Australia is eagerly awaiting the return of Steve Smith and David Warner.
Australia is eagerly awaiting the return of Steve Smith and David Warner.

Unthinkable claim about Aussie cricket cheats

Former Australian wicketkeeper Ian Healy has blamed officials for letting the practice of ball management get out of hand to the point where sandpaper became involved, and also suggested the Aussies "forgot" just how serious their crime was because altering the condition of the six-stitcher had become commonplace in world cricket.

As Steve Smith and David Warner prepare for the end of their year-long bans for the cheating scandal in South Africa last year, there's been plenty of reflection on just how the men in the baggy green reached breaking point.

Healy told Wide World of Sports he believes the Aussies had been ball tampering "for some time" before they were caught. Speaking on SEN Breakfast, he explained he doesn't believe you reach the point of using sandpaper without trying different measures beforehand, but also claimed "plenty of teams around the world" were ball tampering, though perhaps not so blatantly.

However, Healy said much of the blame rests with the umpires, who haven't done enough to question how teams have been able to generate reverse swing much earlier in innings than any time before in the sport.

He said teams benefiting from reverse swing after 20 overs instead of the 60-70 over mark - as happened in his day - should have raised alarm bells among officials not everything was above board.

"The umpires, please, I was extremely critical of the umpires and the job they were doing," Healy said. "The desperation we got to was maybe even a sign of what South Africa was doing.

"The umpires need to carry the can more than former players because it's pretty easy to see if the ball's been tampered with because it starts swinging unusually, quite quickly.

"It was a change in the game that never got policed as being anything but legal.

"The authorities, ie the umpires, have to have a handle on it out there, whether it (the ball) is being scratched, whether it's being thrown on the ground - which is now not legal but they're (the players) still doing that - or shined in a certain way.

"I reckon if you're an umpire it'd be easy to see the ball going a little bit unusually and then have a look at the ball. I reckon you'd be able to find something out."

Healy also said the Australians' attitude after they were caught cheating suggested they didn't fully grasp just how serious the situation was. The ex-gloveman believes because the practice of ball tampering - or managing the ball - had been normalised for so long, they didn't understand what was so wrong about taking sandpaper out onto the field.

Healy says that naivety is one possible reason behind Smith and Cameron Bancroft's ill-fated press conference, where they dug themselves a deeper hole and ultimately lied about aspects of what happened, which resulted in them being suspended.

"There are plenty of things pointing towards this being a low-level crime (in the Aussies' opinion)," Healy said.

"The fact they thought they could go to a press conference and explain themselves - I think they sort of forgot. It (ball tampering) was pretty widespread and they forgot how bad it was.

"I would suggest plenty of other teams were trying everything to get this swing going and that's why the Australians forgot it was cheating."

Bancroft made a strong return to form in the Sheffield Shield after the Big Bash League and has put his hand up for a spot on the Ashes touring squad, but Healy doesn't believe Smith and Warner should walk straight back into the starting XI for the World Cup in England in a couple of months.

Australian selectors opted against picking the pair for the final two ODIs against Pakistan in the UAE despite them being eligible to return to international cricket, and they are instead playing in the IPL as they make their return to competitive cricket from elbow injuries.

Healy said Smith and Warner should be in the World Cup squad but need to prove they are in form to warrant selection in the final XI.