March 24, 2018, a gloomy Saturday in Cape Town, will forever be remembered as a notorious date. A day later, South Africa raced home in the final session to take 10 Australian wickets in less than a session – they won by a record 323 runs to take a 2-1 series lead. Australia has never lost a Test Series in South Africa since 1970, but as of this moment, nobody cares about these numbers. Nobody cares that Morne Morkel took his first 5-wicket haul of his Test career in his penultimate Test match. Nobody cares that South Africa cannot lose this series.
Because on March 24, 25-year-old Cameron Bancroft became a chapter in a “modest” book of cricket cheating. It wasn’t of the match-fixing or spot-fixing variety, but the manner in which it unfolded has violated more than just a few rules in the ICC’s outdated code of conduct (Clause 2.10). Under orders from ‘senior management’ led by Steve Smith, the young opener, in plain view of cameras, attempted to “tamper” the ball with a yellow piece of sandpaper he was hiding in his pocket. Once he realized he was caught on camera, he panicked and shoved the sandpaper down his pants. At the same time, coach Darren Lehmann was caught relaying orders on walkie talkie to the 12th man, presumably telling him to ask the team to be careful while executing their non-masterly plan. The entire execution was amateur at best, and the Aussies – who have perpetually stretched the spirit of the game – were embarrassed and humiliated by their own compromised desire to win Test matches.
However, it’s the punishment meted out to Smith and Bancroft by the ICC that has come under equal fire. A Dave Richardson led panel immediately levied a one-test ban on Smith with a 100% match fee fine, while Bancroft was only fined 75 % of his match fee and three demerit points. The soft stance taken by the ICC surprised everybody and nobody – given that their archaic laws have rarely ever treated ball-tampering (the de-shaping of the rough side of a cricket ball to achieve swing) as a serious offence. Perhaps CA (Cricket Australia) will set an example, especially because it was an orchestrated crime that left nothing to imagination when busted.
Where does the Australian Cricket Team’s offence rank among the ball-tampering incidents of modern cricket? You decide. Here are five of the famous instances:
The Godly Sachin Tendulkar, in 2001 during the second Test match between India and South Africa at Port Elizabeth, was captured by cameras digging at the ball on the field. He would later testify that he was trying to remove a blade of grass from the seam. Referee Mark Dennes handed him a one-match ban and a fine of 75 % of his match fees – after which there was complete chaos during the tour. With terms like “racism” thrown around, the Indian Cricket Board bullied the ICC into not only overturning the one-match ban but also banning Dennes from the Third Test as well as stripping it of official Test status. It didn’t help that a young Virender Sehwag, making his international debut in an overseas series, was banned for excessive appealing by the same referee. For the record, India lost the 3-match series 2-0.
DRAVID? NEVER EVER!
In the 2004 VB series involving India, Zimbabwe and Australia, Rahul Dravid’s only blemish of his cricketing career came when he was docked 50% of his match fee after he was found guilty of rubbing cough lozenge on the white ball during an ODI against Zimbabwe, which India won by 24 runs. Dravid was incidentally also the top scorer in the match. India lost the series after losing the best-of-3 Finals 2-0 to the powerful hosts.
THE OVAL GOES PEAR SHAPED
In 2006, umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove presided over one of the most infamous Test matches in the history of the sport. On day 4 of the fourth and final Test – a series that England had already won 2-0 – Pakistan were well in charge after taking a 331-run lead in the first innings. But England were fighting back a bit. They were 298-4 by tea time, with four sessions to go. Yet, half an hour before tea time, the umpires had awarded England five runs because they suspected ball tampering after inspecting the shape of the ball between the overs. In retaliation, led by captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, the Pakistani team refused to come out to play after Tea because of how wronged they felt at the hands of the umpires. In response, the umpires awarded the Test match to England, and the series read 3-0 instead of 2-1 by the end. Months later, umpire Darrell Hair was banned from officiating in matches by the ICC, after all the Asian countries voted against him saying Hair had a racial problem with these teams.
In the fifth ODI between Australia and Pakistan at the MCG – Pakistan’s tour to Australia was incidentally one of the rare instances of a complete whitewash (3-0 in Tests, 5-0 in ODIs and 1-0 in T20s) – with the match in a tense position, captain Shahid Afridi, in contrast to the Oval events of 2006, was caught by cameras biting into the white ball before handing it over to bowler Naved-ul-Hasan. He was completely unsubtle about his attempt to sabotage the ball, resulting in a 2-match T20 ban and some of the most hilarious memes on the internet about his big bite.
In 1994, on South Africa’s first tour to England after their return to international cricket, they drew the 3-match Test Series 1-1. Mike Artherton, England’s captain, however, made the headlines after England lost the first Test by a whopping 356 runs. More than the disappointment, in one of the first recorded instances of modern-day ball tampering, Atherton was seeing rubbing soil from his pocket onto the ball on the field. He was fined 2000 pounds for his misdemeanor for not being honest with the match referee later (where he denied the charge) – but remained captain during the tour and another few years. The incident was forgotten, but it might have set the precedent for the weak punishments meted out to non-Asian cricketers over the next two decades for ball-tampering.
CAPTAIN UNCOOL PART 2
Faf du Plessis, South Africa’s Test captain, is by no means an innocent cricketer. Twice he has been fined for two separate incidents – the latest of which occurred during South Africa’s tour of Australia back in 2016, which the visitors won 2-1. After sucking on mint, he applied his saliva to the ball during the second Test at Hobart, which South Africa won by an innings. He was docked 100 % of his match fee, but hit back in the next day-and-night Test at Adelaide by scoring a century in a lost cause. Faf was earlier charged half his match fee for a rubbing the ball against his trouser zip against Pakistan back in 2013. After the Hobart incident, Australian vice-captain David Warner commented, “I would be ashamed if one of our players did the same”. Famous last words, indeed.
One would argue that the Newlands scandal belongs to the very top of this list. Australian Cricket might never be the same again.