In our cricket book special, this year's Wisden, a tribute to Bill Lawry and what went into Sandpapergate.
BEHIND AUSTRALIAN CRICKET’S FALL BY GEOFF LEMON, HARDIE GRANT, .
When Cameron Bancroft applied sandpaper to ball less than furtively in Cape Town earlier this year, the public outrage was at once unmistakable yet also complicated – people knew they were angry, but at what, exactly? Ball-tampering? That had long been cricket’s most tolerated offence. Cheating in such a blatant way? Plain naive. That other nations were making fun of us? Closer, but not sufficient as an explanation.
The sharper observers of our oldest national game recognised something else: a full-on malaise, something that would be immediately recognised as “bad culture” in other sports. Sandpapergate was not merely one wrongheaded moment, or a touring party under stress, or a losing team that had just lost it – it was the end product of forces that had pushed Australian cricket into moral free-fall.
Geoff Lemon is one of those sharps, a contributor to ABC Radio and The Guardian, among other places, who penned a memorably trenchant critique a few years ago of the Nine cricket commentary style. Lemon is the rare cricket writer who can drop a Matrix reference after a Cardus citation, and not have it feel forced.
While the book plays as an account of the South African series, its great strength is in the portraits of the protagonists, the players whose personalities set them inexorably toward tragicomedy. The contradictions of a “bristling” David Warner are a central element here, as is a Steve Smith who is yet to fully inhabit the role of leader. But from the level of the individual, the picture of the whole becomes evident – this was a playing group that had become entitled. But the worst criticism of all is reserved for Cricket Australia, the organisation that enabled this behaviour with its commercially driven, just-win directives.
Good for: A comprehensive explanation of what the balltampering scandal means. A superb read.