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Cricket 2020: the Cape Town ball-tampering saga, two years on

The Advertiser 2020-03-24 12:28:00

Two years ago today, Australian cricket lost its credibility.

For decades, the national men’s cricket team touted themselves as the standard-bearers for sportsmanship, dutifully upholding the Spirit of Cricket.

But on March 24th in 2018, Cameron Bancroft appeared on the big screen in Newlands, rubbing a yellow strip onto the match ball. When he frantically hid the sandpaper in his pants, the illusion was exposed.

Front pages of newspapers around the globe piled in during a brutal media frenzy – The Times plastered “CHEATS”, The Sun went for “HYPOCRITES”, while the Herald Sun bluntly displayed “SACK THEM ALL” on their cover.

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Australia’s Test captain, surrounded by a dozen security guards, was dragged through the Cape Town airport like a criminal, South African citizens hurling abuse at the batting phenom.

Magellan pulled out of their multi-million sponsorship deal, the national men’s side lost its best coach since John Buchanan, and nine months later, Virat Kohli lifted the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

The ball-tampering saga sent shockwaves through the sporting landscape. Cricket Australia’s Board was overhauled entirely, and The Ethics Centre’s 147-page review “A Matter of Balance” is a damning read about the sport’s toxic culture.

However, after Steve Smith and David Warner returned from their one-year bans, the team’s revival started to take shape. Tim Paine’s side secured the Ashes on foreign soil for the first time since 2001, and Australia remained undefeated in all three formats during the home 2019/20 summer.

The overwhelming success could spell the start of another golden era for Australian cricket, charged by spearhead Pat Cummins and prodigy Marnus Labuschagne.

But in the fine print remains an unspoken problem. Although the PR crisis is over for Cricket Australia, a sand-coloured stain lingers.

Smith himself summed it up perfectly during the infamous post-match press conference, two years ago today.

“It’s not within the spirit of the game. My integrity has come into question, and rightfully so,” Smith told reporters in Cape Town, Bancroft sheepishly sitting at his side.

“It’s a big error in judgement, but we’ll learn from it and move past it.”

A big error, yes – but Smith was foolishly naive to think the Australian public would move past it.

“I won’t be considering stepping down (as captain),” Smith defiantly declared. “I still think I’m the right person for the job.”

In actuality, Smith would be replaced by Paine within 48 hours and was handed a two-year ban from any leadership position in Australia’s international or domestic cricket teams.

That ban ends this week – Smith could technically be named captain for Australia’s next match, whenever that may be.

Former All Black Byron Kelleher was charged for an alleged assault charge from an incident in September last year. Stuff reported Kelleher’s lawyer wanted permanent name suppression on the ground publicity over his arrest would severely impact commercial opportunities and brand identity.

However, Judge Russell Collins bluntly denied that request during a hearing in February. Why?

“You can cheat at cricket and still play for Australia,” he said.

“There are many examples of famous sports stars that have had a fall from grace that makes no impact on their brand and marketability at all”.

Smith and Warner have set a worrying precedent.

Mountains of runs can solve any PR crisis – we all forgot about Marcus Stoinis’ homophobic slur after he plundered the highest individual score in Big Bash history.

But although Smith and Warner’s redemption story seemed complete when one single-handedly returned the urn, and the other surpassed Sir Donald Bradman, they still cheated, and no amount of triple-centuries can undo that.

Originally published as The ball-tampering saga: Two years on