Why The Australia Ball-Tampering Scandal Is Making Waves In Cricket-Mad India

Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft (L) of Australia during day 3 of the 3rd Sunfoil Test match between South Africa and Australia at PPC Newlands on March 24, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The cricket world was left stunned by the news that Australian captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and teammate Cameron Bancroft were found guilty of ball-tampering on the third day of their third Test against South Africa on March 24.

Predictably, it’s been headline news in India all week — not only because this is a cricket-mad nation, but also because we’re only days away from the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL) — the sport’s most lucrative tournament. Smith and Warner were set to captain teams here as two of the most expensive foreign imports to the league this season.

Former captain Steve Smith of the Australian Cricket Team departs at O R Tambo International Airport after being caught cheating in the Sunfoil Test Series between Australia and South Africa, on March 28, 2018 in Johannesburg. (GULSHAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

What is ball-tampering?

In cricket, ball-tampering refers to the illegal manipulation of the ball to alter its condition. Doing so typically results in a bowler being able to utilise “reverse swing,” where the ball veers sideways as it moves through the air at high speed towards the batsman, because one side of the ball is rougher than the other. This can be done by either roughing up or polishing one side of the ball relative to the other, and makes a delivery more difficult for the batsman to receive. 

Under the laws of the game, players are not allowed to apply artificial substances to the ball. There are four levels of offences under the International Cricket Council’s code of conduct, with four being the highest in terms of severity. Ball-tampering is regarded as a level two offence, which is serious. 

Camera footage confirmed that Bancroft had snuck in sandpaper to rough up the ball on Saturday, and when umpires noticed and questioned him, he hid it inside his trousers. In the post-match press conference, Smith admitted that the team’s “leadership group” had a plan, carried out by Bancroft, to tamper with the ball to “get an advantage.”

South African bowler Morne Morkel (L) celebrates the dismissal of Australian batsman Steve Smith (R) during the fourth day of the third Test cricket match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands cricket ground on March 25, 2018 in Cape Town. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sunday, Smith and Warner were made to step down from their roles as captain and vice-captain of the Australia national team. The International Cricket Council (ICC) also announced a one match suspension for Smith, and fined him and Bancroft, as interim sanctions while further investigations were underway. On Tuesday, all three players were sent home, and on Wednesday, Cricket Australia announced one-year bans for both Smith and Warner and a nine-month ban for Bancroft.

Why it’s become a major story in India

Smith and Warner were to be paid salaries of close to US$1.9 million each for this season’s IPL, the most lucrative IPL contracts ever awarded to Australian cricketers. Smith was to serve as captain of the Rajasthan Royals, and Warner as captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad. Not only did both have to relinquish their IPL captaincies in the days after the scandal was unearthed, they will also be banned from playing in the league all together.

The IPL starts next Saturday, April 7, with the Rajasthan Royals scheduled to play their first match two days later against Sunrisers Hyderabad, both of whom are having to rethink their squads and rename captains. Indian star Ajinkya Rahane has been appointed the new captain of the Rajasthan Royals while Shikhar Dhawan is thought to be most likely to replace Warner at Sunrisers Hyderabad.

The news and social media in India has been abuzz with legends of the game, both former and current weighing in on the controversy every day. 

Steve Smith and David Warner of Australia celebrate after Australia regained the Ashes during day five of the Third Test match during the 2017/18 Ashes Series between Australia and England at WACA on December 18, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

How much money do the players stand to lose?

For sports stars, bad decisions tend to mean big money lost. Widely regarded as one of modern cricket’s greatest batsmen, Smith was listed by ESPNcricinfo as the world’s highest paid cricketer in a 2017 feature that looked into the game’s riches. But now, along with the stain on the integrity of Australian cricket, he and Warner are also likely to be hit hard by canceled sponsorships and endorsement deals. 

Until last week, Smith was among Cricket Australia’s most marketable players. He was the face of Sanitarium breakfast cereal Weet-Bix television commercials, and of American footwear giant New Balance, which last year made him its global ambassador. Warner was also on several lucrative deals, with his website listing a range of brand partners, including Nestle Milo, Toyota, footwear maker ASIC and Korean electronics giant LG. Sanitarium has already removed all material related to Smith from the website of Weet-Bix. On Wednesday, LG revealed it had cut ties with Warner.

Once heroes, both now stand to lose millions of dollars both in cricket earnings endorsement deals as brands choose to distance themselves from the scandal, just as other sports stars including the likes of Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and Maria Sharapova have faced when found guilty of unethical conduct in the past. Armstrong’s losses as a result of his doping charges were estimated at $150 million; Woods’ earnings last year were estimated to have fallen by almost a half of what they were in 2009. Sharapova was estimated to be earning  roughly $22-25 million annually in endorsements until 2016. But in the aftermath of her doping scandal, most of her major sponsorship deals were terminated. While Sharapova has managed a commendable resurgence, it has been largely downhill for Armstrong.

It remains to be seen whether Smith, Warner and Bancroft will manage to redeem themselves.

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