Faf du Plessis claims Australia were ball tampering weeks before sandpapergate

Faf du Plessis - PA
Faf du Plessis - PA

Former South Africa captain Faf du Plessis has reopened the feud between the Proteas and Australia over the ball-tampering scandal of 2018 with punchy claims that his team suspected wrongdoing from the start of the series.

In the third of a four-Test series, at Newlands in Cape Town, Australia – namely Cameron Bancroft, the young opener – were caught red-handed applying sandpaper to the ball.

It led to a nine-month ban from Cricket Australia for Bancroft, plus year-long suspensions for captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner, who was painted as the mastermind of the operation.

But Du Plessis, South Africa’s skipper during the series, believes Australia were already tampering with the ball earlier in the series.

“During the first Test in Durban, the Australian pace attack had got the ball to reverse insanely,” Du Plessis wrote in ‘Faf: Through Fire’, which is released this week.

“Mitchell Starc claimed nine wickets and, although I regard him as one of the best proponents of reverse-swing bowling I have ever seen or faced, those deliveries in Durban were borderline unplayable.

“He would come in around the wicket with a badly deteriorated ball and get it to hoop past us.

“Our balls had also reversed but not nearly as much as theirs.

“We suspected that someone had been nurturing the ball too much to get it to reverse so wildly, and we watched the second Test at St George’s through binoculars, so that we could follow the ball more closely while Australia was fielding.

“When we noticed that the ball was going to David Warner quite often – our changing room must have looked like a birdwatching hide as we peered intently through our binoculars.

“There was a visible difference between how Mitchell Starc got the ball to reverse in the first Test in Durban and the final Test in Johannesburg. We now know that there was an obvious reason for that.”

Du Plessis says Australia's Mitchell Starc was getting prodigious swing throughout the fractious series - GETTY IMAGES
Du Plessis says Australia's Mitchell Starc was getting prodigious swing throughout the fractious series - GETTY IMAGES

Du Plessis is not the first player to question whether Australia first tampered with the ball in Cape Town; England’s Stuart Broad made similar queries at the time, with the series coming straight after a 4-0 Ashes defeat. Australia’s players have always denied it.

Du Plessis, who has now retired from Test cricket but remains on the T20 circuit, was himself found guilty of applying foreign substance to the ball – a mint, via saliva – during another fractious series between the two teams in 2016. He acknowledged this, saying “I’m not mentioning this from atop a high horse”.

He said that as a result he had “tremendous sympathy” for what Smith, who he believed did not do “much wrong”, and Bancroft went through in the aftermath.

Australia and South Africa have not met in Test cricket since the 2018 series, but will in the upcoming Australian summer.

Usman Khawaja, who played in 2018 and remains in Australia’s side, rebutted du Plessis’s claims in the Sydney Morning Herald, saying he “giggled” when he saw them.

“Even in the second Test of that series [in Port Elizabeth], South Africa reverse swung the ball before we did,” Khawaja said. “So for him to say that ... they were reverse swinging it before we were.”

Cricket Australia declined to comment in response to Du Plessis' claims, and have previously maintained that the Bancroft incident was a one-off.