraged rookie opener Cameron Bancroft to use a small piece of sandpaper to rough up one side of the ball makes this scenario even more galling. It was as if the world’s best batsman did not see this as a problem at the time. Having won the Ashes just two months ago, are they really that desperate to win the deciding test in South Africa to see cheating as the only way of making this possible? They have generally been outplayed by South Africa so far, and to be honest it never seemed that a particularly roughed up ball helped their cause anyway. This test has seen multiple ball changes, whether this is down to Bancroft’s scraping or simply natural, fair deterioration is not particularly important, but what is, is how on earth Smith, Warner, Bancroft or anyone else in this so-called `leadership group’ thought it a good idea to bring the game into disrepute for what would probably only be marginal gains.
To make this whole affair even more stupid and daft from an Australian perspective, they chose to use yellow sandpaper. Yes, that’s the same yellow, that is used by cyclists to make them more visible in the dark, one of the brightest colours available that is used to enhance visibility. For years we may have thought Warner stupid or thick, since punching Joe Root in Birmingham’s Walkabout bar back in 2013, but most of us believed Smith to be more intelligent than all of this.
It is also slightly ironic that just a few months ago Smith and Bancroft were in a press conference before the Ashes series commenced to act as grassers telling the press all about Jonny Bairstow’s `welcoming, friendly head-butt’ on the very same man at the centre of this controversy, Cam Bancroft. Now this is clearly a different story, but it is worth mentioning the comic irony of the same two Aussies speaking in a much-publicised press conference so soon after. Yet the first occasion saw them beaming at the trouble their arch-enemies England were getting themselves in, whilst the second saw them sheepishly trying to explain any reasoning for the trouble they had inflicted upon themselves.
The ICC have rightly fined Smith and Bancroft the majority of their match fees (Smith 100%, Bancroft 75%), given Bancroft three demerit points and suspended Smith for the next and final test match, but it does seem slightly odd that the perpetrator gets a smaller fine than the person who supposedly was in charge of telling him what to do. We are not talking about a 14-year-old Bancroft being told this is a good idea by an all-dictating under-15s coach. This is a 25-year-old man who has played seven test matches, surely he can make a decision for himself and see right from wrong by his own accord? Or was he simply too scared of going against his skipper’s wishes, desperate to impress, whilst his place in the side is so vulnerable? Maybe this shows he’ll do anything he can to give him one more chance of opening the batting for Australia in test cricket.
From an English County Cricket perspective, the main worry now is that Cam Bancroft has already signed as Somerset’s overseas for the coming season. Now where does this leave Somerset’s leadership group? One would guess they will have to sit down and Mr Hurry, Abell, Kerr, maybe even experienced heads such as Trescothick and co will have to decide if they still want to play and work alongside a proven cheater. Bancroft is hardly a world beater; thus they will have to work out if it’s worth risking tarnishing Somerset’s proud reputation to employ a man with this now permanent cricket-criminal record?
For Steve Smith there are already rumours that he will be sacked as Rajasthan Royals captain before the 2018 IPL that starts in less than two weeks’ time. Even vice-captain Davey Warner may get the chop as Sunrisers Hyderabad skipper such is the honest culture and expectations to follow the unwritten rules of cricket in India more so than other countries perhaps. Developments are ongoing as this is written and as you read, but whatever the Aussie’s excuses, whatever the outcomes or their given punishments, it is clear from the initial reaction that there is no excuse for ball tampering in cricket, and it has no place in the game.