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Captain Smith stood down as Cricket Australia probes ball tampering

Australia captain Steve Smith speaks at a press conference in Cape Town admitting to ball tampering during the third Test against South Africa on Saturday. AFP
Australia captain Steve Smith speaks at a press conference in Cape Town admitting to ball tampering during the third Test against South Africa on Saturday. AFP

Captain Smith stood down as Cricket Australia probes ball tampering

Australia’s players were jeered after captain Steve Smith was forced to step down on Sunday following the admission he was the chief plotter in the ball-tampering scandal that plunged the game into crisis.

Despite initially insisting he would not quit the captaincy, Smith and vice-captain David Warner were stood down for the rest of the third Test against South Africa at Newlands as Cricket Australia (CA) investigates the incident, in which Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera interfering with the ball in the outfield.

Tim Paine led out the Australian team on the fourth day of play on Sunday to muted boos after CA had earlier issued a statement announcing the temporary resignations.

“Following discussions with Steve Smith and David Warner they have agreed to stand down as captain and vice-captain respectively for the remainder of this Test match,” CA chief James Sutherland said in a statement.

Both Smith and Warner remained part of the team in a Test match increasingly dominated by the hosts.

“This Test match needs to proceed, and in the interim we will continue to investigate this matter with the urgency that it demands,” Sutherland added.

South African fans and television pundits made their feelings known in no uncertain terms as play got underway in Cape Town on Sunday.

Former Australia captain Allan Border said on SuperSport television that he was “angry and embarrassed”.

Australian leg-spinning great Shane Warne added he was “disappointed” in Smith, while former South Africa captain Shaun Pollock said Australia had been “caught” and had “been shown to cheat”.

CA’s head of integrity Iain Roy and head of team performance Pat Howard were flying to South Africa to conduct the investigation.

‘Big mistake’

On Saturday, Smith had insisted he would not quit despite Bancroft being caught using yellow sticky tape to alter the condition of the ball.

“I still think I’m the right person for the job,” a defiant Smith told reporters on Saturday.

But his admissions provoked widespread calls for the 28-year-old, who took “responsibility” for “a big mistake”, to stand down.

“The leadership group knew about it,” said Smith, captain since 2015. “I’m not proud of what happened. It’s not in the spirit of the game.

Television footage showed Bancroft, 25, take the sticky tape out of his pocket while fielding in the post-lunch session and appearing to rub it on the ball.

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I want to be accountable for my actions,” the opening batsman said.

Smith insisted that coach Darren Lehmann was not part of the conspiracy, even though footage appeared to show the coach sending a message onto the field with 12th man Peter Handscomb after the first footage of the incident.

‘Premeditated move to cheat’

“The coach isn’t involved. It was purely the leadership group and the players came up with this,” added Smith, who is playing in the 64th Test of a career that has yielded more than 6,000 runs.

After being shown on the big screen, to boos from the crowd, Bancroft appeared to hide the tape, used to pick up abrasive dirt from the pitch, down his trousers.

“I was sighted on the screen and that resulted in me shoving it down my trousers. I panicked quite a lot,” said Bancroft.

The umpires took no action on the field but Bancroft said he had met with the match officials after play and faced a charge of attempting to change the condition of the ball.

“I saw an opportunity to use some yellow tape and the granules from the rough patches of the wicket to change the condition of the ball,” said Bancroft who is playing in his eighth Test.

Asked whether Australia had used similar methods in previous matches, Smith said: “You can ask questions as much as you like, but I can promise you this is the first time it has happened.”

The scandal provoked widespread condemnation by former players.

“This was a premeditated move by the Australian captain to cheat,” former England skipper Nasser Hussain said.

The four-match series, which has been plagued by bust-ups between the two teams, is locked at 1-1. South Africa were leading by 389 runs with three wickets remaining at lunch on Sunday.

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