A match and series slipping away and a ball that could not get past the bats of South Africa’s batsmen drove Australia’s captain Steven Smith to an orchestrated attempt to cheat by tampering with the ball, a task carried out by the team’s youngest member Cameron Bancroft with the use of adhesive tape to try to pick up some rough earth from the Newlands pitch.
After Bancroft was informed by the match referee Andy Pycroft of a formal charge with attempting to change the condition of the ball on Saturday night, he joined Smith to admit before the world what television cameras had captured a strong circumstantial case for. The Australians had cheated, knowingly and collectively, in an attempt to change the momentum of a match where they find themselves 294 runs behind with two days remaining.
Smith said the team’s collective integrity would rightly be called into question by events in Cape Town, and said he was far from proud of the events that had transpired. He added that he would still have felt regret about the team’s actions even if they had not been picked up by television cameras at the ground.
“The leadership knew about it, we spoke about it at lunch. I’m not proud of what’s happened, it’s not within the spirit of the game,” Smith said. “My integrity, the team’s integrity, the leadership groups integrity has come into question and rightfully so. It’s certainly not on and it won’t happen again, I can promise you that under my leadership.
“I’m not naming names but the leadership group were what talked about it and Bangers (Bancroft) was around at the time and we spoke about it and thought it was a possible way to get an advantage. Obviously it didn’t work, the umpires didn’t see it change the way the ball was behaving or how it looked or anything like that, so it was a poor choice and deeply regrettable our actions.
“We saw this game as such an important game, not that other games aren’t important as well, but an opportunity. We’ve seen the ball reversing quite a lot throughout this series and our ball just didn’t look like it was going to go. That’s a mistake on our behalf again. It’s such poor actions and deeply regrettable and certainly won’t happen again under my leadership I can promise you.”
Some footage suggested communication between the coach Darren Lehmann and the 12th man Peter Handscomb, who relayed a message to Bancroft. However Smith denied the idea had anything to do with the coaching staff, or that the Australians had used the tactic previously to try to speed up the process of roughing up the ball for reverse swing.
“No the coaches weren’t involved, it was purely the players and the leadership group who came up with this and it’s not on and I can promise you it won’t happen again,” he said. “You can ask questions as much as you like but I can promise you this is the first time it’s happened and I think I’ve made it clear, we’re regrettable and we’ll move on from this.
“Hopefully we’ll learn something from it. I’m embarrassed, I know the boys in the shed are embarrassed as well, and I feel for Cam as well. It’s not what we want to see in the game, it’s not what the Australian cricket team’s about, and being the leader of the team I’m incredibly sorry for trying to bring the game into disrepute the way we did today.”
Bancroft, who over the course of eight Test matches has developed a strong reputation for doing whatever he can to help the team succeed, found himself taking blame for volunteering to carry out the ideas discussed during a break in play by more senior members of the Australian side. The “leadership group” alongside Smith has at various times featured the vice-captain David Warner, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.
“I’ve just had discussions with the match officials and I have been charged with attempting to change the condition of the ball,” Bancroft said. “We had a discussion during the break and I saw an opportunity to use some tape, get some granules from rough patches on the wicket to change the ball condition, it didn’t work, the umpires didn’t change the ball.
“Once being sighted on the screen I panicked quite a lot and that resulted in me shoving it down my trousers. We have this yellow tape in our kit and it is connected to some padding but the sticky stuff is very sticky and i felt like it could be used to collect some stuff from the side of the pitch and I have been charged with ball tampering.
“Unfortunately I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I want to be here because I’m accountable for my actions as well. Like the captain said, I’m not proud of what’s happened and I have to live with the consequences and the damage to my own reputation that comes with it. I’ll do my best to move forward and play cricket. I was in the vicinity of the area when the leadership group were discussing it. I’ll be honest with you, I was obviously nervous about it because with hundreds of cameras around that’s always the risk, isn’t it? I sit before you today and I’m not proud of what’s happened.”
Smith said that while he took responsibility for the events at Newlands, he would not consider stepping down as captain. He is yet to discuss the episode with the Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland or the chairman David Peever. “No, I won’t be considering stepping down. I still think I’m the right the person for the job,” Smith said. “Obviously, today was a big mistake on my behalf and on the leadership group’s behalf as well.
“But I take responsibility as the captain, I need to take control of the ship, but this is certainly something I’m not proud of and something that I can hope to learn from and come back strong from. I am embarrassed to be sitting here talking about this. We’re in the middle of such a great series and for something like this to overshadow the great cricket that’s been played and not have a single cricket question in here, that’s not what I’m about and not what the team’s about.
“We’ll move past this. It’s a big error in judgement but we’ll learn from it and move past it. It’s not what we’re about, it’s a poor reflection on everyone in that dressing room, particularly the leaders of the group. So absolutely if we weren’t caught I’d still feel incredibly bad about it.”