Sandpapergate still overshadows Australia vs South Africa Test series

The Sandpapergate scandal that rocked Australian cricket in 2018 is still the main conversation driver ahead of the national team’s first Test series against South Africa since that acrimonious tour.

Published : Dec 16, 2022 12:17 IST , BRISBANE

File picture of Dean Elgar.
File picture of Dean Elgar. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

File picture of Dean Elgar. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Sandpapergate scandal that rocked Australian cricket in 2018 is still the main conversation driver ahead of the national team’s first Test series against South Africa since that acrimonious tour.

Even for Dean Elgar, who scored an unbeaten century for South Africa in that 2018 Test match in Cape Town where Australian fielder Cameron Bancroft was caught by TV cameras roughing up the ball with sandpaper hidden in his pants, the ball tampering saga still overshadows his contribution with the bat in that match.

He’ll be leading South Africa on Saturday for the first Test at the Gabba, which has been something of a fortress for Australian cricket in the last three decades.

Asked Friday about the spiteful atmosphere of that 2018 series, Elgar consigned it to history and said he hoped the three-match series in Australia “hopefully it’s played in a good spirit.”

“There will be moments no doubt where there’s going to be a few feisty encounters (but) hopefully it doesn’t reach the stage that we experienced in 2018,” Elgar said. “What’s happened in the past has happened. There’s no grudges.”

He said his South Africa squad didn’t need it for motivation ahead of a series involving the top two ranked teams in the World Test Championship.

If the Australian team has “got added issues with regards it, then that’s their thing,” the 35-year-old opener said. “My team . . . we haven’t spoken about it once. That’s history for us.”

Senior South Africa players had been accused of ball tampering and received match sanctions or reprimands in series before the Sandpapergate scandal. The reaction by the sport’s administrators in Australia was much more severe, however, with unprecedented bans for three players.

Bancroft was suspended for nine months and the then-skipper Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner were each given unprecedented 12-month bans by Cricket Australia for their parts in the plot to change the condition of the ball so it would assist the bowling attack.

Smith and Warner are back in the Australian line-up which is now led by Pat Cummins, who was in the bowling in that match. Smith led Australia in a 419-run win over West Indies in Adelaide last weekend in the injury-enforced absence of the captain.

Cummins’ return means there was no room in the lineup for Michael Neser in the only change to the starting line-up, with Scott Boland retained because of his like-for-like bowling qualities with the injured Josh Hazlewood. Left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc and spinner Nathan Lyon were in that bowling attack in Cape Town in 2018 and still at the forefront now.

Australia is onto its second head coach and second Test captain since then, and Cummins said there’s a different, more enjoyable vibe and less of an edge about the team.

“We’ve all moved on — done with it,” he said Friday. “I don’t think we’re as abrasive as we’ve been in the past . . . (and) it’s working for us.

“How we are off the field is pretty similar to what we play on the field I think — calm, very chill, just enjoying it out there, really competitive. And we’ve done that really well over the last 12 months.”

Neither captain could rule out there being some moments of hostility when the match gets tight, but both said their players would keep their composure.

“We’re really strong on who we are as a team, how we want to go about it,” Cummins said. “The last 12 months have been a great example on that. We’re pretty firm on how we want to act and conduct ourselves. Whatever gets thrown at us, won’t change that.”

Both teams feature quality, balanced bowling attacks with multiple fast bowling options complemented by spin, with paceman Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi leading the South Africans and Cummins likely to share the new ball with Starc for Australia.

The Gabba wicket, which traditionally produces extra bounce and carry for the bowlers but can also suit batters who get established in their innings, had a verdant green covering on Friday. The chance of rain showers on Day 1 could also tempt Elgar to bowl first and unleash his pacemen, the team’s undoubted strength, but he acknowledged captains tend to take the safer option of batting first on winning the toss in Australia.

Elgar said he wouldn’t confirm his starting XI until the toss on Saturday.

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