An exercise in ill-disguised cynicism.

Is stage managed contrition and the avoidance of pertinent questions the best way to reintegrate Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft from suspension?

The attempts to reintegrate Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith are now on in earnest, after a series of stage managed media opportunities that have left behind an aftertaste that has continued to grow more sour in the days that have followed. After being sold honest and open insight to the nagging questions left open after the ball tampering debacle in Cape Town, the Australian public was delivered instead something more shallow, self serving and cynical. What was presented as introspective acceptance of wrongdoing was instead an elaborate exercise in blame shifting and avoidance.

“I Don’t Want to Know About It.”

Upon first viewing and reading it was, and remains, hard to fault the apparent sincerity of Steve Smith’s press conference on Monday. More composed than he was upon his return to Australia in March, but still clearly hurting, Smith answered questions about the events of Cape Town and his involvement. In explaining that the situation was caused by a breakdown of his leadership, he also confirmed the findings of the Cricket Australia report that indicated that David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were the ‘brains’ behind the attempts to alter the ball in South Africa.

I walked past something and had the opportunity to stop it and I didn’t do it – that was my leadership failure. It was a potential for something to happen, it went on and happened on the field and I had the opportunity to stop it at that point, rather not wanting to know anything about it. That was my failure in leadership and I’ve taken responsibility for that.

Steve Smith

Hard to fault the sentiment in the former captain’s words but it is what followed immediately afterwards and on Boxing Day that puts in question the sentiment being shared. Almost as soon as Smith’s Press Conference ended, and in some instances before it even began, a Vodafone ad was aired with the 29-year-old front and square.

Gutsy is calling.

What planet was the person that thought this advertisement was a good idea living on? While we are in no doubt that Steve Smith would have experienced dark times in the last nine months, and would never belittle any persons mental health struggles, that these troubles would form the basis of an advertising campaign whilst he is still serving his suspension feels like crassness of the highest order.

If ham-fisted attempts at hero-making weren’t bad enough, after already distancing himself from the act itself, Smith’s next media engagement suggested an effort to further mitigate his responsibility. Speaking to Fox Sports he recounted a story of Australian Officials coming into the dressing room after the team’s fifth consecutive Test Match defeat in 2016. “I remember James Sutherland and Pat Howard coming into the rooms there and actually saying, ‘we don’t pay you to play, we pay you to win,” Smith said his inference clear. Those in high places and their unreasonable expectations were the actual root cause of any ‘leadership failure’ on his behalf.

Bancroft ‘opens up’ on Boxing Day.

For those who didn’t make their way to the MCG on Boxing Day, Foxtel offered them an appetising accompaniment to their Christmas Day leftovers – a Cameron Bancroft tell all interview with Adam Gilchrist. Like his captain’s press conference days earlier, on first viewing moments of eye-opening insight and candour stood out, but on subsequent viewings it felt more like an episode in blame shifting.

If I had said no, and I went to bed that night, I had the exact same problem. I had the same problem that I had using the sandpaper on the cricket ball. The problem was, I would’ve gone to bed, and I would’ve felt like I’d let everybody down. I would’ve felt like I’d let the team down, like I’d hurt our chances to win the game of cricket.

Cameron Bancroft

This candid admission from Bancroft is a fascinating insight into his decision making at the time. It is easy to see from this how he was able to justify to himself the decision to take the extraordinary step to try and alter the condition of the ball with sandpaper. Unfortunately he was a little less forthright when it came to a few other unanswered questions arising from that day in Cape Town.

Dave suggested to me to carry the action out on the ball

In a long and confusing answer to the question of whether he had been asked to tamper with the ball, Bancroft painted a picture of himself as being too desperate to fit in to understand the rights and wrongs of his decision to acquiesce. When pressed for the name of the requestor he again chose the most convoluted way of answering the question. Having previously asserted not to be a victim, Bancroft pointed the finger at David Warner and suggested he didn’t know any better than to “carry out the action on the ball” as requested.

Having made it clear that he was fully responsible for his actions but only kind of because he wasn’t actually aware that they were wrong at the time, the former Aussie Test Opener spoke of his attempts to make amends in the immediate aftermath. “I actually went in and apologised to the umpires, and I just said, look, I’m really sorry for carrying this out in the game, I’m really ashamed of the actions in itself and it won’t happen again. That’s something that I wanted to do for the game and for, the making up for the mistake – I’m not making up for it, really am I? But I am being accountable for what I did and that was exactly the most important thing for me,” Bancroft explained to Gilchrist.

This sense of accountability apparently behind his and Smith’s decision to front the media after his meeting with the umpires. “I think, in hindsight, the thing that I was actually proud of in that moment was the fact that Steve and I wanted to be accountable and I guess, really honest about our actions,” Bancroft told Gilchrist of the press conference in which he lied about what had actually happened on the field. When pressed by about this contradiction he seemingly just started talking, without getting anywhere near a coherent answer, until Gilly had forgotten what he had asked.

Having avoided giving an answer with information that wasn’t already disclosed in Cricket Australia’s reviews into the matter, apart from the fact he didn’t know it was wrong, it wasn’t surprising that the next truly candid response was in relation to the length of his penalty. Not truly responsible for his actions because of ignorance to the significance of the situation, it surprised nobody that he felt his penalty was a little hard to take.

While The Pinch Hitters agree that the suspensions handed down were excessive, it is telling that the only truly new information Bancroft shared paint a picture of a victim rather than a man taking responsibility for his actions. That of an unwitting accomplice in the perpetration of the act who has accepted and served an unconscionably long punishment for the act.

Rewriting the narrative.

The most frustrating part from The Pinch Hitters point of view, and of many fans we have spoken with, is that this attempt to garner sympathy was neither required nor successful. Up until this point both players had quietly taken their outrageous punishments for their role in ‘sandpapergate’ and gone about their business. Had they continued in this manner, having quietly ‘done their time’ for their crime, public sentiment would have continued to turn in their favour.

Instead, in their actions so transparently self-serving, they have brought upon themselves a level of ill will that had mostly dissipated in the months since Cape Town. While many in the public were, and are, happy to accept David Warner as the Big Bad Wolf of the story, they aren’t so ready to let Smith and Bancroft allow questions of their compliance and misleading public comments to pass through to the keeper.

Until they both answer the difficult questions satisfactorily, the public will not be ready to accept their repositioning as victims or returning heroes. Until these blanks are filled, the public will continue to make their own answers to complete the jigsaw. Until the Australian public feel that they are being given the respect they feel they deserve, this exercise in ill-disguised cynicism will only work against what they are trying to achieve.

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