One of the screengrabs from FoxSports that unravelled Australia’s cheating.
One of the screengrabs from FoxSports that unravelled Australia’s cheating.

Explosive new details from inside cheating scandal

IT all started with the furious flurry of fingers.

Not over the rough side of the ball, but with a text message. AB de Villiers, South Africa's best player, was convinced David Warner was up to something during the second Test in Port Elizabeth.

The palm of Warner's left hand as well as the thumb were wrapped in heavy bandaging. Not altogether unusual for a batsman who over the years had broken as many fingers as records.

There was an on-field confrontation between the pair over the matter. It went nowhere.

Warner might have even pointed out that de Villiers had similar bandaging on at least one finger.

It’s understood coach Darren Lehmann’s initial “what the f ... was that” message sent down the walkie-talkie expanded into a no-holds-barred dressing-down of his players.
It’s understood coach Darren Lehmann’s initial “what the f ... was that” message sent down the walkie-talkie expanded into a no-holds-barred dressing-down of his players.

The umpires weren't interested, just like they weren't in the first Test when the South Africans first grew suspicious of what was happening with the ball.

But de Villiers wouldn't be swayed. He felt there was something more to Warner's tape.

At some point, a message was sent up to the former South African captain Graeme Smith in the commentary box that he should be following Warner's every move.

It helps explain why 14 days later in the stuffy little Cape Town dressing room, Warner and opening partner Cameron Bancroft shared a conversation at lunchtime that would radically change the course of Australian cricket history.

Local broadcaster SuperSport had increased their 24-hour ball surveillance from the previous Test tenfold - with one cameraman even told to focus on nothing but the ball and who was working on it.

Ball-shiner-in-chief David Warner.
Ball-shiner-in-chief David Warner.

Normally, of course, that would have been Warner - the team-appointed and endorsed ball-shiner.

But it wasn't just "the heat" that provides important context to the mind-blowing decision that led to the side's least-established player, Bancroft, taking a square inch of sandpaper out to the middle.

Emotions were flying out of control, and the anger and desperation inside the Australian camp ran thick.

In a broad sense Australia arrived angry; livid that South Africa's best bowler - in fact the No. 1 wicket-taker in the world - Kagiso Rabada had, on appeal, beaten a suspension that defied cricketing logic.

Umpires Richard Illingworth (left) and Nigel Llong confront Bancroft, who initially tried to deflect with lies before confessing.
Umpires Richard Illingworth (left) and Nigel Llong confront Bancroft, who initially tried to deflect with lies before confessing.

The day before, sections of the Newlands crowd had also started levelling personal abuse at certain players. Specifically Warner, who, not for the first time in the series, had seen red when confronted with insults about his wife Candice, whom he defends with fierce loyalty - this time from a fan who rushed the players' race as he walked from the field - prompting a war of words.

By the time day three rolled around the Australians were beginning to panic as South Africa started their second innings 56 runs ahead.

Reverse swing had dictated the entire series and Australia knew that unless they could summon their rare power, and quickly, the match would slide away.

In just the second over Josh Hazlewood bowled four dot balls to Proteas opener Dean Elgar and then changed to around the wicket.

Later Hazlewood sent down a beautiful sequence to AB de Villiers that culminated in a textbook reverse inswing delivery. But the South African batsman bunted it away with such ease his eyes might as well have been closed.

Newlands, Cape Town — a dramatic backdrop for a Test of great portent.
Newlands, Cape Town — a dramatic backdrop for a Test of great portent.

Impatience was now rife. The summer had been long. That mood flowed directly into the now-infamous lunchbreak on day three, where the sentiment in the rooms went something like: "We've got to get it going."

In the first innings, Australia felt the ball just went (reverse) out of nowhere for South Africa.

Australia's theory for that, it's understood, was that wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock was getting the ball and rubbing it on his gloves.

Reverse swing, after all, has always been considered cricket's version of the dark arts. For Australia, it would be now or never in the third Test, or so they thought. The ball must reverse, or else.

Warner and Bancroft sat in close proximity in the sheds as opening partners.

Bancroft stews under further questioning.
Bancroft stews under further questioning.

It's understood this played a part in the planning and so-called demonstration that unfolded, which was more general conversation than formal meeting, as was originally publicised.

The fact Warner was the most filmed man in the team and Bancroft the lowest profile was also important.

Sandpaper is a common material in kit bags for refining bats. Some international teams use it to make balls reverse while practising in the nets.

In a dressing room described by ex-players as one of the smallest in world cricket, sources claim Smith became aware of a plan, but didn't want to know about it. This, of course, was his failure as captain.

Steve Smith and Bancroft face the media after the day’s play.
Steve Smith and Bancroft face the media after the day’s play.

Did others know of the plot?

Some sources are convinced it could not have remained such a closely guarded secret between three people.

Others believe that is possible due to the chaotic nature of lunch breaks, where players get only a couple of minutes together as a group before they split up in search of food, treatment and 100 other moving parts.

There are unconfirmed suggestions someone in the room uttered a phrase resembling "just don't be ridiculous". If that was said, it certainly didn't resonate.

 

The shambolic events that unfolded after the lunch break were beamed around the world like a live episode of Candid Camera.

The hallways of the broadcast area erupted. At the tea break later in the day it's understood coach Darren Lehmann's initial "what the f ... was that" message sent down the walkie-talkie expanded into a no-holds-barred dressing-down of his players. Constant replays on the big screen greeted by loud jeers from an increasingly agitated crowd heightened the scale of the storm that was brewing, and in the last session Steve Smith made his way from the field.

 

Cameron Bancroft addresses the media.
Cameron Bancroft addresses the media.

After play Bancroft took himself into the umpire's room and personally apologised for the deceit he showed on the field by stuffing the sandpaper down his jocks and presenting a sunglasses cloth to show the inquiring match officials.

The media waited an hour as Bancroft was formally charged with ball-tampering and a plan for the looming press conference was devised. There was initial thought Lehmann should face the music but Smith wanted to front up himself.

Other teams would have hidden and trembled. But Smith came forward even when his culpability was a lack of intervention rather than direct involvement.

An untruth was told about sticky tape rather than sandpaper - a tale fed to Lehmann and others as well.

But this was a white lie compared with the magnitude of what Smith was actually owning up to. The captain might have underestimated the scale of his admission about pre-meditation and conspiracy. But could anyone have predicted the rage and mayhem that followed?