By Amlan Chakraborty
NEWDELHI (Reuters) – A ball-tampering scandal that devastated Australia cast a dark cloud over a dramatic cricketing year during which England soared, master Indian batsman Virat Kohli shone and two new test-playing countries underwent a baptism of fire.
Even if Cameron Bancroft’s career survives ‘Sandpapergate’, the 26-year-old will remain the face of the worst scandal in Australian cricket since Trevor Chappell bowled an under-arm delivery against New Zealand in 1981.
In an era when a cricketer’s every move comes under the televised microscope, Bancroft did the unthinkable — and unthinkably foolish — in Cape Town, even if he was merely following instructions from senior team mate David Warner.
Bancroft scuffed up the ball with a yellow tape and later, when alerted, sheepishly shoved it down the front of his trousers as the Australians’ already ill-tempered series with South Africa simply exploded.
The mayhem that ensued first led to captain Steve Smith, deputy Warner and Bancroft being sent home in disgrace and slapped with lengthy bans.
“It was a failure of leadership, of my leadership, I’ll do anything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it has caused,” a remorseful Smith said in a statement.
As fans and sponsors reacted in dismay, heads rolled. Darren Lehmann stepped down as head coach, to be replaced by Justin Langer in May, while long-serving CEO James Sutherland also vacated his post.
Cricket Australia (CA) commissioned a review into the team culture and the board’s governance — and the conclusions were far from flattering.
It branded CA “arrogant” and accused it of allowing “alpha-male” egos to develop a win-at-all-costs approach.
The purge culminated with David Peever resigning as CA chairman last month, having been re-elected the previous week for a second term.
The Australian Cricketers’ Association demanded a reduction in the length of the bans on Smith, Warner and Bancroft but CA refused to oblige.
Tim Paine was put in charge of a depleted test team, who lost the series opener to India in Adelaide on Monday. [L8N1YF063]
In contrast, Ashes rivals England will have few complaints about the year, having risen to the top of one-day rankings a year before hosting the World Cup on home soil.
Eoin Morgan’s team registered impressive away series victories in Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, offering signs that they could break England’s World Cup duck.
The test team under Joe Root also impressed with a 3-0 whitewash in Sri Lanka, ending England’s 17-year wait for a series victory there, which followed a 4-1 defeat of India at home.
England also bade a fond farewell to their record test scorer Alastair Cook, who signed off with an emotional hundred in his final innings at the Oval.
Sri Lankan cricket also said goodbye to spin spearhead Rangana Herath, who retired with 433 wickets, the most by a left-arm spinner in test cricket, from 93 tests after the Galle test against England.
International cricket was also robbed of one of its biggest crowd-pullers when South African talisman AB de Villiers, famed for his 360 degree batting and incredible athleticism in the field, announced he had “run out of gas”.
Also in May, Ireland made their debut as the 11th test playing nation when they hosted Pakistan in Dublin.
William Porterfield and his men endured a chastening and rainy initiation though, losing by five wickets after being made to follow-on.
Afghanistan fared worse in their debut in India the following month, beaten by an innings and 262 runs inside two days by the top-ranked test team.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) also made an effort to help grow the game by submitting a bid for the inclusion of women’s Twenty20 into the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“…(It) demonstrates the commitment both organisations have to growing women’s sport and delivering greater equality, fairness and opportunity in sport across the Commonwealth,” ICC chief executive David Richardson said.
Australia were quick to support the bid, two days after Meg Lanning led the team to World Twenty20 title victory in the West Indies.
Individually, the unquestioned number one batsman was Virat Kohli, who smashed 11 international centuries, including six in one-dayers, to underline why he is considered arguably the best batsman of his era.
Top-ranked in both the test and one-day games, Kohli was especially dominating in the 50-overs format with a 133-plus average.
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Ian Chadband)