Australian cricket suffered a major setback when, now former, skipper Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft were found guilty in a ball tampering scandal during Australia’s third Test match against South Africa. The trio were subsequently sent back home and were slapped with respective bans by Cricket Australia. While Smith and Warner were handed a year’s ban from the game, Bancroft will be away from the game for nine months. Moreover, Smith and Bancroft have been banned from a leadership position with the national team for a period of 12 months from the end of the playing ban, Warner will not be considered at all in the future. Adding more misery, Smith and Warner have also lost their places in the respective IPL franchises. Smith was in line to lead Rajasthan Royals while Warner had the responsibility to captain Sunrisers Hyderabad.
All three players conducted individual press conferences upon their return to Australia and here’s what they said:
David, the cruel treatment of Candice earlier in the tour … how much did that affect your decision to cheat on that day?
It’s tough for me to talk about where my thought space was on that day, given the circumstances that happened in Durban. But I’m here to take full responsibility of my actions of the part that I played in, that happened on day three in Newlands, in Cape Town. I’m extremely sorry and I really, really regret that. It’s going to be a decision that sticks with me for the rest of my life.
You, Bancroft and Smith were involved. Can you hand on your heart say no other players or coaches knew about your plot?
I’m here today to accept my responsibility for my part, my involvement for what happened in Cape Town. It’s inexcusable. I’m deeply sorry. As I said, I’ll do everything I can to earn that respect back from the Australian public.
Did you orchestrate this scandal? Was it your idea?
As I said, I’m here to take full responsibility for the part that I played in this. It’s extremely regrettable, I’m very sorry. I really just want to move on from this.
David do you think you or the other players are perhaps surprised by how badly the public has taken this?
I’m not surprised at all. We let our country down. We made a bad decision. I played my part in that, and as I said it’s going to take a long time to earn that respect back from the Australian public. It’s really hard to sit here today knowing and seeing my friends, my family, that are playing in South Africa at the moment in this fourth Test, which I wish I was a part of.
Has your relationship been ruined with the Australian cricket team? It appears you were on your own when this crisis broke out.
The Australian cricket team are my family. I really regret what happened on that day three. As I said, I just really wish I could be there today on that field with them. That’s one thing I’m really going to miss this next 12 months.
Did you realise how serious the crime was at the time?
We know what the consequences are when you make horrible decisions like this. As I said, I’m extremely sorry for my part and my role that I played in this. And I really wish, and hope, that Steve and Cameron have the same support that I have with me, because it’s going to be a tough and emotional time these next 12 months.
Dave, are you considering retirement?
That’s something that I’ll continue to sit down with my family and weigh up all my considerations before I make any decisions.
Can you hand on heart say you’ve never done this before?
As I said before, I’m here to accept my responsibility for my part that I played in day three, Newlands, Cape Town Test.
What’s your relationship like with Steve, Cameron, Mitchell Starc? Do you think any damage can be repaired?
We’re mates. We’ve grown up with each other. We’ve played on the field for a long time with each other. It’s going to be really tough not being able to partake in the next 12 months, not just with the rest of the team but with Steve and Cameron, because we made a decision that was inexcusable and extremely regrettable.
Do you feel as though you’re being made a scapegoat? You’re holding back with some of your answers.
As I said before, I’m here to speak about myself, and take responsibility for the part I played in this. Thankyou.
What was going through your mind when you did this? Why’d you do it?
For me, my week has been around ‘good people make mistakes’. I’ve made a big mistake by allowing this to happen. It was a huge error of judgement on my behalf, and I’m deeply sorry.
James Sutherland said this was an isolated incident, can you say hand on heart, that under your captaincy no member of the Australian team, to your knowledge, has ever previously tampered with the ball before Cape Town?
To my knowledge this has never happened before. This is the first time I’ve seen this happen, and I can assure you it’ll never be happening again.
Steve what’s your relationship at the moment with David Warner, and do you blame him for this?
No, I don’t blame anyone. As I said, I’m the captain of the Australian team. It’s on my watch, I take responsibility for the actions of what happened last Saturday in Cape Town.
Steve, I’ve got three sons of my own who play cricket and they absolutely cherish you, what do you have to say to the kids?
I say two things, or three things. Firstly, I’m deeply sorry. I love the game of cricket, I love entertaining young kids, I love kids wanting to play the great game of cricket that I love. The two other things are, any time you think about making a questionable decision, think about who you’re affecting. You’re affecting your parents. To see the way my old man’s been… [breaks down] … and my mum, it hurts. I just want to say I’m sorry for the pain that I’ve brought to Australia and the fans and the public, it’s devastating and I’m truly sorry.
Why did you lie about the sandpaper?
Yes I lied about the sandpaper. I panicked, I panicked in that situation and I’m very sorry.
Were you bullied into this by David Warner?
Look, I’m not here to comment about other players involved. I just want to show how sorry I am. At the end of the day it’s my actions and I’m accountable for it here, and they don’t reflect on my values and what I’ve grown up to be, and it’s something I’m really ashamed of and I’m so sorry for.
Cam what’s your message out there for kids who are wondering what’s happened to the game of cricket, and their heroes that have really let them down?
Look I think through this whole experience and whirlwind few days, it’s been so obvious to see how important the game of cricket means to Australia and the public, and we’re representations of that. For me, it’s been a very big wake-up call to myself for what that means, and how amazing an opportunity it is to wear the Baggy Green cap, and you know I feel like I’ve let everyone down in Australia, and I’m not proud of that, and I know it’s going to take time for that to heal, and to earn that respect back from everybody.
Will you play cricket again, do you want to play again?
Yes, absolutely. I think through this, through the last few days and sitting in my own company and just thinking, 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. I know that it’s going to be a difficult journey back, but the moment I step foot outside this room is the moment that I take steps forward toward earning that respect back and to get back that dream that I’ve had as a dream growing up, and that is to play Test cricket for Australia.
Will you contest the length of the penalty?
Look at the moment, I’ve received the paperwork for my sanction and I respect the process that’s going to come with that. I’ll work with my manager and we’ll move forward with that.
What did Steve Smith say to you following the incident?
In the whole Australian cricket family, everyone’s really disappointed about what we’ve done to the game. It’s a great shock to everyone, and a great realisation that we need to improve.
Can you assure fans this was the only time you’ve done this?
I have never ever been involved in tampering, tampering with the ball. It completely compromises my values and what I stand for as a player and as a person. For Australian cricket it’s not acceptable.
Did at any point during it did you almost stop yourself doing it? It sounded like you were fumbling and nervous about doing it in the first place.
Yeah and that’s also a really big learning curve for me. I had the opportunity to take control of my own values and my own actions and I didn’t. And that’s a real embarrassment for me, and I’m sorry for what’s entailed since then for that, and that’s just a responsibility that I completely take on myself.
Cam, the cricket world knows players have touched up the ball for years and years and decades, why is this so much worse than what goes on in Test cricket, in Shield cricket, in club cricket around the world?
It’s so big because you know the action of doing it is completely wrong. For me, to carry out that in front of world cricket, and to be seen breaking the laws of the game, not playing within the spirit of the game – it’s completely how cricket shouldn’t be played, and it completely compromises, I think, why we play this amazing game. It’s going to be a really long road, particularly for myself, it’s going to be really difficult to earn that respect back, but I know that for me is the most important thing.
Is it unusual to take sandpaper out onto the field?
Look, I’m not here to comment about that. It was me who carried out the action of using the sandpaper, and it’s not good enough, it’s embarrassing, and I’m truly sorry.
After the trio was banned, head coach Darren Lehmann too decided to step down from his post. Australia’s fourth Test against South Africa will be his last.
How do you go about this? What is the mood in the changeroom? What are you saying to your team?
I thought this (speaking to the media) was tough but speaking to the players and saying goodbye, telling them the news… that was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. It’s about fronting up for your country and playing good cricket over the next five days. It’s been an unbelievable series obviously marred by some incidents but it’s great playing South Africa. Two rival countries who play the game of cricket really hard and it’s been an exciting Test series. So our challenge is to get back and level the series. That’ll be a big challenge, there’s no doubt about that, but the boys will be doing everything they possible can to play and make people proud of them.
What happened with Steve speaking this morning, was it really that that brought it home – everyone knows how serious this has been but is that what brought it home?
It’s been happening for a few days and you think you can keep going but the amount of abuse or whatever word you want to use, it just takes its toll. Everyone has their views out there but they made a mistake and we need to get the game back on track. And speaking to my family, they’ve had enough of travelling 300 days a year and not being home at all to see your family so that’s the main reason, to spend some time with them and the kids, maybe watch my son play cricket, which’d be quite nice. Be there for my daughters and that.
Can I just clarify and confirm that this was entirely (your decision)?
Yes, yes. I’ve been speaking with the hierarchies the last couple of days and this morning, no sleep last night again. I think no-one’s slept, that’s the biggest challenge fronting up tomorrow. I don’t think I’ve slept since Saturday to be perfectly honest, a couple of hours here and there. You play it out in your head, what’s right and let the game move forward.
What are you most proud of in your whole careeer as coach?
I would say the way we dealt with Phillip Hughes. We’re only playing a game. That’s all we’re playing. We lost a great young man and the way we tried to deal with that was my proudest moment as coach. You win games, you lose games. So for me that would be the most pleasing one.
Do you think it’s been excessive, the reaction?
It’s been unbelievable, mate. Watching the two young men who faced the media and I’m sure David (Warner) will be the same when the media are there. It’s been unbelievable. I hope the game gets back to the game of cricket as a game to be loved and enjoyed. Shit, I’ve had a great time coaching in my career and coaching the Australian cricket team is a real high. So for me looking forward to having some time off and what’s the next step from there. I’d love to stay involved in the game because I love it so much, so… yeah.