Let them play. That is the call from the Australian Cricketers Association following the release of the two reports yesterday into Australia’s cricket culture and governance.
On Tuesday, the ACA said Cricket Australia should immediately lift bans imposed on Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft for their involvement in the sandpaper affair in Cape Town earlier this year.
Smith, the captain at the time, and Warner, who was his deputy, were banned from playing for Australia for a year. Bancroft was given a nine-month ban for using sandpaper to rough the ball illegally.
On Tuesday, ACA president and former test keeper Greg Dyer said the reports validated the players’ position that “events in South Africa were in part a byproduct of culture and system that placed too much pressure on players to win has been affirmed by the report”.
The ACA said the reports’ findings outlining systemic failings in the game represented significant factors in the players’ behaviour and represented “new evidence that requires the sanctions to be reconsidered by CA’s board”.
“Given there is now independent verification … the ACA executive calls for the lifting of the board-imposed penalties on Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft,” Dyer said.
“The players have already lost time in the game, chances to play for Australia, endured public humiliation and faced massive financial penalties. They are contrite.”
My message to CA is a simple one. These contrite men have been punished enough. Let them play.”
The ACA does not want the bans quashed. But it claims the culture within the wider game created “a web of influences – including good intentions gone awry – that made ball tampering more likely than not”.
“The leadership of CA should also accept responsibility for its inadvertent (but foreseeable) failure to create and support a culture in which the will to win was balanced by an equal commitment to moral courage and restraint,” it said in its response.
ACA chief executive Alistair Nicholson refused to rule out legal action to pursue the lifting on the bans.
“I think we need to submit our request to CA (to lift the bans),” he said. “When we get further down the road we’ll consider what other options we have.”
In releasing the reports on Monday, CA chairman David Peever dismissed the suggestion of reducing the players’ penalties.
The cricketers’ peak body is scathing in its assessment of events in Cape Town following the ball-tampering scandal. It claims that while the players accept their complicity, “they have been treated poorly”.
“The hastily convened press conference on the day of the ball-tampering incident was a shambles. How differently things would have played out had cooler heads prevailed,” its statement said.
Dyer also revealed the pressure placed on players to win at all costs came from the top of cricket’s administration.
“When a chief executive walks into a change room and says ‘players, you’re not here to play cricket, you’re here to win’, for me that’s a strong symbol of the additional pressures [report co-author] Dr [Simon] Longstaff is referring to,” he said.
Dyer insisted the call for the bans on Smith, Warner and Bancroft to be lifted was not an attempt to exonerate them.
“We are not apologists for the players, what we’re saying is that there are other contributing factors to what happened in South Africa,” he said.
“Australian cricketers get it. We assure you the players understand. They get the need for change.”