Boss Lady

3 leadership lessons from the Australian Cricket ball tampering scandal


In March 2018 the Australian men’s cricket team was involved in a ball tampering scandal while touring South Africa for a test series. Over twelve months on its worth looking at this scandal and what leadership lessons we can learn from it.

During the third test match, Cameron Bancroft, a relatively new member to the Australian team was caught on camera appearing to rub the cricket ball with a small object he had pulled out of his pocket. When Bancroft realised he had been seen he hid the object down the front of his trousers. This action was also caught on cameras being shown on live television and at the ground.

Lesson 1

Perhaps the most obvious lesson is that if you are going to do something wrong don’t do it while your actions are being televised live around the world.

From that point on, the responses of the key people involved were inconsistent.

While still on the ground the umpires were alerted by the third umpire and approached Bancroft. They asked to see what was in his pocket to which he responded by showing them the cloth he used to clean his sunglasses. He did not present the foreign object he had just placed down the front of his trousers.

During the press conference at the end of the day’s play, Bancroft was accompanied by Australia’s captain, Steve Smith. Both players acknowledged they had attempted to alter the condition of the ball and advised that the object was nothing more than adhesive tape that dirt had stuck to.

Smith admitted that he knew about the plan, which was made during the lunch break by the ‘leadership group’. He also refused to name who was involved in this leadership group. The media immediately questioned if he should stand down as captain. While Smith admitted it was a mistake, he had no plans to stand down as captain. He failed to grasp the seriousness of what had taken place on the cricket field or the growing resentment amongst the cricketing community.

While the initial response of the Australian captain, Steve Smith, lacked any form of leadership or understanding of the seriousness of what was unfolding, the response from the CEO James Sutherland was proactive, transparent and accountable.

Sutherland’s first email to the Australian Cricket community started with, ‘We are sorry’. He then continued to outline what actions would take place and promised to report back in 24 hours. After the test match, Cricket Australia launched its own investigation and Sutherland immediately flew to South Africa to join the investigation. It was only during this investigation by Cricket Australia, that Bancroft admitted it was sandpaper he had used to alter the condition of the ball.

On arriving back home to Australia, the players involved held emotional press conferences, breaking down and apologising unashamedly for their actions. Some would say far too late.

Lesson 2

Once you have made a mistake it’s best to take full responsibility in a timely manner through full disclosure of the error. Avoid downplaying the incident and certainly do not keep changing your story.

A subsequent investigation accused Cricket Australia of being “arrogant” and “controlling” and driving a culture of “winning without counting the costs”. The report noted that there was “immense” pressure on players to win, which resulted in “players and support staff to ‘redefine’ certain forms of cheating as merely ‘playing hard to win’.”

One of the recommendations from the report was to change the voting process for the Allan Border Medal to take into account player’s behaviour and character, not just their on-field performance. This replicates the AFL Brownlow Medal which cannot be awarded to players who have been suspended during the season.

From a business context, many companies have also moved away from solely rewarding high performers according to sales targets. Incentives or rewards are also associated with how employees demonstrate the company values.

Lesson 3

If you create a culture of winning at all costs, don’t be surprised when that is the behaviour that is shown. When the end goal takes precedence over how the goal was achieved, the costs can be high. The recent Royal Commission into the finance industry unveiled similar consequences with our major banks.

As leaders we need to do the right thing and not succumb to the ‘win at all costs’ philosophy. Let the consequences demonstrated by the ball tampering scandal serve as a valuable warning and deterrent.

About Gabrielle Dolan

Gabrielle Dolan is a best-selling author and international speaker on business storytelling and authentic leadership. She is also the founder of Jargon Free Fridays. Her latest book Real Communication: How to be you and lead true, is published by Wiley. Follow this link to find out more about Gabrielle.

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