The acrimonious Test series between the Proteas and Australia is quickly degenerating into a farce after the third day of the third Test at Newlands was engulfed in further controversy when Cameron Bancroft was captured on television footage holding a foreign object when working on the ball.
The boisterous Newlands crowd voiced its disapproval when images on the big screen showed Bancroft taking out a small, yellow object from his pocket before putting it down into his trousers.
The footage showed the Australian opener seemingly rub the rough side of the ball, the opposite side to which he would usually be trying to shine on his trousers, as is permitted under ICC playing conditions.
After seeing it on the big screen too, the on-field umpires Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth called Bancroft over, only for the Australian to pull out his a black piece of material, customarily used to clean sunglasses. The umpires did not change the ball or penalise the Australians with five runs, which is the mandatory on-field penalty for illegally changing the condition of the ball.
However, former Proteas and Australian legends Graeme Smith and Shane Warne, who are on commentary duty, expressed their disapproval of Bancroft’s actions during the tea interval.
“It does like or seem as though it’s a bit of sandpaper to affect the ball. Doesn’t look good,” Smith said.
“You’ve got to ask tough questions of (Aussie coach) Darren Lehmann and (captain) Steve Smith. It’s silly, and not on.
“The footage is quite damning.”
Warne’s criticism of his compatriot was equally damning.
“You can’t do the things it looks like he’s doing. You’ve got to own up as to what it was,” the spin maestro said. “You can’t have it in the game. If you bring in a foreign object, it must be seriously looked at.”
The Bancroft incident follows Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins laughing off suggestions on Thursday that he intentionally stepped on to the ball to aid reverse-swing, claiming it was a “mistake”.
Smith, along with former Proteas Mark Boucher and Paul Harris, also hit back at Australian coach Darren Lehmann’s comments on Friday that South African crowds were “disgraceful”.
Lehmann had made the statement, and indicated Cricket Australia had laid an official complaint, after Australian opener David Warner was harassed by a spectator in the Western Province Cricket Club Members Pavilion after being dismissed by Proteas spearhead Kagiso Rabada.
Boucher, who is now coach of the Titans franchise, immediately took to social media to hit back at Lehmann.
"Correct Darren! Fully agree! But... start cleaning up in your own country first! The personal, racial abuse I've witnessed in Aus was ridiculous. U guys don't live in a glass house! Why the fuss all of a sudden? Seems fine when the shoe is on the other foot," Boucher tweeted in response to a clip of Lehmann posted by cricket.com.au, an account run by CricketAustralia.
Smith backed up his former wicket-keeper’s tweet with one of his own: "Absolutely right, and I don't condone any of it. But blimey I have never seen an Aussie team whinge and whine like this!"
The relationships between these two bitter rivals have been tense ever since Warner and South African wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock were involved in stairwell fracas during the first Test in Durban. It continued at the second Test in Port Elizabeth when Rabada brushed Australian captain Steve Smith’s shoulder. Rabada escaped suspension only after CSA won an appeal at an independent hearing.
The ICC have already disciplined five players, which includes Warner, De Kock, Rabada, Mitchell Marsh and Nathan Lyon, with demerit points across both teams.