Australia cricketers confessed to ball tampering in a desperate plot hatched by captain Steve Smith and senior players as they saw the third Test against South Africa slipping away yesterday.
Batsman Cameron Bancroft was tasked with carrying out the tampering by using yellow sticky tape to pick up “granules” beside the pitch and rub it on the ball to rough it up in an attempt to get it to reverse swing on day three at Newlands.
But Bancroft was caught doing it on the field by television cameras, and then attempted to hide the evidence by shoving the tape down his trousers before he was questioned by umpires.
“The leadership group knew about it,” Smith said, admitting he and senior players – whom he would not name – planned the cheating during a break in play. “We spoke about it at lunch and I’m not proud of what’s happened. It’s not within the spirit of the game.
“We spoke about it and thought it was a possible way to get an advantage ... poor choice and, yeah, we’re deeply regrettable.”
The tampering and hiding of the tape was replayed over and over in slow motion and close up, on the big screen at Newlands and on television. Bancroft confessed.
“I saw an opportunity,” Bancroft said, “to potentially use some tape and get some granules from the rough patches of the wicket and try to change the ball condition. It didn’t work. Once I was sighted on the [stadium television] screen and having done that I panicked quite a lot, and that resulted in me shoving it [the tape] down my trousers.”
The confessions by Smith and Bancroft at the post-day news conference provided the most shocking moment in a series that has contained a multitude of contentious incidents and off-field drama.
None as jaw-dropping as this, though.
Bancroft was charged with ball tampering by the match officials. He didn’t say if he admitted to the charge.
It also wasn’t revealed if Smith and other players were facing charges of bringing the game into disrepute. They can be charged under the International Cricket Council code of conduct and bans could be handed out.
Smith said he would not resign as Australia captain.
Although ball tampering to various degrees happens in cricket, Smith and Bancroft revealed a conspiracy in the Australia dressing room where senior players discussed how they could cheat to get back in the game and the series, then roped in a young member of the squad to do the deed, and then got caught by television cameras and had to face the music.
Bancroft said he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” when he got involved. “I was a bit nervous about it because with hundreds of cameras around, that’s always the risk, isn’t it?”
The scramble to hide their actions exacerbated a low moment in Australian cricket, which has a proud history as one of the stalwarts of the game.
Smith insisted coaches were not involved in the plan in Cape Town and had no knowledge of it, and he declined to name the other players involved. The team’s “leadership group” has previously included vice-captain David Warner, and bowlers Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, and Josh Hazlewood.
“I’m not naming names,” Smith said.
He also insisted this was the first time tampering happened on his watch as captain, denying that Australia’s big victory in the opening Test in Durban, where fast bowler Starc got the ball to reverse swing with deadly effect, was also aided by tampering.
Using a foreign object to rough up or change the condition of one side of the ball can help it swing in the air, or do other unpredictable things, making it tougher for batsmen to face. The use of foreign objects to tamper with the ball is strictly prohibited.
Questions will still be asked now about previous Australia successes.
“You can ask questions as much as you like but I can promise you that this is the first time that this has happened,” Smith said. “I’ve made it clear that we’re regrettable and we’ll move on from this and hopefully we’ll learn something from it. I’m embarrassed and I know the boys in the shed are embarrassed as well.”
Smith said “if we weren’t caught, I’d still feel incredibly bad about it”.
Also subject to scrutiny is how far the Australians went to try and cover up the tampering. There was movement of players, including Smith, on and off the field in the immediate aftermath of Bancroft’s actions being caught on cameras.
When on-field umpires Richard Illingworth and Nigel Llong of England questioned Bancroft, he produced what appeared to be a black sunglasses bag from his right pocket in way of explanation, and clearly in an attempt to deceive the umpires.
No action was taken by the umpires at the time, but match officials including referee Andy Pycroft of Zimbabwe were able to review TV footage of the incident.