March 24, 2018 will go down as one of, if not the darkest days in the history of Australian cricket. It was today, two years ago, that the mighty Australian – the five-time World Champions – were involved in one of cricket’s biggest scams, The Ball Tampering scandal – which you may refer to as the Sandpaper gate, involving two of Australia’s finest cricketers, Steve Smith and David Warner, and a promising youngster Cameron Bancroft. Also Read - Steve Smith Backed up by Moises Henriques For Supporting Cameron Bancroft in Sandpaper Gate
Smith and Warner, the then captain and vice-captain of the Australia national cricket team were to put Australia’s reputation on the line when they instructed young Bancroft to tamper with the ball using sandpaper. Unfortunately, the crime was caught on the big screen, with Bancroft seen rubbing the ball and slipping the paper down his trousers during the third Test against South Africa in Newlands, Cape Town.
Former South Africa bowler Fanie de Villiers, working as a television commentator at Newlands, said he had tipped off the camera crew that caught Bancroft in the act. “We actually said to our cameramen: ‘Go out. Have a look, boys. They are using something.’
A sheepish Bancroft confessed after Saturday’s play to using “some yellow tape and granules from the rough patches of the wicket” to try and doctor the ball. But a statement from Cricket Australia later contradicted the explanation, who said the player had attempted to “artificially alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper”
“I lied about the sandpaper. I panicked and I’m very sorry,” a contrite Bancroft admitted.
Captain Smith admitted that the “leadership group” were aware of the decision and that they aren’t proud of it. He refused to resign and believed he was the right man to lead. However, after pressure mounted from all quarters, including the Australian government. Smith and his deputy David Warner stepped down from their roles on Day Four of the Test, with Tim Paine taking charge.
What followed was complete pandemonium. News channels, especially British media, went all out in associating terms such as cheats, thieves, criminals. Cricket Australia did not hold back and imposed 12-month bans on Smith and Warner with immediate effect, while Bancroft was suspended for nine months. Visuals of Smith and Warner breaking down during their respective press conferences were pretty much summed up the turmoil Australian cricket was in.
Management said Smith knew of the potential plot and failed to stop it, while Warner was charged with crafting the plan and instructing Bancroft to carry it out. “I take full responsibility, I made a serious error of judgement and I understand the consequences,” said a distraught Smith as he faced the media upon arrival in Sydney. “I know I will regret this for the rest of my life. Cricket is my life and I hope it can be again. I’m sorry. I’m absolutely devastated.”
Smith and Warner were also barred from this year’s Indian Premier League, losing contracts worth nearly US $2 million each, while Bancroft was banned from cricket for nine months. A Cricket Australia spokesman told AFP the players could still play at club level in Australia or in other countries, but English county Somerset have already cut ties with Bancroft for the 2018 season.
While the three players were punished for their role in the plot, coach Darren Lehmann was absolved of any wrongdoing. But the repercussions of the cheating scandal and Cricket Australia’s desire to rehabilitate the team’s image effectively left his position untenable.