“Faf is being held together by… I was going to say by sticky tape, but that’s probably not the right thing.” So began the announcement, nearly four days after the Newlands incident in 2018, of the then South Africa coach Ottis Gibson, who had a dig at Australia’s ball-tampering weapon of choice.
Australia had its moments when it was exceptionally good, but this was one of its lowest points. Eventually, the players would come good and they would be strong again. It was just one of those things, but March 24 marked two years since Australian cricket was thrown into turmoil by the Cape Town Sandpapergate scandal.
Steven Smith and David Warner, formerly captain and vice-captain of Australia, were banned from playing international and domestic cricket for 12 months by Cricket Australia for their roles in the scandal while Cameron Bancroft, the player caught tampering the ball, was banned from playing for nine months.
The reception Australia has got since that fateful Test against South Africa has usually oscillated between disgust and awe. Michael Holding, West Indies fast-bowling great who was part of the commentary team during the Test, dismisses the notion that the fallout was over the top.
“I don’t think so,” said Holding, “considering the level of punishments meted out to individuals and teams whose crime was to not bowl enough overs in a day. And I think the bigger crime was to try and cover up what took place instead of just taking it on the chin and apologising.”
Holding did not see the incident live. He had just come off commentary when a broadcasting colleague brought it to his attention. “I went outside the Supersports commentary box only to be asked by a commentator from another network if I had seen what happened,” Holding recalled. “I went back and watched all the replays from various angles. My immediate reaction was dismay. I couldn’t believe anyone could be so naïve to do what he [Bancroft] did in today’s world.”
Holding said he never felt disrespected by the Australians during his playing days. “When playing against Australia, I always considered them tough opponents who took no prisoners on the field, but that’s where the ‘war’ ended,” he said.
“I can honestly say I was never the subject of any racial or personal abuse, and never heard any either. I played against some tough guys. That said, sometimes what you hear through stump microphones these days, it seems times have changed and not for the better.”
Holding has “no idea” whether Smith and Warner are better for their experience. “I remember seeing an advertisement that Smith did while under suspension, referring to his involvement in the scandal which, in my opinion, was in poor taste. It didn’t suggest to me that there was any remorse. I don’t know either gentleman, so can only go by what I see.”