Opinion: Runs alone don't redeem Bancroft
For the first time in almost a year, Cameron Bancroft is now garnering attention for the right reason. It was in March last year that Bancroft was caught rubbing sandpaper on the ball during the Test in Cape Town. This the beginning of a series of events that would see him, along with Steve Smith and David Warner, receive hefty bans from professional cricket.
Bancroft's nine-month ban was the lightest of the three, yet he was unable to make an immediate impact, returning for the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash with scores of 2, 19 and 24. However, his last two innings have seen him remind viewers that behind the controversy, there is also a skilled batter, as he hit 59 in Melbourne, and then a matching winning 87 not out in front of his home fans in Perth.
This is particularly impressive considering that since facing what is arguably the world's best pace attack in South Africa, he's had to hone his skills against bowlers of a far lower level. Bancroft's form should be applauded, but it is important not to view these runs as a type of redemption for Bancroft.
The sport has a problem with confusing skill with morality. That great sportsmen like Lance Armstrong, Diego Maradona, Maria Sharapova and cricket's own Shane Warne could be caught on doping charges often runs contrary to the perception the sporting world holds of these people.
This is because sports fans, and certainly cricket fans, hold the false logic that a persons sporting skills are connected to their morality. When Shane Warne delivered the "Ball of the Century" to dismiss Mike Gatting, he delighted many cricket fans, both neutrals, and Australians. Steve Smith similarly entertained many with his unorthodox but highly effective batting style, adding to the cricketing world through the runs he scored and the way he scored them.
Perhaps we hold great players to a certain moral standard because of the joy we experience watching them. Seeing a connection between someone's ability to time a cover drive, and their ability to maintain their integrity as a professional is laughable. But in contrast, having a player who generally elicits a positive response from their fans suddenly accused of bringing the game into disrepute, and therefore harming the very game they enhanced, seems uncharacteristic.
There subsequently seems to be a connection between how well players like Bancroft perform, and how willing the sporting world is to forgive them.
After Mohammad Amir served his five-year ban for his part in a spot-fixing scandal, cricket seemed to be divided over whether or not he should be allowed to return to the International cricket. Amir eventually did return for Pakistan, and almost immediately rekindled the excitement he had generated when he burst onto the International scene as just a teenager.
While his performances in recent times have left something to be desired, Amir's early performances upon his return, where he delivered some scintillating spells of swing-bowling, seemed to help appease those who had previously been opposed to his return. It would be interesting to see the feelings of the cricketing world towards Amir if he had not returned to the game, or if he had but didn't manage to provide performances of a high caliber. Would people be as forgiving? Or would Amir's image be further tarnished by fans last memory of him bowling that fateful no-ball at Lords?
This is not to say that Amir didn't deserve forgiveness, nor that Bancroft doesn't deserve forgiveness, but rather that their performances on the cricket field are unrelated to how they may have changed as people.
To suggest that Bancroft's last couple of innings act as part of his redemption implies that had he not scored runs it would have indicated that he hadn't learned from his behavior.
Even over a century after his death, W. G. Grace is one of the most celebrated figures in cricket history. Yet Grace was a habitual cheater who frequently undermined the integrity of the game for his own gain. Grace labeled himself an amateur rather than a professional by Marylebone Cricket Club to exploit a loophole that allowed him to earn more money. He was a man who once refused to walk despite being clean bowled, and who on one occasion even kidnapped an opposition player.
Yet such stories of Grace have not affected his image. If anything, Grace's propensity to cheat is now looked back on as an endearing character quirk. The reason history remembers still remembers him kingly is because he was an extraordinary player.
The room for forgiveness people have for cricketers is largely still dependent on the skill they have. People will overlook certain misdemeanors, as long as their performances outweigh their wrongs.
Such a perspective, conscious or not, therefore creates a disparity in how players are treated, and can, therefore, create an allowance for a certain level of cheating. While Bancroft's performances should be enjoyed, it is important for his runs not to be viewed as penance, after all, it was putting performances above all else that led to the ball-tampering.