CAPE TOWN – Sanctions facing current Australian captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opener Cameron Bancroft “are significant” for their role in the ball-tampering incident in the third Test against the Proteas at Newlands, according to Cricket Australia (CA) chief executive James Sutherland.
Smith, Warner and Bancroft will return to Australia on Wednesday morning after Sutherland announced in Johannesburg on Tuesday evening that the trio have been charged with breaching the CA code of conduct after Bancroft used yellow tape to gather bits of dirt from the pitch to rough up the ball during day three of the Test on Saturday.
Coach Darren Lehmann, though, has been cleared of any wrongdoing after Sutherland said that the former left-hander did not have prior knowledge of the plot and has not resigned.
TV footage caught Bancroft shoving the tape into his pants, after he was initially seen to be rubbing the ball with the tape before putting it into his pocket.
This resulted in coach Darren Lehmann sending a message via his walkie-talkie to 12th man Peter Handscomb to run on to the field to speak to Bancroft.
While Smith and Bancroft did not explain what the message from Lehmann was, Bancroft said he “panicked” and decided to move the tape from his pocket to the front of his trousers.
Umpires Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth then approached Bancroft, and he produced a black sunglasses pouch from his pocket. But the right-hander confessed to ball-tampering that same evening after play, with Smith stating that the plan was devised by the “leadership group” during the lunch break.
But while the trio won’t feature in Friday’s fourth and final Test at the Wanderers – with the Proteas leading the series 2-1 – their punishment may be much greater once Sutherland announces the sanctions “within 24 hours”, once the investigation is concluded.
There have been reports that Smith and Warner could face bans from between six months to a year, while Bancroft may get a lighter sanction as he seemingly followed instructions from his two seniors.
“In view of the broader reputational and integrity issues involved, the sanctions that will be contemplated are significant. The process must therefore be thorough to ensure that all relevant issues have been examined,” Sutherland said.
“I understand the appetite for urgency, given the reputation of Australia as a sporting nation has been damaged in the eyes of many. However, urgency must be balanced with due process given the serious implications for all involved.
“In addition to sanctions for individuals, Cricket Australia will initiate an independent review into the conduct and culture of our Australian men’s teams.
“We will have more to say about this review in the coming days, but it will be conducted by an expert panel who will report to the Cricket Australia board.”
Sutherland, in apologising to Australian and South African cricket fans, added that Smith was “distraught, and certainly upset”.
Sutherland refused to admit that the ball-tampering act was “cheating”. After he was asked on three occasions, he said: “In the laws of the game, this is not in the spirit of the game. I am angry, disappointed… This is not a good day for Australian cricket.”
Tim Paine will take over the captaincy at the Wanderers, while Matt Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns will join the squad for the tour finale.