Should the ball tampering bans be lifted ?

I wanted to look at the prospect of the bans against Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith and David Warner’s bans being lifted in the internal Cricket Australia review that is to be conducted sometime this week, with changes expected by week’s end.
First off, there are three levels of ban reduction suggested, so I thought to mention them all.

1) The bans lifted entirely effective immediately and the players exonerated (only Smith and Warner can be exonerated).

2) The bans lifted entirely effective immediately as the punishments were too harsh (especially for Smith and Warner).

3) The bans lifted for Sheffield Shield and domestic cricket effective immediately but the international bans to remain until their current end (especially for Smith and Warner).

Cricket Australia also has the option to retain the original punishment, as offered.

Per my understanding, the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA), who are the union for the players, are only looking at the bans against Smith and Warner, at least with regards to the players being exonerated (option 1) as there is no doubt whatsoever that Cameron Bancroft took sandpaper out onto the field, tampered with the ball, then hid it down his pants and lied to the umpire that it was a sunglasses case. There is no case whatsoever to argue that Cameron Bancroft should be exonerated.

Many people following the case have believed that Smith and/or Warner have admitted guilt or have in any way been proven to be guilty. This is not the case at all. They were merely accused without evidence and they chose not to appeal the decision. There are many valid reasons to choose not to appeal other than being guilty, most notably that if they had appealed then they would have isolated themselves from their teammates and from their employers, which may have made it impossible for them to ever return to the international team. The absence of an appeal in no way proves guilt.
So now let’s look at the prospects of Smith and/or Warner being exonerated entirely.

Steve Smith said in the press conference that it was a decision made by the leadership group. He later clarified that they had not, in fact, planned to tamper with the ball, but rather had simply talked about their belief that South Africa had tampered with the ball, which was based around the fact that Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander were both reported by the umpires for tampering with the ball by throwing the ball into the pitch. This was noteworthy, as both Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins had been shown in South African media throwing the ball into the pitch, yet neither were reported. Essentially, what they were talking about was how South Africa were actually cheating and they were not, yet the media were showing it the other way around. There is no doubt that South Africa were cheating, as they were reported and proven to have cheated. In the previous match, Kagiso Rabada was banned, but somehow was allowed to play in spite of being found guilty. They were talking about the unfairness of the situation. They were not asking anyone to tamper with the ball themselves.

What Smith was admitting to was that he had talked about the wrong topic and Cameron Bancroft, who was not involved in the conversation, had misinterpreted what they were saying. There was no admission to organising ball tampering at all, nor to having prior knowledge of it. There was simply the admission that they had talked about things in a way that a player such as Cameron Bancroft may have misinterpreted and misunderstood to have been effectively suggesting that they should cheat.

As we have now had a review, we are in a situation where we now know the truth of the situation. While at the time there was a lot of panic and a lot of false stories going back and forth, we now know that all that Smith did wrong was that he didn’t discuss with the leadership group first before speaking on their behalf. While that is arguably poor diplomacy, it is not the same thing as engaging in ball tampering or encouraging it.

Steve Smith’s case that he did nothing wrong at all is very strong. While there is an argument that removing his status as captain was fair enough, as diplomacy is important, he most certainly is not a cheater.

David Warner on the other hand was not even charged with anything by the ICC, and his crime was that he said to Mitchell Starc that he should admit to his own crimes, and that he “shouldn’t pretend that he didn’t know”. It wasn’t just aimed at Starc, but Starc was the one who took the most offence to that.While at the time it was implied that Warner was admitting to ball tampering and to organising the whole thing but justifying it, it has since become apparent that in actual fact Warner was talking about the reports in South African media that Starc and Cummins had deliberately thrown the ball into the pitch, a form of ball tampering, and secondly that he was talking about the discussion that they all had, which Steve Smith admitted to, where they were complaining about South Africa cheating. Effectively, Warner was saying that they were all equally guilty as Smith, in that they all said things that could have been taken out of context, and that they should have a united front behind their captain.

Mitchell Starc disagreed with Warner’s methods, as did many others. They believed that it was unfair that they should “come clean”, as Warner suggested, when they hadn’t actually done anything wrong. While Bancroft clearly did the wrong thing, none of the others did, and it was unfair for them to be forced to come clean when South Africa were getting away with it.
The problem with Warner’s case is that he did effectively attack Mitchell Starc, someone who is far more popular in the team than Warner is, and we have a Kevin Pietersen kind of situation. Warner’s own attitude in that series was enraged by the teasing by members of the South African public about his wife Candice Warner’s alleged affair with an ex-boyfriend.

The claim that Warner showed Bancroft how to tamper with the ball is clearly false and lacks substance, however the difficulty is that few in the press have pointed out how unlikely it is, with some claiming that, by wearing strappings on his own hand while fielding in previous tests that he was himself secretly tampering with the ball. On one hand, Warner did absolutely nothing wrong at all, but on the other hand it is too difficult to tell the truth.

Just the same, as we have seen in the press, Starc has since forgiven Warner, as has every other player who he is likely to play alongside, and they are all prepared to play right next to him. It seems to me that, while there is a chance that he might not be exonerated, I think he will be. If you read between the lines with what the press are saying, it sounds like he will be.

Cameron Bancroft, as above, cannot be exonerated entirely, though he can, in theory, be made to look less responsible. The problem is that if Bancroft is less responsible then it follows that Smith and Warner are more responsible, and this leads to the problems in the original report. While initially everyone blamed Smith and Warner and claimed that Bancroft was the innocent victim, that attitude has changed dramatically since, and the opinion now is that the Bancroft penalty is fair enough, and there is no way to exonerate him.

As for lifting them as time served, this is justifiable for all three on the basis that nobody in history has ever been punished this severely for ball tampering, and nobody in history has ever been banned for assisting with ball tampering.If we consider the current penalties for ball tampering, of up to 6 tests, Australia played 1 more test in South Africa, 2 against Pakistan and then they will play 4 against India, making 7. If they were to miss 6 tests, as Bancroft would have under current rules, he would be eligible to play in the 4th test against India. His ban expires after the 2nd test. In other words, Bancroft was actually punished less than he should have been, and should face an additional 1 test ban, per the current ICC rules. Arguably, given that Bancroft also lied to the umpires on more than one occasion in relation to this and also in the press conference, there is a good argument for him to face additional sanctions for dishonesty, and hence he should miss the entire Indian test series.

Under current legislation, assuming the facts as presented by Cricket Australia previously (and ignoring the truth, as argued above), there is still no leeway for either Smith or Warner to face any penalty. Perhaps, at most, a 1-test ban for Smith for lying in a press conference. While arguably removing their captaincy and vice-captaincy statuses were fair enough, bans beyond that 1-test ban for Smith were ridiculous to the extreme.

Even if we accept that Warner forced Bancroft to tamper with the ball, there is no argument to suggest that that warrants a ban or punishment of any kind.Ergo, both Smith and Warner should have their bans dropped immediately. Bancroft, far from having any legitimacy to having his ban dropped, could find himself missing the entire test series against India.

As for allowing them to play domestic cricket is concerned, there is a strong argument that that element of the penalty was out of line with reality, and ought not to have occurred. While potentially it was reasonable in the case of Bancroft, even that was a stretch. No other player in history has ever been punished domestically for what occurs internationally. It is very hard to justify that ban and therefore I think that, even if the other two stages fail, this one will not.

My view is that the bans against Smith and Warner should be dropped immediately, but the ban against Bancroft should not – though he will be allowed to play domestic cricket.While I am not certain that it will happen, if you follow media insiders, it sounds like it will happen.

Let’s see if I am right.



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