In March 2018, three Australian men likely made the single biggest mistake of their lives.
Steve Smith, the then Captain of the Australian national cricket team, along with Vice Captain David Warner and player Cameron Bancroft, decided to rough up one side of the ball with sandpaper in order to make it swing while in flight.
It’s difficult to imagine a clearer way to cheat in a match that doesn’t lend itself to many options. There’s a field, a bat and a ball. If a team can manipulate the direction of a ball, they’re manipulating the outcome of the match.
And so, the world watched as 25-year-old Bancroft pulled a small bright yellow square from his pocket and used it to rub the cricket ball he prepared to bowl.
The moment Cameron Bancroft was caught on ball-tampering camera. Post continues below.
Australian coach Darren Lehmann reportedly remarked, “What the f*ck is going on?” watching the footage replay on screens at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. As the umpires moved in on Bancroft, he knew – everyone knew – the seriousness of what had just happened.
The Australian cricket team, one of the best on the planet, had just been caught cheating yellow-handed on live television. Ball-tampering was no longer a dark art of the cricket world, a grey area no one really talked about. There would be no appeals and no possibility of defence.
There would, however, be questions. Bancroft was the least experienced player on the field. Surely this hadn’t been his idea.
Fifteen months later, we know the decision had been made by the “leadership group” – an admission offered by 28-year-old Smith after the third day of play.
It was a discussion Smith had been privy to, and he did not act to stop it. Neither did Vice Captain, 31-year-old David Warner. They both stood down from team leadership immediately.
Cricket Australia launched an independent investigation which found that Smith had brought the game into disrepute and had misled match officials. He was banned from international and domestic cricket for 12 months, and was not to be considered for a leadership role for 24 months.
In a press conference upon Smith’s return to Australia, he apologised.
“I made a serious error of judgement, and I now understand the consequences. It was a failure of leadership; of my leadership,” he said, pausing for a breath, tears welling in his eyes.