Road to redemption

June 4, 2019

Australian batsman Cameron Bancroft arrived at Durham County Cricket Club earlier this year determined to learn from the past and build for the future, as he tells Simon Rushworth

It is 15 months since Cameron Timothy Bancroft, one of the rising stars of Australian cricket, reached inside his pocket for the crumpled piece of sandpaper that would define a fledgling international career.

Caught on camera tampering with the ball during the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town, an ill-judged attempt at seeking a competitive advantage precipitated a period of deep regret and searing self-reflection.

In seeking the respect of his peers (vice-captain David Warner had suggested using the sandpaper) Cameron surrendered the goodwill of a nation and caused outrage across the cricketing world. The 25-year-old had gone from outstanding prospect to chastened pariah in one moment of madness but the road to redemption was already in sight. Fast forward to the summer of 2019 and Cameron’s journey, although far from complete, is finally gathering pace.

“Certain values got me into trouble in South Africa last year and I’ve really dug deep within myself to try to understand those values,” he explains. “That’s been part of the learning process. Coming to Durham County Cricket Club is another part of that process. Joining the county has afforded me the opportunity to, first and foremost, demonstrate what I can do on the pitch. It’s also given me a chance to accept who I am as a person. Whether I’m speaking to my team-mates or the media this is me – I’m being completely authentic.

“I’m not a perfect human being but I’ve got a good heart and good intentions and I think if you’re able to show that to people then you can build trustworthy relationships.

“That’s how I felt coming here. In a pretty short period of time I’ve got to know the guys and make my position clear. I’m looking forward to developing those relationships during the summer but of course there will be challenges. I know that better than most. That’s the way that sport works.

“But it’s been a good start so far and I’m prepared to tackle those challenges head-on.” A controversial choice as the club’s captain,

Cameron had it all to do when his appointment was announced by newly installed director of cricket, Marcus North. The identity of Paul Collingwood’s successor was met with shock and consternation in equal measure and the dust has yet to settle on a divisive move.

“It was obviously a process that Durham was taking very seriously,” adds Cameron, who went some way towards assuaging his critics with a series of impressive knocks in the Royal London One Day Cup. “In an ideal world I guess they would have loved to appoint another local captain but the players who might have been in the running for the role were keen to focus on their own game.

“Marcus asked me if I was interested and I said ‘absolutely’. It’s a great opportunity for me to develop my leadership skills but I also arrived in the North East with greater wisdom and greater experience. I felt I could use that to impact positively on my new county. I didn’t dwell on the negativity. I was just thrilled.

“Even at the height of the negative publicity surrounding my appointment I remained pretty focused on the positives. One of the great lessons I learned last year was to face the difficult times head-on. A lot of bad things happened to me last year and I had to deal with a lot of negativity. I learned how to walk into a room and accept that I had made some mistakes and I learned how to recover and move forward.

“Taking on the captaincy at Durham was the perfect opportunity to emerge as a better person and a better player.”

Cameron served his nine-month ban from cricket quietly and following an emotional public apology, he busied himself with a variety of work behind the scenes – going above and beyond the 100 hours of community service he was ordered to undertake as a result of his errant behaviour.

Western Australian Cricket Association chief executive Christina Matthews reflects: “He wasn’t concerned at how much he did because, when he started doing it, he realised how much he had to give and how much he learned from working with people in [unfamiliar] environments.

“Cameron did things like working with kids with cancer and helping kids at schools in breakfast clubs in disadvantaged areas. He also did some work with our diversity groups at the WACA – junior cricket, disabled cricket, things like that.”

Off the field, Cameron couldn’t have done much more in the ongoing battle to restore a battered reputation. On it, he continues to impress with the dual aim of improving Durham’s prospects and rescuing his international career.

If it was hardly a surprise when Cameron was omitted from Australia’s one-day squad ahead of the 2019 Cricket World Cup (which continues throughout June) then the former Ashes winner has one eye on a Test recall ahead of this summer’s series against England. Ruled out of a leadership role with his country until 2020, nothing is stopping Durham’s ambitious skipper from returning to the senior side given consistent form and fresh determination.

“Realistically, I hadn’t played any one-day cricket at all for a long time and so I wasn’t expecting a World Cup call-up,” explains Cameron. “Hopefully my one-day game can keep on improving and I can put some performances on the board and be in contention for squads like that in the future.

“As a fan of cricket I can’t wait for the World Cup. It’s going to be an awesome tournament and a lot of fun here in England. Just to watch it unfold over here and be part of the energy and buzz is pretty exciting. I think there are four or five teams that could win it. England, as hosts, has a great chance and you can’t rule out the sub-continent sides. Then there’s Australia. We go into every competition looking to win.”

Bancroft, of course, knows better than anyone the potential cost of crossing boundaries and testing cricket’s limits in the pursuit of global glory.

“That’s been a part of our identity as a cricket team that we’ve had to look at a lot in the last 12 months or so,” he agrees. “We’ve had to look at how we compete moving forwards. Given everything that’s happened, I think it’s fantastic that Australia has been able to ride the bumps and play some good cricket in India and also in the UAE.

“In spite of everything that I’ve been through I still believe in being competitive. If you’re not ruthless then you’re just a sitting duck in the middle and ultimately cricket – like all professional sports – brings in a lot of money. There’s a lot at stake.

“But in cricket the battle should take place between the moment the ball leaves the bowler’s hand and the time the ball hits the bat – that’s when you need to be at your most competitive. Everything else, either side of that, is just fun and games to try to mess with the opposition.

“That’s probably the part of Australian cricket that needed to be addressed. I think they’ve come through that really strongly. I’m looking forward to seeing how that new strategy can be developed even further during the World Cup.”

And so to the Ashes. Few sporting contests exercise Australian minds more than the famous battle for a tiny terracotta urn and Cameron is no different. As a member of the 2018 squad that defeated England 4-0, the former Gloucestershire batsman can’t wait for an age-old rivalry to be renewed.

“I think a lot will depend on the form and fitness of England’s two quicks,” adds Cameron. “The way that James Anderson and Stuart Broad can get the ball to swing around and move off the seam in England means it’s a challenge for any Australian batsman. That’s going to be a massive contest.

“Batting-wise, the tone will be set by the captain. Joe Root leads from the front and I’d expect him to do the same this summer. There have been a lot of changes in both teams since the last time that we met but the 2017-18 Ashes was a super intense series. I was lucky enough to be at the heart of the action but I can only imagine what it must feel like as an Aussie playing an Ashes series in England. If we can win the battles against Anderson, Broad and Root more often than not then that will be huge for us.

“And then there’s Ben Stokes. How could I forget my Durham team-mate? He’s one of the most exciting talents in cricket and a hugely important player for England. He can score hundreds and take wickets and as a neutral, I love watching him play.

“But I’ve always enjoyed watching the English guys play. You have to be a very skilful cricketer to be successful over here – as a batsman you have to be able to hit the ball 360o around the park and be adaptable and patient at the same time. It’s a true test of your ability as a batsman.

“And Ben is one of the best. In fact, there’s probably no-one better in world cricket right now when it comes to changing games with bat and ball.”

If Cameron remains intensely passionate about the game that’s delivered so many memorable highs – and that career-defining low – then it would be wrong to assume his chosen profession is an all-consuming beast. The time spent away from cricket, at the height of his ban, proved invaluable in enabling Durham’s captain to compartmentalise his life on and off the field and understand the value of downtime and relaxation.

“I’ve taken the time to get to know the North East,” he reveals. “I love where I live in Chester- le-Street, just a stone’s throw from the Emirates Riverside, but I’ve also enjoyed a few trips into Durham since I’ve been here. I can spend hours just wandering the streets there and it’s a beautiful city. I love my coffee and I love my culture so it’s been almost meditative for me being able to spend time in and around Durham.”

Meditation is another key staging post on the road to recovery for Cameron. As is yoga. “I find yoga very relaxing and I try to do it every day,” he reveals. “And I’ve got my golf clubs over here – even though I haven’t found the time to get them out of the bag yet!

“Music is my other passion. I learned the trumpet when I was younger and I started to learn the guitar a couple of years ago. Music’s always been in my blood but I only realised how important it is to me once I picked up the guitar. It came about by accident really.

“When I was playing at Gloucestershire my housemate Ashton Turner broke his shoulder back home and needed surgery. We used to play golf but suddenly he couldn’t do that and he started to pick up the guitar that I’d had lying around but never learnt to play.

“When I got back to Australia we started to jam together and he bought himself a guitar – it became a bit of a thing. We started to nail our chords, find our strumming patterns and learn finger picking and then all of a sudden it was really good fun. I take it everywhere I go now. It’s become part of who I am.”

If nothing else, then Cameron Bancroft is a man of many parts. And it is who he will become, rather than who he is now or who he might have been in the past, that will ultimately define one of cricket’s most fascinating characters.

Durham Cricket

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Supporting role: Steve Dougan and Aaron Preece