Cameron Bancroft’s nine-month ban imposed by Cricket Australia ends Saturday, and there is an expectation that his comeback via the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League could come as soon as their match in Launceston on Sunday against the Hobart Hurricanes.
It will mark a significant moment in the redemption of the players caught up in the ball-tampering scandal back in March, and with Steve Smith and David Warner’s suspensions now entering their final months.
Regardless of whether it happens on Sunday or not, how the Scorchers manage Bancroft back into the Australian cricket limelight will be interesting.
What is also interesting is that both Smith and Bancroft have had their say in recent days. Their version of events in Cape Town are now out there on the public record, and while their stories are slightly different and don’t have to be in complete sync, they certainly don’t contradict each other, either.
Smith admitted that he walked past a troubling conversation between Bancroft and Warner that he could have stopped, and he didn’t.
“I didn’t particularly know that it was going to happen but at that point I said, ‘I don’t want to know about it’,” he told Fox Sports.
Bancroft outlined how his desperation to fit in – the Newlands Test was his eighth – put him in a scenario that had him agreeing to conspire with a senior team-mate.
For what it’s worth, saying he “didn’t know any better” is a bit of a vague cop-out from Bancroft, in my humble opinion.
You knew and still know that Laws of Cricket, Cameron; and even if it’s mostly fictional, you knew and still know that taking a foreign object to the ball for the purposes of affecting the way it flies through the air is very much against the Spirit of the game, too. You did know better; you had to have.
Ricky Ponting criticising Fox Sports for choosing to air the interviews on Boxing Day smacks of the Seven Network being dirty they didn’t have the exclusive themselves.
Michael Slater’s criticism of Bancroft effectively throwing Warner under the bus has merit – but his suggestion that Bancroft and Smith have strategized to “bury” Warner is the laughable ramblings of someone sticking up for a mate.
Warner, perhaps surprisingly, is yet to have his say.
But when he does, Cricket Australia is going to have yet another crisis to deal with.
Senior News Limited journo Robert Craddock nails it: “The situation (Cricket) Australia fears most is dropping Warner then having him unleash with a tell-all interview that exposes other key people in Australia,” he wrote yesterday.
CA’s own investigation had already fingered Warner; in this regard, the Bancroft revelations aren’t huge.
And indeed, Warner being identified as the chief architect of the saga was the reason CA banned him from any leadership position in any Australian side, should he be recalled, for life.
But CA cannot let the situation to develop, such that Warner giving a version of events could drive a permanent wedge through the Australian team.
Though all the senior figures involved in the investigations and the handing down of punishments have mostly moved on, it’s imperative that CA clarify exactly where Warner sits in all this.
If Bancroft’s version of events matches exactly what their investigations found – and it appears that it does currently – CA needs to reiterate this.
If Bancroft has provided insights previously not known, that needs to be conceded.
And if CA believes Warner is being ostracised further than their own investigations and penalties decided, then they need to stand up for him.
In theory, all three players will be available for the World Cup and the Ashes Tour of England next year.
In reality, Smith is the only one of the three who commands an immediate recall. And he will. I have no doubt at all that Smith will play the first Test he is available for.
Bancroft, on the other hand, is a talented batsman, but is he definitely going to make the Australian side better than Marcus Harris, or even Matt Renshaw at the top of the order? And therefore, what will he need to do to be in the frame for a recall?
Warner’s Test record is impressive, but given CA’s own findings and penalties, how will he be measured against Justin Langer and Tim Paine’s new character-driven regime? And that being the case, how can they guarantee Warner gets a fair hearing at the selection table?
Cricket Australia needs to remove any remaining ambiguity around this, and this will be difficult, because as it currently stands, it’s hard to see how Warner’s exile from the game ends with everything that’s been revealed to date.
And if they do genuinely want him back playing the game, what will they do to ensure it’s a smooth return?
CA didn’t handle this whole saga particularly well from its outset.
But an otherwise unremarkable Twenty20 game in Tasmania could present a surprise opportunity for the body to regain some control.