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The crisis that shook Australian cricket - Newlands ball-tampering, a year on

There are signs of recovery on and off the pitch from the scandal that rocked the game, but there remain unanswered questions

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
March 24 marks 12 months since Australian cricket was thrown into crisis by the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal. There are signs of recovery on and off the field, but it has been a long process with hurdles yet to overcome. Here is a look back at one of the biggest controversies to hit Australian sport

The build-up

Australia arrived in South Africa on the back of a 4-0 Ashes victory, but there were already questions about their confrontational style of play and the manner in which the game was being run off the field. Not unexpectedly, given the history between the two teams, it was a heated series from the outset: David Warner exploded when running out AB de Villiers; Nathan Lyon was fined for dropping the ball near de Villiers; Warner and Quinton de Kock nearly came to blows in the Durban stairwell; Kagiso Rabada touched Steven Smith's shoulder, was banned, then had the ban overturned. At the end of all that, the series was level at 1-1 as the teams arrived in Cape Town.

The incident

On the third day at Newlands, with the series on a knife-edge, Australia conceded a lead of 56. Not defining, but it left them needing early inroads. They managed one, when Dean Elgar fell to Pat Cummins, before South Africa steadily built on their lead through Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla and de Villiers.
The first sight that something significant was developing came at the end of the 43rd over when the umpires, Richard Illingworth and Nigel Llong, came together. This is how ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary recorded the moment:
The umpires have come together for a conflab, which is always ominous news. They are having a chat with Cameron Bancroft, and there could be something afoot here... they wanted to know what was in his pocket... and he shows them a soft cloth, a sunglasses case by the looks of it ... seems to have died down for now, whatever might have been brewing there... on we go. Will elaborate if needs be!
Tea came five overs later, by which time the TV footage was becoming ever clearer with Australia's 12th man, Peter Handscomb, delivering a message to Bancroft that his attempts to stuff the object (later proved to be sandpaper) down his pants had been broadcast on the big screen.
So, have had a chance to revisit those Bancroft pics, and there's clearly something afoot there. The soft cloth that he presented to the umpires was most definitely not the yellow object that he stuffed down his underpants... this one isn't going away in a hurry!
The play during the final session of the day became almost an afterthought as TV pictures were scrutinised and Australia's dressing room knew they had been sprung. When bad light brought an early close, the controversy continued to escalate as Bancroft and Smith fronted the media. The truth was not forthcoming to begin with, though.
Bancroft said he had used tape on the ball. "I saw an opportunity to use some tape, get some granules from the rough patches on the wickets and change the condition, it didn't work, the umpires didn't change the ball. I was sighted on the screen and that resulted in me shoving it down my trousers."
Smith admitted he had seen the plans being hatched earlier in the day but had done nothing about it. "I won't consider stepping down," he said. "I still think I am the right person for the job."

The aftermath

Australia had largely been asleep during the unfolding chaos and when the country - and the cricket board - awoke, the situation had developed, and escalated, rapidly.
  • Smith and Warner were stood down by CA as captain and vice-captain
  • Tim Paine took over as captain for the remainder of the Newlands Test and the next one in Johannesburg
  • Smith was banned for one Test by ICC, Bancroft fined 75% of his match fee
  • Australia's prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had his say
  • Australia subsided to a 322-run defeat on the fourth day in Cape Town.

    The fallout

    CA's investigation was launched and James Sutherland, the CEO, flew to South Africa. Four days after the initial incident, it was confirmed that sandpaper had been used on the ball. Smith and Warner were handed one-year bans and Bancroft a nine-month suspension. Warner, who emerged as the ringleader in the plan, was barred from any leadership role for the remainder of his career and Smith for a further 12 months after the completion of his ban.
    Smith, Warner and Bancroft flew home, each giving emotional press conferences on their return to Australia. Smith and Warner lost their IPL deals for the upcoming season and Bancroft was dumped by Somerset. Darren Lehmann, who denied knowing anything about the plans and had said he would stay on, soon stood down as coach. Australia were thrashed in the final Test in Johannesburg.
    After suggestions that the severity of the bans would be challenged, the trio accepted their sanctions and began their time away from Australian professional cricket, although they were still eligible for overseas leagues and grade cricket. Smith and Warner would both end up playing in Canada, the Caribbean and Bangladesh plus also facing each other in a grade game, before undergoing elbow surgeries.
    Paine took on the captaincy full time, initially with the one-day side when they toured England and then with the Test team - handing over the one-day role to Aaron Finch. Justin Langer was named the new coach.
    The events in Cape Town led to a full cultural review of Australian cricket, with hard-hitting outcomes that exposed a toxic environment and win-at-all-costs mentality, leading to multiple resignations and sackings at board and management level:
    • Sutherland stood down after 17 years as CEO (although it was said to be not related to the ball-tampering incident)
    • David Peever quit as chairman after initially trying to cling on
    • Mark Taylor resigned from the board
    • Pat Howard left early as high performance chief
    • The present

      The bans for Smith and Warner expire on March 29 - they recently met with the Australia squad - and they are expected to make their international returns at the World Cup. Bancroft returned to playing at the end of December and is pushing his claims for a spot on the Ashes tour. However, questions remain unanswered as to who else knew about the plans and whether tampering had happened before despite repeated denials.
      On the field, Australia are emerging from a tough run of results since the scandal with a notable comeback against India in the recent one-day series. Off the field, there have been a significant number of new appointments, headed by new chief executive Kevin Roberts, as the board tries to rebuild its image. The next 12 months will give a clearer indication of whether there remains significant long-term damage from the last 12 months.

      Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo