Johannesburg (AFP) – The Australian ball-tampering scandal in South Africa has rocked cricket to its core and reportedly left the team feuding and fractured amid scepticism that the full story has not been told.
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. “I said earlier that if they could get reverse swing in the 26th, 27th, 28th over, then they are doing something different from what everyone else does.”
– Sandpaper, not tape –
A sheepish Bancroft, appearing in just his eighth Test, 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 contradicted by a statement from Cricket Australia (CA) on Wednesday, who said the player had attempted to “artificially alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper”. The aim would have been to generate more swing for Australia’s bowlers.
– One-year bans –
Skipper Steve Smith, the world’s top ranked Test batsman, 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. Bancroft was banned for nine months, with Smith and Warner also barred from this year’s Indian Premier League, losing contracts worth nearly $2 million each. A Cricket Australia spokesman told AFP the players could still play at club level in Australia or in other countries, but could not represent their Australian states.
– Coach ‘not involved’ –
While the three players were punished for their role in the plot, coach Darren Lehmann was absolved of any wrongdoing. Television footage had showed Lehmann relaying a message down to 12th man Peter Handscomb via walkie talkie after cameras caught Bancroft attempting to scuff up the ball, but CA chief James Sutherland said his reaction proved he was not in on the plan. “I want to clarify that specific point. He sent a message to say ‘what the hell is going on’, except he didn’t use the word ‘hell’,” Sutherland told reporters in Johannesburg. “(Our head of integrity) Iain Roy in his investigation found that to be the fact. I am satisfied that Darren Lehmann was not involved and didn’t know anything about the plan.”
– 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, with emotions so raw that Warner may never be welcomed back.
– 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” and management must act “decisively and emphatically”. National media said the team had heaped “disgrace and humilation” on the country, while sponsors have also voiced “deep concern” over reputational damage with electronics giant LG dropping Warner as brand ambassador, amid fears other could follow suit.