Australian cricket disgraced as chickens come home to roost
Captain Smith and Bancroft rightly pilloried for blatant cheating against South Africa
When it dawned on Bancroft that his indiscretion had been spotted, he was then seen shoving the object down his trousers before pleading innocence. Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
The hosts had just pummelled Joe Root’s side at the Gabba, winning by 10 wickets, and news had emerged of Jonny Bairstow greeting Bancroft with a ‘headbutt’ in a Perth bar during the embryonic stages of England’s ill-fated tour.
Bancroft was quizzed on the incident and delighted in revealing the details as his skipper guffawed next to him, giggling away like a schoolboy as the first of many psychological blows was landed on the tourists.
Fast forward four months and the double-act were in front of the world’s media once more, only this time the laughs were replaced with ashen-faces and trembling bottom lips.
On Saturday Smith and Bancroft admitted to trying to tamper with the ball during the third day of the third Test of an already fraught series against South Africa.
Bancroft, 25, who had made his Test debut in that win at the Gabba last November – had been caught on camera working the ball with a yellow object, which was later revealed to be tape.
When it dawned on Bancroft that his indiscretion had been spotted, he was then seen shoving the object down his trousers before pleading innocence with the match umpires. However, the damage had been done, and after play both he and his skipper admitted they had cheated.
The recriminations began as Australia woke up on Sunday morning to the news their captain – arguably the world’s best batsman – had dragged the famous Baggy Green through the dirt.
Both Smith and vice-captain David Warner were stood down for the remainder of the Cape Town Test, before the International Cricket Council announced Smith would be fined 100 per cent of his match fee and face a one-game ban.
Bancroft meanwhile escaped a ban but was given three demerit points by the ICC and fined 75 per cent of his match fee.
Both were roundly booed as they came out to bat on Sunday evening, the Newlands crowd delighting in their cheap dismissals as Australia careered towards a 322-run hammering.
Ball-tampering is viewed as a Level Two offence by the ICC. It is blatant cheating and against the spirit of cricket, but it perhaps isn’t quite the cardinal sin it is being portrayed as in the wake of Saturday’s scandal.
Smith’s opposite number, Faf du Plessis, was fined his match fee in 2016 after he was found guilty of using mints to alter the state of the ball in a Test between the same two sides in Hobart. It’s wrong, but it happens.
However, the reason why Bancroft and Smith’s admission has caused such a stir – and why they are being made to squirm so much – is not just because of how premeditated it was, but also because there is a sense Australia’s chickens are coming home to roost.
This Australia team is a parody of itself. They love to give it out, yet they really don’t like it when things aren’t going their way.
On Friday head coach Darren Lehmann called the Newlands crowd ‘disgraceful’ after Warner was reportedly subjected to personal abuse as he departed the field following his first innings dismissal.
This is the same Lehmann who in 2013 accused England’s Stuart Broad of ‘blatant cheating’ and urged the Australian crowds to send him home in tears when the two sides met in that winter’s Ashes series.
Lehmann, Smith and their charges like to present themselves as being whiter than white – crusaders in the battle to help cricket retain its integrity – but this has now been proven to be a fallacy.
Smith’s role as captain is now untenable, and it’s likely he will lose the job in the fall-out. His long-term place in the side, however, is almost certainly safe.
And while in all the outrage people will claim this incident has driven a dagger through the heart of the game, it could actually prove to be a good thing.
Firstly, the storm which has followed tape-gate has shown just how much Test cricket still means to people, and how the spirit in which it is supposed to be played remains integral to the sport.
Secondly, it is the moment the halo slipped off this Australian team, and a rotten core was exposed. This could be the catalyst for them to wipe the slate clean and once more field a side who practice what they preach.