The return of the Newlands beast - the review Cricket Australia forgot

Rick McCosker is firm that CA allowed the team review to be "swamped" by Simon Longstaff's culture review

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Cameron Bancroft and Steven Smith own up to ball-tampering, South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day, March 24, 2018

Cameron Bancroft, Steven Smith (and David Warner) received penalties not just for ball-tampering, but for the subsequent cover-up  •  Gallo Images/Getty Images

In the midst of the Newlands scandal, on the day Cricket Australia announced drastic penalties for David Warner, Steven Smith and Cameron Bancroft, the chief executive James Sutherland made two things clear.
First, the penalties were not for ball-tampering itself, but for the subsequent cover-up and the massive reputation damage it had done to the game in Australia. Secondly, and as importantly, Sutherland stated that a further review would go deeper with members of the Australian team about how they got to the sorry point reached in Cape Town.
That review is little remembered. It was chaired by the respected former Test opener and New South Wales captain Rick McCosker, and facilitated by the longtime ethics expert Peter Collins. It featured a panel of cricketers that included the current Test captain Tim Paine and his now deputy Pat Cummins, and also the Australia Women captain Meg Lanning and deputy Rachael Haynes.
Three years on, McCosker has told ESPNcricinfo he believes the review served its purpose, in that it helped provide a framework to improve the behaviour of the Australian team and enhance the focus on peer accountability within the dressing room. He is proud the standard of behaviour glimpsed on the field has improved immensely, as three years of matches have demonstrated the change more fully than words possibly could.
But McCosker is equally firm about the fact that CA allowed the team review to be "swamped" by the unveiling of the wider culture review, helmed by Simon Longstaff, that led to the resignation of the board's then chairman David Peever in November 2018. Three years later, the public view is that the players were never confronted about Newlands and its precursors after the initial code of conduct investigation by CA's then head of integrity, Iain Roy, which resulted in the bans.
That reading of events would be to ignore what McCosker and his review panel did: isolate the behaviour patterns that allowed Newlands to happen, and find a point of collective responsibility for all the players involved, not just the three banned.
McCosker and Collins spoke first with the bowlers who played in South Africa: Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon. They also spoke to Smith at his home. These discussions were frank. It suffices to say that all took place in a far less anxious atmosphere than the one pervading the Australian team hotel in Cape Town after the Newlands Test: the environment in which Roy had interviewed ten of 15 touring players and six of 12 touring staff for his code of conduct investigation.
One of the enduring problems of any form of leadership is to forget the lessons of history. But it is another thing entirely to first allow the substance and presence of a players' review that you had commissioned be swamped by other events, and then to forget it had even happened in the first place. Little wonder the rough beast of Newlands has come round again.
Not every member of the Newlands XI was consulted by McCosker either. Bancroft was not interviewed because it was felt that he had suffered enough; Warner was not interviewed because his management discouraged the idea on the basis that things were still too raw at the time. Nevertheless, McCosker's review did settle on some key findings shared with Longstaff for inclusion in the culture review, and it also put in place a players' pact, designed to distil the Australian team's sense of ownership by the public.
"One of the first meetings we had was a very frank and productive discussion with the bowling group who played in the Test match in South Africa," McCosker wrote in a column for Players Voice in 2018. "Soon afterwards, Peter and I visited Steve Smith at Steve's home to discuss his thoughts on what happened and what led to it. Steve, like the bowlers, was very open and co-operative.
"What we found, in summary, was that there were players in the Australian team who knew things were not right, that aspects of the team's responsibilities had been overlooked, and that expectations to win had, to some extent, obscured other parts of what it meant to be an Australian cricketer."
Throughout the period, McCosker found the players to be genuine in their contrition about Newlands and what led up to it. But he had less co-operation from CA in terms of recognising the importance of the players review in making clear that the national team had engaged in further, wider introspection after the bans were handed down.
Adamant that the findings of the players' review and the drafting of the players' pact should be announced and discussed separately from the Longstaff review, McCosker was rebuffed by CA's preference for all to be discussed together on the same day. In practice, this meant that Paine and Hazlewood - who, alongside Mitchell Marsh, was part of a final meeting to draft the pact - were present for a few brief minutes at a national press conference where attention was focused squarely on Peever and the board.
It was a measure of how the cycle of public discussion had moved on from Newlands itself that after Paine read out the pact, only a handful of questions were asked to him and Hazlewood by a large media contingent at the MCG, before they left the stage to Peever. The sorts of questions being asked of a lot of players this week, about wider responsibility for the ball-tampering attempt and its cover-up, were scarcely given the chance to be aired at the moment they most needed to be.
Flicking through the 145 pages of the Longstaff review, there are multiple examples of the players' acceptance of collective responsibility for the dysfunctional culture that led to Newlands, but also their views on the wider CA system and cricket landscape in which that took place.
On page 76: "A number of elite players made it clear that they would not challenge the bad behaviour of a gifted player - in case doing so would put the player off their game - making the difference between a win or loss."
On a heavily redacted page 84: "According to a wide array of respondents, one of the precipitating factors to the ball-tampering incident at Newlands was an inability among players to exercise the level of self-control, good decision-making and interpersonal skills required of professional international cricketers. In particular, a number of senior players failed to question poor behaviour - in case doing so affected performance on the field."
Most tellingly, the Longstaff review acknowledged that the ball-tampering itself had evolved out of a period of the game's history where efforts to gain reverse swing had been escalating for quite some time.
On page 89: "Players speak openly of all manner of artificial measures being employed to enhance what would otherwise be left to nature. We have heard accounts of the power of certain brands of sugary mints to aid shine; of finger splints fashioned to abrade the ball, of pebbles in pockets ... a whole gamut of tricks and tools designed to 'manage' the ball.
"Umpires are clear. Any interference with the ball - even deliberately throwing the rough side into a hardened pitch - is against the laws of cricket. Yet, it seems that the rules are imperfectly enforced; that sanctions vary considerably and that some teams are more willing to tamper than others. Taken together this means that there is not a 'level playing field' - and thus an inducement to push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour up to the point that umpires intervene ... and sometimes beyond."
These passages were seldom quoted at a time when most felt it was the turn of CA's board and executive to be accountable in the way that Warner, Smith and Bancroft had been some months before. And their absence then has contributed to the sense of unanswered questions at the considerable distance of May 2021.
Once the reviews were announced, McCosker had no follow-up from CA. The administration, forever reacting to the next spot-fire, had moved on. Three years later, the players review has been more or less forgotten, not just by the general public but by CA itself. Of the board sub-committee members who worked on the reviews and their release - Jacquie Hey, Mark Taylor, Michael Kasprowicz and Earl Eddings - only the chairman, Eddings, is still with the governing body.
One of the enduring problems of any form of leadership is to forget the lessons of history. But it is another thing entirely to first allow the substance and presence of a players' review that you had commissioned be swamped by other events, and then to forget it had even happened in the first place. Little wonder the rough beast of Newlands has come round again.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig