Former South Africa captain Faf du Plessis reopened the feud between the Proteas and Australia over the 2018 ball tampering scandal with incisive claims that his team suspected they had made a mistake since the start of the series.
In the third of a series of four tests, in Newlands in Cape Town, Australia – aka Cameron Bancroft, the young forerunner – they were caught red-handed applying sandpaper to the ball.
It led to a nine-month ban from Cricket Australia for Bancroft, as well as one-year suspensions for Captain Steve Smith and Deputy Captain David Warner, who was portrayed as the mastermind of the operation.
But Du Plessis, the South African skipper during the series, believes Australia were already tampering with the ball early in the series.
“During the first test in Durban, the attack of the Australian rhythm had the ball madly reversed,” Du Plessis wrote in ‘Faf: Through Fire’, released this week.
“Mitchell Starc has claimed nine wickets and while I consider him to be one of the best proponents of reverse rotation bowling I’ve ever seen or faced, those deliveries to Durban were bordering on unplayable.
“He came around the wicket with a badly damaged ball and let us pass it past us.
“Our balls had reversed too, but not as much as theirs.
“We suspected someone had fed the ball too much to reverse it so wildly, and we watched the second test at St George’s through binoculars, so we could follow the ball more closely while Australia was on the pitch.
“When we noticed that the ball was going to David Warner quite often, our locker room must have looked like a birding hideaway as we peered intently through our binoculars.
“There was a visible difference between the way Mitchell Starc reversed the ball in the first test in Durban and in the final test in Johannesburg. We now know there was an obvious reason for this. “
Du Plessis isn’t the first player to wonder if Australia tampered with the ball for the first time in Cape Town; England’s Stuart Broad asked similar questions at the time, with the series coming soon after a 4-0 defeat to the Ashes. Australian players have always denied this.
Du Plessis, who has now retired from Test cricket but remains in the T20 circuit, was himself found guilty of applying a foreign substance to the ball – a tick, via saliva – during another litigation streak between the two teams in 2016. He acknowledged it, saying “I’m not mentioning this from the top of a high horse.”
He said that as a result he had “enormous sympathy” for what Smith, which he believed did not do “much harm,” and Bancroft suffered afterwards.
Australia and South Africa have not met in Test cricket since the 2018 series, but they will do so in the next Australian summer.
Usman Khawaja, who played in 2018 and remains on the Australian squad, refuted du Plessis’ claims in the Sydney Morning Herald, saying he “chuckled” when he saw them.
“Also in the second Test of that series [in Port Elizabeth]South Africa’s reverse made the ball swing before us, “Khawaja said.” So for him to say that … they were swinging backwards before us. “
Cricket Australia declined to comment in response to Du Plessis’ claims and previously claimed the Bancroft incident was a one-off.