“Faf is being held together by… I was going to say by sticky tape, but that’s probably not the right thing.”
So began the announcement, nearly four days after the Newlands incident in 2018, by then South Africa coach Ottis Gibson. He took a dig at Australia’s ball-tampering weapon of choice. Australia had its moments when it was exceptionally good, but this was one of its lowest points. They would work on it and eventually the players would come good and they would be strong again. But March 24 marks two years since Australian cricket was thrown into crisis by the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal.
Less than two weeks ago, an eight-part docu-series titled ‘The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team’ served partly as a public relations exercise; with the over-riding theme of adeptly chronicling a dramatic 16 months. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect; the sense of euphoria surrounding the revival could not have been better stage-managed. The objective was to win back the people the cricket team had let down by “engaging in cheating”, as averred by then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. But the show wasn’t so much about the disciplinary transgression, as it was about the road to redemption thereafter.
Steven Smith and David Warner, formerly captain and vice-captain of Australia, were banned from playing international and domestic cricket for 12 months by Cricket Australia for their roles in the scandal while Cameron Bancroft, the player caught tampering the ball, was banned from playing for nine months. The immediate bans were obvious and necessary appeasement of the public demand for swift and decisive action from CA. The reception Australia has got since that fateful Test against South Africa has usually oscillated between disgust and awe.
Australian cricket was thrown into crisis by the ball tampering scandal. Here, the then Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland faces the media after the incident in Cape Town. Photo: Getty Images
Michael Holding, West Indies fast-bowling great who was part of the commentary team at Cape Town, dismisses the notion that the fallout was over the top. “I don’t think so,” said Holding, “considering the level of punishments meted out to individuals and teams whose crime was to not bowl enough overs in a day. And I think the bigger crime was to try and cover up what took place instead of just taking it on the chin and apologising.” Holding did not see the incident live. He had just come off commentary when a broadcasting colleague brought it to his attention. “I went outside the Supersports comms box only to be asked by a commentator from another network if I had seen what happened,” Holding recalled. “I went back inside and watched all the replays from the various angles that were broadcasted and my immediate reaction was dismay. I couldn’t believe anyone could be so naïve to do what he, Bancroft did in today’s world.”
In the damning findings of a wide-ranging culture review, was this salient observation: “The ball-tampering incident … can be seen as an aberration. It can be dismissed as the failure of a handful of players. However, to think this would be mistaken. We have spoken with players who are reluctant to challenge the errant behaviour of their team-mates – just in case it puts them off their game and leads to a loss.”
An emotional Steve Smith addresses the media after facing the CA sanctions for ball-tampering. – FILE PHOTO/ GETTY IMAGES
Holding, however, said he never felt disrespected by the Australians during his playing days. “In my time of playing against Australia, I always considered them tough opponents who took no prisoners on the field but that’s where the “war” ended. I can honestly say I was never the subject of any racial or personal abuse and never heard any either and I played against some tough guys. That said, sometimes what you hear through stump microphones these days, it seems times have changed and not for the better,” he said.
Holding has “no idea” if Smith and Warner are better with experience. “I remember seeing an advertisement that Smith did while under suspension, intimating his involvement in the scandal which in my opinion was in poor taste. It didn’t suggest to me that there was any remorse. I don’t know either gentleman so can only go by what I see.”
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