Johannesburg: Australia captain Steve Smith will be sent home in disgrace from the tour of South Africa for his role in the ball-tampering scandal, but coach Darren Lehmann will remain in charge, team management said Tuesday.
Smith and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft, the player caught on camera attempting to doctor the ball with a piece of tape, will return home for their role after an incident which has dragged Australian cricket’s reputation through the mud.
Vice-captain David Warner has also been banished from the tour.
The ball-tampering incident sparked condemnation from the public back in Australia, where the role of national cricket captain is widely seen as the second most important job in the country behind prime minister.
“I understand and share the anger and disappointment of Australian fans,” Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland said at a press conference in Johannesburg.
“On behalf of Cricket Australia, I want to apologise to all Australians that these events have taken place, especially to all the kids.”
He added: “I want to also apologise to Cricket South Africa and South African fans that this issue has overshadowed what should have been a great series.”
Further sanctions will be announced shortly after preliminary findings of the investigation into the ball-tampering controversy in the third Test in Cape Town are completed, Sutherland said.
Smith has already been suspended for one Test and docked his entire match fee by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for his role in the affair.
Sutherland indicated that the three players could expect tough penalties in the “next 24 hours” over the incident last Saturday.
“Sanctions will be significant and they will reflect the gravity of the situation,” he said, declining to state categorically whether they had been cheating.
Bancroft used a strip of yellow sticky tape he had covered with dirt granules to illegally scratch the rough side of the ball, in an attempt to generate more swing for Australia’s bowlers.
He was filmed not only rubbing the ball with the dirtied tape but also concealing the evidence down the front of his trousers.
Smith said after the Test that the Australians’ “leadership group” had been aware of the plan to alter the condition of the ball.
However, Sutherland insisted Lehmann had had no knowledge of the plot.
“Prior knowledge of the ball tampering incident was limited to three players... No other players or support staff had prior knowledge and this includes Darren Lehmann, who despite inaccurate media reports, has not resigned from his position,” said Sutherland.
“He will continue to coach the Australia men’s team under his current contract.”
Former Australia captain Michael Clarke, the man Smith succeeded in the role in 2015, issued a scathing response and believes much regarding the incident has yet to be revealed.
“Too many reputations on the line for the full story not to come out. Cape Town change room is a very small place!” Clarke tweeted.
“The truth, the full story, accountability and leadership — until the public get this Australian cricket is in deep shit!”
Wicketkeeper Tim Paine will take over the captaincy for the fourth and final Test starting in Johannesburg Friday, with hosts South Africa leading a bad-tempered series 2-1.
Warner, a divisive figure in world cricket, was previously fined 75 percent of his match fee after an altercation with Quinton de Kock earlier in the series, while South Africa bowler Kagiso Rabada was banned for two games for bumping into Smith, although the suspension was later lifted.
South Africa coach Ottis Gibson said Australia’s desperation to win might have driven them to tamper with the ball.
“The Aussies have said themselves that the brand of cricket they play is to win at all costs,” he said.
He said the tight series against South Africa was a completely different contest than the Australians’ 4-0 Ashes series win over England, which ended in January.
“When you look at the Ashes, they were never really behind in many of the games. They won quite comfortably.
“Here they were behind a couple of times and perhaps that desperation came into it for them. It’s a shame that something like this had to happen for them to have a look at themselves.”
Responding to suggestions that Australia might have attempted to manipulate the ball in other matches, Sutherland said he hoped the incident was a one-off.
“The feeling from the review is that this is an isolated incident but there are things that I don’t want to go into too much detail right now,” he said.
“But I certainly hope it is an isolated incident.”