Three days on from the damning ball-tampering argument which erupted in front of a global audience in Cape Town, Cricket Australia (CA) has announced that Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft will fly back to Australia and have no further role to play in the ongoing tour of South Africa.
Speaking to reporters massed inside a Johannesburg hotel on Tuesday, the CA CEO James Sutherland said that the board will be “in a position to announce sanctions” in the next 24 hours and that “as a matter of emergency” its investigation will be completed by Wednesday morning and the quantum of punishment for the trio will be revealed too.
This means that Australia, down 1-2 in the ongoing series, will head into the final Test on Friday without their best two batsmen. Tim Paine, who led the embattled touring team on the final day of the third Test after Smith and Warner stood down as captain and vice-captain, has been confirmed to lead Australia in the fourth match. Matt Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns have been named as the replacement players and they will reach South Africa on Wednesday.
Contrary to reports that he was ready to resign, Darren Lehmann will continue as head coach of the Australian team.
While cricket’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC) had already handed down punishments to Smith and Test opener Cameron Bancroft on Sunday, CA has – against a big public outcry back in Australia, including statement from the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – confirmed its determination to hand out its own penalties for the key figures involved in plotting to alter the conditions of the ball on day three of the recent third Test in Cape Town.
“I want to repeat what I said on Sunday in Australia – I understand and share the anger and disappointment of Australian fans and the broader Australian community. On behalf of Cricket Australia, I want to apologise to the citizens of Australia, especially all the kids who idolise cricket, as well as to Cricket South Africa,” said Sutherland. “This is an issue beyond technical issues; it is about whether Australia can feel proud of their sporting teams.
“Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft – no other player or member of the support staff had prior knowledge and that includes Darren Lehmann who will continue to coach the Australian team under his current contract. The three players have been charged with breaching the CA Code of Conduct for bringing the game into disrepute. The expectations of players around the world must be clearer – winning is important but not at the expose of the laws or spirit of the game. Preliminary findings have been stared with the CA board earlier today. We will finish our investigation over the next 24 hours.”
Tuesday’s high-profile press conference came after a day of interviews with Australian players, team management and staff conducted in Cape Town by the CA head of integrity, Iain Roy, and head of team performance Pat Howard, who then spent much of today relating their findings to Sutherland.
Smith’s admission on Saturday that Australia’s “leadership group” had been behind the plan to tamper with the ball was the first instance of an international captain admitting to such unauthorized activity.
After the third day’s play, while addressing the media, Smith had admitted that his team had deliberately tried to tamper with the condition of the ball in an orchestrated attempt to gain an advantage. He also claimed that Lehmann was unaware of the plan, but TV cameras showed Lehmann looking at the giant screen at the ground and then covering his mouth while reaching for a walkie-talkie place next to him. The cameras then panned to Australia’s 12th man, Peter Hanscomb, who arrived to have received a signal. Hanscomb then entered the field and delivered a message to Bancroft, who subsequently hit the yellow object down his pants.
While Smith’s revelation rocked the cricket fraternity, the first huge news came on Sunday when it was announced that he and Warner had relinquished their roles as captain and vice-captain respectively for the last two days of the third Test in Cape Town. Paine was confirmed as acting captain for the Test, which ended on day four with Australia bowled out for 107 while losing ten wickets for just 50 runs.
That same day, the ICC decided to dock Smith his entire match fees and suspend him for one Test, while Bancroft was fined 75 % of his match fee and hit with three demerit points. Back in Australia, while CA announced it had started an investigation into the ball-tampering row, PM Turnbull weighed in on the controversy and slammed Smith’s team for cheating.