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28 Mar 2018

Heavy punishment for Smith, Warner and Bancroft: Sandpaper, lies and bans, oh my!

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Is ball-tampering that big of a deal?

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Is ball-tampering as bad as match fixing?

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 Does everyone ball-tamper?

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If everyone is doing it, is it ok?

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Is this just about ball-tampering?

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Are the punishments justified?

Picture credit: Rae Allen

Step One: Steve Smith and David Warner stood down for leadership roles from Cape Town Test.

Step Two: Smith, Warner, and Cameron Bancroft sent home from South Africa before the 4th Test in Johannesburg.

Step Three: Smith and Warner banned for 12 months by Cricket Australia (CA), with Bancroft banned for 9 months.

Step Four: Warner will not be considered for any leadership role in the future after being found as the main culprit, with Smith and Bancroft only considered for leadership roles 12 months after their ban has been served (Tim Paine has been named full-time Australian captain).

Step Five: Watch this space...

These are the punishments that have so far been handed down in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal that has rocked Australia and the cricketing world since last weekend.  The facts: CA released its findings that Warner developed the plan for Bancroft to carry out, to the point of instructing Bancroft how to do it, and Smith had knowledge of it. Smith and Bancroft then lied about what they had done, first to the umpires and then to the press conference after play - the 'yellow sticky tape with granules on it' described by Bancroft has been found to be sandpaper. 

This is just the latest in what has been an explosive, murky and shocking week that has seen public opinion swing from absolute outrage to bemusement to shock of the severity of the punishments, and also seen Smith and Warner's Indian Premier League contracts torn up.  Here's my go at trying to cut through the bulldust and get to some key points.

Is ball-tampering that big of a deal?

Yes and no.  Yes, because it is against the laws of the game - if you do it you are cheating, fact.  No, because the ICC only classes it as a Level 2 offence - maximum ban of a fine and 1 match suspension (as was handed down to Smith from the ICC, all other punishments are from CA). Whether ball-tampering should be allowed during a game is a different discussion.

Is ball-tampering as bad as match fixing?

No, clearly not. Ball-tampering is cheating at a game, while match-fixing is against the law, with serious legal ramifications and jail time - just ask Mohammad Amir.

Does everyone ball-tamper?

Probably, yes.  This ranges from as simple as rubbing mints on the ball (Faf du Plessis, 2016) to the ridiculousness of Shahid Afridi biting the ball (2010). What Bancroft did was probably worse and more pre-meditated, but not the first time that a player has been caught.

If everyone is doing it, is it ok?

No - if you ball-tamper you are cheating. This is like saying it is ok to take drugs if everyone else is doing it. I want any team I support to set the standard in behaviour and conduct, not be the lowest common denominator.  

Is this just about ball-tampering?

No. The behaviour of the Australian team has been under scrutiny for the whole of the South African tour, with the disintegrating culture of the side slowly appearing for a longer period than that. Discontent was already showing in public opinion of the ugliness and hypocrisy of the players and their continued abuse of the opposition - my feelings about it are laid out here. The ball-tampering is the point that will be forever remembered, however, and the public outcry in Australia shows exactly how much trust is placed in its players to play fairly and to the rules, and how much pain there is when that trust is broken.

Are the punishments justified?

For the simple act of ball-tampering, no - as shown by how small the ICC punishments are for the act. For the lying, for the cheating, for the deception, for the breaking of the trust of the people that pay good money to watch this Australia side, for the disgusting sledging that has continued for far too long..... longer bans were required from CA, as part of a first step in addressing the broken culture in the Australian dressing room.  It should be made clear however that this is about much more than just this one ball-tampering issue, it is about addressing a wider player behaviour concern, and consequently I think the length of the bans are too harsh. Six months, or the next series, along with being removed from leadership positions as the captaincy was untenable for Smith and Warner, would probably have had the same effect. 

So there we have it - probably not the last thing to come out, but at least we know now the punishments. Matt Renshaw, Joe Burns, and Glenn Maxwell have been called up into the squad for the final Test at the Wanderers, which will be very overshadowed. What do I hope comes next? I hope that Paine is able to be the good, solid character he seems to be and can lead the team in a new direction. I hope that this starts a complete shift in the direction of player behaviour within CA - just look towards the way the New Zealander's recently played against England if you want some good examples. I hope that it starts a process back to a time and place where I can be proud to be an Australian supporter again. I hope that all suspended players return from their bans and are able to contribute positively to the game we love, both on and off the field. I hope that the Australian public can shift their support to the very classy Australian women's team currently playing in India, about to face England in the final of the T20 Tri-series on Saturday. And, I hope that we can finally get back to some cricket!

What do you make of the punishments? Let us know in the comments below.