24 March 2018 is an unforgettable day in the history of Australian cricket. The day changed the life of 3 Australian cricketers - the then captain Steve Smith, the then vice-captain David Warner, and the opener Cameron Bancroft.
Australia were touring South Africa for a 4-match Test series. Both the teams were evenly matched and a tough tussle was on the cards. The visitors thrashed South Africa by a margin of 118 runs in the first Test of the series at Durban. South Africa immediately bounced back in the second Test in Port Elizabeth and won by 6 wickets.
The series reached Cape Town for the third Test. The first two days saw an exciting contest between the bat and the ball. It was the third day that witnessed certain underhand events for which, the match will always be infamously remembered in the history of cricket.
After the lunch session on the third day, Bancroft was caught on television and on the screens in the stadium appearing to rub the ball with a yellow paper-like object. Upon realising that he was being shown continuously on the display screens in the stadium, Bancroft attempted to hide the object in his trousers.
After the day's play, at the press conference, Bancroft accompanied by the then Australian skipper Steve Smith admitted to altering the condition of the ball. It was later found out during the investigations that Bancroft had used yellow sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball.
Steve Smith admitted that it was a big mistake and the plan to use the sandpaper was made by the 'leadership group' during the lunch interval on the third day. It emerged that Warner too was a part of the conspiracy.
Cricket Australia (CA) acted immediately sacking Steve Smith as the captain, while David Warner's vice-captaincy was also taken away. Tim Paine, the team's wicket-keeper was named the captain for the remainder of the series with Smith and Warner playing under him.
The Australians were totally shattered by these ramifications and lost by a whopping margin of 322 runs. South Africa went on the to win the fourth Test in Johannesburg by an even bigger margin (492 runs) and clinched the series 3-1.
CA banned Smith and Warner for a period of 12 months from all forms of cricket following the incident and Bancroft was barred for a period of 9 months.
While Smith and Warner have been successful on their comebacks to the national team, Bancroft has played only 2 Tests since the ban was served scoring only 44 runs at an average of 16. Due to his inconsistent performances and lack of form, he has been left out of the Australian team since the 2019 Ashes.
Despite of the bans served by the trio of Smith, Warner and Bancroft, the scars of the sandpaper incident will always be a part their life and an indelible blot mark on Australian cricket.