“Devastated. But chin up. You know where we are, in case you need anything.” Not long after he sent that message from Denby, two hours on road from London, a text slid down the notification screen of Joe Cherry. “Thanks. Appreciate it,” was the reply from Cameron Bancroft, from Australia where he will now try to bounce back from the most nightmarish week of his life.
The story so far is well-known: a young rookie is asked by his captain and vice-captain to tamper the ball, and he does it in front of the world. Outrage, ridicule, and taunts follow. In the social media, his girlfriend of a year has been bombarded by abuses. Even his old tweets have been dug up and replied with nasty texts. An emotional contrition on television, it seems, has tempered down the situation, somewhat.
At least, that’s the hope Joe’s father, David Cherry, the chairman of Denby CC club where Cameron played five years back, has.
Bancroft, known as Bangers to his friends, lived in David’s house for 6 months and the family got to know him intimately. Joe was about his age, David was a mentor of sorts, and the family has great memories of Bancroft. All of them were caught by surprise when the news broke out. “Someone told me that Cam is on tv, and I said, what another fifty or hundred? I was told ball tampering. I went, yeah yeah all right. And then I saw the visuals. Devastated. How can the senior players put him on the spot like that? I know he has slipped up by doing it, but he should never have been put in that spot in the first place by them. Disappointing really” says David.
Joe was at work at the club when the news broke out, and he remembers going, “Oh no, what have you done, Cam”.
Their minds went back to those months when all they saw was an immensely, almost scarily, focussed Bancroft whose life revolved around cricket. Back then, he wanted to break into Western Australia, and soon, the obsession was about the national team. Things would spiral out of control last week, but the Cherry family can’t shrug off memories of a young Bancroft.
Like the time he would join them for Friday evenings Chinese Takeaways. A quiet family get together at David’s house, friends and family – “Cam was part of our family”, where he would slip into self-depreciating humour, or pain them with his singing skills.
“Not that good, believe me,” says Joe with a laugh. “We used to have karaoke nights, and his music wasn’t popular—love songs!” A groan escapes.
However, it’s the intense focus on cricket, a life consumed by obsession to play at the highest level, that remains with the father and the son. No wonder, neither weren’t surprised when the bitter truth hit Bancroft at Sydney airport.
“The thing that breaks my heart the most is I’ve just given up my spot in the team to somebody else for free. People know I’ve worked so hard to get to this point in my career, and to know I’ve just given somebody else an opportunity for free is devastating for me.”
David recalls the hours Bancroft would spend training, helping junior members of club improve their game, and try to push himself to squeeze the best out of his talent. “At times, club members would have to peel him off the nets. No amount of training would satisfy him.”
The team-mates at Willetton club in Australia too have talked about it in the past. On selection nights, when the others would be sipping a beer and having a sausage, Bancroft would stand in a corner, relentlessly tapping a ball on the bat, juggling as if his life depended on it. Even growing up, his father Frank would spend hours throwing balls to him in the backyard. It was a family obsessed with sport: a younger brother became a scratch golfer, and another took to tennis.
“He was unlike any other cricketer we have had at our club,” says Joe.” Very very very focussed and intense about cricket. We would often tell him to relax, and I think we managed that as months went on. My friends became his friends, we would go out.” The innate sense of humour and mickey-taking made him easy to warm up to. “In our part, Nottingham Forest was our football rivals. My team was Derby County. He knew it. And so, he went and bought Forest T-shirts, and made me wear it every time they scored a goal!”
Love for Chinese takeaway
David remembers Bancroft’s Chinese love. In culinary terms that is. “Last year, he was playing for Gloucestershire, and our family drove half-way to meet him at a diner. And he asks, are we having Chinese?” I remember him training alone in late evenings, running from Heanor to Denby, encouraging the junior team, and spending time with them. There were nights when he would come with me to drop some cricket balls and kits to kids associated with club. I remember those drives, he is a wonderful kid, really.”
Joe remembers texts during the Ashes series. “At one point, I messaged him, “C’mon, give us a chance to win one Test at least, and he replied, ‘no chance, we winning it 5-0!”
Joe says one of Bancroft’s closest friends is a fellow Aussie cricketer Ashton Turner, who was also in England when Bancroft was with Denby, and shares a home with Bancroft in Australia.
“Those two would drive to London in the weekends often.” Turner has talked about how Bancroft would drive him nuts by turning off the air conditioner in the house as he was “tight”. Bancroft reckons he picked “the stinginess” from his grandfather. “when I am staying away in hotels, I would probably run the AC 24/7 because I am not paying!”
Invariably, Turner would be woken up by the sound of the smashing of the medicine ball on the concrete outside his window. Turner has also talked about how Bancroft would throw a fit after getting out. “I would love to have a camera set-up in the change room, and just film over a whole year all the blow-ups he has had.”
Bancroft realised he had to loosen up and turned to yoga and meditation. “It’s about mindfulness. Yoga and meditation because it encourages to be how I am actually not perceived at all. I set up a goal at the start of the season not to blow up at all.”
It has been reported that Justin Langer picked him from the airport in Australia on his return from South Africa. The two go a long way, in fact even before the two met. Bancroft had Langer’s poster at his bedroom as a kid and has been lucky to not only meet his idol but being mentored by him. “No one in the world works harder, no one in the world wants to be playing international cricket like he does. I love him,” Langer said once. When he moved his house, his parents put up Langer’s poster at the new home.
All that romantic past would be a blur in the here and now, but his two English friends, David and Joe, are confident that Bancroft would bounce back. “Cricket is everything to him,” says Joe. “I have no doubt that he would come back. I can’t see what he would do otherwise.”
David concurs. “This is a mistake. Don’t judge him too harshly on this. He will cop the punishment and be back. I know I am biased and would say he is a good kid, but believe me, he really is. I just hope that the Australians can find a way to forgive him and give him a second chance.”