The Proteas claimed victory by 332 runs on the fourth day of the third Test against Australia on Sunday, so they now have a 2-1 lead in the four-Test series. However, the result was overshadowed by the ball-tampering scandal that broke on Saturday, which has sparked another furore over cheating in international cricket.
The test series between South Africa and Australia was already scaling new heights of belligerence, but now the rivalry has boiled over into worldwide controversy. For those unfamiliar with the niceties of cricket, here's exactly what the Aussies did, and why it was so bad:
The Offence: Recently capped Aussie batsman Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera rubbing the ball with an unknown yellow object – he and Baggy Greens captain Steve Smith later openly admitted they were deliberately cheating to gain an edge.
Television footage clearly showed Cameron Bancroft take an object out of his pocket during the post-lunch session and rub the ball with it. When he realised he had been caught on camera, he panicked and tried to hide the yellow object down the front of his pants, before showing the umpire a black sunglasses pouch and claiming he'd been "cleaning" the ball with that.
He later admitted that the object wasn't sandpaper, as many had assumed, but "sticky yellow tape" from his pads, with which he was trying to make one side of the ball sticky so it would pick up more grit and dirt from the pitch, to induce early reverse swing.
So the Aussies tampered with the ball to make conditions more favourable for them, when they realised they could lose the match – and any chance of winning the series. In terms of infringements of the rules, ball-tampering is one of the most serious.
The Perpetrators: Cameron Bancroft – the junior member of the side tasked with carrying out the operation. Steve Smith – the captain, who along with unknown "leading members of the team" was the chief orchestrator of the plan, which they came up with at lunch on Day Three.
As a result, Smith was sent home after Sunday's defeat, having being banned by the ICC for one game, so he'd miss the final Test anyway. Bancroft, some may argue, got away with a slap on the wrist – he was awarded three demerit points.
David Warner also stepped down as vice-captain of the side after the cheating scandal broke – presumably he was one of the senior members Smith alluded to, but did not name, who came up with the plan.
Why Are South Africans Upset? The speed and ferocity with which the scandal developed completely demoralised the Aussies on Day Four of the third Test, and the Proteas coasted to victory on Sunday. So South African fans should be thrilled, right?
The Baggy Greens are the reigning World Cup champions since winning the ODI showcase in 2015, and they just thumped England in the 2017 Ashes series. They are currently ranked the third-best Test side in the world, behind India and South Africa, and their decades-old rivalry with the Proteas is legendary.
This Test series was supposed to be a battle of two titans of world cricket – and now it's been tarnished and spoiled; even if South Africa wins the final Test, and the series, at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, this Aussie tour will leave a sour taste.
Never thought I'd say I'm ashamed to be an Australian cricket fan— Tom Chadwick (@TomChadwickFox) March 24, 2018
In a really strange way I'm heartbroken they did that#SandpaperGate
Perhaps the Aussies felt they needed to win by any means, even if it meant cheating – especially after Steve Smith's histrionics over the "shoulder bump" with Kagiso Rabada in the second Test failed to get the fast-bowling danger-man suspended.
Rabada won his appeal against an ICC sanction, and as a result was back in the line-up for the third Test – which would have been a worry, after the way he had demolished their batting in the second Test. Ironically, it was Morne Morkel who proved the Baggy Greens' undoing this time, taking nine wickets in the two innings.
Instead of getting them out of a tight spot, the attempt to cheat has brought outright shame in media worldwide down upon a team that usually holds itself to a very high standard – and a massive negative reaction from fans back home, who take their team's reputation very seriously indeed.
But amid all the sound an fury, it's worth remembering that they aren't the first team to try to interfere with the ball, and there are several other ways international cricketers try to cheat.
Other cheating scandals
According to Sport24, the Proteas' very own Faf du Plessis was fined 100 percent of his match fee when the ICC found him guilty of attempting to illegally change the condition of the ball in 2016 – in what was dubbed "the Mintgate Scandal".
Cameras showed Du Plessis sucking on a mint and then shining the ball with sticky saliva.
On August 29, 2010, 18-year-old Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Amir was given a five-year ban for bowling deliberate no-balls on his captain's instructions. He was later arrested for spot-fixing.
During the latest England tour of Australia, "Ball-tampering Bancroft" was already getting in form for his South African adventure, it seems: he was accused of keeping sugar in his pocket against England in a January match, to be used to alter the condition of the ball.
Here's Cameron Bancroft appearing to put sugar in his pocket against England in January... pic.twitter.com/ju6W47PECc— David Coverdale (@dpcoverdale) March 24, 2018
Regarding his latest blunder in South Africa, the general consensus amongst cricket fans – especially Australians – is shame and disgust at the actions of the national side. Here are some of the tweets:
I've defended our Test team a lot over years but this is indefensible, worse than underarm incident, & destroys for all time the "hard but fair" ethos we love to parade. The "hard" bit already questionable after Warner stuff and "fair"? Well, that's laughable now. #SandpaperGate— Rohan Connolly (@rohan_connolly) March 24, 2018
#SandpaperGate Pat Symcox has reminded me on air that Hansie Cronje was caught cheating. He admitted it, and he was banned for life. Fast forward to the modern, super professional, digital era and what is the punishment for cheating? #SportsTalk— Marc Lewis (@MarcLewisZA) March 25, 2018
Rabada banned for 2 Tests for playing cricket aggressively yet legally. 18 yr old Mohammad Aamir banned for 5 yrs for bowling deliberate no-balls on his Captain's instructions. Steve Smith cheats & confesses. He is banned for one match. Is the ICC fit for purpose? #SandpaperGate pic.twitter.com/0IlCWOsbwF— Michael Gravesande (@OldBlackHack) March 25, 2018
As an incorrigible cricket romantic, the Australian cricket team was my first crush in the sport; last night, they broke my heart, perhaps forever. #Sandpapergate— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) March 25, 2018
#SandpaperGate Lets not underestimate the role of Darren Lehmann in this. So desperate to force a win, that he is willing to make his boys cheat. And then has the audacity to cry about crowd behaviour. You too, need to step down. #SAvAUS— Marc Lewis (@MarcLewisZA) March 25, 2018
Wow! ICC bans Steve Smith for a match. Glad he only did ball tampering.— Shridhar V (@iimcomic) March 25, 2018
Imagine if he had done something more serious like match fixing, ICC would have banned him for 2 matches & asked him to do 15 Sit-ups 🙏🏻#SandpaperGate
So KG bumps Steve Smith's shoulder and gets a two match ban from the ICC but Smith admits to cheating and gets a one match ban, the ICC is not even worried about looking unbiased #SAvAUS #SandpaperGate— Josh Gedye (@JoshGedye) March 25, 2018
#Sandpapergate— Mark Dickenson The PM signed off on it! (@bugwannostra) March 25, 2018
If you can't win without cheating you shouldn't be playing. The people involved have not just trashed their own reputations they have damaged the game. Diabolical & unforgivable.
2 yellow cards for a couple minor incidents on a football field and footballers get a red card and a 2 match ban. Australian cricketers take sandpaper to a cricket ball in one of the worst cases of cheating in cricket history... one match ban?! Really ICC?? #sandpapergate— Michael Morton (@MMORTON6) March 25, 2018