Skeletons laid bare ahead of Brisbane Test as ‘Sandpapergate’ reappears, Steve Smith, David Warner

Skeletons laid bare ahead of Brisbane Test as ‘Sandpapergate’ reappears, Steve Smith, David Warner

Cricket Australia’s skeletons have been hidden in a confined space for seven years. Now, with the return of the Proteas, they’re finally coming back to haunt the national team.

James Erskine’s explosive remarks last week that after a crushing defeat by South Africa in Hobart the Australia side were being told in no uncertain terms by CA executives to do whatever it takes to win opened a can of worms the national team never wanted to touch.

It immediately dashed CA’s hopes of repairing their shattered image, tarnished by the ugly departure of former coach Justin Langer, who was called up to facilitate a cultural transformation and achieve peak performance before being shown the door and for his Services earlier this year was thanked.

Ian Healy’s comments a day later only worsened the crisis facing the governing body, as they lent credence to Erskine’s claim that at least something was said.

“I went to the locker room that day,” Healy said on SENQ’s Pat and Heals.

“Mark Taylor and I went from our commentary box in Hobart to the dressing room to support the lads because they had a real failure against South Africa and five players got hacked there.

“We went in that day, and it would have happened that day that they were approached by nameless people and said, ‘We’re not paying you to do anything but win,’ and that was the attitude, that came out was not good.”

Cameron Bancroft

Cameron Bancroft speaks to referees at Newlands after he was spotted with sandpaper in 2018. AP Photo/Halden Krog

Two years later, a series of flashpoints culminated, including a stoush between Warner and Quinton de Kock on the pavilion staircase and a huge farewell by Steve Smith to red hot speedster Kagiso Rabada, in one of the ugliest episodes in Australian sport, as newcomer Cameron Bancroft was seen stuffing sandpaper down his pants.

It resulted in Bancroft, Smith and Warner catching lengthy bans, with the latter accepting a lifetime leadership ban.

Fast forward more than four years and the two nations will finally meet again in the Test arena.

How fitting that the Scars of Cape Town would be reopened on the eve of the series which is set to finally awaken Australian cricket audiences from their deep slumber.

Six of the XI who took the field in South Africa 2018, including Smith and a pressured Warner, will take on the Whites at The Gabba on Saturday while the ghosts of Newlands still haunt the side.

Australia manager Andrew McDonald did his best to downplay the rivalry with South Africa, saying the national team had “moved on”.

“We’re not sure what’s going on inside the walls of the South African dressing room, but you wouldn’t notice a distraction in our walls,” McDonald told reporters after their big win over the West Indies in Adelaide. “We’re going ahead.

“People criticize that we have to do things from within. We made progress from that.

“The noise that is outside is definitely not inside.”

StevenSmith and Cameron Bancroft (L) address the media March 24, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images

World No. 1 batsman in Test Marnus Labuschagne, who made his debut in the series that followed after the ball-tampering scandal, also tried to downplay history between the two nations.

“No, not really,” Labuschagne replies when asked if he thinks “Sandpapergate” would become a topic of conversation on the pitch.

“I think we sort of buried that and it’s a thing of the past.

“I don’t think either team will really address that part.

“But as I said, I can only speak of what I think and what our side thinks.”

Former captain Michael Clarke, who wasn’t afraid to throw in a few not-so-subtle words midway through, said he expected the Proteas to look to get under the skin of their rivals, who are at the top of the ICC Test Championship.

“Their approach to every player involved in this ‘Sandpapergate’, they nailed it mate,” Clarke said on Sky Sports Radio’s The Big Sports Breakfast.

“It doesn’t have to be across the border, but you can make it very clear to someone like David Warner that Australian fans are avoiding him.”

The scars of 2018 remain deep.

One by one, Nathan Lyon was told the hot spots between Australia and South Africa on the eve of the cricket summer just beginning.

“You don’t have to name them all,” Lyon quipped during an interview with The Roar as the infamous 2018 series drew to a close.

Australia vs South Africa may not have the history of the Ashes or the intensity of a series against India, but these two nations have been getting under one another’s skin for years.

For Lyon, it’s largely down to the similarities between the two nations.

“The way I look at South Africa, they’re probably the closest thing to Australian cricket in their mentality, their approach,” he said.

“They’re very hardcore on the pitch, but they’re nice guys off the pitch too. Some of our best celebratory drinks after a Test series were with the South African cricket team. They are very similar to the Australian cricket team.”

How Australia react will be an intriguing test of character, with the issue being a weak spot easily downplayed from midfield and in the presence of media executives.

David Warner

David Warner leaves the field in South Africa. Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Whether they can show the same restraint when the pressure starts to boil will be their biggest mental test since the 2019 Ashes series.

“We’re clear about how we want to play and we don’t want to talk about it,” McDonald said.

“Hopefully it was obvious to people watching us in the way we’ve been doing it. They are the people who criticize us.

“You should see a clear style in the way we want to play. And you will see the same thing again.”

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