The year began on a poor note in South Africa. And it is ending on an equally terrible one in Australia.
The ball-tampering scandal during Australia’s tour of South in March-April was replete with disgraceful spats between teams which culminated in a near brawl between David Warner and Quinton De Kock outside the dressing rooms during the Durban Test.
Then, it went pear shaped in the Cape Town Test when Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera trying to change the condition of the ball using what was later revealed to be sandpaper. Team leaders Steve Smith and David Warner were banned for a year and Bancroft for nine months.
The ripples of that controversy are still being felt with Bancroft naming Warner as the mastermind of the ball-tampering plot this week, reigniting a fire that was long doused.
The Australian team, battling a crisis of credibility, promised ‘elite honesty’ as they prepared for a home Test series against India. The banter between rival players has been heated during the Border Gavaskar Trophy but it hasn’t been alarming.
What has grabbed attention is the noise outside the field. In the Melbourne Test, fans were ejected from the Melbourne Cricket Ground after multiple warnings following racist chants of ‘show us your visa’ directed at Indian players.
The atmosphere in the Australian commentary box at the MCG was unhealthy as well, although not as toxic. Former cricketer turned commentator Kerry O’Keeffe is a bit of a rabble-rouser, making a name for himself for edgy remarks and innuendo filled statements.
In the third Test, he first ruffled many feathers by mocking India’s first-class cricket, belittling debutant Mayank Agarwal’s runs as having being scored against a ‘Canteen XI’ consisting of chefs and kitchen help”.
Kerry O'Keefe can go blue in the face saying it was 'tongue in cheek' [which is standard procedure for when you've been caught saying something you shouldn't have been] - but all it will take is one listen of the conversation to know that this crossed the fabled line. https://t.co/GrH64qu5im— Saurabh Somani (@saurabh_42) December 26, 2018
O’Keeffe issued a non-apology, saying: “It was tongue in cheek. There are lots of runs scored so apologies if anyone out there took offence.” So basically – ‘just move on’.
A couple of days later, the antagonising O’Keeffe was at it again, mocking the names of Indian players like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja after being goaded by the legendary Shane Warne.
“Who names their kids Cheteshwar and Jadeja?” quipped O’Keeffe. Who indeed…
Anyone who cares to listen to the audio of those barbs in the veil of commentary will recognise the tone of contempt and casual racism. The utter disregard of an opponent’s system and people can’t be missed even if you tried.
And that is as big a tragedy as the ball-tampering scandal. In South Africa, the Australian team did what every other team does – work the ball to gain reverse swing. The host broadcaster followed players closely throughout that fateful day in Cape Town before catching Bancroft with his pants down, literally.
However, players understand it is an accepted practice aimed at giving beleaguered bowlers a fighting chance on flat pitches. Just avoid getting caught, if you can.
But what we have seen in Melbourne is abhorrent. Cricket commentators mocking players, their achievements, their system, their names… I guess all that remains is outright abuse.
While the Indian management has expressed its hurt at the caustic Australian commentary, the Australian commentators haven’t even received a rap on the knuckles from the broadcasters.
Hardly anything is being said from the Australian side about the casual racism in the name of cricket commentary being pedaled Down Under. What a shameful way to end 2018.
Cameron Bancroft‘s return to cricket has been confirmed after he was named in the Perth Scorchers’ squad for their Big Bash League clash against the Hobart Hurricanes on Sunday.
The Australian batsman, who was axed from the national team and prohibited from playing after being caught up in ball-tampering scandal, was said to be “pretty excited” to be returning to the field.
The 26-year-old’s nine-month ban from international and domestic cricket expired on Saturday.
Scorchers head coach Adam Voges said: “It’s great to have Cam back in the squad again. It’s been a long year for him and now he can move forward and get back to playing cricket at a high level.
“He’s been pretty excited to be back so he’ll bring energy and experience into our batting line up.”
Bancroft was handed the ban after he attempted to alter the condition of the ball with sandpaper against South Africa in Cape Town in March.
The resulting furore drew in captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner, who were also axed from the team and sanctioned.
Cricket Australia launched an independent review and the governing body published a report into the “extremely regrettable” episode in October.
The scandal was thrust back into the spotlight earlier this week when Bancroft publicly described how Warner was the one to suggest he should tamper with the ball.
He told Fox Sports he did not know any better and just “wanted to fit in and feel valued”.
Born in Western Australia, Bancroft has played for the Scorchers since 2014.
Cameron Bancroft has revealed David Warner was the one to suggest he should tamper with the ball during Australia‘s notorious Test match in South Africa that saw him handed a nine-month ban.
Bancroft’s attempt to manipulate the ball in Cape Town with what was later revealed to be sandpaper was a plan orchestrated, according to a Cricket Australia investigation, by vice-captain Warner.
Now Bancroft has detailed the events in Cape Town in March this year, telling Fox Sports he did not know any better and just “wanted to fit in and feel valued”.
In an interview with the Australian broadcaster, the 26-year-old said: “Dave (Warner) suggested to me to carry the action out on the ball given the situation we were in the game. I didn’t know any better because I just wanted to fit in and feel valued really. As simple as that.
“The decision was based around my values, what I valued at the time and I valued fitting in… you hope that fitting in earns you respect and with that, I guess, there came a pretty big cost for the mistake.”
The right-handed batsman admitted, however, he had to take responsibility for his part in the scandal, saying he is not a “victim”.
He added: “I take no other responsibility but the responsibility I have on myself and my own actions because I am not a victim. I had a choice and I made a massive mistake and that is what is in my control.”
Former Australia captain Steve Smith was found to have known about the plan midway through the third Test against the Proteas but failed to prevent it and, as such, all three players received lengthy suspensions.
Last week, Smith admitted there have been some “dark days” following the incident.
“I’ve made a mistake and it was a big mistake and I’m trying to move on from that and improve as a person,” Smith told Cricket Australia’s website.
Bancroft’s ban from international and domestic cricket expires on December 29 and he is available to line up for the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League.
Earlier this year, he joined the Desert Blaze in the Strike League in Australia’s Northern Territory during the ‘winter’ months of July and August, where he was caught for one in his first innings, and posted a top score of 78 during the tournament.