JOHANNESBURG: Australia cricket captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner have been banned from playing for their country for 12 months, with Warner identified on Wednesday as the instigator of the ball tampering plot in the Test series in South Africa.
Cricket Australia (CA) also imposed a nine-month ban on Cameron Bancroft, who carried out the on-field tampering on the instructions of Warner and with the knowledge of skipper Smith.
Smith had earlier confirmed his punishment to a small group of Australian reporters before leaving the tour of South Africa in disgrace.
CA said Smith and Warner cannot play any first-class cricket at international or provincial level in Australia for a year. They would be permitted to play for their clubs in city-level leagues.
Bancroft has similar limitations during his nine-month ban.
The 28-year-old Smith will not be allowed to captain Australia for two years and Warner will never be allowed to hold a leadership position in Australian cricket again. At 31, Warner may never play for Australia again.
BCCI also revokes IPL contracts of disgraced players
The fallout extended beyond Australia. The three players were all banned for the 2018 edition of the Indian Premier League, denying them places in the lucrative Twenty20 tournament where players are paid big money to appear. “These are significant penalties for professional players and the [Cricket Australia] board does not impose them lightly,” CA chairman David Peever said in a statement. “It is hoped that following a period of suspension, the players will be able to return to playing the game they love and eventually rebuild their careers.”
Each player must also complete 100 hours of community service before being considered for future selection, while it was confirmed that the cheat had been confined to the trio only, exonerating team-mates and head coach Darren Lehmann of any wrong-doing.
All three also have the right to appeal their sentences.
“The CA Board understands and shares the anger of fans and the broader Australian community about these events,” Peever added. “They go to the integrity and reputation of Australian Cricket and Australian sport and the penalties must reflect that.”
In one intriguing detail, CA said that Bancroft used ‘sandpaper’ to tamper with the ball on day three of the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town last weekend. The players previously said Bancroft used a piece of yellow adhesive tape covered with dirt to rub on the ball.
Warner, having initially avoided being named as part of the plot, emerged as the chief planner, according to CA’s investigation.
Warner was found guilty of three key charges by CA: ”... development of a plan to attempt to artificially alter the condition of the ball ... instruction to a junior player to carry out a plan to take steps to attempt to artificially alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper ... (and) provision of advice to a junior player regarding how a ball could be artificially altered including demonstrating how it could be done.”
The punishment confirmed a dramatic fall from grace for Smith, the star of Australian cricket and the No. 1-ranked Test batsman. A few months ago he had led Australia to a 4-0 Ashes rout of England with a series of dazzling performances with the bat.
Now, he’s an outcast in his sport, only allowed to play club cricket for the next year. As he left the team hotel in Johannesburg, Smith said he didn’t feel like playing any cricket right now. Smith and Warner had already been replaced as the captains of their IPL teams but the complete bans for all three denied them lucrative contracts in the Twenty20 league.
In South Africa, wicket-keeper Tim Paine will take over as Australia captain for the final Test, which starts in Johannesburg on Friday.
Smith, wearing a white T-shirt and dark baseball cap, hugged Paine as he prepared to leave the team hotel to fly home. Lehmann, fast bowler Mitchell Starc and batsman Usman Khawaja all were there to say goodbye to him.
Bancroft also stood in the hotel lobby at one point speaking with a member of the Australian backroom staff.
The yearlong ban for Warner, the pugnacious 31-year-old opening batsman, may mean an end to his international career. He was already at the centre of a contentious moment at the very start of the South Africa tour with his heated off-field confrontation with South African wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock.
The CA punishments were significantly higher than International Cricket Council sanctions and followed an internal investigation into the extent of the cheating plot in South Africa, with CA’s chief integrity officer, Iain Roy, flying in to interview players and backroom staff over the last few days.
Smith, Warner and Bancroft are all set to face the public outrage when they get home after their actions left the reputation of Australia’s favorite sports team in tatters.
After a discussion during a break in play on Saturday, Smith, Warner and Bancroft decided they would try to change the condition of the ball by using what they claimed at the time was a piece of yellow adhesive tape and some dirt collected from the side of the pitch.
Bancroft was tasked to do the on-field tampering roughing up one side of the ball but botched it when he was caught by television cameras doing the tampering and then trying to hide the tape down the front of his trousers.
The evidence from the TV cameras was overwhelming and Smith and Bancroft came out after play to confess to their roles in the plot to reporters.
The International Cricket Council had suspended Smith for one Test for the offence, and imposed a fine and demerit points on Bancroft.
There is more financial fallout possible with multinational electronics company LG having already said they will not renew a sponsorship with Warner, while several other partners of CA are reviewing their positions in light of the embarrassing scandal.
The players will be available for the World Cup in England and Wales that starts on May 30 next year, as well as the Ashes series later in the English summer.
Australia also lost the Test in Cape Town by a crushing 322 runs to trail 2-1 in the four-match series.
With Smith, Warner and Bancroft on the way home, their places in the Australia squad will be taken by Matt Renshaw, Joe Burns and Glenn Maxwell.
Engulfed in a crisis, Australia face losing a series in South Africa for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2018