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Hayter column: Captain Cameron Bancroft? That’s a step too far

Cameron Bancroft

This may sound like double standards. Last week, in the spirit of grown-up reconciliation and because the historical bond between our countries goes back a lot longer and should mean a lot more than the latest Ashes row, I argued that the three Australia cricketers banned for their part in Sandpapergate should be welcomed here this summer with an outstretched palm rather than two fingers, and I stand by what I said.

But that was before Durham made the extraordinary decision to appoint as their captain for the coming season Cameron Bancroft, who, according to reliable reports, had never set foot in the county and whose entire captaincy experience comprises two matches with Australia U19s, eight years ago.

I’m all for the rehabilitation of offenders, within reason, even cricketers who carry sandpaper in the pockets of their kecks to tamper with the ball, then stuff it in their under kecks and claim baby-faced innocence when the umpires ask them if they’re up to no good.

But to appoint one as captain, actually to appoint Bancroft captain? Are you sure, Durham? Because I, for one, am not and I don’t think I am alone.

Think of the qualities and characteristics one is usually entitled to expect from a captain, such as setting the right example… in fact, I’ll stop right there.

Granted, the batsman who had only recently claimed a place in the Test XI was doing the bidding of his captain and vice-captain Steve Smith and David Warner that fateful day in Cape Town (and who knows who else’s, by the way), and there are those who consider this makes him slightly less guilty than them, something reflected in the fact that he received a nine-month ban as opposed to the 12 months handed down to his chiefs.

The same was said, with somewhat more justification, when Pakistan’s 19-year-old paceman Mohammed Amir agreed to Salman Butt’s request to bowl no-balls to order at Lord’s in 2010 as part of a spot-fixing scam, and also when it emerged that the disgraced South Africa captain Hansie Cronje had attempted to recruit players like Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje, Pieter Strydom and Henry Williams, whose careers he held in his hands, to assist him in his collusions with illegal bookmakers for profit.

But those targets of unscrupulous skippers were immeasurably more vulnerable and susceptible to pressure bordering on blackmail than Bancroft, who could have told Smith and Warner to stick their abrasive surface where the ball don’t shine and didn’t.

Cameron Bancroft
Lead by example: Cameron Bancroft walking out to the middle with David Warner at the infamous Newlands Test. Photo: EJ Langer/Gallo Images/Getty Images

In fact, the inquiry into the affair conducted by Cricket Australia concluded that, far from being a spur of the moment act, Bancroft had been given detailed instructions by Warner as to how best to cheat and get away with it.

That, in turn, rekindled suspicions long held by the England team that the 179 runs Bancroft scored against them during the 2017-18 Ashes series Down Under were not his only contribution to Australia’s 4-0 win.

No wonder, it was said, that with such matters weighing on his conscience he considered walking away from the game to qualify as a yoga instructor.

Marcus North, Durham’s director of cricket and a frequent visitor to these pages, defended his decision to appoint his Western Australia team-mate.

He stressed: “We’re not condoning the issue he had in South Africa with the Australian cricket in any way.

“But this is a guy that I’ve known before and after that. I’ve seen him grow up.

“This is a guy that, like Steve Smith and David Warner, through that terrible decision that they made, have suffered.

“Through experience people learn and grow. Through the experience Cameron has had at a young age and coming out of that experience now, well, is there a better person to speak to our young players about how to play the game?”

Which, of course, can be read more than one way.

North further explained that other players at the county were offered the captaincy and turned down the job and he insisted Bancroft would play every game. But will he?

What if he scores heavily in the early county season? Might Australia not be tempted to draft him into the Ashes squad? If they feel he needs some game time under a (junior) baggy green, they might even whip him out of county cricket and into the Australia A squad playing four four-day matches prior to the main event, the last one a full-on warm-up against the senior side.

On those grounds, and so much more besides, one hopes North’s claim that “a huge amount of thought and information went into the decision”, does not come back to haunt him.

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