March 24th 2018 turned out to be one of the biggest crisis days for Australian Cricket as the cameras caught Cameron Bancroft tampering the ball's condition with a foreign object and on top of it, this was done under the skipper’s watch. The then skipper Steve Smith, his deputy, David Warner and Bancroft were found guilty after their confessions.
Australia bloated with confidence from their 4-0 victory against England at home toured South Africa to play 4 Test matches in March 2018. Heading into the third Test, both the teams had won one match apiece, Australia got the better of the hosts in the first match and the guests outplayed Australia in the 2nd. It was just not on-field that the series had spiced up, off-field as well there were a few tiffs between players. The prolonged celebration of AB de Villiers' run-out that involved Warner and Nathan Lyon in the 1st Test for which Lyon was fined 15% of his match fee. Kagiso Rabada’s shoulder rub with Smith when he was dismissed in the 2nd Test at Port Elizabeth. Last but not the least, an ugly off-field spat between Warner and Quinton de Kock in the Durban Test. From the CCTV cameras near the stairway, it was confirmed that Warner advanced towards de Kock, but the skipper pulled back his deputy to their dressing room. However, Warner was not charged for his incident. With all these huff and puff, hustle and tussle, the series was heading towards an interesting finish.
Batting first, South Africa had put on 311 runs in their 1st innings with Dean Elgar carrying the bat with an unbeaten 141 and in reply, Australia fell short by 56 runs. The lead was not alarming but, Australia needed early breakthroughs and they did get the big fish as Elgar was dismissed for 14 by Pat Cummins.
In the 2nd session as well Australia had to make early inroads, but Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla were in their way as they put on a 76-run partnership for the 2nd wicket. Amla was dismissed just after Markram reached a well-deserved half century. Just on the stroke of tea, 43rd over to be precise, the umpires had called Bancroft to have a word as they were dissatisfied with the way he was shining the ball. When called upon, Bancroft showed his ball shining towel and his shades case and it seemed to have dulled down.
At the fall of Markram’s wicket, tea was called on Day 3. Just as everyone thought the discussion had dampened, the TV footage had picked up a small yellow object that was used by Bancroft to alter the ball’s condition externally. The footage showed Bancroft rubbing the rough side of the ball and then hiding the object in front of his trousers. After the footage was shown on the big screen, both umpires yet again had a word with the skipper and Bancroft. The umpires inspected the ball, and chose neither to offer the ball to the South African team to replace it if they wished, nor award them five penalty runs - the options available to the umpires under Law 41.3 of the Laws of Cricket. This only meant that the ball wasn’t altered to that extent.
At the end of the day's play, the media was waiting for confirmation over the allegations and footage from the Australian side. It was Bancroft accompanied by his skipper Smith who came out to answer the barrage of questions. Bancroft confessed he had used a yellow adhesive tape to change the conditions so that the umpires would change the ball. The skipper admitted that the alteration towards the ball was done with his consent. He also said that, it was a plan by the “leadership group”.
At the end of the match, the match referee Andy Pycroft, charged Bancroft with Level 2 offence of attempting to alter the condition of the ball. As the skipper admitted his guilt, Smith was charged with “conduct of serious nature that is contrary to spirit of the game” by David Richardson, the then CEO of ICC. Smith also was proposed of two suspension points, which equalled a match ban, four demerit points and a 100% of his match fee. Whereas, Bancroft was handed three demerit points and fined 75% of his match fee. Smith stepped down as the skipper and Tim Paine took over captaincy from Day 4.
What happened later
An investigation was launched by the Cricket Australia’s then CEO James Sutherland. A few days after, the world knew that it was a sandpaper that was used to alter the ball condition. After another detailed meeting in Australia, the three players were charged with a breach of Article 2.3.5 of the CA code of conduct that stated:
(a) was contrary to the spirit of the game, (b) was unbecoming of representative of the office, (c) is or could be harmful the interest of cricket; and/or (d) did bring the game of cricket into disrepute.
Warner’s involvement in the plan to alter the condition of the ball and instructing Bancroft on how to do it, including demonstrating the technique to him and misleading the match officials by concealing his knowledge of the plan and not voluntarily reporting his involvement led to a 12-month ban to his International and domestic cricket career. Also, he was not to be considered for any future leadership roles in Australian domestic or International cricket.
As the team had done all this with the consent of the then skipper Smith, he also received a 12-month ban. Unlike Warner, Smith could take up captaincy only after 12 months post his ban. However, the consideration of his captaincy in the future would depend upon the acceptance of fans and public, form and authority among the playing group.
Bancroft was found to be a party to the plan to tamper with the ball, that he carried out Warner's instructions, tried to conceal the evidence and made statements to mislead match officials and the public. He was banned for 9 months from all international and domestic cricket. His captaincy ambitions was also subjected to a 12-month suspension post his ban.
Darren Lehman who was the coach at that time was cleared of any wrongdoing or involvement in the scandal by the investigation team. However, he stepped down as the coach after the series was over.