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Explained: Were Australian bowlers aware about ball-tampering during the ‘Sandpaper Test’?

The infamous Sandpaper-gate of 2018 have reared its ugly head again. After a recent interview by Cameron Bancroft, the entire Australian team, especially the bowlers, are under the scanner.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: May 19, 2021 10:20:15 am
Cameron Bancroft during the South Africa vs Australia Test in Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa on March 25, 2018. (Reuters Photo: Mike Hutchings, File)

Cameron Bancroft’s recent interview to The Guardian has reopened the can of worms. The infamous Sandpaper-gate of 2018 has reared its ugly head again. Back then, Bancroft was one of the guilty parties in the ball-tampering incident, along with then Australia captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner. All of them were handed bans. After Bancroft’s interview, however, the entire Australian team, especially the bowlers, are under the scanner.

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Why has the Sandpaper-gate resurfaced after three years?

It is down to Bancroft’s interview, where he was asked a simple question: “At least some of the bowlers, surely, knew what he was doing?” Bancroft’s reply wasn’t direct but there was a lot to read between the lines. “Yeah, look, all I wanted to do was to be responsible and accountable for my own actions and part. Yeah, obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory,” he told The Guardian.

How has it reopened the can of worms?

First, it has prompted Cricket Australia (CA) to put out a statement that it will further look into the incident if “anyone is in possession of new information”. Second, following the interview, a number of former cricketers have waded into the controversy. Former South Africa fast bowler Fanie de Villiers, who was working as a commentator in that game and tipped off the TV crew, refused to buy into the argument that the bowlers weren’t privy to the plot. Something similar has been said by former Australia captain Michael Clarke as well.

How has the coaching staff from the 2018 Australian side reacted?

David Saker was the bowling coach of that Australian team and his comment, too, on the heels of Bancroft’s interview has created scope for interpretation. “Cameron’s a very nice guy. He’s just doing it to get something off his chest… He’s not going to be the last,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“You could point your finger at me, you could point your finger at Boof (then head coach Darren Lehmann), could you point it at other people, of course you could. The disappointing thing is it’s never going to go away,” Saker added.

Steve Smith and David Warner were sent home and handed hefty bans by Cricket Australia after admission of ball-tampering. (Reuters Photo)

The bowlers must have known, isn’t it?

The four Australia bowlers from that team — Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon — have issued a joint statement on Tuesday claiming innocence. “We pride ourselves on our honesty. So it’s been disappointing to see that our integrity has been questioned by some journalists and past players in recent days in regard to the Cape Town Test of 2018,” said the statement.

While speaking to The Indian Express, de Villiers, however, rubbished it, saying it would have been “impossible” for them not to know.

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What happened at Newlands?

The Newlands ground in Cape Town hosted the third Test between South Africa and Australia in March 2018. During the third day of the match, TV camera caught Australia opener Bancroft using sandpaper to rough up the ball. At the end of the day’s play, both Bancroft and Smith admitted to ball-tampering at a press conference. Match referee Andy Pycroft docked Bancroft 75 per cent of his match free and handed three demit points, while Smith got a one-Test ban and a fine of 100 per cent of his match fee. Cricket Australia (CAA) stripped Smith and Warner of captaincy and vice-captaincy respectively and Tim Paine was made the new Test captain.

But then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took his “shocking disappointment” to CA and urged the authorities to take stringent action possible. CA launched its own investigation following which they banned Smith and Warner for 12 months each, while Bancroft was handed a nine-month suspension. CA also decided that Warner would not be considered for “team leadership positions in the future” and Smith was given at least a 12-month cooling-off for leadership positions following his re-entry to cricket.

What had been the deeper repercussions?

The scandal forced CA to initiate a culture review of the Australian cricket team and the independent review delivered a scathing report on the governance and culture of the organisation. As reported by http://www.abc.net.au back then, the report called CA “arrogant and controlling”.

Should CA reinvestigate the incident?

There have been different views to this. De Villiers told The Indian Express it would be “unfair” on the players. But former Australia wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist said the CA didn’t carry out a thorough investigation of the Sandpaper-gate in 2018. “There was an opportunity for CA if they were going to make such a strong statement they needed to do a more thorough investigation to work out where the root of the problem was,” Gilchrist told SEN Radio, adding: “Anyone would be naive to think people were not aware with what was going on about ball maintenance. I don’t think Cricket Australia wanted to go there. They did not want to go any deeper than that superficial example of ball-tampering.”

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