While Australia are rejoicing the unexpectedly easy end to the first Ashes Test in Birmingham, there are some newspaper headlines that read that ‘sandpaper-gate is over’. While it would appear that the Steven Smith connection in the Birmingham Test would give one that notion that absolution is in order, perhaps it would be wiser to state that the ball tampering incident was never more relevant.
It is quite remarkable what David Warner was able to do for Australia in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England as it is for Steve Smith, the former disgraced Australian captain, to score a Test century in each innings of the Test to provide Australia a strong 1-0 lead in the five Test series, this despite Australia’s early hiccups on the first day of the Test. More importantly, it has dented euphoric England and brought forth the reality of Test cricket ringing in their ears.
Where Australia were struggling both, on and off the field, not a year ago, suddenly Australia have been on the ascendancy. While it would be unfair to label the rest of the squad’s efforts redundant in the build up in the absence of the two players – who missed out on a year’s cricket with the ban they incurred for the ball tampering incident, there is little doubt that Smith and Warner have had a huge role to play in Australia’s rise, almost like phoenix from the ashes.
Although these are still early days in the Ashes series and England could be partially excused for not having put in the miles towards Test cricket after being on a high about winning their first ever ICC Cricket World Cup only fifteen/twenty days ago, there has been an upsurge in Australia’s fortunes in the past six months and the culmination of a win in the first hard fought Test of the Ashes is praiseworthy indeed.
That said, it seems that a Test win in the Ashes series is being looked upon as the absolution for the shenanigans that followed the sandpaper-gate in Cape Town in March last year. The idea that Australia can put the infamous incident behind them is a half-truth at best.
That is because while the team can consider this a second life for them with the inclusion of the three players who were caught and penalized by Cricket Australia, there is little doubt that the public are far from forgiving – case in point, the sandpaper display by the brutal England fans for Warner’s send off.
Secondly and more poignantly, sandpaper-gate may have its fair share of forgiving minds. But it is certainly not an incident that is to be forgotten in a hurry. In a first of its kind, when a guilty Smith admitted to being in collusion with the team and young player, Cameron Bancroft, in allowing the attempt to tamper with the ball and indeed the integrity of the game, it sent shockwaves not only because Australia have often taken on the pulpit but also, expected to be the last team to resort to such measures, although their reputation for being boorish and bullies never died down. Never before had a team been caught on tape and then forced to admit to the deed.
This is more than tete-a-tete for the fact that Australia never fail to live down an incident when it comes to their opposing teams. Australia would want a ticket of absolution to move on from an incident they – including Smith and Warner – claim does not bother them. But it is a cautionary tale for young teams and cricketers that it does not take much to take a team to devalue its own history and its own value in the eyes of the public. If anything, the presence and the current success of Smith and Warner is a story of redemption but also, of what could have been nearly lost but fortunately regained. Sandpaper-gate is not over. This is the beginning.