The disgraced Australian cricket captain Steve Smith was on Sunday handed a one-Test ban for his role in a ball-tampering scandal that has outraged the country, even drawing criticism from Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball.
“How can our team be engaged in cheating like this?” he asked as both Smith and vice-captain David Warner stepped down from their roles. “It beggars belief.”
Skipper Smith admitted to cheating during the third Test with South Africa after Cameron Bancroft was spotted on TV cameras attempting to change the condition of the ball illegally.
The 28-year-old was stood down by Cricket Australia alongside vice-captain David Warner for the remainder of the match in Cape Town with the ICC now stepping in. Their long-term futures now hang in the balance.
Alongside the suspension Smith has also been fined 100% of his match fee while Bancroft has been fined 75% of his and been handed three demerit points.
The ICC charged Smith as being in contravention of Article 2.2.1. of the ICC Code of Conduct which prohibits “all types of conduct of a serious nature that is contrary to the spirit of the game”.
Chief executive David Richardson added in a statement: “The decision made by the leadership group of the Australian team to act in this way is clearly contrary to the spirit of the game, risks causing significant damage to the integrity of the match, the players and the sport itself and is therefore ‘serious’ in nature.
“As captain, Steve Smith must take full responsibility for the actions of his players and it is appropriate that he be suspended.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has since called the incident “completely beyond belief” and “a shocking disappointment” while the Australian Sports Commission – the lead Government agency responsible for Australian sport – has called for Smith to be removed as captain immediately.
Bancroft was seen holding the ball when TV cameras caught him producing a flat bit of material – that he later confirmed was a strip of sticky tape – from his pocket, with slow-motion replays being shown both on TV coverage and on the big screen at Newlands, and Bancroft then put the tape into the front of his trousers in an attempt to hide it.
He said that it was his intention to use granules of dirt from the pitch on the sticky tape to try and roughen the dirty side of the ball, which would aid Australia’s seam bowlers in being able to reverse-swing it.
Smith admitted afterwards that it was a decision taken by the “leadership group” within the team.
“The leadership group knew about it, we spoke about it at lunch,” he said. “I am not proud of what has happened. It’s not in the spirit of the game, my integrity and the integrity of the team has been damaged and rightfully so. It’s not on and it won’t happen again, I can promise you.”
But Smith – who was not joined at the press conference by coach Darren Lehmann – also insisted that he will not step down as captain.
“The coaches weren’t involved,” Smith added. “It was purely the players and the leadership group that came up with this.”
To complete a miserable day, the embattled team lost the third test to South Africa in comprehensive fashion, as after South Africa seamer Morne Morkel ripped through the visitors' batting line-up to inflict a 322-run defeat.
Morkel picked up five wickets for 23 runs as the hosts took a 2-1 lead in the tempestuous four-match series.
Stand-in Australia captain Tim Paine, who was drafted in to lead the side after Smith and Warner stood down before the start of play on Sunday afterwards, afterwards apologised for the ball-tampering controversy that has overshadowed the test.
“It's been horrible 24 hours, difficult for all of us. I want to take this opportunity to apologise to our fans for what has happened,” he said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
“We are disappointed, too, with the way we folded in the last two hours of what was a really horrible test match," added Paine, whose side lost 10 wickets after tea on day four to lose the test.”
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