Cape Town, South Africa: Disgraced Australia cricket captain Steve Smith was banned for one game as he and vice-captain David Warner stepped down from their roles on Sunday amid a cheating scandal that has outraged their country and threatens a far more damaging fallout for one of the game’s most exalted teams.
It even caused Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ask: “How can our team be engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief."
Smith, the No. 1 batsman in Test cricket, and Warner stepped down from their leadership roles for the remainder of the third test in South Africa following the team’s confession to cheating by tampering with the ball with a piece of yellow adhesive tape and some dirt during play on Saturday.
Smith and Warner would still play for the final two days of the test match at Newlands in Cape Town—they took their places on the field on Sunday—but have no leadership responsibilities, Cricket Australia said. Their long-term futures hang in the balance.
Wicketkeeper Tim Paine stood in as captain as Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland promised an urgent and full investigation into one of the most embarrassing moments for a stalwart of test cricket.
Two senior CA officials—head of integrity Iain Roy and high-performance manager Pat Howard—were urgently dispatched to South Africa to lead the investigation.
“All Australians, like us, want answers and we will keep you updated on our findings as a matter of priority," Sutherland said, addressing his statement in parts to a cricket-mad Australian public shocked by the admission to cheating from their team.
“WHAT THE ...... HAVE I JUST WOKEN UP TO," former Australia captain Michael Clarke tweeted as news broke early-morning back home. “Please tell me this is a bad dream."
The long-term futures of star batsman Smith and Warner are in question after the captain confessed that he was part of a group of senior players who hatched a plan to cheat against South Africa on Day 3 of the test on Saturday by messing around with the ball illegally in an attempt to give the Australian bowlers an advantage.
Cameron Bancroft appeared alongside Smith to confess that he was the man tasked with doing the on-field cheating. The plan was hatched by the team’s “leadership group," Smith said, but he refused to give other names. It unraveled when Bancroft, who made his test debut last year, was caught by television cameras doing the tampering and then trying to hide the offending piece of tape down the front of his trousers, heightening the embarrassment for Australia.
It appears Warner, in trouble already this series, was also part of the plot. Smith was banned for the final test of the series and Bancroft was given three disciplinary demerit points by the International Cricket Council, but not suspended. Warner’s possible role in the plot was not addressed by the ICC but Cricket Australia might still deal with all three of them.
“We’ll move past this," Smith said while confessing to the cheating on Saturday. “It’s a big error in judgment but we’ll learn from it and move past it."
But those comments seem to have misjudged the outrage in Australia, which holds its cricket team and its reputation dear.
Turnbull said: “Our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play." The Australian prime minister said he expected cricket bosses to take “decisive action soon."
Cricket Australia, after initially saying it would take no immediate action, announced that Smith and Warner were temporarily standing down, apparently after a phone call with Sutherland.
The Australia team was then left in the awkward position of having to continue playing a game they have admitted to cheating in. There are two days left in the test, and South Africa was in control and in a position to take a 2-1 lead in the four-game series.
“This test match needs to proceed," Sutherland said in a statement rushed out just before play started on Day 4 in Cape Town. “As I said earlier today, Cricket Australia and Australian cricket fans expect certain standards of conduct from cricketers representing our country, and on this occasion these standards have not been met."
The fallout for the Australians will come in two parts.
First, the ICC ruling which landed later on Sunday. Smith admitted being “party to a decision" to ball tampering, the ICC said, when it announced his one-match ban.
The real and lasting damage, however, is to Australia’s cricket reputation and the boos from the Cape Town crowd directed at Smith, Bancroft and Warner, specifically, and the Australian team in general, may take a long time to fade away.
Record five-time World Cup champions in the shorter format of the game, Australia is a giant of cricket and the team has at times portrayed itself as a guardian of the spirit of the game. In this series in South Africa, Australia and Smith constantly underlined their dedication to playing hard but fair, and never crossing what they call the “line."
Australia came tumbling down from that moral high ground with its stunning confession to cheating in a daring—if comical—plot masterminded by its most senior and trusted players.
The hypocrisy was pounced on by the rest of the cricket world.
“Steve Smith, his Team & ALL the management will have to accept that whatever happens in their careers they will all be known for trying to CHEAT the game," former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted. AP