To cast your mind back to 2018 is to recall the one event that came to define the year: sandpaper gate. Australia has long been a sporting nation and when it comes to the summer, few sports are weaved as intricately into our national fabric as that of cricket. From those on the field to those of us measuring a bowling run-up in the backyard or driveway, you don’t have to be good at cricket to understand its significance to our identity as a nation.
It was something greater than a shock then, when the broadcast of the Ashes revealed a devastating fact about our national team: that these were players with a win-at-all-costs mentality, all too willing to use dirty tricks and tactics if it meant coming out on top. Sandpaper is never a word that should be associated with cricket, but now it’s one that stands out like a stain on our beloved sport.
If you’re unfamiliar with the scandal, despite having ridden the crest of a wave by regaining the Ashes, a mere few months later our top players were embroiled in sport’s greatest scandal. When footage showed batsman Cameron Bancroft rubbing a small yellow object – which he had originally said was sticky tape but later turned out to be sandpaper – on the ball, before hiding it in his own trousers, his guilt was evident as he explained he would “have to live with the damage of my reputation.” Steve Smith and David Warner were also outed for their involvement in the plot to alter the condition of the ball with sandpaper, in the Cape Town test against South Africa.
Though Smith had told reporters that the plot had been concocted by Australia’s “leadership group,” he insisted that coaching staff had no knowledge of the scheme. Smith confirmed that he had no intention of stepping down as captain, but ultimately the fallout was so significant all involved faced consequences. Smith and vice-captain Warner were stood down from their roles for the remainder of the Test and, along with Bancroft, suspended and sent home. The two captains were banned by Cricket Australia for 12 months, while Bancroft was hit with a nine-month reprimand.
Now, Tim Paine is opening up about the incident and the test in South Africa in a tell-all book, going on to suggest that the South African team were also involved in ball tampering, albeit to a lesser extent than sandpaper. While Paine denies any suggestion of a team meeting around the plan to use sandpaper on the ball, he admits that he was stunned as replays showed Bancroft hiding the sandpaper in his pants before being spoken to by umpires. “I was thinking, ‘what the fuck?’” Paine wrote. “A sense of dread came over us all.”
Paine alleges in a lengthy chapter of the book that ball tampering was commonplace in cricket, but that sandpaper was “next level” and “shameful.” Typically, when it came to ball tampering most would simply throw the ball into the ground. Still, Paine alleges that he saw a South African player pull apart the seam of the ball in the following Test, leaving him furious.
“I saw it happen in the fourth Test of that series,” Paine writes. “Think about that. After everything that had happened in Cape Town, after all the headlines and bans and carry on. We went to the umpires about it, which might seem a bit poor, but we’d been slaughtered and were convinced they’d been up to it since the first Test.”
Paine’s book is one that any avid cricket fan will love, as he lays bare not only the struggles within the team concerning leadership and personal loss, but how certain events coloured the sense of camaraderie moving forward. He writes about being stood down as captain in November last year following a 2017 text message exchange with a Cricket Tasmania colleague, and the fallout from Justin Langer’s exit as Australia coach which many felt was unprofessional and embarrassing on the part of Cricket Australia.