Australian cricketer Cameron Bancroft may have got away with his now infamous attempt to alter the condition of the ball in the third test against South Africa at Newlands had he not panicked and stuffed the evidence down his trousers.
That is the belief of Alvin Naicker, the head of production at host broadcaster SuperSport and the man in the director’s chair who broke one of cricket’s greatest scandals.
Bancroft was caught on camera placing sticky yellow tape, which he used to pick up rough granules off the pitch, into the front of his pants when he believed his cheat had been spotted by the umpires.
The fall-out from the incident has cost captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner their positions, for the remainder of the match at least, and thrown both players’ future in the baggy green cap into doubt, leaving a nation seething.
“We initially just saw that he had something in his hand and he put it in his pocket, but we didn’t know what it was,” Naicker told Reuters on Monday.
“It was only when he later panicked and put it in his underpants that we got sight of the yellow tape.”
After the images of Bancroft putting something in his pocket appeared on the big screen at the ground, umpires Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth called the player over.
He produced a black piece of cloth used to clean sunglasses from his pocket and the umpires were, at the time, satisfied.
Naicker believes that had Bancroft kept the piece of yellow tape in his pocket and still produced the black cloth for the umpires, giving him the opportunity to dispose of the tape later, nobody would be the wiser.
“The moment he tried to dispose of it in his pants, we knew that this was a major incident. Until then, we were not sure what we were looking at.”
FOLLOW THE BALL
Naicker adds they had not been tracking Bancroft specifically, but it is standard for the broadcaster to follow the ball from player to player, even when it is not in play.
“We have seven cameras that stay with the ball always, whether it is in play or not,” he revealed. “But there are a lot more cameras, we had 30 at the ground.”
Naicker says they broadcast the footage of him rubbing the ball with the then unknown object almost immediately after the incident.
“He (Bancroft) probably saw it two minutes after it happened and very smartly our cameraman focused on the coaching staff and we saw the coach (Darren Lehmann) get on the walkie-talkie to the player down on the field (Peter Handscomb), who ran on to speak with Bancroft. It was then he panicked.”
The ‘follow the ball’ policy is something Naicker says is done in every test and they were neither asked to do it, nor were driven by any other previous suspicious behaviour.
“We don’t want it to seem like we are going after the Australian team,” he said. “If that was a South African, we would have broadcast the footage for sure.
“We have a responsibility to entertain, but just like journalists we have a moral obligation to provide unbiased editorial.”