The Sandpaper Saga: voices of dissidence grow against bans
South Africa vs Australia, Day 3 - 3rd Test match, March 2018
It was the post-lunch session of the final Test match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands, with the hosts in a commanding position in the game, consolidating their grip on the series as well. The Aussies, their bowlers in particular, had to perform out of their skins to bring themselves back into the contest.
Traditionally, the Australians have been known as a team to fight till the end, not giving anything easy to their opponents. People expected them to show some heart and the Aussie bowlers obliged.
In the second session, the pace trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood started off in a much better manner, finding their swing back (something that deserted them until now) combined with greater control to make the South African batsmen work hard for their runs.
Maybe the pep talk during the break did wonders for them enabling the Aussies to have a significant swing going for them, or maybe something else was cooking.
The sandpaper incident caught on camera
Just when things seemed to be moving quite smoothly in the game, there was footage on the big screen, one that rocked the game of cricket forever.
Australian opener Cameron Bancroft could be seen repeatedly rubbing the ball with some foreign object. Upon continuous replays over the big screen, he took out the object from his pocket and put it inside his trousers. As the entire incident transpired, there appeared to be a sense of chaos among the Australians, both on and off the field. Coach Lehmann was seen giving instructions to reserve Peter Handscomb, who later appeared to be passing some information to Bancroft.
The confessions from skipper Smith and Bancroft
Post the end of day's play, Australian captain Steve Smith and Bancroft, the man in the heat of the incident, appeared in front of the media and confessed to having deliberately tampered with the ball using a sandpaper.
The most astonishing part was that it was a pre-planned strategy, taken by the "leadership group". For Bancroft it appeared that he was made the scapegoat, being the least experienced in the side, almost like in any organisation, the bosses decide upon an unethical plan, and the newcomer is asked to do the dirty task.
The aftermath of the incident: Bans imposed on Smith, Warner and Bancroft
With tearful apologies and repentance from the three, Cricket Australia imposed bans on skipper Smith, vice-captain Warner (1 year each) and Cameron Bancroft (9 months).
In fact, Smith was removed from captaincy with immediate effect, with Tim Paine having to do his duties as the leader heading into the 4th day of the test match, one of Australia's worst captaincy crisis post the Chappell incident during the under-arm howler.
An analogy with Pakistan's infamous spot-fixing incident:
The spot-fixing incident of 2010 at the Oval in England could be an intriguing case study, drawing a few similarities with the Australian ball-tampering episode.
1. 3 players were involved in both the incidents, two seniors and a newcomer, one of them being the captain of the side.
2 In both incidents, the captain asked a youngster, fairly new in the side, into doing something that was questionable of their integrity toward the game.
3. Both Bancroft and Mohammad Amir, maybe out of naivety, trust towards their skipper and immaturity, being asked to cheat.
4. Involvement of a senior player, Pakistan's Mohammad Asif and Australian vice-captain David Warner.
Rightful punishment to the Pakistan trio
The Pakistan trio, with the gravity of their actions being enormous, were tried in British courts and were sentenced to imprisonments accordingly.
Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were never allowed to return to the Pakistan side as a consequence of this incident, with Mohammad Amir losing 5 valuable years of his cricketing life.
Cries for reinstatement of the Aussie duo
With close to 8 months since the imposed ban, voices have started pouring in for the reinstatement of the former captain and vice-captain back into the side. The uninspiring performances from the team in the last 8 months has added to growing support for the Aussie duo.
Since March 2018, Australia have lost the lone Test series played against Pakistan 0-1, having already lost the controversial series in South Africa 1-3. In ODIs, Australia has been in dire straits being whitewashed 0-5 against England and losing the home series against South Africa 1-2.
With two of their most prolific batsmen being banned, the Australian side's performance has dipped to an all-time low, something that they have hardly been used to.
Hoping for a strong return
We can all argue that the nature of the two incidents have been contrasting, with money being involved in the 2010 incident. We must adhere to the fact that rightful punishments have been awarded accordingly.
Agreeing to the fact that the Australian cricketers were only trying to find a way back into the game, that it was merely a case of usual ball tampering, but of all the things, it wasn't a usual one. It was a planned strategy carried out in the know of the team management, something that doesn't happen every day.
Reflecting on the incidents, the cricketing world knows that Smith, Warner, and Bancroft would come out stronger, both as individuals as well as cricketers. Not only these individuals lost on a possible glorious year of their cricketing career, but the cricketing fans all across the world missed out on seeing their favourites over the last year.
Ultimately, the world would hope for them to serve their full bans, sending out a message to every sporting individual, and come back strong to serve their nation.