Two years ago on March 24 Australia’s Test cricket team became embroiled in a ball-tampering scandal during the third Test of a series in South Africa.
Captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft were the key figures involved in an incident dubbed ‘sandpapergate’ and one which would cast a dark shadow over the sport.
Here the PA news agency takes a look at what happened, the fall out and how those involved have coped since.
It was during day three of the third Test between South Africa and Australia when Bancroft attempted to artificially alter the condition of the ball with what was later revealed to be sandpaper. After being caught on camera, he was shown on the screens around the ground and on television. While the umpires approached the opener and decided the ball had not been altered in a noticeable way, one of the biggest scandals in the sport was under way. At the end of the day Smith and Bancroft faced the press and conceded they had cheated in trying to tamper with the ball. The plan had been drawn up during the lunch break by the “leadership group” in an attempt to help Australia regain some control of a Test which was going against them. They would go on to lose by 322 runs amidst a backdrop of disgrace and embarrassment.
David Warner on ball-tampering scandal: "It is something I will regret for as long as I live." pic.twitter.com/3FsWAKzjyM— PA Sport (@pasport) March 31, 2018
With the Test match still under way, the immediate decision made by Cricket Australia was for Smith and Warner to step down from their roles as captain and vice-captain respectively with Tim Paine taking over. In addition to the Australian Prime Minister at the time, Malcolm Turnbull, expressing his shock, an investigation was opened and Smith, Warner and Bancroft were sent home before the fourth Test. Soon after the three players were sanctioned by Cricket Australia for code of conduct breaches with Warner and Smith banned for 12 months and Bancroft suspended for nine months, with each unable to play international or domestic cricket during those periods. They would all take part in individual press conferences, apologising for their actions with Smith and Warner in tears. Head coach Darren Lehmann was cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation, but chose to resign from his position. The criticism was widespread from current and former players, while the reaction Down Under, especially from the press, was castigating.
A key part to come out of sandpapergate was the deeper review into Australian cricket culture. New captain Paine would initiate shaking hands with the opposition before play started in a show of respect after the ball-tampering scandal. He would be the face of a new Australia, who were more aware and eager to play within the spirit of the game. While some felt the sanctions handed to Smith, Warner and Bancroft were excessive, it would be a watershed moment for the Aussies where the mindset shifted from win at all costs to trying to do things the right way, with new head coach Justin Langer a key component behind that.
Bancroft was the first to return to domestic matters and while he would return to the world stage and feature in the recent Ashes series, his career has stalled. He was recently dropped by the Western Australia Shield team after a string of low scores. Ex-head coach Lehmann returned to coaching in the recent Big Bash League with Brisbane Heat, however, a heart bypass operation in February has halted any initial plans to take up further roles in the coming months.
It has been a completely different story for Smith, who has enjoyed a sensational 12 months and would be the star of the 2019 Ashes – proving to be an almost immovable object for England bowlers. It was during the 50-over World Cup where the former captain made his return to the international scene alongside Warner. The pair were booed initially, but Smith’s batting exploits would soon turn jeers to applause from English crowds. It would be a similar story for Warner albeit not as successful, although he has reintegrated himself as a key figure in a baggy green cap again. The duo were back in South Africa last month and look set to remain a key part of Australian cricket in all formats, but the culture of the side they are part of now is very different to the one they lead back in March 2018.