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'Sandpapergate' ghost follows Australia into World Cup

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'Sandpapergate' ghost follows Australia into World Cup
Cricket - ICC Cricket World Cup - India v Australia - The Oval, London, Britain - June 9, 2019 Australia's Aaron Finch and David Warner during the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers   -   Copyright  ANDREW BOYERS(Reuters)
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By Amlan Chakraborty

LONDON (Reuters) – Sunday’s defeat by India not only broke Australia’s 10-match winning streak but also confirmed that last year’s ball-tampering scandal is not forgotten and has followed the reigning champions to the World Cup in England.

The fiasco left devastation in its wake in Australia where heads rolled, sponsors withdrew and the team culture was flayed.

Steve Smith and David Warner, key protagonists in the Cape Town scandal, served one-year bans, only returning to international cricket at the World Cup.

However, the team looked scarred at the Oval, where skipper Aaron Finch, elevated after Smith was stripped of the captaincy, had to rebut suggestions of more ball-tampering.

Social media went into overdrive after video footage showed spinner Adam Zampa putting his hand into his pocket before rubbing the ball prior to bowling the 24th over.

“I haven’t seen the photos, but I know that he has hand warmers in his pocket,” Finch said after his team’s first defeat in its third match at the tournament.

“I honestly haven’t seen them, so I can’t comment too much on it. But I know for a fact that he has hand warmers every game.”

A teary-eyed Smith had sought forgiveness for the scandal that took place on his watch, but opposing fans are clearly not ready to forget.

Both Smith and Warner have been jeered since they landed in England and the former captain had a particularly tough time fielding near the Oval’s Vauxhall End boundary when a section of the predominantly Indian crowd started chanting “Cheater! Cheater!”.

India captain Virat Kohli gestured to the fans to stop booing and later apologised to Smith for their behaviour.

Smith top-scored for Australia with a near run-a-ball 69 but Warner’s 56, at a strike rate of just 66.66, nearly 30 below his ODI career average, suggested he was still carrying some scars.

Known for his explosive strokeplay, the former vice captain, who had elbow surgery in January, has been nearly unrecognisable in his three innings so far, playing the role of accumulator rather than aggressor.

Finch confirmed Warner’s slow batting was not part of any game plan, team or individual, but attributed it to India’s tight bowling.

“I think they bowled really well early. They bowled nice and straight, back of the length, where the ball was just skidding quite low to start with,” he said.

“Their bowling plans were pretty simple but really effective on a wicket like that.”

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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