Sandpaper Gate: The story of Australia’s ball-tampering


The third Test match of the South Africa versus Australia series, which has had to deal with it’s fair share of controversy, has been marred by Australia’s alleged ball-tampering after Cameron Bancroft was caught by television cameras using tape to illegally alter the ball on the third day of the match.

When questioned by the umpires, Bancroft attempted to hide the tape and told the umpires it was in fact a black cloth that he uses to clean his sunglasses. However, when questioned at the end of day press conference, Bancroft and Australian captain Steve Smith both admitted to ball-tampering with Smith saying that it was a plan thought up by the team’s “leadership group” and that they “thought it was a way to get an advantage”.

Smith, Bancroft and vice-captain David Warner have all confessed to being involved, with Smith and Warner stepping down mid-Test and wicket-keeper Tim Paine taking over as captain for the remainder of the game.

Smith has been fined his entire match fee and been banned for one game by the ICC for his actions and Bancroft has been given three demerit points and fined 75% of his match fee – punishments that many believe are far too lenient for cricket’s worst cheating scandal since Pakistan’s spot-fixing at Lords in 2010.

There is a fair discussion to be had in cricket about allowing some forms of ‘ball-tampering’ with every side in world cricket getting warned for throwing the ball deliberately into the turf to try and rough it up for example and while allowing teams more leeway to try and get the ball to react the way they want, using a foreign object to try and alter the ball is a step too far.

That fact coupled with the pre-planned nature of Australia’s cheating and the outright lying to the umpires – something which seems incredibly foolish considering there are cameras everywhere – is what has caused such outrage.

The series has already had to deal with so many unpleasant incidents between the two sides and it has only gotten worse. Nobody truly yet knows how deep this goes into the Australian side which is the worrying thing. Who exactly is this “leadership group”? Was it just Smith, Warner and Bancroft? Were the coaches involved? Was it just a one-time thing?

Smith said himself that head coach Darren Lehmann did not know of the plan but shortly after the incident he spoke to 12th man Peter Handscomb via walkie talkie and Handscomb then headed on to the field and spoke to Bancroft under the guise of delivering a helmet. What is unknown is what was said in this conversation and whether Lehmann was acting out of surprise at seeing the incident on the big screen or reacting to protect his players after their scheme had been exposed.

South Africa were the team in the driving seat at lunch on the third day, leading the Test by over 100 runs and just the solitary wicket down and Australia were desperate to find some reverse swing to turn their fortunes around and thus they came up with a plan to tamper with the ball.

The yellow tape that Bancroft used was taken from one of the team kit bags, covered with loose dirt from the pitch and given to Bancroft – the least experienced member of the side with only eight games under his belt – in an attempt to rough up the ball and cause it to reverse swing.

Bancroft told the media that “unfortunately I was in the wrong place at the wrong time” which seems to suggest that he is not showing remorse for the ball-tampering, but he is merely apologising for getting caught!

The cricket world was quick to react the incident, with many calling for Smith to resign as a result but the Australian skipper is adamant that he will not do so. Cricket Australia are in the process of a full review of their players behaviour and it will be very interesting to see what the outcome of that is. The ICC sanctions that they have imposed on Smith and Bancroft have fallen woefully short of the mark and will, I am sure, be reviewed as well.

This Australian side has been seen as incredibly arrogant and as having double standards by the majority of the rest of the cricket world after many shows of blatant hypocrisy. Australia made a big issue and rightly so about abuse towards Warner but, as former Protea Mark Boucher pointed out, this is something Australia do as well.

Furthermore, Warner himself was very quick to condemn South Africa’s captain Faf du Plessis when he was accused of using a sweet to help improve his ability to shine the ball in last year’s Test series between the two sides, saying “I know from an Australian cricket perspective we hold our heads high. I’d be very disappointed if one of our team members did that”.

To find out now that not only have Australia done that, but that it was pre-planned, lied about to match officials and that Warner was involved in it is simply the definition of hypocrisy. Those involved need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and think about their actions. They have brought not only their country but the entire sport and deserve some sort of punishment. What that will be remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, the Australian team can no longer be led by this so-called “leadership group” because they are truly unfit to lead their country.

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