The longer road: Warner and Smith have had their redemption stories… it’s time for Cameron Bancroft’s
“I want to say that I am very sorry. I love the game of cricket and playing for my nation and my state, there is no greater pride for me.”
So said a 25-year-old Cameron Bancroft in March of 2018. Speaking to a packed, cramped room of reporters in Perth, his mother by his side and an angry nation baying for blood, Bancroft haltingly edged his way through a prepared statement.
His voice on the edge of breaking, trembling, gritting through his long-form apology, Bancroft expressed his disappointment and regret in his own actions: the camera, close-up on Bancroft, didn’t hide Cameron’s mum’s concern, her arm tentatively edging into shot to rest momentarily on his back.
“Words don’t mean much in these circumstances, so I will focus on my actions and my conduct going forward.”
The press conference took place five days after Bancroft was caught on South African cameras rubbing a foreign yellow object on the cricket ball. It was the third day of the third Test against South Africa at Newlands in Cape Town, and the foreign object in his hands – soon to be quickly stuffed down the front of his trousers – was sandpaper.
Sandpapergate – as it was always going to be coined, echoing the eponymous Watergate scandal of the early ’70s in the United States – brought to a screeching halt three cricketing careers.
And yet, only Bancroft’s career remains on hold, stuck in a perpetual state of awkward limbo, while Steve Smith and David Warner – those for whom should fall the lion’s share of the blame for Bancroft’s actions – were hurriedly returned to the Australian Test fold, their careers marred, certainly, but their transgressions, to a degree, forgotten – papered over in the name of national results.
Bancroft, however, continues along a much longer road back into the Australian Test team, having been denied any of the handwringing, agonising, and rewriting of history that allowed Warner and Smith to so smoothly regain their spots in the team much longer after Bancroft’s own suspension came to an end. But Bancroft hasn’t given up.
“I would love to represent my country again,” the now 31-year-old Bancroft told Fox Cricket commentator Mark Howard from the middle of Sydney Showground Stadium.
Speaking during the second innings of the most recent Sydney Smash between the Sydney Sixers and Thunder, the deafening crowd, music, and pyrotechnics of the night making it almost impossible for Bancroft to hear the commentators’ questions – “can I request a bit of volume?”, he sheepishly enquired. Bancroft addressed the recent media palaver over who would replace David Warner as opener of the Australian Test team.
“The selectors, they always want you to perform and get runs on the board [and that’s] 100% what you’d expect for someone that’s trying to push their case for the next level.
“I’m just trying to execute that as best as I can and, hopefully, it’d be awesome to get an opportunity at some point.”
And, even though Bancroft edged around his own recent relative success, he has nevertheless been regularly executing the request for runs on the board.
Bancroft already racked up 512 runs in the first half of the 2023-24 Sheffield Shield before the Big Brash pause, averaging 56.88 across his 9 innings. On both counts, Bancroft is far ahead of the two others vying for Warner’s job – Marcus Harris (282 at 31.33) and Matthew Renshaw (348 at 31.63).
And in case anyone was concerned Bancroft’s recent run of form is an aberration, Bancroft similarly finished the 2022-23 Sheffield Shield as the leading run scorer with 945, 289 runs ahead of second place.
Opening the batting for Western Australia with “good mate” Sam Whiteman, Bancroft is therefore focused on what he can control, making runs.
“Even amongst all the talk and speculation and things like that, it’s been nice just to be able to focus on the cricket, and just do the best that I can out there [in the middle].”
The road back into the Australian Test team has, for Bancroft, been long and winding – arguably, much longer and windier than it ever needed to be. And even at a time when circumstances would normally demand Bancroft’s return, signs escaping the Australian camp are that Bancroft may need to continue waiting.
“All angles will be considered,” said Australian men’s Test coach, Andrew McDonald, speaking to ABC radio on Saturday, the same day Bancroft would later find himself in the middle with the Sydney Sixers.
“There’s four people that are being discussed, and they’ll be the ones who are taking up our time as we lead into that West Indies game,” said McDonald.
“In the last 30 years, I think there’s been 30-odd openers, and 50% of them have come from a non-traditional opening background.”
McDonald’s “four people” are almost certainly Bancroft, Harris, Renshaw, and West Australian all-rounder Cameron Green, who has been missing from the team after Mitch Marsh reclaimed his spot in the Test team during the 2023 Ashes campaign.
And the comments are a striking look into the thinking of Australia’s selectors and the Australian men’s Test team, highlighting not only their continued obsession with Cameron Green but their almost preternatural unwillingness to look beyond a chosen few favourites.
At 24-years-old, Cameron Green has demonstrated prodigious talent, though without the consistency that would normally see a player pushing into any country’s Test team. In 2023, Green played six matches and scored 269 runs at an average of 29.88 over his 10 innings. And while his bowling was slightly better – 82.4 overs at an average of 56.57 and economy of 4.79 – Australia is not a team wanting for bowlers.
Calls for Cameron Green’s inclusion are often paired with parallel calls to edge Marnus Labuschagne up into the opener’s position – with many citing the number of times he’s been called to the crease in the first few overs proof already of his latent opening ability.
This, however, would seem to be a relatively obvious circular argument, one which should fall back on Cameron Green’s contributions, which aren’t stellar enough to warrant avoiding the inclusion of a specialist opener. And Bancroft would appear to concur.
In comments to the AAP over the weekend, Bancroft highlighted the need for Australia to pick a specialist opener to replace David Warner.
“I’ve opened the batting in Shield cricket for over 10 years,” said Bancroft. “It’s not an easy place to bat.”
“It comes with challenges, and my whole career I’ve problem-solved trying to find ways to flourish in those sort of circumstances. Some players have switched and gone and opened the batting and done really well. But not everyone puts their hand up to go and open the batting. I feel like it probably is a specialist position and it’s certainly a really challenging one. But a very rewarding one as well.”
A consistent weight of domestic runs would normally be enough to guarantee a player of Bancroft’s talent and determination a return to the Australian Test team. One would also hope for some degree of remorse from Australia’s selectors and cricketing executives over how Bancroft has been treated in the wake of his South African misstep – compassion quickly shown to Warner and Smith, the two men responsible for the actions of a young man who “just wanted to fit in and feel valued.”
“The decision was based around my values, what I valued at the time, and I valued fitting in,” Bancroft told Adam Gilchrist in an interview aired on Fox Sports during the lunch break on day one of the Boxing Day Test at the end of 2018.
“You hope that fitting in earns you respect and with that, I guess, there came a pretty big cost for the mistake.”
That cost still continues to haunt Bancroft, now five years later, while Cricket Australia and Australian cricket continues its double-faced, hypocritical response to one of the country’s brightest domestic prospects.
One can only hope, at this point – with the announcement of David Warner’s replacement due to be announced any day, now – that old mistakes are forgotten.
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And while the irony may be a touch obvious – having Cameron Bancroft fill the opening spot left by the man who, from all accounts, was the one to betray the young West Australian by asking him to cheat for his country’s Test team – maybe what could be viewed as irony could also be seen as symmetry, righting a wrong. Eventually.