Former Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland on Thursday expressed his regret over the ball tampering incident that rocked the nation in March this year. Speaking to ESPNCricinfo on his final day in charge, Sutherland said that he wished he would have acted earlier. “At a guess it would’ve been about midnight I suppose [that I turned the TV off] but, yeah, I wish I was watching, absolutely. It was a serious WTF moment there. I’d like to think that my judgment and possibly influence would have meant that the media conference would have gone slightly differently,” he said.
The incident, that took place on the 2nd day of the 2nd Test between South Africa and Australia in Newlands, led to the banning of the then captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner from international cricket for a year. The youngster Cameron Bancroft, who was caught on camera scratching the surface of the ball with a sandpaper, was also handed a 9-month ban for his role in the incident.
After the incident came to light, Smith and Bancroft attended a press conference in which they admitted to the incident, and said the decision to tamper the ball was made by the “leadership group” of the team. They also said that the object used was not a sandpaper but a yellow tape, a fact which was later refuted by the investigation into Cricket Australia.
“As we know, that was part of the penalty and the severity of the penalty, was to some extent related or at least was consequential in terms of how that was handled – not telling the truth, or not telling the whole truth. No doubt that homework thing, if I’d been anywhere near that, it would have been a different outcome. I’d like to think in some cases where things have gone awry that that’s true. You can’t be everywhere,” Sutherland said.
He further went on to said that there were warning signs that incidents like that could take place. “I was heartbroken by the events that happened and I think that in some ways I totally understand that in the heat of battle things can boil over and go awry and there can be regrettable incidents. [But] I think in some ways the issues of Cape Town were a different thing altogether, it wasn’t necessarily a confrontation between two players, that was a premeditated WTF moment that shocked us all. Part of the extent of my disappointment around Cape Town is heightened by what happened earlier in the series, and my feeling that there were warning signals,” he said.
Without mentioning the incident, Sutherland said that the team needed to take a stock of the team after the staircase melee during the Durban Test between David Warner and Quinton de Kock. “There were lots of other things going on, and some disgraceful behaviour during the Port Elizabeth Test, provocation by opposition fans but also administrators from the opposition team. But still, if you go back to Durban, my views were expressed during and after the Durban Test match that we needed to take stock and be very aware that when you’re playing South Africa, you’re playing in a cauldron and we’ve got two teams that go very hard at each other,” he said.
“Our leadership needs to show restraint and understand that it’s not the first time that things have boiled over on the field between CA and South Africa and it won’t be the last time. But it’s happened before, particularly on those tours at the end of a long season and to some extent it was predictable. But my view was that, putting everything aside from Durban it was time to understand and settle back in to playing good, hard cricket,” he added.
Despite the repurcussions of the events, Sutherland expressed confidence that the ball tampering incident will improve the sport.
“I think that the good thing about the public response to Cape Town is it’s a reminder to everyone as to how important cricket is, what cricket means to the Australian public and the pedestal on which the Australian cricket team is held and the expectations that come with being an Australian cricketer. I think our players, Cricket Australia and everyone in Australian cricket is reminded of that and I think it is a huge compliment to cricket and a really stark reminder to everyone,” he said.
“I said from the outset the game will be better for this, it already is, it is not just in Australia but around the world through various things at ICC and other countries that people are picking up and responding to. But also within our own organisation and within our team, players are committed to seeing Australians being proud of the Australian cricket team and the players and how they carry themselves on and off the field,” Sutherland signed off.