Sydney: Disgraced Steve Smith admitted on Friday he failed as a captain by turning a blind eye to the ball-tampering scandal and said it has been hard watching Australia struggle from the sidelines.
The former skipper is still serving a one-year ban from the international and domestic game for his part in the incident that rocked the cricket world, in which sandpaper was used to try and rough up the ball in South Africa.
Asked what went on in the changing rooms before Cameron Bancroft and David Warner went out and attempted to cheat, he said: “I had the opportunity to stop it at that point rather than say, ‘I don’t want to know anything about it’.
“And that was my failure of leadership. And, you know, I’ve taken responsibility for that.”
Speaking to the media in Australia for the first time since he broke down in tears at a press conference following the scandal in March, Smith said it was the only incident of ball-tampering that he knows about.
The scandal had far-reaching consequences with a clean-out of top executives from Cricket Australia after a scathing review blamed its “arrogant and controlling” culture was partly to blame for players bending the rules.
But while it initially unleashed a torrent of vitriol against the players, Smith’s tearful apology on arrival home tugged at the heartstrings.
Widely considered among the finest batsmen in the world today, Smith admitted there had been “dark days” since as he grappled with his fall from grace.
But with his suspension running out at the end of March, Smith now can see light at the end of the tunnel and is desperate to return, with the World Cup and the Ashes next year in his sights.
“I’m just moving forward day to day, and doing what I need to do to prepare to hopefully get another opportunity to play for Australia,” he said.
“And if that’s World Cup and Ashes, so be it. And no doubt the English crowd will be incredibly hostile. I’m ready for that, if that happens.”
He has spent the time away playing for his grade cricket club Sutherland, which he captained to the New South Wales Premier T20 championship on Sunday at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Smith has also had stints in Canada’s Global T20 competition and in the Caribbean Premier League.
But he suffered a setback this week when he was barred from the upcoming Bangladesh Premier League T20 tournament on a technicality.
Some of the hardest times during his ban came when the diminished Australian team struggled in his absence.
“It’s been tough at times, particularly when the boys haven’t played their best in a couple of games, it’s been hard watching and knowing that I can’t go out and help them,” he said.
“But I was really proud of the way they played last week in Perth (during the second Test against India, which they won).
“I thought they were magnificent. I think Tim Paine’s leadership has been exceptional since taking over as captain,” Smith added.
“He’s obviously faced difficult circumstances to begin with, and he’s done a terrific job.”