Cricket Australia partners weigh up options amid ball-tampering scandal

Cricket Australia’s commercial partners are considering their options as the ball-tampering scandal arising from the national team’s Test match in South Africa continues to make headlines, both at home and abroad.

The incident occurred on Saturday as Australian fielder Cameron Bancroft was seen on television holding a foreign object while rubbing the ball, in an apparent effort to scuff it up to assists bowlers in generating reverse swing, before hiding the object in his pocket, then inside his trousers.

As soon as the incident was shown on the giant screen, the player was questioned in the presence of his captain Steve Smith by the two on-field umpires. The clarity of the images transmitted around the world has provoked a media storm, with the International Cricket Council (ICC) yesterday (Sunday) handing Smith (right of picture), one of the finest batsmen in world cricket, a one-match suspension and a fine of 100 per cent of his match fee.

Opening batsman Bancroft (left of picture), a junior member of the Australian team, was fined 75 per cent of his match fee and handed three demerit points. However, CA is expected to impose much more stringent punishment, with senior officials having flown to South Africa to deliberate the matter.

Smith has admitted that the scheme involved a group of senior players and a host of CA sponsors have now said they are considering the status of their contracts. Breakfast cereal manufacturer Sanitarium, which counts Smith as a brand ambassador, said it was reviewing its sponsorship pending the outcome of CA’s investigation. “Certainly it’s under review as the actions taken by the team in South Africa don’t align with our own values – Sanitarium does not condone cheating in sport,” Sanitarium said in a statement reported by the Reuters news agency.

Reuters added that this sentiment was echoed by almost all of the sport’s commercial partners in Australia, including airline Qantas, apparel partner Asics, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, insurer Bupa, opticians chain Specsavers, automotive manufacturer Toyota, and brewer Lion, which owns beer sponsor XXXX. “Like the rest of Australia, we’re deeply concerned,” a Lion spokesman said in a statement. “This is not what you’d expect from anyone in sport at any level.”

Qantas added: “This is deeply disappointing and certainly not what anyone expects from our national cricket team. We are in discussions with Cricket Australia as this issue unfolds.”

The scandal has erupted with CA also in the midst of negotiating its next set of domestic broadcast rights. On Friday, CA requested a second round of bids amid reports that it has now proposed putting more of its content on pay-television in an effort to drive a higher price.

Prized content such as Australia’s home Test matches and domestic Twenty20 competition the Big Bash League is on the market, with CA hoping for a total of at least Aus$900m (€566.4m/$698.8m) from its next five-year rights cycle, from 2018 to 2022.

Australia ultimately collapsed to a 322-run defeat yesterday in the third Test of what has been a bitterly contested series against South Africa. The fourth Test is due to begin in Johannesburg on Friday and CA chairman David Peever said today (Monday): “We expect to be able to fully update the Australian public on the findings on Wednesday morning (Tuesday evening in Johannesburg).

“We understand that everyone wants answers, but we must follow our due diligence before any further decisions are made.”

In its statement yesterday, ICC chief executive David Richardson said: “The game needs to have a hard look at itself. In recent weeks we have seen incidents of ugly sledging, send-offs, dissent against umpires’ decisions, a walk-off, ball tampering and some ordinary off-field behaviour.

“The ICC needs to do more to prevent poor behaviour and better police the spirit of the game, defining more clearly what is expected of players and enforcing the regulations in a consistent fashion. In addition, and most importantly, member countries need to show more accountability for their teams’ conduct. Winning is important but not at the expense of the spirit of the game which is intrinsic and precious to the sport of cricket. We have to raise the bar across all areas.”