Australia skipper Steve Smith headed home from South Africa in disgrace on Wednesday and his deputy David Warner lost the captaincy of his Indian Premier League side after a cheating scandal left the team fractured amid mounting suspicion that the full story has not yet emerged.
Smith, Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft, the player caught on camera attempting to doctor the ball with a piece of tape, have been banished for their role in a ball-tampering incident which has dragged Australian cricket’s reputation through the mud.
Vice-captain Warner was reported to have been ostracised by the team’s fast bowlers who feel he unfairly linked them to the row and he stepped down on Wednesday as captain of Indian Premier League side Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Smith had already been replaced as skipper of rival side Rajasthan Royals in the cash-rich Twenty20 competition due to start next month as the controversy rages on.
“In light of recent events, David Warner has stepped down as captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad,” Sunrisers chief executive K Shanmugam said on the team’s official Twitter page.
Wicketkeeper Tim Paine will take over the captaincy for the fourth and final Test starting in Johannesburg on Friday, with hosts South Africa leading a bad-tempered series 2-1 as Matt Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns fly to South Africa to replace the exiled trio.
Coach Darren Lehmann escaped punishment and will remain in charge with further sanctions on the three players to be announced “within 24 hours”.
“I understand and share the anger and disappointment of Australian fans,” Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland said of the controversy in the third Test in Cape Town last Saturday.
“On behalf of Cricket Australia, I want to apologise to all Australians that these events have taken place, especially to all the kids.”
Lehmann had no ‘prior knowledge’
Australian Cricketers’ Association chief executive Alistair Nicholson said serious mistakes had been made by Smith and his co-accused, and they understood this.
“The players are remorseful for the mistakes they have made. And they regret how their actions have represented themselves, teammates, cricket and their country,” he said.
Smith is reportedly distraught and support is being offered to help him cope.
“Welfare of all players is a highly relevant consideration,” said Nicholson.
Smith had already been suspended for one Test and docked his entire match fee by the International Cricket Council, and Sutherland said further punishments “will reflect the gravity of the situation”.
Cricket Australia also announced an independent review into “the conduct and culture” of the team, which the ACA said should examine the behaviour of administrators.
“Australia’s core values of respect, integrity and fairness must be brought to bear on the game of cricket through such a process,” it said.
Bancroft used a strip of yellow sticky tape to pick up dirt and illegally roughen one side of the ball to generate more swing for Australia’s bowlers.
He was filmed with the dirtied tape and then trying to hide it down the front of his trousers.
Smith said after the Test that the Australia team’s “leadership group” had been aware of the plan.
Divisive Warner under fire
However, Sutherland insisted Lehmann was not involved.
“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.
Former Australian captain Michael Clarke, the man Smith succeeded in 2015, believes there is more to the story that meets the eye.
“Too many reputations on the line for the full story not to come out. Cape Town change room is a very small place!” he tweeted.
Former England Test captain Michael Vaughan was similarly unconvinced, tweeting “Only 3 people knew ... #MyArse.”
Warner, a divisive figure in the world game, has become the focus of Australian media, who blame him for the scandal.
The Australian newspaper said there had been a “fierce feud” in the dressing room sparked by Warner’s alleged testimony to Cricket Australia’s integrity officers, with pace spearheads Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood reportedly livid at being implicated.
It said they felt he was willing to blame them to take the heat off himself, with emotions so raw that Warner may never be welcomed back.
The Sydney Morning Herald said players had turned on Warner because he had attempted to “throw them under the bus”.
It quoted sources close to the team as saying the plan was devised by Warner and Bancroft and Smith agreed to it.