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Warner copped harsher ball-tampering ban because he led player’s contract dispute, suggests Ian Chappell

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

According to Ian Chappell, Cricket Australia still have questions to answer over their handling of the fallout from the ball-tampering scandal, particularly over why David Warner received a harsher punishment than the other members of the trio involved.

Cameron Bancroft was banned for nine months, while Warner and Steve Smith, Australia captain at the time, were both banned for a year, after Bancroft was caught using sandpaper in an attempt to rough up the ball at a pivotal stage of the third South Africa-Australia Test in a 2018 series between the sides.

Smith also was barred from holding leadership roles by Cricket Australia for a further year after his return, while Warner has been banned from doing so for the rest of his career, despite being the only member of the trio not hit with an ICC charge over the incident. With Smith indicating his desire to take up the role of Australia Test captain again as Tim Paine’s successor, Chappell examined his case, and pointed to that discrepancy as the most pressing question still remaining unanswered.

“There are a number of questions Cricket Australia has to answer before deciding who permanently inherits the captaincy from Paine,” he wrote for ESPNcricinfo. “The first one probably won’t be answered, on the basis that it could be incriminating. Why didn’t Smith and David Warner receive the same punishment regarding their captaincy future?

“Smith and Warner were guilty of the same crime – cheating. If anything, Smith’s crime was greater: when he witnessed the plot being hatched in the dressing room, he cynically said, ‘I don’t want to know.’ It’s the captain’s job to know what the team is up to at all times, and he should have put a stop to one of the worst, if not the worst, crime in the game.”

Chappell put forward his own theory: that Warner was being punished in part for his role in a contract dispute between Australia’s cricketers and the governing body, which occupied much of 2017. Warner was one of the key figures in making the players’ stance clear, even threatening Cricket Australia over the most prestigious trophy of all.

“If it gets to the extreme they might not have a team for the Ashes,” said Warner at the time. “We won’t buckle at all; we are standing together and very strong.”

“So how come they received different punishments?” wrote Chappell. “Was Warner punished more severely because he was the prominent player spokesman during the last contracts MoU scuffle? It’s always dangerous to assume, but this is a reasonable conclusion.”

On the subject of Smith regaining the captaincy, Chappell stated that he felt it was unlikely he would be able to receive the necessary backing from his players.

“Next question: will the players accept Smith as their leader bearing in mind his serious error of judgement the last time he was in charge?” he wrote. “The incorrect answer is, “He’s served his punishment so the slate is now clean.” That might pass in a court of law, but it doesn’t work that way in a cricket dressing room. Respect is a cricket captain’s greatest ally and without it, he’s floundering. The correct question is, will the players unconditionally accept Smith as their captain? I’d be surprised if the answer was a unanimous yes.”

Chappell acknowledged that Paine’s likely successors – Pat Cummins, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne and Alex Carey were the four he picked out – were all not ideal candidates for one reason or another.

“Those considerations could leave Smith as captain by default,” he concluded. “This is not a good reason to put any player in charge – especially one whose credentials already involve a murky captaincy past.”

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