In light of the latest assertions from Australian opener Cameron Bancroft regarding the ever obvious but not accepted involvement of the bowlers in the Sandpaper Gate, SportsCafe approached a few Aussie players and CA officials to get to the bottom of the story and found out some explosive details.
What’s common between Nepotism and Sandpaper Gate? Their virality and people’s fondness to translate all their life’s frustrations into opinions on these. Having a bad day at the office? Losing money on stocks? Getting generalized by society? Just got ditched by your date? Take it out on Sandpaper gate and nepotism as it has left behind even godmen in providing the ultimate fulfillment of life. Yes, the nirvana we were all after. The recurrence of the ball-tampering scandal is Australian cricket’s way to make our lovely sport great again and provide a fair share of spotlight to it in times when people have lost interest in the game faster than the money that BCCI is losing everyday ever since the 2021 edition of the IPL got busted.
So, it's time to turn the clock back to provide one and all the sneak peek to the team meeting that took place in the lunch time on March 24, day three of the Cape Town Test in 2018, so that we get our required closure. Who said only Harvey Specter from Suits knew how to close deals? We do just as well. And here we head straight to Australia's dressing room:
David Warner (Fuming): We just won the freaking Ashes, and these South African players are taking us for a toss in the park.
Mitchell Marsh: Forget players (Quinton de Kock, Joe Root), you even get baited by the spectators into a brawl.
Steve Smith: Guys, we got to win-at-all costs. Can't let those CA guys storm into my room again (Hobart 2016) and sing out loud as if Barmy Army (in a sing-song manner), "We don't pay you to play, we pay you to win."
David Warner: I have got an idea that will make sure we overcome these overbearing Proteas players and fans. If you guys don't know yet, though Steve does, I have always been a woodwork enthusiast. While other kids would carry candies, I relished having sandpaper. Sandpaper, cricket ball (with wide a grin), you know what I mean?
Cameron Bancroft (the overexcited kid): Yo partner, gotcha! Let me have the honors.
Pat Cummins (the nice boy): What if the umpire catches you? I just stepped on the ball on day one and they accused me of ball-tampering. Had to bring out my charming smile to calm the situation down.
Cameron Bancroft: Patty, let me take the lid off something. I am a Sherlock Holmes fan. I know how to lie with a straight face. Didn't you see how I kept staring back at Jimmy even after his throw hurt the hell out of me. Oops it still hurts, I even had a meltdown in the restroom.
The bowling group (Starc, Cummins, Lyon, Hazlewood): Guys, like Gandhi’s three monkeys, we "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil” pretty much like the Ashes or all the times we have won-at-all-costs. We’re part of this but still we aren’t part of it. We field in the deep and are busy with the crowd. And just get a second to see which side of the ball is worn out. That too at our run-up. Poor, ignorant us. So, we never knew anything.
Mitchell Marsh (in some corner): Gosh! Earlier, I wasn't part of the fast bowlers WhatsApp group, now they are excluding me from the bowlers group too. I better start making some runs or else the batting group will also refuse to take me in.
Australia’s epic moment of glory
However, things go exactly opposite to what was planned as in the afternoon session, rookie Cameron Bancroft fails to commit the crime but makes sure to get caught for it. Double whammy, eh? Even his and Steven Smith's cover-up attempts get exposed in the presser. "101 REASONS WHY ONE SHOULDN'T LIE" to be out soon, authored by failed liars Bancroft and Smith.
Despite the script getting orchestrated in the team meeting, Cameron Bancroft's debut stint in ball-tampering and Australia's planning turns out as half-baked as most of the Dharma movies. Bancroft proves to be just another overexcited kid who bombs under pressure as there are certain things that only Warner can do and get away with (given he hatched the plan). However, Bancroft successfully joins Trevor Chappell in Australia's hall of fame (read: shame). It's not easy to get hated by the whole nation at once for something that wasn't even your plan at first place. Only a prodigal kid can pull that feat.
The whole incident also proves that Steven Smith should never try any other stunts than batting in the middle, nets, parks, hotel rooms, restrooms, roads, restaurants, team bus, flights and another hundreds of places where he starts shadow batting. As he asked Bancroft to conceal the sandpaper in his trousers as well as he hid the fact that he was taking help from the dressing from for DRS reviews in India. EPIC FAILS. Never again Smudge. Also, honorary mentions for Darren Lehmann and Peter Handscomb, who with their walkie-talkie act proved why they should get Oscars for playing the best side-kicks in failing a secret mission. No other pair could have made it more obvious. Slow Claps!
Furthermore, Australia missed a trick by not signing up with Pakistani cricketers from the 1980s and 1990s for a preparatory camp as they needed to take an elaborate training into the ins and outs of ball-tampering, especially for away Tests where cameras are always panning on the opposition, though no one pays a heed even if the home team gets banana swing.
CA’s Investigation - Case study for cover-up, deceit, and scapegoating
All hell broke loose post the ball-tampering incident. It was as if the Aussie trio hadn't tampered with the ball, but waged a war against the whole South African nation on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia. And soon, the nukes and the military would be brought to the picture. Yes, my word, even the Aussie PM got involved. Everyone loves theatrics. Given the mob was knocking the doors of the CA, something had to be done to quench their thirst.
CA decided to punish David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Steven Smith. After all, they can't quite implicate half of their superstars, all at once and don't want to lose all their sponsors and corporate deals, or else, when they won't get paid much, how will they storm into the hotel rooms of the players and lecture them to win-at-all costs as 'We don't pay you to play, we pay you to win.' Though they will review the same culture that they nourished and reveled in for decades. After all, no one gets to punish the daddy.
They will just punish the trio, as that will help them retain cricket as a cash cow and rebuild their image, than punishing all involved or getting to the bottom of the story or finding similar incidents from before, or a pattern if there was even an iota of intention of a genuine clean-up. But why go that way when the trio can be made one of the biggest scapegoats in decades and diverge the attention. Classic, check mate. Though that’s different, there have been times when Mark Waugh and Shane Warne got shielded from serious punishments despite their involvement with an Indian bookmaker in the 90s, but ball-tampering is far graver for CA. The majesty’s highness is unparalleled.
As CA had joined hands with the best PR firm in the country, which knows a thing or two about crisis management, they straightaway decided to collaborate with Amazon to make the best cricket 'fiction' docu-drama in the world where the Aussie players will learn acting in front of the camera from every possible angle with Bancroft advised to follow each second minutely to get better at it. The bigger the crisis, the bigger the PR exercise. After all, more than bringing real changes, you got to sell the idea that change was made.
Also, CA decided to gift the world New Zealand 2.0 as they appointed a good family man, and the prettiest tough boy Tim Paine to captain the side. Moreover, he will be joined by Justin Langer, a master in crisis management. After all, the man got himself cleared for misconduct after a bizarre bail-lifting incident in 2004 (video can be found on Youtube) against Sri Lanka for which the Aussies had even appealed for hit-wicket. But, he left the match referee in so much awe that the official started questioning the legitimacy of Muttiah Muralitharan’s action even without the umpires reporting him when Langer was originally the man under fire. Talk about flipping narratives.
But credit where it's due. CA's masterstroke and handling of this controversy will be remembered for ages as it will remain a classic case study across the globe on how to fix your image, tarnish few for the greater good of many, and keep acting holier-than-thou whenever the Sandpaper Gate recurs. Also, there's always a room for another PR docu-drama, which can fix everything. This time, maybe, with Netflix?
Disclaimer: Please note that everything mentioned in this article is fictionalized, exaggerated, nothing more than a satire, and in no way should it be interpreted as an actual record of events.