Non-Australian cricket fans will be disappointed, but they should not be surprised: David Warner, who was banned from holding leadership positions for the rest of his career after masterminding the ball-tampering scandal that erupted in South Africa in 2018, may soon be granted permission to captain a team by the suits’.
Cricket Australia’s board of directors decided on Friday (October 14) to revise the organization’s code of conduct to allow ongoing disciplinary sentences to be reviewed by an independent commissioner on appeal and, if deemed worthy, commuted.
“The amendment would allow a person to request that a penalty they accepted to be reviewed after an appropriate period of time,” according to a CA statement. “At the moment, the code states that once a charge and penalty are accepted, there is no recourse.” The onus would be on the applicant to demonstrate genuine reform relevant to the offense for which they were sanctioned.
“Except for the suspension of a penalty in recognition of genuine reform, no review would revisit the original sanction. The board has asked the CA head of integrity to propose a code amendment for consideration. It was agreed that if a long-term sanctions amendment were adopted, any penalty review would be heard by an independent code of conduct commission.” David Warner is the only Australian player serving a life ban from captaincy. He’s only been in prison for less than five years, but he could be back in charge of a team before Christmas: Cricket New South Wales requested that CA reconsider Warner’s case because the Sydney Thunder are looking for a stand-in captain for the BBL, which begins on December 13.
Aaron Finch, who retired from One-Day Internationals last month and will turn 36 next month, has led Australia in 128 white-ball matches and is clearly nearing the end of his career. He and Test captain Pat Cummins have both expressed support for Warner’s return to formal leadership – he was named Smith’s Test and ODI vice-captain in August 2015 and was in charge of a dozen ODIs and T20Is between 2016 and 2018 – despite the fact that David Warner is three weeks older than Finch.
CA will thus have to contend with non-Australians who believe the decision to resurrect David Warner’s starring role in Sandpapergate was motivated by expediency. He’s fine now that Australian cricket requires him in a managerial capacity. From polecat to errant son.
That represents a dramatic shift from 2018 when CA determined after an investigation that David Warner had misled poor, innocent Cameron Bancroft into using sandpaper to roughen the ball and that Warner had dominated poor, helpless Smith into allowing it to happen. During the Newlands Test in March 2018, broadcasters SuperSport – also known as South Africa’s 12th man – discovered the plot.
It is unknown how long the Australians had been using their dark art by that point. Under mounting pressure, some of which came from the highest office in the land, all three players lied about their cheating. Then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed “shock and bitter disappointment” and demanded Smith’s removal as captain. Sandpapergate cost Smith and David Warner their jobs, as well as Darren Lehmann’s job as a coach. This is not the way James Sutherland would have wanted to end his 17-year tenure as CA’s CEO. CA chair David Peever and board member Mark Taylor both stepped down.
Smith and David Warner were suspended for a year, and Bancroft was suspended for nine months. Smith was barred from captaining for an additional year after completing his suspension. Warner received no such treatment. South Africans watching at the time were torn between schadenfreude at their bitter rivals being torn apart from within and amusement at the fact that Australians could take the matter so seriously.
Faf du Plessis and Vernon Philander had been caught in the same ball-tampering act three times in the previous five years with no action taken against them. They left it to the ICC, who suspended Smith for the final match of the 2018 series, fined Bancroft, and did not charge Warner.
Besides, the Australians didn’t have a reputation for fair play: in the first Test of the 2018 series at Kingsmead, Warner had to be restrained from physically confronting Quinton de Kock in a stairwell after subjecting the South African to a sustained verbal attack while batting.
Could Warner’s outspoken stance in the players’ protracted salary dispute with CA in 2017 have played a role in the special treatment meted out to him by his home board seven months after a salary agreement was reached? Could the fact that he will play in the BBL for the first time since 2013, as well as the star quality he will bring to the tournament, have contributed to his apparent redemption?
In any case, there will be cynical smiles as Warner’s rehabilitation nears completion. Where was the support for him in 2018 from Cummins – who was also part of the Newlands Test XI – and Finch, who had led Australia 11 times by then?
Australia’s bard of bat and ball, Gideon Haigh, addressed the issue in this weekend’s edition of The Australian: “To impose a lifetime sentence for anything is anomalous and disproportionate in a world that pardons and winks at so much. It is unreasonable to hold cricketers to higher standards than public officials; it is mindless obstinacy to insist on the continuation of anything simply because it was decided once. Mercy must be used to temper justice.”
In 2018, there was little mercy for Warner to be seen, heard, or read. There was mostly hatred in the press and seemingly everywhere else, including the prime minister’s office, as well as shattered silence from within the dressing room. In terms of sticking to decisions made only once, try telling an umpire that after you choose to bat and your team is bowled out for 47 that the toss should be re-taken and the game restarted.
South Africans do not have a square centimeter of moral high ground to claim. They squandered it all in their reactions to Warner’s altercation with De Kock in Durban. The lowest point of shame and cowardice reached in this saga was taking to the stands at St George’s Park wearing masks made from photographs of Warner’s wife’s face. Worse, the majority of their countrymen did not condemn their actions.
Of course, that didn’t stop dark chuckling in November last year when Tim Paine, who had emerged as a seeming beacon of decency, a rare and shining unugly Aussie, after taking over the captaincy from Smith from the last Test at the Wanderers in 2018, was undone by a sex scandal.
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