Where to from here for the Cape Town Three?
With Cameron Bancroft’s nine month suspension for his role in the ball-tampering saga earlier this year just days away from ending, Australian television network Channel 7 aired a 20 minute long interview with the opening batsman discussing the incident and his last few months. Much of what he discussed was already common knowledge in the cricketing world, and though the interview was interesting from a human perspective, much of the information it yielded was relatively unimportant. His confirmation that David Warner was the architect behind the decision to use sandpaper on the ball certainly raised eyebrows, but it was something that had been known to anyone who had been following the situation for a long time.
Bancroft is the only member of the three involved players who will be eligible to play during the Australian summer of cricket. He is, however, also the least talented of the three, and despite Australia’s struggles it is highly unlikely that he will get near the international test team in the near future. At just 26 years of age though, he will have plenty of time to get his career back on track. It’s difficult to understand why he felt the need to do the interview after successfully doing his time out of the public eye for almost nine months, and it’s unsurprising that it wasn’t received particularly well by many who watched it. He found himself in a situation where maintaining his silence was almost certainly the best way to go - doing so for eight and a half months was admirable, but breaking that silence just prior to his suspension finishing will do nothing but re-damage a reputation which was well on the road to reparation.
The same applies for Steve Smith. He also opted to do an interview with Channel 7, albeit a much shorter one, and though he probably came off as a little more genuine than Bancroft, the decision itself was a strange one nonetheless. Likewise, opting to mention that Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland and high performance manager Pat Howard told him ‘we don’t pay you to play, we pay you to win’ was a decision which is difficult to understand. Of course, this is far from ideal behaviour from two of the most powerful men in Australian cricket, and Smith was probably simply responding truthfully to what he had been asked - but that is why he should never have done the interview in the first place. I have little doubt that these kinds of comments from Sutherland and Howard contributed to the win-at-all-costs culture, but mentioning it simply makes Smith look as though he is deflecting blame, and like in the case of Bancroft, will do nothing to help his reputation.
Even worse was Smith’s decision to participate in a Vodafone advertisement. Disguised as an attempt to publicise the importance of men’s health, Smith failed to judge the aptitude of the public to know when they are being sold something. Certainly the ad discusses these issues, but it does so in a contrived way and was, at the end of the day, an advertisement attempting to draw attention to Vodafone. Smith is not a bad person and I’m sure very few have any doubt that he is remorseful for the events in Cape Town, but why on earth he would choose to discuss it in a Vodafone ad or do the Channel 7 interview is likely beyond the understanding of most people.
Warner has deservedly copped the most heat for the events which transpired, both for the fact that he was allegedly the primary architect behind it, as well as the fact that many cricketing fans had been unhappy with the way he behaves both on and off the field for an extended period of time. At this juncture, however, he is the only one who has actually managed to maintain a dignified silence - as surprising as that may be to many, including myself.
Though it was already common knowledge, Bancroft admitting Warner’s guilt in an interview certainly threw his former teammate under the bus even further than Warner already found himself, and raises plenty of questions about whether or not the attacking opener will ever be able to return to the international team. Warner’s silence juxtaposed against his fellow conspirator’s continual publicity attempts, however, actually reflects well on him, and if he can maintain it even in the face of more discussion about his tenability in the team, it will probably do a small amount of good to a reputation which has potentially been damaged beyond repair.
Smith and Warner will both miss the summer of cricket, and will next be available for the 2019 World Cup and the 2019 Ashes series. Fortunately for them, these are probably the two most important events on the Australian cricketer, and they are arguably Australia’s two most important players. Smith will likely find it relatively easy to make his way back into the team before then - aided by the fact that he was the captain, had the smallest direct hand in the event itself, and was in the top two batsmen in the world prior to his suspension.
Warner will have a tougher time. His reputation, as mentioned, has been damaged more than anyone, and both the cricketing public and the team itself may not necessarily be quite as willing to forgive and forget given his prior transgressions. Aiding his cause, however, are the struggles currently being faced by the Australian batting order, and the fact that he would slot back into the team as comfortably its second best batsman - behind, of course, Steve Smith. Despite that, the situation is a potentially an irreparable one, and his return to the side is far from the inevitability that Smith’s is.
It has been a regretful and at the same time fascinating year for Australian cricket, and exactly how the careers of these three men will play out after their suspensions conclude is far from a certainty. Indeed, it may be that the performance of the Australian cricket team in the next few months is the primary determinant of just how many of them are given the opportunity to represent their country again.