Why did Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft think that cheating using sandpaper was worse than doing the exact same cheating using something that wasn’t technically sandpaper?

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Sandpaper (via Sky Sports)

When we first saw Cameron Bancroft tampering with the ball using sandpaper, we thought to ourself: “That is sandpaper” – and so did everyone else.

We were therefore very much surprised when he later claimed that it was not in fact sandpaper but something akin to home-made sandpaper.

“We had a discussion during the break and I saw an opportunity to use some tape, get some granules from rough patches on the wicket to change the ball condition,” he explained.

It has since turned out that no, actually it was sandpaper all along because of course it was.

This revelation both made sense and also entirely didn’t make sense.

It made sense because the main thing sticky tape sticks to is itself, so it would have been a hell of a feat for Bancroft to keep it in his pocket all flat and rigid like that.

It didn’t make sense because why did Bancroft say that it wasn’t sandpaper? It was such a pointless distinction it literally didn’t even occur to us that it might not be true.

Bancroft and Steve Smith were in that press conference admitting what they’d done. Yet at the same time as coming clean, they also decided that they would tell an outright lie about that one specific detail. How did they hit upon that particular course of action?

Smith: We’ve been caught in what was clearly a premeditated attempt to alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper. What the hell are we going to do? What shall we say?

Bancroft: Let’s mostly confess but then say that we didn’t use sandpaper. Let’s say it was tape that we sort of made into sandpaper once we were out there on the field of play.

Smith: Yes, that’s an excellent idea. That should entirely negate everything we’ve done and ensure we sidestep any and all criticism.

Seriously, why would you lie about it? The question demands some scrutiny.

In that initial press conference…

1. Smith and Bancroft admitted ball-tampering. The nature of the material used to carry out the ball-tampering did not negate this, so this cannot be the reason why they decided to lie.

2. Smith and Bancroft admitted planning to tamper with the ball. They said they’d come up with the idea in the break. They weren’t claiming this was a spur of the moment thing, so this cannot be the reason why they decided to lie.

3. Smith and Bancroft admitted using something very much akin to sandpaper to tamper with the ball. The primary aim of rubbing the hypothetical sticky tape in dirt was to create a thing with a coarse side which could then be used to rough the surface of the ball – so basically sandpaper. The nature of the thing cannot be the reason why they decided to lie.

4. Smith and Bancroft did not admit to sourcing actual sandpaper. This is the only difference between what happened and what they said happened. It would seem that for Smith and Bancroft the threshold for wrongdoing lies at the very specific point between ‘making sandpaper’ and ‘purchasing or otherwise acquiring sandpaper’.


This no doubt sounds very much ridiculous to you, but it’s the nature of ‘ball maintenance’ that everyone has a slightly different but very precise idea about what is okay and what is not okay.

For example, a lot of people feel that sucking a sweet and then taking the resultant sugary spit from your tongue to shine the ball is okay, but that taking sugary spit directly from a sweet on your tongue and using that to shine the ball is not okay. For these people there is a critical ratio of sugar-to-saliva beyond which you become a massive great cheat.

You will probably have your own opinion about where exactly the threshold lies. That opinion will no doubt be mental.

Darren Lehmann has another opinion again. We don’t know what that opinion is, but it is so radically different from Smith and Bancroft’s that the poor man has had to resign from his job as Australia coach due to the extraordinary weight of disappointment he is currently feeling.


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  1. This whole thing is bloody mental. Does anyone else feel a bit uneasy about our special little game being splashed all over the international news?

  2. There could be more to come. Warner’s ‘At the present time, you’ll hear from me in a couple of days’ sounds ominous.

    1. At least he’s talking in the first person as opposed to “mistakes were made” or “it’s a stain on the game”.

    2. It does seem strange that those punished were batsmen. Presumably this scheme is focussed on the bowlers. It would also be strange if they assumed that their bowlers would be more comfortable with this, without any check.

      So things might be slightly incomplete. Still, Bancroft’s recent comments are probably more controversial than Warner’s sometimes.

  3. Is it because using some DIY sandpaper sounds less premeditated and more spur of the moment than using actual sandpaper? That’s what I thought – after all, do players really still keep sandpaper to hand to tinker with their bats these days?

    1. This really hinges on just how much weight you give to the idea that something can be “less premeditated”.

      Clearly Smith and Bancroft felt there was a sufficiently large difference between ‘planning to do something’ and ‘planning slightly earlier to do something’ that it was worth throwing a whole new additional lie into the mix.

      1. Possibly to try and contain the scandal within the confines of this solitary test match, rather than open the far larger can of worms that is, y’know, the fact they have probably been doing this for years (Warner the main culprit, via sandpaper integrated into those superfluous plasters/bandages, before being subsequently rumbled by groundstaff in this match and having to recruit ‘Bankers’ as successor).

        The feeling might have been, we’re fooked, but let’s try and minimise the damage and prevent historic games being looked into and dragging others into the mire.


    1. I’ve read a dozen thinkpieces about this scandal. I knew I could rely on Bert for the most incisive analysis.

  4. Sad sad day.

    Just devastated really.

    How could it come to this?

    After all that’s happened…

    I mean drop Woakes by all means, but Moeen too…!??

    I mean FFS…

    1. Moeen got dropped!? In cricket there is a line you just do not cross. And England have crossed it.

  5. Perhaps they’re trying to avoid scrutiny of who bought the sandpaper?

    We’ll see if security camera footage comes out of Nathan Lyon shopping at a B&Q in Cape Town.

      1. This is a very important detail. We really would like to know the answer and also whether they’d experimented with different grains to see which worked best.

      2. That’s what I thought, KC. A 500 grit points towards mild indiscretion. In fact, you could dipense with the whole sandpaper scenario by sandblasting your palms then everyone’s well away.

  6. Look what Steve Waugh’s ‘mental disintegration’ has led to – disintegration of Australia’s leadership, of cricket followers worldwide and of the poor ball, mental or otherwise. You play ugly cricket, it’ll end up ugly. That’s the lesson everyone should take away.

  7. The following reasons come to mind:

    a) They are pantomime villains. They had to go further.
    b) The operation was kept under wraps at first, so even they weren’t sure precisely what had occurred.
    c) They used both.
    d) They were using the press conference to speculate about future devious ways of influencing the game, rather than what they had just done. See also a).
    e) The sandpaper wasn’t functioning properly, so they tried to alter it.
    f) They were unsure if it was the earlier Bancroft episode starring Angelina Jolie, or the more recent one.
    g) They hadn’t prepared to confess officially, and were taken aback.
    h) David Warner.

    1. (i) The sandpaper is actually a treasure map, and they didn’t want it confiscated.
      (j) They don’t know what sandpaper is. Bancroft actually thought it was a pice of not-very-effective sticky tape.
      (k) The sandpaper was bought from an evil corporation which uses slave labour. They didn’t want to be complicit in human trafficking

      1. l) This association with slave labour would contradict their image of the Spirit of Cricket.
        m) They are conspicuously indifferent to sandpaper.

    1. Or not. Stupid TMS twitter lying to me.

      Now I really hope Vince gets a bowl. He surely hasn’t been picked on the strength of his batting.

      1. “Neil Wagner bowled him a full over of bouncers and he just waited. He’ll come back tomorrow and hope to score his fifth Test century.”

        While this sounds amazing, imagine how much better it would be if Vince bowled a whole over of medium-pace bouncers. Worth the admission fee alone.

      2. In some respects, Wagner is kind of Vince Deluxe – or possibly Vince Lite depending on how you’re assessing things.

      3. Vince de Luxe sounds like a South African quick bowler. (Or better yet, Vince van der Luxe).

        Vince Lite sounds like a variety show performer – not a cricketer at all.

  8. Might as well reverse the batting order in the second innings. I wonder if Wood will get the same punishment as Overton for outscoring all the batsmen?

  9. I stayed up long enough to see England do some damage to New Zealand with the ball and Warner do some more damage to his and Australia’s reputation with his mouth.

    I found the latter an especially tough watch. Firstly, because it reminded me of a Chinese cultural revolution struggle session. Secondly, because I found Warner so very unconvincing. Warner’s statement felt to me like a rehearsed script rather than anything heartfelt. Added to that – the narrowness of the confession – to his own behaviour on just one particular day – absolutely stank of cover up.

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