From Paper To Glass, A Shame For The Super-Hero: The Man Who Helped Steve Smith Fix-even > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - From Sandpaper shame to superhero: the man who helped Steve Smith fix himself
In a wide-ranging interview with Cricbuzz, Dr Duffy describes the backdrop to the 'Sandpapergate' events
Could Steve Smith one day return to the Australian Test captaincy and so complete one of cricket's most extraordinary redemptive arcs? One man who is certain he would thrive, given the opportunity, is Dr Maurice Duffy, a Northern Irish academic and 'mindset coach' who was there in Cape Town the day the ball-tampering scandal blew up. He has subsequently accompanied Smith on each step of his journey since, from a very public, very brutal fall from grace to his restoration as the pre-eminent Test batsman of the age.
In a wide-ranging interview with Cricbuzz, Dr Duffy describes the backdrop to the so-called 'Sandpapergate' events: the fallout from the crisis, including the inadequacy of Cricket Australia's response; the hands-on work he has undertaken with Smith over the last two years; and the prospects for Australian cricket's erstwhile Golden Boy to take back the captaincy crown.
An obvious first question, but how did you come to be involved in helping Steve Smith get through the 'Sandpaper Affair'?
My experience with Steve had actually started before the incident. I was actually travelling down to South Africa to see him when the whole thing blew up. I'd flown there with the view to watching a cricket game and spending a couple of hours with Steve. That was the plan. And then, when the whole drama exploded around us, I was in the hotel in Cape Town with the Australian cricket team.
To sit and observe how everybody responded as this situation was unfolding, of course I was totally engaged. Cricket Australia basically panicked. They had a feeling of not knowing what to do. Watching the players' reactions as the [Cricket Australia] disciplinaries were going on, with no knowledge of what the outcome was likely to be, was extraordinary. There was a general feeling of fear and not knowing what to do. What I found out after was the lack of care and attention to the players. I had five minutes with Cricket Australia at the hotel and that was it - and they will say they paid me to be with him, and of course they did. But Steve and I got in the back of a car and headed off to the airport and that was it, I never saw Cricket Australia again.
We were pulled over by the police on the way to the airport. They stopped us on the side of a motorway. The police wanted to take our driver with them. What were we supposed to do? It could take a couple of hours. Were we supposed to pay the fine then? Then at the airport it was just extraordinary: hundreds of photographers, film crews, everyone being knocked over in the scrum. I don't know how long it took us to make the 100 metres to get through security. It was like survival mode, pushing and shoving people out of the way.
I flew out of Cape Town with Steve, through Singapore to Sydney, and was one of the three people in the green room when Steve did the Sydney media conference. Then we turned around again and flew back out of Sydney that evening. So being on aeroplanes with him for three days, we talked about it quite a lot, and the first thing he had to do was acknowledge and accept the mistake he made, which he did in the media conference [at Sydney airport]. The second thing is to admit it to yourself and to others. The third is you have to repent and accept the punishment that goes with it. The fourth thing is you have to start rebuilding yourself. And he embraced all of that. He is an exceptional learner.
In terms of Cricket Australia's response, the panic as you describe it, a generous interpretation of that could be that it was almost unprecedented and they had no protocol to deal with it, that the institutional 'flight, fright or fight' mechanism kicked in and they took the second path - in the same way that Cameron Bancroft and Steve didn't immediately own up to what everyone had seen on the TV. They also perhaps panicked, and so didn't tell the truth. To what degree did their initial response condition the public backlash against them, and perhaps also the severity of Cricket Australia's sanction?
In terms of the institutional panic, there were a lot of individuals thinking: 'how is this going to affect me?' There was a closure of the ranks, in the sense of: 'who's going to say what and who has the truth of it?' In their [Smith and Bancroft's] responses, one thing was that they didn't understand the weight of interest there was going to be. They thought it was something that would just pass: 'we go out there, we don't quite tell the full story, we hold some stuff back'. So they didn't ante up. They're young kids - and I know people will say Steve was 28, but they're basically kids in life terms - and they were put out there in front of seasoned professionals, in front of the world's cameras, and they're thinking: 'fucking hell, what do I say now? I just want all this to be over with'.
So first of all, I would say that there's no excuse for it and they didn't need to do it. They are too good. But coaches say you've got to push things to the edge of the rules. That's what you hear in every sport. If a football player goes down in the box and rolls around with a view either to win a penalty or get an opposing player sent off, is that not cheating? And that happens every week. If you condone that then how can you still view cricket as this gentlemanly game? It's played by elite sportsmen in an ultra-competitive environment where they're trying to push the performance to the maximum and gain an advantage. Factor in the backdrop to it all - the sledging of David Warner that was going on, the comments about his wife and his family, the physical contact on the pitch, the whole thing was escalating. That was the point at which someone should have intervened and tried to calm things down, but the emotions in those individuals and in the camp were being pushed to an extreme. You push David Warner, a highly competitive guy, and he's going to push back. His emotions got out of control.
But everyone sticks up for their family. Just looking at those dressing room dynamics, that "backdrop" - because no incident comes out of the blue, obviously - people have questioned Darren Lehmann's role in the Australian team's culture, either actively encouraging "pushing things to the edge" - they used to talk of "the line" for acceptable behaviour - or perhaps just turning a blind eye to it. I'm sure there is an omerta around all that, and you're bound by confidentiality, but with regards to Steve, isn't it part of the captain's job to create the team culture and the coach's to facilitate that in line with the captain's wishes?
I met with Darren and had a chat to him, but obviously there are things I can't go into. But to understand Cape Town and Steve's role in it, you have to take the story back. Cricket Australia's view of Steve Smith was that he could be the greatest captain Australia had ever had. But they also felt he was too nice and needed to toughen up. They felt there were parts of his personality that were not as hard-nosed as they needed to be. They wanted a tougher competitor. So the process that they went through was to put David Warner in as his vice-captain. They wanted some of David's behaviours instilled in Steve.
If you remember, after the Ashes [in 2017-18], they took Steve out of the captaincy and put David in [for the T20 Tri-Series with England and New Zealand, from which Smith was omitted], which pissed Steve off greatly. He didn't want to be rested. 'You've just had a great Ashes, you've been a great captain, but, hang on, you've got some stuff to learn'. So that was all part of the dynamic: Steve wondering whether Warner was a threat for the captaincy. He was thinking: 'I've got a group of people telling me I've got to be tougher and more out there and it flies in the face of who I am as an individual'. As I said, he's a learning individual, so he's wondering: 'is this what they're trying to teach me? Is this the message that they're sending me: toughen up?' It was told to him explicitly: 'this is the type of captain you need to be'. If you take that culture, if you take those messages, if you take his personality, if you take the ongoing tensions in South Africa, an event was likely to happen.
Without being too judgmental about how he handled it, does Steve look back and think there were things he might have done differently, both regarding that escalation of emotions and tension between the sides, and specifically with the ball tampering?
Without being there, it's difficult for me to truly understand the emotions. They had a sense that somehow South Africa were getting an advantage. I'm not suggesting [South Africa] were doing anything inappropriate, but that was the perception [in the Australian dressing room]. Now, if you take a hypothetical situation - a Warner and a Bancroft having a conversation, for example, and there may or may not have been other people sitting there, and they're talking about the ball and Steve Smith says 'what are you talking about?' when he's wandering past and they tell him and he says 'I don't want to know anything about that' and moves on - now in that situation he's condoned it, he's allowed it to occur, he's aware of the fact that they're talking about it, and he should have stopped it.
But is that a huge crime that fits the punishment he got as a young leader? To be perfectly honest, many of us who played sports would have done the same thing. I'm not saying we would have tampered with the ball but we may not have intervened if we knew someone else was tampering with the ball.
There are plenty of club cricketers - many of the people who were most vitriolic in their response to Smith - who would lift the seam with their thumbnail every game. England partly won the Ashes in 2005 because they applied sugary saliva to the ball. There was Michael Atherton and the 'dirt in the pocket' affair. Faf du Plessis. I know it was cheating according to the laws, especially taking a foreign object onto the pitch, but there seemed to be a lot of sanctimony about it all - perhaps, among the English, and maybe a few other countries, because he was Australian - so I guess I should ask you: do you think the public backlash, the media frenzy, even Cricket Australia's punishment, was proportionate to the crime?
As I say, I think there was panic, driven by protecting the institution and protecting individuals. It was not driven by protecting Steve Smith. So there was that almost animalistic 'I'm alright Jack' response. But there was also a coming together of the team, a closing of ranks to try and shut down the stories. There was a 'Who? When? What?' and some people got tainted by association. And some people escaped the association.
From Steve's point of view - and talking as somebody who walked that whole journey with him - there was a huge sense of shock, there was a huge sense of loss, and there was a huge sense of shame. It was like a physical reaction. It was absolutely devastating for him. I'll never forget the raw emotion in that green room in Sydney. Thousands upon thousands of film crews and photographers with no interest in the welfare of Steve as an individual, only in the public shaming and humiliation of the Golden Boy of Australian cricket. So yes, it was a feeding frenzy, as you say. And disproportionate, although I understand why it happened.
"The first thing he had to do was acknowledge and accept the mistake he made, which he did in the media conference." - Dr Maurice Duffy, a 'mindset coach' who worked with Smith during and after the sandpaper affair
He said in the Sydney media conference that he was going to regret it for the rest of his life. On the one hand, then, there's his penitence for the 'crime', seeing that the scales of justice are rebalanced, but there's also the question of how his public reputation - even more so than his self-esteem - recovers from such a dark episode, the sobbing in Sydney with his father at his shoulder. That's a pretty low ebb for a high-profile sportsman. How has all that been to work through, to 'cleanse' him of that stain or stigma?
Well, the Ashes last summer was amazing. It was like cleaning the slate. We talked about it a lot during the rehabilitation: the recreation of the character that is Steve Smith. The person that he is is not the person they wanted him to be. I've worked with hundreds and hundreds of people in politics, business and sport, and I have huge admiration for Steve as the person he was and the person he has now become. He's re-found his magic. We have a process between us of six scores out of 12 for six categories that he sends in every day and I think I can almost predict his scores now, because I can tell you the intensity of his preparation.
Talking of last summer, what about the reaction of the English crowds? He was booed in the World Cup warm-ups, booed during the World Cup, booed during the first Ashes Test when he made two hundreds, even booed when he came back out to bat after retiring hurt with a concussion during that barrage from Jofra Archer. I understand the booing in terms of the 'performative' aspect - trying to unsettle an opposing player - but it seemed as though there was also a lot of genuine, sincere animosity and bile, which, as I say, all seemed a bit pious, a bit sanctimonious. What did you and Steve make of the crowds?
Just to step back slightly, I call the process I go through with people 'the five M's': we go through mental reflection, mental redirection, mental immersion, mental visualisation and then mindset. So we planned for [the crowd reaction]. We visualised what was likely to happen. 'How do we take on what is actually going to come? How do we take energy from it? Or how do we block it out?' It's a cliche, but also true that if they are barracking you that's because they respect you and are worried about you.
I worked with Cameron Bancroft all last summer when he was captain of Durham and I sat in the crowd at Sedbergh School when they were all going on about sandpaper. Someone even brought a huge two- r three-metre piece of sandpaper so they could get him to sign it. You can be nervous about that sort of thing, fearful of it, or you can take energy from it. And Steve took energy from it.
You weren't a cricket follower before you encountered Steve Smith, I understand, so didn't that limit how you were able to understand a cricketer's mindset, especially a batsman, who is going to 'fail' quite often and have long periods of introspection caused by his precisely quantified contribution?
The closest I ever came to hitting a ball with a bat was in hurling. My knowledge of cricket was next to non-existent, but my interest in it is really from when the ball goes dead to when it becomes live again. So it didn't really matter so much that I had no technical knowledge of the game. I have worked a lot with sportspeople, so the types of pressures involved are not entirely unfamiliar to me. And what I want [a cricketer] to be thinking [in that interval between balls] is nothing. The critical point is that there's no past and there's no future; there's only present. My question is: how long can I help you sustain that present?
From a practical point of view, I understand that's the optimal way for a batsman to think between balls, but it's not true in reality that there's no past acting upon the present. As we've touched upon, we carry past acts around with us in our reputation, and for Steve that past now meant his involvement in 'Sandpapergate' and how that might hang over him. As a batsman the past doesn't matter, but as a person it does. So the first part must have been negotiating that public shaming, adapting his behaviour to that, before you got to thinking about his mental approach to batting and shutting out the noise and staying in the present...
One of the points that people didn't get at the time was that when Steve left the hotel in Cape Town, the media attention was just extraordinary. They had camera crews the other side of security. We were followed around when we got into Singapore. People don't realise the impact it had on his dad and his wife Danni. It spread to lots of people. Lots of people who had seen me with him said, "You're working with a cheat. Are you a cheat?" So it was pretty intense. I left the UK on a Sunday and got back on a Saturday and I had never been in bed. So when we flew back out of Sydney, I said: "I've got to have a drink" after the intensity of the whole thing. That was me, so you can imagine how Steve felt. We were in business class, so I went to the bar. I told Steve we'd better not have champagne in case we were photographed. So we both had a beer and when we landed in Dubai there was a photo of Steve with a beer in his hand with the caption: 'Sad Steve Smith leaves Australia'.
He then flew on to New York to begin his rehabilitation, and even there he went to a bar and was sitting with other people chatting normally, but the photograph they published didn't show that because it didn't suit the message they wanted to portray. They needed to make him the villain. It was very hard for him initially, and there were moments when he wasn't sure he'd ever want to play cricket again. The reaction was extraordinary. Steve himself has spoken about this so there's an acceptance that the story is out there. I work with some Premier League footballers who would be terrified if they thought I was going to talk about them like this.
Earlier, when you mentioned the group "closing ranks" to stay on top of the story you said "some people escaped association". I know you can't really answer this, but the inference is that the fast bowling group must have wondered how the ball was reverse swinging for them. Bowlers constantly monitor the condition of the ball. It's quite difficult to believe that none of them had any idea at all of what was going on, even if they weren't direct participants in the misdeeds. Hypothetically speaking, if there is some truth in that, it must annoy Steve that he has had to carry a lot of the load with this, a lot of the blame, and the shame, even if Warner has a lifetime ban from captaincy and vice-captaincy positions...
First, that is your assumption. I did not say that. But in the processing of it, the first thing was that Steve had to take personal responsibility. How others processed it is their own problem. My personal view of it is that he should be back being the captain, that he has a huge amount of respect from the team, that he's still probably the greatest cricketer that they've got. My view is that he has carried the burden for Cricket Australia and for the team. I have huge respect for the manner in which he's done it.
I suppose the irony is that afterwards there was a pivot from Cricket Australia towards a captain who was explicitly chosen as a 'nice guy' to help restore the image of the Australian cricket team - who was asked to be the type of captain and leader that Steve wanted to be. Instead, you're saying he was shoehorned into a one-size-fits-all, macho Aussie archetype. What have you seen in Steve that leads you to believe he could captain the team successfully again and build the team in an image that was more true to his own character? Obviously there is huge personal authority in the bank from his performances, but has the stigma been fully lifted?
You're absolutely right that they pivoted towards what was the more normal Steve Smith, the more natural Steve Smith. I should say here that I think a lot of people have forgotten how difficult it has been for Cameron Bancroft. He was the new boy on the block. He so much wanted to impress and be part of that environment. He wanted to fit in. He got punished badly because everyone saw him doing it and the manner in which he did it was inept. But he's worked really hard at his rehabilitation. He did an interview a while back where he was told to shut up and let sleeping dogs lie and move on. Cricket Australia clearly just wanted the whole thing to go away. So I think they're resisting putting Steve back as captain now because they're afraid of reopening that scenario.
But I think Steve has demonstrated to the team and to cricket that when the chips are down there is nobody better than him. He will lead by example. The second point is that he is such a good learner and he'll be better prepared. Tony Blair says he got to be Prime Minister before he was ready and now that he's ready he'll never be Prime Minister again. I think the same is true of Steve. He was a young captain who, by condoning a bad decision, made a bad decision. And I think the lessons he's learnt from that have been significant. The way he's conducted himself both as a professional and as a person since the event demonstrate that he has the character to lead people. There are four or five things when I'm teaching people leadership and the first one is always how to lead yourself before you can lead an organisation, a team, a business, a political party. Steve has learnt through bitter experience how to lead himself more effectively.
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