AB de Villiers called the punishment meted out to Steve Smith "harsh" but added "wrong is wrong." Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – Proteas master batsman AB de Villiers has expressed his sympathy for banned Australian captain Steve Smith, claiming his punishment was “harsh”.

In exclusive interview with The Guardian, De Villiers speaks candidly about the “rough” series against the Australians, one which he also describes as “the best series I have been a part of.” 

The Proteas, of course, beat Australia 3-1 – the first time on home soil since South Africa’s return from isolation – in an epic four-match series that will be remembered equally for the brilliant action on the field and all the off-field controversy that engulfed it.

Six players across both teams were sanctioned during the fiercely-contested series, but the major flashpoint was Australia’s ball-tampering fiasco. 

The fracas erupted during the third Test at Newlands that saw Australia’s captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner eventually evicted from the game for a year. Opener Cameron Bancroft, the actual offender, also received a nine-month ban.

“It was blown up massively,” De Villiers said. “Yes, it is a serious matter but it was taken to a level where it really hurt them individually and I felt sorry for them.” 

“Especially Smith, who stood up thinking he was doing the right thing by his players. The way he was punished was harsh.”

“Wrong is wrong. Guys try to find a way to get the ball to reverse but you have to stay in the laws. Sandpaper? (he chuckles) Sheesh, I don’t know. I have it in my bag but that’s for cleaning my bat.”

Steve Smith speaks to the media supported by his father Peter. Photo: Brendan Esposito/EPA
Steve Smith speaks to the media supported by his father Peter. Photo: Brendan Esposito/EPA

Meanwhile, the ICC will move towards “stricter and heavier sanctions” for ball tampering after the game’s governing body convened in Kolkata this week.

The banned trio’s punishment issued by Cricket Australia was far greater than the ICC’s initial sanction, who could only under its current code of conduct, suspend Smith for one Test and fine him his entire match fee. Bancroft, meanwhile, received just a 75% match fee fine and three demerit points.

“There was clear direction to move towards stricter and heavier sanctions for ball tampering and other offences which were indicative of a lack of respect, this would include abusive language, send-offs and dissent to an umpire’s decision.”

“In parallel with that, the creation of a culture of respect that embodies the spirit of cricket on and off the field of play,” an ICC statement said.

ICC Chairman Shashank Manohar also stated: “The Code of Conduct review is a crucial piece of work and my fellow Board directors and I are committed to seeing an improvement in player behaviour and ensuring a culture of respect across our sport.”

“We will consider tougher sanctions as we work to create a culture of respect.”

IOL Sport

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