The re-education of Cameron Bancroft was swift. As quickly as he remembered the events of Cape Town 2018 in an interview with The Guardian, he remembered that there was nothing to remember.
When Bancroft said it was “self-explanatory” that awareness of ball-tampering in that match was wider than among the three players punished, Cricket Australia “reached out” to him, then announced that they were satisfied with his explanation of what was self-explanatory. There was nothing more to explain.
Cameron Bancroft talks to the umpire in South Africa in 2018.Credit:AP
Here is cricket at its most self-righteous. It is self-explanatory that whatever was going on in South Africa at the time was to help the bowlers. Whatever was going on all around the cricket world at that time was to help the bowlers. The Australian bowlers may not have known explicitly about the sandpaper plot in its moment, but they knew the score. Everyone did.
David Saker, the bowling coach at the time, as good as said so this week. “There was a lot of people to blame,” he said. “It could have been me to blame, it could have been someone else. It could have been stopped and it wasn’t, which is unfortunate.”
Darren Lehmann, the national coach, specifically said so at the time. “Obviously, there are techniques used by both sides to get the ball to reverse and that’s just the way the game goes,” he had said after the preceding Test in Port Elizabeth. “I have no problems with it, simple. You’d have to ask the umpires and ICC about that whether it is legal.” That was in a media conference. It was scarcely encrypted.
Lehmann said he did not know about the sandpaper in Cape Town. But he knew that both teams were exploring the limits of the rules. This was in Australia’s peak time of self-acclaimed, self-policed line-toeing.
Steve Smith and David Warner served 12-month bans for their roles in the Cape Town scandal.Credit:
The Australian bowlers were indignant on Tuesday at suggestions of their compliance in sandpapergate, saying it was all “rumour-mongering and innuendo”, but also that they learned a lesson. What was that lesson exactly? Somehow, I don’t think it was not to bowl wide to AB de Villiers.
Frankly, the offence that ball-tampering gives has always been confected anyway. The stigma is absurd. I’d like to see the prohibition lifted and with it the hypocrisy. How is so-called tampering different to shining? Whether using spit and sweat to make it gleam or other means to roughen it up, both are to alter its condition so as to make it swing, one way or the other. It’s not a beauty contest.
In 2018, the game was ho hum at worst about ball-tampering. Mostly, it levied piffling fines. Steve Smith’s ICC suspension was one match – the equivalent of a couple of good mouthings-off. Bancroft’s was 75 per cent of his modest match fee. David Warner’s was nothing at all.
Bancroft during the 2019 Ashes series in England.Credit:AP
In 2018, reverse swing had become near to normalised in cricket, and the game was richer for it. Since, it has been little seen. For three years post Cape Town, it has been hiding under the seat of the sanctimonious.
Sandpaper was a step too far, obviously, but it was one misstep on a well-advanced journey. It wasn’t a departure. The drastic suspensions handed down by CA were not for ball-tampering as such, but for bringing the game into disrepute. Essentially, they were for a ham-fisted attempt at a cover-up. It was as much Watergate as sandpaper stile.
The investigation was tightly contained. Though described again this week by a CA spokesman as “detailed and comprehensive”, it did not even get around to interviewing all the players, coaches and support staff on the spot.
Yet on the infamous day, Smith had said in a train wreck of a media conference that the ball-tampering decision had been taken by a non-specified leadership group. More to the point, he said: “I know the boys in the shed are embarrassed as well. It’s a poor reflection on everyone in that dressing room.”
Whether that was more of Smith’s panicky obfuscation we don’t know, because CA didn’t ask. It didn’t look any further under the carpet because it knew what it would find.
As recently as this week, the spokesman said: “CA has maintained all along that if anyone is in possession of new information in regards to the Cape Town Test of 2018,” they should come forward and present it. Since then, surprise surprise, no new information has been presented.
What sort of investigation waits for information to present itself? One that doesn’t particularly want to investigate, I would have thought.
Bancroft has a bit of a history of blundering about in the china shop. Once, he said Warner made him do it. Now he’s implicated others in their awareness of ball-tampering. Bulls in China shops do their damage not because they are malign, but because they are incapable of proceeding delicately. In both instances, Bancroft left an impression of a man who wanted to dissemble, but could not.
Why? Perhaps it’s self-explanatory.
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