Steve Waugh
Steve Waugh (AFP Photo)

Steve Waugh has blamed the lenient laws concerning ball-tampering as the reason behind the Newlands scandal that saw three Australian cricketers including then captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner being handed a 12-month ban from international cricket. Cameron Bancroft, who applied the sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball, was handed nine-month ban by Cricket Australia.

Waugh said the Australian cricketers have been living in a ‘bubble’ and were out of touch with reality that they failed to understand the gravity of their offence. He termed the turn of events a ‘kick in the guts’ for average Australians who see cricket as their national identity.

“You know they push the boundaries a bit by throwing the ball into the rough on the ground, which they shouldn’t do and then it’s escalated from there,” Waugh told ESPNcricinfo. “It’s a shame how it got to the point that it did but I guess the authorities let that happen. There have been captains in the past who have been done for tampering with the ball and the penalties have been very lenient so there was no penalty for doing something wrong and it was always going to get to the case where it got out of control.”

“They are in a bit of a bubble and they are protected, you know they are insulated from a lot of things. They’ve got a lot of people around the side that protect them and tell them how good they are and how everything’s fantastic and sometimes you can lose touch with reality and I think that was best summed up when Steve Smith said that ‘we won’t make that same mistake again and we’ll just get on with it’. They just didn’t realise how big a mistake it was and what they’d actually done. So that, to me, just summed up that maybe they were out of touch with what the average person thinks.”

There was a public outcry after the scandal unfolded with former cricketers, Australian media, general public and even PM expressing their disgust. Smith, after returning to Australia, broke down during a press briefing.

Waugh says it was hard to understand why a team that had the best bowling attack would resort to tampering and thus the public outrage. “We put ourselves a bit on a pedestal and we like to think we do things the right way, play hard and fair, this was a real total shock to the system that we’d go that far that we’d get sandpaper. We couldn’t really understand it because we had the best bowling attack in the world to start with on a pitch that was doing a bit. Why did we need to do it? It was just something that people couldn’t understand you know and it was a shock to all of Australia and we reacted accordingly.

“It was on the front pages for weeks and we saw the emotional press conferences and it was a story that kept going and getting bigger. When you look back on it, it was a ridiculous mistake but it was sort of blown out of all proportion as well, the way it got covered, but that’s the nature of Australian sport. Cricket is seen as almost our national identity. If we are winning and playing well we almost feel good as a nation and when that happened it was like a bit of a kick in the guts for everyone,” Waugh said.

But Waugh, himself a former captain, hopes both Smith and Warner will come out stronger after serving their respective bans and that they have the chance to prove themselves to be the perfect role models kids can look upto.

“I know that [Smith] will be passionate, he’s still only young, he loves cricket and he’s got that drive to get back there. His biggest challenge will be to overcome people talking about it, because the rest of his life someone will probably mention it once a day. What happened? So he’s going to have to mentally overcome that and find a way to sort of get past that but at the end of the day he’s an outstanding cricketer and averages 60 in Test cricket, second only to Bradman over a long period of time, and he loves cricket so I’m sure he’ll come back.

“You know [Warner] is a tremendous cricketer. A lot of passion, still very young. It’s really up to those guys. They’ve got to have the passion, they’ve got to have the desire but I think it’s a great chance of redemption. The Australian public will forgive and move on and they have an opportunity to really be role models to kids going forward,” he said.