Well we didn’t need that, did we? Just a couple weeks on from Lee Cooper’s announcement that he’s stepping down, Somerset’s new overseas signing has been accused of ball tampering. Cue the outrage and the calls for him to be sacked, banned, thrown in the gulag etc.
It’s pretty clear that Bancroft has done a bad thing – he broke the laws of cricket. Not only that, but Australia’s ‘leadership group’ devised a plan which specifically involved cheating. It is unbelievable that they thought they wouldn’t be caught by the cameras. It is utterly, utterly naïve.
Plenty has already been said about Australia’s hypocrisy (see Daniel Brettig’s article on Cricinfo), but – just our luck – Somerset are caught up in the controversy too.
From what I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook, it appears that most Somerset fans want Bancroft’s contract to be cancelled. He’d set a bad example, we don’t want him sullying our reputation etc. Which is a reasonable view to take – the club could justifiably say that they don’t want to be associated with the controversy. They’d then need to look for another overseas player or back a youngster (probably George Bartlett or Tim Rouse) to take his place.
But I find it interesting to compare this with Craig Overton’s racism incident at the end of the 2015 season, when he told Ashar Zaidi (then of Sussex) to ‘f*** off back to his own country’. I don’t want raise this issue again because I hope the issue has been dealt with. I have faith that Overton is a changed man.
But I want to make this point: abusing someone based on their skin colour or country of origin is indisputably far, far worse than changing the condition of the ball to gain a marginal advantage in a cricket match. Yet few, if any, Somerset fans called for Overton to be sacked in 2015. Today, there are widespread calls for Bancroft not to join the club.
Somerset fans are entitled to their opinion – I just want to put that out there.
I also want to point out that Steve Kirby was proven to have tampered with the ball when he played for Gloucestershire in 2005. Five years later, Somerset signed him. Did those who are calling for Bancroft’s contract to be terminated object to the signing of Kirby? If they weren’t aware, would they object had they known the facts?
There are differences between the situations. Bancroft has freely admitted that he did it; Kirby denied it.
Bancroft was seemingly coerced into it by his ‘leadership group’. Kirby rubbed the ball on concrete and tarmac of his own volition. Which arguably makes that incident worse.
But the key point is that Kirby signed for Somerset years after a low-profile incident. Bancroft is joining the club weeks after his, much higher-profile, incident. If Somerset were signing Bancroft in a few years’ time, people wouldn’t care as much. But it can be argued that time shouldn’t make a difference; on the face of it, they are similar offences and should be treated similarly.
If Somerset decide that they don’t want to sign Bancroft because they fear for the club’s reputation, it would be understandable. But, on balance, I don’t think that would be the correct decision.
I didn’t have a problem with Overton continuing to play for Somerset, provided he received education and training. I don’t think he was punished enough by the club, but I agreed with the decision not to cancel his contract.
I wasn’t aware of Kirby’s ball tampering when he signed for Somerset; had I been aware I wouldn’t have taken issue as he had served his punishment.
So the same goes for Bancroft. Personally, I would feel like a hypocrite if I had no problem with Overton and Kirby playing for Somerset, before taking an opposite view on Bancroft.
He will be punished by the ICC and Cricket Australia. He will ‘do his time’, so to speak, in proportion to the crime. A crime that at face value is not as big as the outrage suggests – Australia’s rank hypocrisy is where much of the ire is directed. Some would have you believe that it is as bad as match-fixing, but it is a mere Level 2 offence (Level 4 is the worst) under ICC regulations. Only five penalty runs are awarded to the opposition side. Perhaps these punishments aren’t enough, but that is a different debate. Under current rules, ball tampering is not a major offence.
Somerset don’t need to cancel his contract. Acknowledge his wrongdoing, yes. Acknowledge that he cheated on a cricket field. Acknowledge that he has been rightly punished.
But once he has served his punishment he can play cricket. Let’s take the opportunity to knock some sense into a talented young batsman who was likely led on by senior players. It won’t be easy for him – he will face stick from opposition fans, and perhaps his own. His head may be all over the place (which, beyond morals, is a further issue for the club to consider). But he has the chance to put this behind him and become a better cricketer, and man, at Somerset.