Condemned and exposed for a ball-tampering ruse that has left Steve Smith scrambling for his future as captain, they were booed out of Newlands after crashing to a dismal defeat by South Africa.
Australian cricket in its present form now seems an irrevocably tainted brand and speculation was rife that Smith – suspended for the fourth and final Test against South Africa by the International Cricket Council after a personal intervention from its chief executive, Dave Richardson – would eventually pay with his job. Head coach Darren Lehmann, absolved of guilt by Smith but with plenty of questions to answer, also faces an uncertain future.
Cricket Australia has initiated its own investigation into Cameron Bancroft’s attempt to manipulate the ball with sticky tape and debris from the pitch, promising answers after a chorus of condemnation which began at the office of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and was echoed across the cricketing world.
Bancroft may have been the man wielding the improvised sandpaper but his junior status and Smith’s confession of complicity saw him pay a bigger price – banned, fined 100 per cent of his match fee and handed four demerit points, while the perpetrator was fined 75 per cent of his purse and hit with three demerit points.
Unlike Smith, Bancroft remains available to play in Johannesburg next week but that may prove fanciful.
Smith, Bancroft and vice-captain David Warner, who joined his skipper in agreeing to temporarily step down on the fourth morning, were all booed to and from the crease with gusto by the Newlands crowd as the tourists lost all ten wickets, and the match, in the final session. The 322-run defeat means they cannot now win the series but they have lost much more in the last 24 hours, mostly in terms of trust and respect.
Tim Paine, pictured inset, acted as captain with Smith and Warner absent and at the post-match presentation apologised, adding that Smith and Bancroft were “struggling”.
“It’s been an absolutely horrible 24 hours to be perfectly honest,” he said.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to our fans, all the Australians back home and the guys that have travelled over here.
“They deserve better than what we put up yesterday. That’s all I can say on the
matter at the moment.”
Richardson, who charged Smith with a serious breach of the spirit of the game, delivered a strident statement on recent developments.
“As captain, Steve Smith must take full responsibility for the actions of his players and it is appropriate that he be suspended,” he said.
“The game needs to have a hard look at itself. In recent weeks we have seen incidents of ugly sledging, send-offs, dissent against umpires’
decisions, a walk-off, ball-tampering and some ordinary off-field behaviour. The ICC needs to do more to prevent poor behaviour and better police the spirit of
the game, defining more clearly what is expected of players and enforcing the regulations in a consistent fashion.
“In addition and most importantly member countries need to show more accountability for their teams’ conduct.
“Winning is important but not at the expense of the spirit of the game which is intrinsic and precious to the sport of cricket.
“We have to raise the bar across all areas.”
CA chief executive James Sutherland, speaking earlier, vowed to look into what had happened.
“We will continue to
investigate this matter with the urgency that it demands,” he said.
“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.”
When asked if previous series – including the recent 4-0 Ashes win – would be reviewed for possible wrongdoing, a CA spokesman said: “We won’t be commenting on details of our investigation at this stage.”There could be additional ramifications at domestic level, with Somerset director of cricket Andy Hurry stating the club would seek “all the facts” regarding Bancroft, the club’s 2018 overseas signing.
Smith also captains Indian Premier League franchise Rajasthan Royals, who said in a statement: “(We) await further instructions from BCCI, before we make any announcement.
“We at Rajasthan Royals will not tolerate any actions that are unfair by definition and bring disrepute to the game of cricket. Our zero tolerance policy applies to everyone in our team. Please bear with us.”