Ball tampering and crocodile tears

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The cricketing world has recently been rocked by the Australian ball tampering scandal, resulting in bans for captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner, and opener Cameron Bancroft, as well as the resignation of coach Darren Lehmann. The events in Cape Town have divided public opinion. Many believe the event has been blown out of proportion while others will say that the bans handed out by Cricket Australia, one year for captain and vice-captain pair Steve Smith and David Warner as well as nine months for opener Cameron Bancroft, are just. So why has this event been so divisive?

Firstly, what is wrong with ball tampering? When the ball is new it is faster and easier to “swing”; this is where the ball moves in curved motion. There are many advantages of being able to bowl with “swing”. The change in trajectory can entice batsmen into placing an incorrect shot resulting in a wicket which is usually either LBW or caught behind off an edge. However, as the ball gets older it becomes softer, slower, and harder to manipulate. Therefore, to create swing the fielding side must keep one side of the ball smooth and try to rough up the other. This way air travels faster round one side of the ball causing it curve in the air. The ability to swing a cricket ball cannot be understated as the two most successful fast bowlers of all time, Australia’s Glenn McGrath and England’s James Anderson, are both renowned for the ability to swing a ball, rather than for raw pace.

So where did Australia cross the line? To keep one side of the ball smooth fielders are allowed to use their saliva to shine the ball. Conversely, to legitimately rough up one side of the ball, fielders and bowlers can, within reason, purposefully throw the ball so it lands and bounces on the rough side, breaking up the ball. How far they take it is up to the umpires’ digressions. However, Cameron Bancroft used dust to roughen the ball which is explicitly prohibited.

Nevertheless, that still doesn’t explain why Cricket Australia handed out such lengthy bans. In 2016, Faf du Plessis was found guilty of ball tampering1 against Australia: he was fined his match fee and given three penalty points. If a player amasses four points over two years they get a one test match ban or a two limited over game ban. As an equivalent, Steve Smith and David Warner will miss 14 tests, 29 one day internationals, and T20 internationals2 making their ban effectively worth 344 points.  However, many feel this is totally justified. The first factor as to why this event is particularly heinous is that, unlike Faf du Plessis, this event was premeditated; David Warner coerced an inexperienced player into completing the action while Steve Smith conveniently turned a blind eye. The event showed a clear failure of leadership, which also why coach Darren Lehmann felt the need to resign.

Furthermore, and perhaps most crucially, the fact that it is the Australian team is the main reason why these bans are fair.  They are constantly outspoken and continually push the boundaries of what is deemed ethical within cricket. After the Faf du Plessis incident David Warner stated “I won’t comment on the way (South Africa) have been behaving but I just know from an Australian cricket perspective: we hold our heads high and I’ll be very disappointed if one of our team members did that”3. Those words now stink of hypocrisy and it’s not the first time Australians have publicly made their opinions known. In the last Ashes series, Australia accused James Anderson of ball tampering when he was scraping mud off the ball in plain view of the umpires4. Similarly, Australia coach Darren Lehmann once stated he hoped England bowler Stuart Broad ”goes home and cries”5, while bowler Nathan Lyon previously said how he wanted to “end careers” before the most recent Ashes series6. Moreover, their arrogance and petulance was also clear during the current series with South Africa. The same Darren Lehmann complained of the “abuse” the Australian players’ families were receiving while David Warner reacted badly after sledging from South Africa wicketkeeper Quinton de Cock7. Therefore, their attitude is ultimately why the punishments are seen as fair. 


  1. The Guardian, Dec 2016, Faf du Plessis loses appeal against ball-tampering charge from Hobart Test 
  2. Cricschedule, Australia – Future Tour Programs 
  3. Evening Standard, Mar 2018, What David Warner said after Faf du Plessis cricket ball tampering controversy against Australia in 2016 
  4. The Telegraph, Dec 2017, James Anderson dismisses Ashes ball tampering claims as ‘ridiculous’ 
  5. The Telegraph, Mar 2018, Ashes 2013: England’s Stuart Broad accepts apology from Darren Lehmann 
  6. BBC Sport, Nov 2017, Ashes: Nathan Lyon hopes Australia will ‘end careers’ of England players 
  7. The Guardian, March 2018, David Warner, Quinton de Kock and why another crossed line hurts cricket