The dust of #SandPaperGate has finally settled. Cricket Australia banned 3 players – Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft for their alleged involvement in the ball tampering episode (with a sandpaper) on the third day of the 3rd test between South Africa and Australia in Cape Town. For those who are not aware of the #SandPaperGate, this article will shed some light on the controversy, the turn of events that derailed Cricket Australia and some life lessons when it comes to managing crisis.
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During the course of the 3rd Test match between Australia and South Africa, David Warner, the then vice-captain of the side hatched a plan to tamper the cricket ball with a sandpaper. He chose a newbie Test batsman Cameron Bancroft for the task and also kept his captain Steve Smith in the loop. When Bancroft was caught in the camera, he tried to hide the sandpaper inside his trousers, but the fear on his face narrated the whole story. When questioned, Bancroft readily admitted of using a sandpaper to tamper the condition of the ball. When Bancroft confessed the involvement of the leadership team, all hell broke loose. Steve Smith was expected to lead by example, but as a captain of the side, he failed to keep the work ethic in place.
First, he gave a nod to Warner to execute his evil plans, second; a junior teammate like Bancroft who is barely 9 Tests old was chosen as a scapegoat to essay plan and last but not the least, Smith made a serious error in judgment thinking if caught in the act, the ever invincible Australian side can easily get out of it. And why not? Finally, ball tampering is just considered as a Level 2 offence by the ICC – any player can easily get away by paying a lion share of the match fee along with a one match ban.
Cameron Bancroft presided the press conference ahead of his captain and made the whole situation a lot messier. Ideally, Steve Smith should have faced the initial music, extended a heartfelt apology and taken responsibility of the whole mess. He was apologetic, but not to the core. He said, “I take responsibility as the captain. I need to take control of the ship. Today was a big mistake on my behalf and on the leadership group behalf’s as well.” When asked about his plans to captain the Australian side in the future, he shamelessly said, “I still think I’m the right person for the job.” Cricket Australia lost it at this point of time. The board immediately issued a circular stating that a team of Integrity Officers will be flown to South Africa to have a detailed investigation into the matter. A good leader is known to safeguard his junior teammate. If only Smith had asked media to keep Bancroft out of this fiasco, he could have earned some degree of respect. This angered the fans and left Cricket Australia with no choice but to take some tough decisions in order to safeguard the larger interest of the Australian people.
The team of Integrity Officers and some key members of Cricket Australia slapped one year life ban on Warner and Smith. Bancroft on the other hand was handed over a 9 month ban. There’s more to it. Warner, even after making a comeback to the side will never be considered for a leadership role, while Smith and Bancroft can only be considered a year after making their comeback to the Australian side. In Australia, the captain of the national cricket team is considered as the second most powerful person after the Prime Minister. The Aussies put a lot of weight behind their cricket captain and ideally Smith should have lived by their expectations. In the midst of this turmoil, the common men of Australia who had earlier chosen Steve Smith as the ‘Australian of the Year’ in January 2018 were not ready to forgive him. For them, Steve Smith had committed a heinous crime and it was simply unpardonable. Steve Smith and David Warner even in the wildest of their dreams must have never thought of bringing so much disrepute to their country and put their glorious cricketing careers on the line. Being the batting heavy weights of the side doesn’t make you indispensable by any chance, especially when your countrymen are not by your side.
Before the start of the 4th Test, all 3 culprits were flown back to Australia. They broke down during the course of the press conference. Such outburst of emotions is never a good sight to watch. Cricketers took on Twitter to extend some support to the tainted players, but the hard decision was already taken by Cricket Australia after losing one of their major sponsors. Warner’s wife Candice lost her 3rd baby in a miscarriage due to stress. Lot of general Australian public may have sympathized these players at this moment, but forgiving them at that point clearly meant labeling Australia as a country that breeds ‘CHEATERS.’ Let’s face it.
Australia was a prison island used by the British government and lot of convicts settled in the island after serving their jail term. Australians are naturally aggressive, it’s in their DNA and for a very long time the Australians played a ruthless brand of cricket, which they term it as ‘Win-at-all-costs’ sort of attitude. If you sit down to think rationally, none of these 3 players are big culprits. They have only displayed characteristics of their cultural upbringing. When it backfired on the whole country, two of the greatest cricketing heroes were made villains overnight. All of a sudden the whole of Australian public started talking about morals and ideologies. Well Australian people, does it really exist in your DNA?
While imposing the ban, Cricket Australia had clearly mentioned that all 3 players can challenge the sanctions imposed on them within a period of 15 days. When the time came, none of these tainted players challenged these sanctions Moreover, Steve Smith in particular gave a very strong statement when he expressed that these sanctions have been imposed by Cricket Australia to send a strong message and he would do anything to put this episode completely behind him. A wave of sympathy grew around these players after their honest confessions before the media. The ban also demands some form of community service to be undertaken by these players which can rebuild their reputation and to some degree cleanse their public image.
Bancroft, if likely to make a comeback to the national side will be the first one to complete his ban by December 2018. Warner somehow feels that his career as an international Australian cricketer is almost over. Smith is still hopeful to make a comeback. While the ban prevents these players from playing domestic cricket as well, it will be interesting to see the merit of their selection if they ever happen to make a comeback into the team. It’s important for these players to keep practicing and remain to the peak of the game. With Cricket Australia’s stringent selection parameters, the only thing that can warrant their selection will be their FORM. Cricket lovers around the world want to see these players and also believe this is not the end of the road for the 2 dashing Australians – Warner & Smith.
After showing ample amount of humility towards Cricket Australia and people around the globe, Warner, Smith and even Bancroft for that matter have showed healthy signs of evolved human beings. It’s very important for the trio to stay spirited and raise their game to the next level. When selectors sit down to reinstate them into the team, their performances should speak larger than words. The sweet sound of their cricketing shots coming from the mid of the bat should give a testimony of their true caliber and not a shallow incident of ball tampering which is better forgotten in some lost pages of history.
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