On Tuesday, four Australia bowlers issued a statement, absolving themselves from the 2018 Cape Town ball-tampering fiasco. The rebuttal, though, came swiftly from former South Africa pacer Fanie de Villiers, who says the entire team and the coaching staff would have known about the plan.
De Villiers, commentating during the game, claims to have seen first-hand what unfolded during the third Test between South Africa and Australia at Newlands in March 2018. He says he alerted the TV crew who caught Cameron Bancroft using sandpaper to rough up one side of the ball.
On Tuesday, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon denied that they had any prior knowledge of the plot to use sandpaper on the ball. “We did not know a foreign substance was taken onto the field to alter the condition of the ball until we saw the images on the big screen at Newlands,” said the statement, as put out by cricket.com.au.
De Villiers refused to buy into that argument. “It’s absolutely impossible for bowlers not to know what’s going on the ball, because you are the person that scrutinises it, you are the person that’s looking at it, you are the person that’s cleaning it, you are the person that knows exactly that one side looks this way because of looking after (the ball) and the other side doesn’t look a specific way because of the grass on the wicket. So it’s absolutely nonsense,” de Villiers, who played 18 Tests and 83 ODIs claiming 180 international wickets, told The Indian Express.
The ex-Proteas seamer is of the view that the entire Australian team knew what was going on. “I think from start it was obvious that they knew, and from start, the Australian system didn’t handle it properly. They should have handled it differently, and they tried to cover everything by just making two (three actually) people the culprits. It was a combined effort… The coach knew; everybody knows in a system, because you don’t hide these things in the team firstly, and secondly, it’s impossible for a bowler not to know because he can see the difference.”
Bancroft, in a recent interview with The Guardian, has allowed the scope for reading between the lines as regards to the bowlers’ involvement in Sandpaper-gate. “Yeah, look, I think, yeah, I think it’s pretty probably self-explanatory,” he had said. The opener was handed a nine-month suspension after being found to be the person to tamper with the ball, while then Australia captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were banned for 12 months each.
On the day of the incident, de Villiers was at the ground, doing commentary for the broadcaster and spoke about what prompted him to give the TV crew a tip-off. “The ball reverses early because of the (barren) wicket. If the wicket has got grass on, the ball reverses late; in the 40th-50th over, if at all. So the scuffing of the ball – it was a grassy pitch – and you don’t get the ball reversing after 20-odd overs. It doesn’t happen in South Africa. That prompted me (to alert the TV cameramen),” de Villiers explained.
On Tuesday, the Aussie bowlers vouched for their honesty. “And to those who, despite the absence of evidence, insist that ‘we must have known’ about the use of a foreign substance simply because we are bowlers, we say this: The umpires during that Test match, Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth, both very respected and experienced umpires, inspected the ball after the images surfaced on the TV coverage and did not change it because there was no sign of damage,” said the statement.
Cricket Australia, meanwhile, is reportedly ready to reinvestigate Sandpaper-gate if it receives more evidence or information.
De Villiers is far from convinced. “I think they have been advised to say what they said, just to take as much of the pressure away from the situation. I don’t think it should be dragged open. I think people did get a warning, everybody around the world got a proper warning through this, and it’s done and dusted. I don’t think it should be opened up again. I don’t think it’s fair on the players, but the Australian system didn’t handle it right. They did know but they decided that two (three) players were going to take the brunt of it.”
As reported by Cricket Australia’s official website, CA interim CEO Nick Hockley confirmed on Tuesday that Bancroft replied that he had no new evidence to present. “Our integrity unit reached out to Cam off the back of the media report and asked him directly whether he had any new information since the original investigation, and he’s come back and confirmed overnight that he has no new information,” Hockley told cricket.com.au.
But former Australia captain Michael Clarke is in agreement with de Villiers that more people outside the three adjudged guilty must have known about the plot.
“A team like that, at the highest level, when the ball is such an important part of the game … I don’t think anybody is surprised that more than three people knew about it,” Clarke said on his Sydney radio programme, as quoted by cricket.com.au.
He added: “If you are playing sport at the highest level, you know your tools that good it’s not funny. Can you imagine that ball being thrown back to the bowler and the bowler not knowing about it? Please!”