Match officials during the first two Tests of the fateful Australia tour of South Africa in 2018 directed local broadcasters to take a closer look at the tourists' conduct with the ball after suspecting them of "working a little too aggressively" on it earlier in the series, the recently retired umpire Ian Gould has revealed.
Previous accounts of the scandal have largely attributed the broadcasters' work to direction from commentators such as Fanie de Villiers. However, Gould has written in his new autobiography, Gunner: My Life In Cricket, that one of the first things he was told after arriving in South Africa to officiate on the Cape Town and Johannesburg Tests, was that the match officiators already suspected the Australians of sharp practice in the first two matches of the series.
Gould, Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth joined the match referee Andy Pycroft to preside over the third and fourth matches of the series, after Kumar Dharmasena, Chris Gaffaney and S Ravi had umpired in the first two with Jeff Crowe as the match referee.
"A few days before I headed to Cape Town, Chris Gaffaney, the very capable New Zealander who was third umpire for the first Test in Durban, and had stood with Kumar Dharmasena in Port Elizabeth in the second match, left a message on my phone, warning me that things were starting to get a little bit out of hand," Gould wrote.
"The umpiring team had their suspicions that Australia were working a little too aggressively on the condition of the ball, and they had an informal word with the host broadcaster SuperSport asking that if their camera crew saw anything that looked unusual they should let the umpires know."
Australia's players have long denied that anything untoward had taken place before the Newlands Test itself, and Cricket Australia's subsequent investigation had been strictly limited to events in Cape Town that ultimately saw David Warner, Steven Smith and Bancroft all banned. The current CA chief executive Kevin Roberts has previously stated that anyone with new evidence about the team's pre-Newlands conduct should come forward. Gould concluded that Darren Lehmann's replacement as coach by Justin Langer was a strong indication that CA wished to take a fresh tack.
"The media's investigation into what happened at Cape Town was very thorough, but it did surprise me that it took until the eve of the final Test before the coach resigned," Gould said. "Look, I like Darren. I umpired him many times when he was playing for Yorkshire and admired him as a player, he was one of the best batsmen we had in the county game during the first half of this century. But I firmly believe that the coach sets the tempo for the team and in South Africa in 2018 Darren's team went way too far.
"Justin is what I call a proper bloke. Not only was he a brilliant batsman but, after he took up coaching, he set similarly high standards. I've had many a pint with him after play and I liked his way of thinking. When I heard he had become Australia coach I knew they were in good hands and I thought the way he conducted himself during the Ashes series in 2019 was outstanding. He might not come across that way, but Justin is actually quite a humorous fellow. But I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of him. He's very principled. The game needs more people like him in positions of influence."
Gould has also recounted the extent to which the Australian team appeared to have been incensed by Kagiso Rabada's successful appeal against a ban for making physical contact with their then captain Smith during the second Test in Port Elizabeth. Gould has written that after greeting Warner, the opening batsman had remarked, "Well Gunner, where's the f***ing line in the sand now?" He is adamant, too, that a more experienced umpiring team should have been in place from the start of the series, given a febrile recent history of matches involving Australia.
"In hindsight, ICC's decision not to bring Illy, Nige and myself in until the third Test was a mistake," Gould wrote. "Two of the three lads who did the first two Tests were relatively inexperienced. Dharmasena had stood in over 50 Tests but Chris was in only his 19th game and the other umpire, Sundaram Ravi from India, had fewer than 25 Tests under his belt and within a year or so had been kicked off the elite panel because he wasn't deemed good enough.
"Like I said, hindsight is a wonderful thing but I'm absolutely sure the English trio including me would have got on top of things from the off. More things had happened in those first two Tests than you normally have to deal with in a five-match series."
In Johannesburg, Gould described how he inadvertently had the Australian camp thinking they had found evidence of South African tampering by disposing of a lolly wrapper on the field. "At the end of day one I was walking off, put my hand in my pocket and one of the wrappers fell out," he wrote. "I pushed it down a stump hole with my boot on one of the pitches on the edge of the square and thought nothing more of it.
"The following morning the Australian bowlers were doing their warm-ups on the same wicket. You can probably guess what happened next. A few minutes later their bowling coach David Saker knocked on our door and came in. 'We've got 'em!' he said. By that, we took it to mean that my sweet wrapper he had in his hand was the evidence that the South Africans had been applying saliva from Werther's Originals to get the ball to swing on what was another flat deck.
"I looked at Andy and he looked at me, and both of us tried to keep a straight face. I reached into my pocket and rolled a couple of Werther's along the table towards Saker. 'These sweets you mean?' How Andy stopped himself dissolving into fits of laughter I'll never know. It was a ridiculous accusation to make on the flimsiest of evidence but that's how bad things had got between the teams. They were paranoid."
Gunner: My Life In Cricket is released through Pitch Publishing this month.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig