The ball-tampering incident this year was not the first time Australian cricketers have acted outside the spirit of the game, but while 1980s underarm bowling issue against New Zealand was ethically dubious, it wasn’t illegal. Taking sandpaper to the ball in South Africa was outright cheating.
During a very slow first day’s play in the Boxing Day Test, Cameron Bancroft, the bowler who sandpapered the ball in the Cape Town test match in March, 2018, admitted that he did so at the suggestion of team vice-captain, David Warner in an attempt to “fit in and be valued”.
This admission is of more concern than the incident itself. A young sportsman at elite level, representing his country, felt that in order to fit into the culture of the team, he needed to cheat.
“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”.
This being the case, we can draw no other conclusion than the Australian cricket team is based on a culture where ‘fitting in’ means cheating, and cheating is more highly valued than good sportsmanship. ‘Respect’ in the team comes with abandoning personal ethics and breaking the rules of the game. Is this really the culture Australian cricket wants to see filtering down through grade cricket to the juniors?
"I would have gone to bed and I would have felt like I had let everybody down. I would have felt like I had let the team down”. Instead, he went to bed having let himself down: himself, his family, his early coaches, teammates and mentors, and the Australian public.
Fitting into a team culture is important, but it must not come at the expense of one’s morals. Bancroft knew what he did was wrong: when he realised he had been caught on camera he attempted to hide the sandpaper in his trousers. He knew he was part of a culture where winning through cheating is better than losing fairly. This is not a healthy culture. It is to be hoped that in the wake of the scandal, the current team is developing a culture where sportsmanship, fair play and upholding personal and collective ethics is deemed more important than resorting to grubby tactics to win a game.
Bancroft comes to the end of his suspension in a few days time. Warner and former captain, Steve Smith, were banned from the game for 12 months. Regardless of what any of them achieve in their sporting careers from here, they will always be known as the players who were banned for cheating: a high, but not inappropriate, price to pay for a stupid decision.