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Sorry folks, sandpaper-gate ain’t over just yet

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Expert
7th January, 2019
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With Australia’s loss in the Gavaskar-Border series complete, the post-mortem on what went wrong has already begun.

Though any series loss occurs due to a multitude of reasons, the fact Australia were missing their two best batsmen and their quicks couldn’t get the ball to reverse swing were both highlighted as major reasons why India will leave our shores with a Test series win for the first time ever.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to combine those two facts into a narrative and, like most discussions that involve the baggy green these days, it inevitably leads back to the black cloud that still hovers above Australian cricket.

Additionally, reading between the lines of numerous opinions and columns from over the summer, it’s fairly evident the full story is yet to be told from the scandal that was dubbed – rather unoriginally – sandpaper-gate.

Courtesy of the Cricket Australia investigation and the subsequently released report, along with a couple of ill-advised interviews during the Boxing Day Test, the rough outline of what occurred on that fateful day of March 24th, 2018, in Cape Town is common and confirmed knowledge, and doesn’t need to be rehashed here.

Steve Smith

Steve Smith reacts during the press conference. (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

Whether it’s a case of being fed up with the whole story, or via a desire to move on, or perhaps even a fear of what else may be discovered, many would like the story to end there.

However, it’s quite clear that it doesn’t.

Though I don’t begrudge anyone not wanting to talk about the ball-tampering scandal anymore, unfortunately for them, not everyone is ready to move on, and there are two factors which prevent many from being able to do so.

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The first is the number of cricket media personalities and journalists – especially veteran writer Robert ‘Crash’ Craddock – who have consistently put forward the opinion that David Warner hasn’t quite revealed everything.

On numerous occasions, Craddock has alluded to the notion that the suspended opener ‘knows where the bodies are buried’, and that his silence is protecting a number of people.

Soon after the incidents in Cape Town, Craddock labelled Warner “the most feared cricketer in the world . . . carrying a weapon of mass destruction: his tongue.” Others have stated that Cricket Australia remain nervous that Warner could come clean and tell the ‘full story’.

Where there is smoke there is fire, and the number of respected and well-connected cricket journalists that continue to tell us that all has not been revealed yet leads many to believe just that: it hasn’t.

The other factor that needs to be discussed is the inability of the Australian Test team to get reverse swing of late, something that was a considerable factor in the Ashes victory 12 months ago.

During this Indian series, there was plenty of talk about Australia’s inability to generate reverse swing, and fast bowler Pat Cummins admitted that this exact topic was discussed by the team before the New Year Test in Sydney.

Pat Cummins Cricket Australia 2017

Pat Cummins (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

Cummins’ admission opened the door for people to join the dots and come to the conclusion that Australia can’t get the ball to reverse swing simply because they’re not cheating anymore.

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That analysis may be a little over-simplistic, but you can easily understand people’s thought process. Sadly, you do lose the benefit of the doubt with many, once you’ve been caught cheating.

You can also understand why Australia would be a little gun-shy in attempting any type of ball manipulation, even of the legal variety.

At this point, I’d like to point out that there are a host of things you can do to a ball that are legal or semi-legal. Or even illegal, but not as blatant as using sandpaper on it.

England infamously used Murray mints to shine the ball in the 2005 Ashes series. Teams have consistently been warned for throwing the ball back on the bounce to the keeper to rough it up. Other individuals have been caught putting dirt on the ball, or using their pant zipper to scuff the ball.

Fact is, if you really want to do something to the ball, you can.

You can ‘accidently’ use sunscreen or lip balm to make one side smooth. You can ‘accidently’ step on the ball with your spikes while retrieving the ball from the gutter boundary. Even super coarse bandaging can be used to rough a ball, and if you have an injured thumb or hand, that bandaging would be legal to wear.

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All of those examples, and more, may be used by teams to alter the condition of the ball. They’ve also been going on for decades and are tough for an umpire to be across.

Given everything that has been pointed out above, I have a theory on what happened with the Australian cricket team. I have zero evidence of what I’m about to lay out; it’s just a hunch based on intuition, playing cricket for a long time, and following cricket for even longer.

Succinctly, my theory is such: Australia had been doing something to alter the condition of the ball for a while, likely just within the confines of the rules, and everyone knew about it.

However, what happened in South Africa was outright cheating, and using sandpaper was the first time Australia had done that particular act. This is easily evidenced by how amateur they were at executing it.

This is a theory backed up by England paceman Stuart Broad, who appeared somewhat genuine in asking why Australia would change whatever worked for them in the Ashes series.

“I saw Steve in his press conference say it’s the first time they tried it, which seems really surprising, why they’d change a method that was working,” Broad said at the time.

“You look at the Ashes series we just played, you look through all those Tests and they reverse swung the ball, sometimes in conditions you wouldn’t expect.

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“I don’t understand why they’ve changed their method for this one game.”

Regardless, it’s bleedingly obvious not everyone in the Australian team would have been comfortable with using sandpaper. It’s blatant and unambiguous in the extreme, as opposed to something else that could be justified as merely pushing the boundaries of ball management.

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So, now Australia finds itself in the position where they can’t be caught or seen doing anything to the ball, and therefore can’t get it reversing.

Meanwhile, Warner is faced with being the fall-guy who can’t dob everyone in for what they’ve been doing to the ball for some time, or he’ll never be welcomed back into the fold.

Yet, he also has to cop being painted as some type of lone gunman, which he might think is a little unfair if he believes he was simply upping the ante in a team-wide tactic of ‘managing’ the ball to generate reverse swing.

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Overall, the ‘sandpaper-gate’ story – much like ball-management itself – has some grey areas.

Yet if Australia had been doing something to the ball for a while to get reverse swing, but not going as far as to use sandpaper, you can understand why Warner, and ironically, the rest of the team, both hold the belief that the scandal paints them in an unfair light.

We may not know the next chapter in this story for some time yet, but it’s pretty apparent that there is one.