Finally, all the drama and suspense surrounding the ‘Sandpaper Gate’ has come to an end. Steve Smith has been slapped a 1-year ban after being held guilty for having ‘knowledge of a potential plan to attempt to artificially alter the condition of the ball’ and ‘failure to take steps to seek to prevent the development and implementation of that plan’.
Smith has also been barred from assuming any leadership role in the national team for the next two years. Experienced opener David Warner and youngster Cameron Bancroft have also been suspended for one year and nine months, respectively, by Cricket Australia (CA).
Soon after CA came out with this penalty, IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla followed suit and informed the press about the unavailability of both the Aussies in this year’s IPL.
The way this entire ball-tampering controversy unfolded, it has done a great disservice to the game. For decades, the Aussie style of playing cricket – hard, but fair – was touted as the ideal way, but the recent debacle has certainly marred that image. The fact that a young cricketer was thrust into such a malicious environment and entrusted with the responsibility to change the state of the ball sets a wrong example for budding cricketers and fans across the globe.
The season ball offers conventional swing when it is hard and new, but after a few overs, the shine of the ball wears away and it ceases to swing. In such a situation, bowlers try to scuff up one side of the ball and shine the other side, so that weight of the two tiers of the ball becomes unequal and the ball starts to swing in the direction of the heavier side.
However, it is not always that the ball starts to reverse naturally after a few overs, and that is why various techniques are employed for the same. Some of them include crushing the ball under spikes, biting it and picking the seam. The attempt is made to somehow change the weight of the ball on either side, so that it wobbles around more.
What Cameron Bancroft did was that he tried to use a sandpaper to scuff up one side of the ball to help the pacers reverse-swing the ball as Australia were in a dire situation in the third Test match. But as the cameras zoomed in on him, he panicked and tried to hide the sandpaper in his pants. However, he was caught red-handed in the act and had to face a lot of humiliation.
Can we talk about this? pic.twitter.com/cmpRrOArgD
— Dale Steyn (@DaleSteyn62) March 24, 2018
The punishment meted out by Cricket Australia to its players certainly seems a bit too harsh as it is unprecedented. Earlier, players were let off after a fine or a ban of a couple of matches, but slapping a 1-year ban in a case of ball tampering is unheard of.
The reason for this stern approach is that the Australian cricket board wants to set an example for other cricketers so that such incidents don’t reoccur. The involvement of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also ensured that exemplary punishment was meted out to the culprits.
No matter how unfortunate it may sound, such cases are not new to international cricket. There have been several similar events in the past which have maligned the image of the ‘gentleman’s game’.
In 1994, young England skipper Michael Atherton was spotted rubbing dirt on the ball in a match against South Africa at Lord’s. Atherton picked up dirt from the pitch and put it into his pocket, giving the impression that he would use it to keep his hands less sweaty.
The English opener was nevertheless charged with ball tampering. While he managed to hold on to the captaincy and avoid suspension, he was fined $3,700.
This unfortunate incident has been recorded in the history books in black ink and is unearthed every time any ball tampering incident sees the light of day.
It was the second Test match between India and South Africa at Port Elizabeth in 2001 when the legendary Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar was handed a one-match ban by match referee Mike Denness. Tendulkar was accused of tampering with the seam of the ball. It created a lot of furore from the Indian fans and the then BCCI president, Jagmohan Dalmiya.
In the same match, five other Indian players including spinner Harbhajan Singh and captain Sourav Ganguly were also fined 75% of their match fees for indecent conduct. However, the charges against Tendulkar were later repealed after sustained pressure.
It was the fourth match of the Test series between England and Pakistan at the Oval in 2006. On the fourth day of the match, umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove accused Pakistani captain Inzamam-ul-Haq of ball tampering.
In an unfortunate follow-up to that verdict, Inzamam told his players not to take the field after Tea. When the Pakistani players stayed in the dressing room for 17 minutes, Hair and Doctrove called the match off and awarded England the win via forfeit. However, Inzamam was later acquitted of the charges by ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle.
It was a close ODI encounter between Australia and Pakistan in 2010 when another Pakistani captain was charged with ball tampering. In a low-scoring affair played at Perth, Australia found themselves at 178-7, needing 35 runs off the last 30 balls.
Shahid Afridi was clearly seen biting and chewing the seam twice in the overs of Mohammad Asif and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. He was found guilty and banned from playing two T20 matches. This tarnished his image and proved to be the lowest point in his long cricketing career.
After being proven guilty of rubbing the ball on the zipper of his pants’ Faf du Plessis was fined 50% of his match fee at Dubai in 2013. Three years later, he was charged with ball tampering.
In 2016, the Proteas captain was accused of using mint saliva to alter the condition of the ball. South Africa had just clinched a resounding Test match victory over Australia in their own den at Hobart, when the footage of du Plessis emerged. As a result, the skipper was handed three demerit points as per the ICC Code of Conduct.