CAPE TOWN – Australia's tour of South Africa is in free-fall. Since the tourists were victorious in the series opener at the beginning of the month, Steve Smith and his team have been under the pump.
A big defeat resulted in the second Test at Port Elizabeth, followed by a collection of statements coming out of the visiting camp that have ranged from their dissatisfaction regarding the overturning of Kagiso Rabada’s suspension to the behaviour of the fans at Newlands during this on-going third Test.
Former Proteas captain Graeme Smith has claimed that he has “never seen an Aussie team whinge and whine like this!”, but on Saturday the tourists committed virtual suicide.
Not only did the Proteas take complete control of proceedings at Newlands, finishing on 239/4 for an overall lead of 294 runs heading into the fourth day, but Australia’s captain Steve Smith was embarrassingly forced to admit that his team deliberately attempted to tamper with the condition of the ball in an orchestrated attempt to gain an advantage.
The admission came after Cameron Bancroft was charged by the International Cricket Council due to television footage clearly showing the opening batsman attempting to hide a yellow piece of tape inside his trousers.
“I am not proud of what’s happened. It is not within the spirit of the game. My integrity and the team’s integrity, the leadership group’s integrity has come into question and rightly so,” Smith said.
“The leadership group talked about it and Bangers (Bancroft) was around at the time. We spoke about it. We thought it was a possible way to get an advantage. Obviously it didn’t work. The umpires didn’t see the ball behaving or the way it looked. It was a poor choice. Deeply regrettable, our actions.”
Bancroft would not have been part of the “leadership group” Smith refers to, having played just eight Tests, with the possible core of senior players like Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon and David Warner most likely responsible for the actions out in the middle.
The young opening batsman claimed he was not coerced into the committing the offence, claiming he was merely “at the wrong place at the wrong time”.
“I don’t think it was that way,” Bancroft said. “I was in the vicinity. I was obviously nervous about it. I sit before you today. I am not proud of what has happened.
“I was unfortunately at the wrong place at the wrong time. I am accountable for my actions.
“I have to live with the consequences and the damages it does to my own reputation.”
Reverse-swing has been a potent factor throughout the series, with both teams managing to gain significant success with the old ball – especially late in the day.
However, with Aiden Markram firstly contributing 84 and then AB de Villiers taking the game further away from the Aussies with another rapid half-century, Smith’s team were becoming increasingly desperate for a breakthrough, which led to the visiting captain and his team sinking to an all-time low.
“We saw this game as such an important game, an opportunity.
“We obviously saw the ball reverse swinging quite a lot in this series.
“Our ball just didn’t look like it was going to go.
“That’s a mistake on our behalf again. It is such poor actions and deeply regrettable,” Smith said.
“This is the first time it has happened. We will move on from this. I am embarrassed. The boys in the sheds are embarrassed. I feel for Cam (Bancroft) as well.
“It is not what the Australian cricket team is about. Being the leader of the team, I am incredibly sorry for, I guess, bringing the game into disrepute in the way we did today. It is a poor reflection on everyone in the dressing-room. If we weren’t caught I would still feel incredibly bad about it.”
Smith denied any suggestions that he was preparing to resign from the captaincy after this incident, although he has yet to discuss the matter with Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, which could possibly have further repercussions - especially if Smith is also charged with bringing the game into disrepute.
The ICC are also yet to disclose details of the levels of the charge, along with the demerit points attached to it.
Third Test, Newlands
South Africa first innings 311 (D Elgar 141 no, AB de Villiers 64, HM Amla 31; PJ Cummins 4/78, NM Lyon 2/43, JR Hazlewood 2/59).
Australia first innings
C Bancroft lbw Philander77
D Warner b Rabada30
U Khawaja c Rabada b Morkel5
S Smith c Elgar b Morkel5
S Marsh c De Kock b Morkel26
M Marsh c De Kock b Philander5
T Paine not out34
P Cummins c De Villiers b Rabada4
M Starc c De Villiers b Rabada 2
N Lyon c Elgar b Morkel47
J Hazlewood c Amla b Rabada10
Extras (1b 5lb 4nb)10
Total (all out, 69.5 overs)255
Falls: 1-43, 2-61, 3-72, 4-150, 5-150, 6-156, 7-173, 8-175, 9-241, 10-255.
Bowling: V Philander 15-5-26-2, K Rabada 20.5-1-91-4m M Morkel 21-7-87-4, K Maharaj 12-3-35-0, T Bavuma 1-0-10-0.
South Africa second innings
A Markram c Cummins b Starc84
D Elgar c Smith b Cummins14
H Amla c Bancroft b Cummins31
AB de Villiers not out51
F du Plessis lbw Lyon20
T Bavuma c H’comb J Hazlewood5
Q de Kock not out29
Total (5 wickets, 72.0 overs)238
Falls: 1-28, 2-104, 3-151, 4-196, 5-201.
Bowling: M Starc 15-2-48-1, J Hazlewood 17-4-46-1, P Cummins 19-4-47-2, N Lyon 16-1-69-1, S Smith 1-0-6-0, M Marsh 4-0-18-0.