Johannesburg (AFP) – The Australian ball-tampering scandal has rocked cricket to its core, resulting in the suspension of three players and a head coach on his way out.
Here’s an outline of what we know so far about the chain of events and subsequent fallout from the incident during the third Test at Cape Town:
– Caught on camera –
Questions were initially raised when images on the big screen at the Newlands ground showed Cameron Bancroft putting an unidentified object in his pocket, with the Australian batsman misleadingly revealing a black sunglasses cloth to the umpires when they called him over. Former South Africa bowler Fanie de Villiers, working as a television commentator at Newlands, said he had tipped off the camera crew that caught Bancroft in the act. “We actually said to our cameramen: ‘Go out. Have a look, boys. They are using something.’ It’s impossible for the ball to get altered like that on a cricket wicket where we knew there is a grass covering on,” De Villiers told Australian radio station RSN927.
– Sandpaper, not tape –
A sheepish Bancroft confessed after Saturday’s play to using “some yellow tape and granules from the rough patches of the wicket” to try and doctor the ball. But that explanation was later contradicted by a statement from Cricket Australia, who said the player had attempted to “artificially alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper”. “I lied about the sandpaper. I panicked and I’m very sorry,” a contrite Bancroft admitted on Thursday.
– One-year bans –
Skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were suspended from “all international and domestic cricket” for a year. Management said Smith knew of the potential plot and failed to stop it, while Warner was charged with crafting the plan and instructing Bancroft to carry it out. “I take full responsibility, I made a serious error of judgement and I understand the consequences,” said a distraught Smith as he faced the media upon arrival in Sydney. “I know I will regret this for the rest of my life. Cricket is my life and I hope it can be again. I’m sorry. I’m absolutely devastated.” Smith and Warner were also barred from this year’s Indian Premier League, losing contracts worth nearly $2 million each, while Bancroft was banned from cricket for nine months. A Cricket Australia spokesman told AFP the players could still play at club level in Australia or in other countries, but English county Somerset have already cut ties with Bancroft for the 2018 season.
– Coach to resign –
While the three players were punished for their role in the plot, coach Darren Lehmann was absolved of any wrongdoing. But the repurcussions of the cheating scandal and Cricket Australia’s desire to rehabilitate the team’s image effectively left his position untenable. “Saying goodbye to the players was the toughest thing I have ever had to do,” said an emotional Lehmann. “After seeing events in the media today (Thursday) with Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, the feeling is that Australian cricket needs to move forward and this is the right thing to do. I really felt for Steve and, as you see, I’m crying in front of the media. All the players are really hurting.”
– Warner in exile –
Warner, a divisive figure in the world game, has become the focus of Australian media, who blame him for the scandal. The Australian newspaper said there had been a “fierce feud” in the dressing room sparked by Warner’s alleged testimony to CA’s integrity officers, with pace spearheads Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood reportedly livid at being implicated. It said they felt he was willing to blame them to take the heat off himself. Warner has yet to speak publicly, but apologised to fans via social media. “Mistakes have been made which have damaged cricket,” Warner told his 1.6 million Instagram followers. “I apologise for my part and take responsibility for it. It’s a stain on the game.”
– Public outrage –
The incident sparked condemnation from the public back in Australia, where the role of national cricket captain is widely seen as the second most important job in the country behind prime minister. Australia’s premier Malcolm Turnbull said it had been “a shocking affront to Australia”. National media said the team had heaped “disgrace and humilation” on the country, while fund manager Magellan pulled the plug on a Cricket Australia partnership worth an estimated Aus$20 million (US$15 million) as sponsors have fled. Sporting goods company ASICS severed its relationship with Warner and Bancroft, while breakfast cereal Weet-Bix dumped Smith.