CEO Kevin Roberts discusses ball-tampering investigation and the returns of Steve Smith and David Warner
Credible claims will be investigated: CA
Cricket Australia Chief Executive Officer Kevin Roberts says no evidence has been presented to substantiate claims the national men's team had employed foreign objects to alter the condition of the ball prior to last year's Cape Town Test match.
However, Roberts noted that if any credible allegations were raised to suggest the sandpaper incident was not a one-off indiscretion but, rather, part of a wider pattern of behaviour then they would be vigorously investigated.
While emphasising that CA would not react to rumours and conspiracy theories that continue to enshroud last year's event in South Africa, an examination of new evidence would be undertaken even if it risked damaging the trust the men's team has worked assiduously to rebuild.
In addressing the Melbourne Press Club yesterday, Roberts also defended the limited scope of the initial inquiry that CA conducted in Cape Town, citing the scheduling of a Test match just days later as the necessary reason for a narrow, expeditious investigation.
And he rebutted claims that the likely re-integration of banned pair Steve Smith and David Warner into Australia's ODI set-up ran the risk of unsettling a combination that has found form and unity with the ICC World Cup just two months away.
Roberts, who assumed the role of CEO last October and has since overseen significant changes to the make-up and methodology of CA's operations, paid tribute to the work undertaken by Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft during their respective absences from top-level cricket.
However, with the former captain and his deputy now free to resume their international playing careers following the expiration of their 12-month suspensions, questions continue to be raised about circumstances that led to the use of sandpaper during last March's Cape Town Test.
Former Test vice-captain Ian Healy this week told Melbourne radio station SEN he believed Australia players, as well as those from rival teams, had employed other methods of altering the ball prior to Cape Town because "I don’t think you get to sandpaper without trying things before that".
But Roberts said that despite offering all stakeholders, including players, CA staff and members of the public, the opportunity to report allegations through an anonymous integrity hotline or other means, no such reports had been forthcoming.
"All the evidence we have is that was the first time that sandpaper had come out," he said yesterday.
"(And) all the evidence suggests that was the first time a foreign object such as that had been used, and we don't have any suggestions from either the ICC match officials, or broadcaster footage, or player agents, CA staff, cricket fans – no-one has made any allegations of any other inappropriate goings on before that.
"We haven't had any such reports, so we won't jump at shadows.
"But I can tell you that if anyone does report any integrity matter, from prior ball tampering or whatever it may be, we're serious about addressing it.
"If there are any reports or allegations, as opposed to innuendo, we will investigate that thoroughly."
Roberts conceded that should any such credible allegation come to light, it carried the prospect of undermining the work led by coach Justin Langer, and captains Tim Paine and Aaron Finch to re-establish fans' trust in the national men's team.
However, that would not dissuade CA from actively pursuing the substance of those claims even if it meant revisiting the painful experiences from the Cape Town episode and its fall-out.
"There's no doubt that would affect the way that cricket fans and the general public view cricket, that's for sure," he said.
"But I suppose we're dealing with the 'what-ifs' rather than what is – we could jump at shadows and we could over-react to innuendo.
"If facts come to light, we'll be addressing those, and if that means there's issues for us in the short-term because we do the right thing, then so be it.
"It will benefit the reputation, and the integrity of the sport that we love, in the long-term."
Earlier this week, ex-Test captain and former CA board member Mark Taylor aired his concerns over the history of ball-altering practices in the Australia team, and noted "there was no probe into finding out how long it had been going on for".
However, Roberts confirmed that the investigation conducted by CA's then head of integrity Iain Roy in the immediate aftermath of the Cape Town Test had been limited because of the three-day turnaround between the third and fourth Tests against South Africa.
He also said he was unaware if Taylor - who stood down as a CA director last November, seven months after the ball tampering controversy – had raised his concerns about the scope of the Roy inquiry at board level prior to his departure.
"Certainly, the investigation needed to be conducted swiftly," Roberts said in relation to the probe that led to Smith, Warner and Bancroft being banned under CA's Code of Conduct.
"We needed to fulfil a commitment to field a team against South Africa the following week, and we didn't know whether we'd need to fly over new players to field that team, or no new players.
"Obviously, the ultimate answer was somewhere in between.
"So the investigation was fit for purpose, but we haven't rested on those laurels.
"What's really clear is the way the public were genuinely affected by what they saw.
"People respond in an authentic way, and it's not for me to question how they do respond.
"All I can say is that we have made extensive efforts to address this issue, and we've made our Code of Conduct a whole lot more onerous."
Roberts said the impending re-integration of Smith and Warner into the national men's team, which is expected to begin when Australia's 15-man World Cup squad is announced next month, loomed as a scenario more exciting than challenging.
He added that any concerns about the potential disruption of adding two previously powerful figures into a playing group that had initially struggled in their absence but recently found its footing, were mollified by the work undertaken by all parties over the past year.
"I don't want to sound flippant," Roberts said. "But if you take the names out of it, and you have an Australia one-day team with fantastic momentum that might just surprise everyone in England (at the World Cup).
"And you've still got two players who are eligible to return to that team – one of whom is a once-in-a-lifetime player, and one of whom is a once-in-every-decade-or-two player – what a good challenge to have.
"We’re committed to ensuring that harmony continues to build, rather than it be impacted, so hence our efforts in the background to support Steve and Dave to be ready to be eligible for selection.
"And also supporting all the players in the team, and Justin (Langer), who have done such a brilliant job of re-connecting with the public.
"So I'm not particularly concerned about that, with Justin and the leadership of the Test team and the white-ball team - they've spent a long time together, a lot of time on the road.
"I guess what we're really focused on is doing everything we can to support Dave, Steve, Cameron and all of the other players and support staff with this integration – to build harmony, rather than to disrupt the harmony that is building.
"At the same time, in any workplace, we don't need to be best mates with anyone that we work with.
"There needs to be a foundation of respect, and I think there is growing respect there and we'll continue to support the players with the right discussions and to work through those."