SYDNEY: The four Australia bowlers who played in the ‘Sandpapergate’ Test against South Africa in 2018 issued a statement on Tuesday denying any knowledge of ball-tampering and calling for an end to ‘rumour-mongering’ and ‘innuendo’.

Three years after the infamous scandal plunged Australian cricket into crisis, it reared its head again following a suggestion that responsibility for the affair might run deeper than the three players punished for it.

Cameron Bancroft, who was banned for scuffing the ball with a piece of sandpaper during the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town in March 2018, lit the fuse last week with a cryptic comment in a newspaper interview.

“Obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory,” the opening batsman, who playing county cricket in England, told TheGuardian newspaper.

Cricket Australia (CA) issued a request to Bancroft for any ‘new’ information he might have but the idea that other players would have been aware what was going on at Newlands has found fertile ground in the Australian media.

In response, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon issued a joint statement saying they were disappointed to see their integrity “questioned by some journalists and past players in recent days”.

“We have already answered questions many times on this issue, but we feel compelled to put the key facts on the record again,” the statement said. “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.

“We pride ourselves on our honesty. So its been disappointing to see that our integrity has been questioned by some journalists and past players in recent days.”

Bancroft’s attempt to scuff the red leather ball with sandpaper were captured by a South African TV broadcaster. Making one side of the ball rough is one way of potentially helping it move through the air in an unconventional way and assist the bowlers.

Smith and Warner were banned for 12 months and Bancroft was suspended for nine months following an emergency investigation by CA that cleared other members of the team.

CA’s interim chief executive Nick Hockley on Tuesday said that Bancroft had been asked for clarification on the media reports and there were no plans to launch another investigation.

“He confirmed he has no new information,” Hockley said. “We can only deal with the facts that we have and there’s nothing further that has been raised. So as far as were concerned, that investigation was closed and the sanctions were served.

In their open letter, Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon rejected suggestions that they must have been aware of the cheating plot because as Test bowlers they’re experts at assessing the condition of a cricket ball.

Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth, both very respected and experienced umpires from England, inspected the ball after the images surfaced on the TV coverage and did not change it because there was no sign of damage, the four bowlers wrote. None of this excuses what happened on the field that day. It was wrong and it should never have happened.

Former Australia captain Michael Clarke, meanwhile, expressed incredulity that the bowlers would not have known about the ball tampering, and ex-wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist as well as England seamer Stuart Broad also weighed in on the matter.

“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 bowlers’ statement continued. “The umpires during that Test match ... inspected the ball after the images surfaced on the TV coverage and did not change it because there was no sign of damage.”

Warner, who was cast as the ringleader in CA’s report, has never spoken publicly in any detail about his role but his agent James Erskine said the punished players had been ‘treated despicably’.

“The whole thing was so badly handled, it was a joke,” he told The Age newspaper. “But eventually the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, will come out and I know the whole truth.”

Smith and Warner, who unlike Bancroft have re-established themselves in the Test side since their bans, returned to Sydney from the Indian Premier League via Maldives on Monday to start two weeks of quarantine.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2021

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