On This Day in Sport: March 24 - Australian cricket rocked by sandpaper scandal

Will Macpherson
Evening Standard
Getty Images
Getty Images

For Australian cricket, March 24 will always be a date associated with infamy.

Two years ago, the tsunami started with just a ripple.

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At Cape Town’s Newlands, on the third afternoon of the Third Test of a fractious but thrilling series, a South African cameraman spotted Australia’s Cameron Bancroft smuggling a small yellow square into his whites.

It was later revealed to be sandpaper — and a preconceived plan to cheat.

The fallout was seismic. Bancroft was banned for nine months. Steve Smith, who had been lauded for his batting but was cast as a weak and tired captain, and David Warner, the vice-captain who was painted as the mastermind of the failed plan, were given a year each.

Then Australia captain Steve Smith gave a tearful press conference in the aftermath of the scandal (AFP via Getty Images)
Then Australia captain Steve Smith gave a tearful press conference in the aftermath of the scandal (AFP via Getty Images)

The coach, Darren Lehmann, joined those three in giving a tearful farewell press conference. Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland resigned, too.

Other players had tampered with a ball but not seen a reaction like this. Australia, a nation that sees its international cricketers as their most visible statesmen, was aghast. A national identity built on playing hard but fair had been damaged.

During the Ashes series that preceded the tour of South Africa, the sense that Cricket Australia was rotten from the top down was unavoidable.

The marketing team had come up with the simple, but simply distasteful, slogan of “Beat England” for the series. Little else mattered, especially not carrying yourself with some class.

Rumours swirled about what was being said on the pitch. The sense was that Australian cricketing culture might just be brought back to earth with a bump, but no one saw it playing out quite like this.

Two years, however, is a very long time in sport.

Smith and Warner, in their own ways, have made strong, happy returns to the game. Smith dominated last summer’s Ashes series, while Warner had a solid World Cup, a dire Ashes, then a brilliant home summer.

Likewise David Warner, with the pair both handed one-year bans from cricket (Getty Images)
Likewise David Warner, with the pair both handed one-year bans from cricket (Getty Images)

It has been a very different story for Bancroft. He was rushed back into the Test side last summer, then dropped after two Tests.

His fall continued when, at the beginning of this month, he was dropped from Western Australia’s Sheffield Shield team before coronavirus curtailed the season.

Under Justin Langer, Australia have done plenty to rebuild their reputation. For some, though, the scandal will never fully be shaken off.

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