Cricket Australia, Steve Smith, David Warner Cape Town bans end: Analysis, feature, World Cup 2019, Ashes
Dragged through the mud across 12 tumultuous and humbling months, Australian cricket has reached the light at the end of the tunnel.
The national cricket team has, against all odds, turned a corner both on and off the field.
Results have sharply trended upwards in the past two months – and it didn’t even take Steve Smith and David Warner to get there.
Not that they won’t be welcomed back with open arms by both the team and the majority of Australian cricket fans. They have been sorely missed on the field since they were banned by Cricket Australia one year ago today.
Sandpaper Gate: one year on
But their actions in sandpapergate triggered unprecedented chaos which Australian cricket is only now recovering from.
Wholesale changes came from the top down, while on-field performances slumped below the nation’s lofty standards for the majority of their 12-month bans.
Many thought it wouldn’t be until they came back that winning ways would return to the side, but that has been proven wrong.
Now they are eligible for selection again in what can only be seen as a major World Cup boost to the already in-form side.
When they do return, however, they will do so within a cricketing landscape that only bares vague resemblance to the one they left a year ago.
Here, we look at the 12 months since Cape Town, how Australian cricket has changed, and what’s next on the horizon.
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The immediate aftermath from Cape Town saw the vilification of all three players, who battled media scrums on either side of the Indian Ocean after they were ordered home in disgrace.
Bancroft and Smith held teary press conferences on arrival back in Australia, expressing their immense remorse and dedication to making amends. Days later, Warner also wept through an emotionally charged press conference and said he takes “full responsibility” for his involvement.
All three then faded from the public eye as they privately plotted how they could make their way back into the national team after their suspensions.
Smith and Warner decided to hit the T20 circuit, featuring in stints in Canada and the Caribbean. Bancroft stayed local, and played in the Northern Territory’s Strike League, which also featured Warner. The former’s stint was cut short when he suffered a blow to the throat while batting.
That saw the trio make it through winter, while their teammates were lambs to the slaughter in England, losing a five-match ODI series 5-0.
Grade cricket rolled around in September which saw Warner and Smith draw unprecedented crowds to their suburban Sydney grounds where they played for Randwick-Petersham and Sutherland respectively. They were even reunited at Coogee Oval in November to play each other in one of the most eagerly anticipated grade cricket matches in history.
Meanwhile, Bancroft was nearing the end of his suspension and was beginning to resurface having dedicated much of his time off to becoming a qualified yoga instructor.
In the days before his official return on December 30, he opted into a tell-all interview on Fox Cricket with Adam Gilchrist, in which he confirmed Warner asked him to tamper with the ball in Cape Town.
His first match back from suspension was in the Big Bash League for the Perth Scorchers against the Hobart Hurricanes in Tasmania, where he received a handful of jeers and was dismissed after only three balls. But he bounced back, going on to average 33.11 in the BBL. Bancroft was impressive on his Sheffield Shield return too, making 392 runs at 56.00.
The final months of suspension saw Smith and Warner head to Bangladesh for more T20 cricket. Both of their stints were coincidentally ended at the same time with similar elbow injuries which required surgery.
They didn’t return to competitive cricket until the start of the Indian Premier League, which serves as their World Cup preparations.
In a touching finale to the tumultuous year, both players were flown into the UAE to be formally reintegrated to the Australian ODI squad.
That meeting was met with scepticism from veteran journalist Robert Craddock, who called it ‘heavily choreographed’ and questioned how Smith and Warner’s relationship could ever be the same.
All three have publicly pledged to be willing participants in a new-look, healthy culture within the Australian cricket team. Their Australian teammates have remained outwardly supportive of all three and celebrated their returns.
The Cape Town saga triggered a widespread independent review; the likes of which hadn’t been seen since 2011’s Argus Report.
The findings of the review, conducted by Simon Longstaff, were released in late October and painted a grim picture of cricket in Australia.
The ball-tampering incident was found by the review to be not an “aberration”, but the result of a brewing storm of “ego”, power and “ethical failure”.
A total of 42 recommendations were made in the organisational review, which found a “win at all cost” mentality had become part of the key psychology of the elite in men’s cricket.
A key finding of the review was a culture of bullying within CA that extended beyond what its players were saying in the heat of battle.
Longstaff noted in his findings a number of poor relationships between CA and its stakeholders, which he found were often described as “dictatorial” and “not collaborative”.
Of the 42 recommendations made, CA agreed to implement – or had already implemented at the time – 34 of them, while another seven were taken under consideration.
Only one recommendation – which suggested players should be excused from playing T20I cricket to fulfil a quota of Shield and grade cricket appearances – was emphatically denied by CA.
The review was scathing in its nature and unsurprisingly led to high-profile casualties.
CA chairman David Peever was one of them after he became heavily criticised for the timing of the findings’ release. They weren’t made public until the week after the CA annual general meeting, in which he was re-elected.
Three of the six states then withdrew their support of Peever, and his re-election ultimately lasted less than a week when he quit in early November.
The CA board members understandably flew under the radar, but even they didn’t make it through to the other side intact as a group.
Mark Taylor quit his position on the board 14 years after taking up the role, and just days after Peever walked. He told reporters that serving on the board had taken its toll, not just from the review’s fallout, but after tense and protracted MOU negotiations in 2017.
Three days later, Pat Howard’s eight-year run as Australia’s high performance manager came to an end. In October Howard signalled he would be stepping away from the role after next year’s Ashes, only to be axed first.
He was yet another domino to fall but he was not the last, with executive Ben Amarfio — general manager of broadcasting, digital media and commercial — removed from CA the same day.
This brought to an end fast and dramatic change at CA, which began just days after the Cape Town Test.
Former coach Darren Lehmann kicked things off, tearfully resigning days after the Cape Town Test despite being cleared of any involvement by an internal CA investigation.
Arguably the most high-profile departure, however, was that of chief executive James Sutherland. He announced in June his planned exit from the role after 17 years, and officially left after October’s AGM.
More recently, bowling coach David Saker left after nine months’ discussion with new coach Justin Lange.
One by one came the new recruits, who have been tasked with guiding Australian cricket out of its darkest days.
Former Test star Langer was appointed team coach, and veteran Tim Paine captain. Both have been credited with steering the Australian cricket team away from a win-at-all-cost mentality and towards a culture that values respect, humility and honesty.
This new-look manifested itself as early as June’s tour of England, where Paine introduced the custom of pre-series handshakes with the opposition, as commonly seen at football matches.
The measure was widely applauded, but not so much the team’s new change rooms which were revealed on social media in November.
Terms such as “patience” and, most notably, “elite honesty” were emblazoned on the walls to remind the players of their role to the Australian public.
Australian legend Shane Warne did not mince his words when asked for his opinion on the team after the rooms were revealed, saying: “Forget all the words, forget all the verbal diarrhoea and all that sort of stuff. That’s all rubbish, seriously, it makes you vomit.”
The team’s on-field sledging also had a new flavour about it.
Paine showed how it would be done in the new era, dishing out light-hearted banter that pleased the masses.
In the second Test at Perth, Paine was heard saying to India opener Murali Vijay “I know he’s (Virat Kohli) your captain but you can’t seriously like him as a bloke”.
And at the MCG he suggested wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant would be free to babysit for him in January given MS Dhoni would be back behind the stumps for India.
Meanwhile higher up, ex-New South Wales batsman Kevin Roberts took over Sutherland’s vacated chief executive role, while Peever was replaced by former deputy Earl Eddings.
Australia cricket legend Belinda Clark took over from Howard in the interim and has been responsible for key signings within her short duration in the role.
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The winds of change have swept through the Australia camp in the past two months and there is an air of positivity heading into the World Cup.
But don’t be mistaken, there has been plenty of heartache for the team over the past 12 months. Australia didn’t exactly make-do without its suspended stars for the most part.
The team’s first test after Cape Town was a five-match ODI series in England in June which it was humiliated 5-0 in. A T20 tri-series against Zimbabwe and Pakistan immediately followed, with the latter beating Australia in the final.
Then came a two-Test series against Pakistan in the UAE which was lost 1-0. Australia by this point was developing a worrying tendency to suffer batting collapses, losing 10-98 in Johannesburg, 10-60 in Dubai, and 7-75 and 4-7 in Abu Dhabi.
The Pakistan series did, however, include one of Australia’s most thrilling rescue acts in recent history as the side survived 140 overs across a day and a half to secure a draw in Dubai.
That was seen by some as evidence the team could cope without Smith and Warner, but in hindsight, the on-field pain had only just begun.
Australia returned home for the summer of cricket and the trophy drought in all formats was extended; first by South Africa who won a three-match ODI series 2-1, and then by India who claimed a draw in a three-match T20I series.
A highly-anticipated Border-Gavaskar series followed and Australia slumped to an unprecedented defeat.
Never before had an Asian side claimed Test series success in Australia, but despite a spirited effort in Adelaide and a dominant display in Perth, the streak was ended more than 71 years after India first visited.
Given only two Australian batsmen who played in more than one Test for the series averaged more than 30, it was no surprise Virat Kohli lifted the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at the SCG in early January, not Paine.
Still reeling from the historic loss, another three-match ODI series followed and it was India once again who capitalised on the understrength Aussies, winning 2-1.
Australia had lost six-consecutive bilateral ODI series by this point, and was still trophyless in the post-Cape Town era.
The team strangely hasn’t lost since, with the exception of two matches in India.
A two-Test series against Sri Lanka provided a moment of catharsis for the team and its fans. Four centuries in the series – one each to Travis Head, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja and Kurtis Patterson – ensured Australia didn’t register its first century-less summer since 1882-83 (minimum three matches).
Australia comfortably won the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy with two massive Test wins and ended the summer of cricket on a high, before shifting its attention to the World Cup.
Another ODI series against India followed, this time in India where Australia lost the first two matches and looked set for a seventh-consecutive bilateral ODI series loss.
Former Australia captain Allan Border told foxsports.com.au at the time that it was “probably our best ever series win when you think about it”.
The success of that series has carried over to the UAE where Australia has been dominant against quasi hosts Pakistan.
Australia’s ODI batting woes have seemingly disappeared and a formidable top-order – which doesn’t include either Smith or Warner – has emerged against the odds.
The incumbents currently holding spots that would normally belong to Warner and Smith are Khawaja, and one of Peter Handscomb or Shaun Marsh.
Left-hander Khawaja made two centuries and three fifties in the space of seven ODIs in March, and was named player of the India series. Handscomb made one century and averaged 53.20 in that same period of time, while Marsh before Thursday averaged 59.30 in the format since Cape Town.
But there were plenty of failed experiments along the way before selectors could say they had finally found competent replacements for Smith and Warner.
D’Arcy Short was handed his ODI debut and took a spot at the top of the order but could only average 27.66 across four innings. Head also had a crack, but was dropped from the team after making just 15 runs in three matches against South Africa.
Chris Lynn also flopped in the top-order that series, averaging just 19.66 to effectively end his World Cup aspirations.
Alex Carey was then tried as an opener against India in January but he made just 47 runs at 15.66 before his place was settled back down the order.
There were plenty of failed experiments in the Test arena, too.
Finch had limited red-ball credentials but was in October handed a baggy green against Pakistan in the UAE as selectors went hunting for experience and runs in any format. Finch had both, and started his Test career well by making four-consecutive scores over 30.
He was then massively exposed by India’s quicks back home where he averaged 16.16 in three Tests – repeatedly falling to inswinging deliveries.
Finch wasn’t alone though in that series; only Victorian opener Marcus Harris (258 runs at 36.85) and Head (237 runs at 33.85) averaged more than 30 for the series (two Test minimum).
There were also failures from Khawaja (198 at 28.28), Marsh (183 at 26.14) and Handscomb (105 at 21.00).
Only Khawaja was given another chance from that trio – and he made the most of it, scoring a timely century in the second Test against Sri Lanka.
A second round of fill-ins shined against the new tourists, albeit against a much weaker opponent.
Queensland opener Joe Burns was recalled and averaged 68 for the series, which included Australia’s highest individual score of the summer of 180.
New South Wales’ Patterson was handed a baggy green and also made a century, averaging 144 for the series. Head found some form and top-scored (304 at 152), while Marnus Labuschagne made 91 at 30.33. Harris hit a form slump and could only manage 69 runs at 23.00.
A massive selection headache, but it’s a healthy one.
National selectors must name Australia’s 15-man squad for the World Cup in late April, and both Smith and Warner are entirely expected to be named.
That leaves the likelihood that at least one in-form batsman who has recently made a big score in ODI cricket will be left at home.
Rookie batsman Ashton Turner is likely to be one despite scoring a remarkable 84 runs off 43 balls to steer Australia to a win out of nowhere in the fourth ODI against India.
Who else is anyone’s guess.
Finch is the captain who scored back-to-back centuries in the first two ODIs against Pakistan, Khawaja before Thursday was averaging 60.90 since Cape Town, Marsh 59.30 and Handscomb 52.12.
Glenn Maxwell’s versatility across the order and game-awareness is arguably second to none in the current Australia team, while Marcus Stoinis’ reliability with both bat and ball can’t be understated.
The rare scenario of Smith and Warner being in an Australian squad and not in the XI has turned from the makings of pure fantasy into a realistic possibility as a result.
The same probably can’t be said for the Test team – Australia’s numbers outside the Sri Lanka series suggest they will be sorely needed for the Ashes starting in August.
Bancroft is a possibility for a hasty Test recall, too.
He had served his suspension before the Sri Lanka series, however, given the Sheffield Shield was in hiatus for the BBL, he had no means in which to push his case.
When the opportunity finally did arise in late February, he wasted no time in piling on the red-ball runs.
The right-hander made an emphatic 138 off 358 balls for Western Australia against New South Wales in his first match back. He also carried his bat in first-class cricket for the third time in his career, becoming just the eighth Australian to ever do so.
He backed his monster first innings up with 86 runs off 263 balls in the second, making it 621 deliveries before he could be dismissed by NSW. No Australian batsman faced more than 600 balls in the entire four-Test series against India.
His final three matches saw him make two more half centuries and finish the season with 392 runs at 56.00. Now he heads to the UK where he will captain county side Durham to further boost his case for an Ashes call-up.
Should he get one, then he can expect a less than pleasant reception from the home crowd.
The Barmy Army is notoriously ruthless with its vocal support and needs little encouragement to go after rival teams.
One can only imagine what kind of treatment awaits proven cheaters from their oldest and fiercest rivals.
The only way to keep them quiet would be to win, which Australia hasn’t done in England since 2001. Given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the Australian cricket team heading into this tour, it might be too much to expect that drought to be broken this time.
Although, the same was thought about Australia’s chances of defending the World Cup a month ago.
The nation had lost 21 of 25 completed ODIs before March 8 and was only given a remote chance of beating England and India at cricket’s showpiece event. Now it’s among the favourites.
The turnaround can only be attributed to the team’s fighting spirit and its flat refusal – no matter the circumstance – to accept defeat.
Many things may have changed in Australian cricket in the past 12 months, but that certainly hasn’t.
Originally published as Unprecedented chaos: Smith, Warner’s complicated return to the house they tipped upside down