Steve Smith breaks down during a press conference at Sydney Airport on Thursday. Photo: Brendan Esposito/EPA
Steve Smith breaks down during a press conference at Sydney Airport on Thursday. Photo: Brendan Esposito/EPA
Steve Smith is comforted by his father Peter at Sydney Airport. Photo: David Moir/EPA
Steve Smith is comforted by his father Peter at Sydney Airport. Photo: David Moir/EPA

LONDON – Of course it was heart-wrenching to watch Steve Smith go through one of the most painful public ordeals you will ever see in sport at Sydney Airport on Thursday.

Of course it was very hard to watch his father place a hand on his shoulder to offer his broken son some support.

And yet. Who is Smith crying for? The schoolchildren he mentioned? The Australian public who have turned this into one of cricket’s biggest scandals with the scale of their hurt and indignation? For his parents?

Or might he just be crying for himself? Were his tears of genuine remorse or were they just because he had been caught? To be blunt, was Smith crying crocodile tears yesterday?

The best Australian batsman since Bradman had it all, and he has thrown it away through his flawed leadership of a team that careered out of control.

That is what he was crying about. It is still difficult to have any real sympathy.

Smith may not have had any idea of the enormity of what he had done when he lied his way through a far more arrogant media performance in Cape Town last Saturday, but he knows now.

His tumultuous fall from grace has hit him like a Mitchell Johnson bouncer right between the eyes.

He has had plenty of time to contemplate it. From the chaotic walk through Johannesburg Airport to an extended journey home via Singapore, because it was the one day of the week when there was no direct flight to Sydney.

It all came flooding out on his arrival home.

I cringed when he said “Good people make mistakes”. 

He was telling the world he was a good person really, but some of his conduct as a captain has been shameful – like his complicity in the personal sledging of Jonny Bairstow and the Chuckle Brothers press conference with Cameron Bancroft in Brisbane – and he is now suffering the consequences.

If there is to be sympathy for anyone involved, it should be Bancroft.

Australian batsman Cameron Bancroft was disappointed about "giving up my spot for free" with the ball-tampering incident. Photo: Reuters

His remorse in Perth an hour earlier seemed genuine, at least until he stumbled when asked if Australia had tampered with the ball before.

We all know the answer to that, and the patsy of the affair was unsure what to say.

There are similarities here to the way Salman Butt manipulated the young and impressionable Mohammad Amir into spot-fixing.

Good old naive Bancroft was happy to make up an incident out of nothing with Bairstow in a Perth bar because his captain and vice-captain told him to.

Now, far more seriously, he was to do what Warner told him again. He will regret that, as he said yesterday, for the rest of his life.

And yet, Bancroft is 25 – old enough, if not wise enough, to know right from wrong.

His lying in Cape Town to the umpires and then the press was a virtuoso display, so our sympathy can only go so far.

There is one man for whom any semblance of feeling would be wasted – the execrable David Warner.

He could not even be bothered to go through the charade of a public appearance. Just a short statement from a man Australia should have drummed out years ago.

There does not seem to be a single person standing up for Warner. Nor should they.

Australia have ignored his despicable behaviour for years, and it is as much the fault of Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland and his board – as it is that of Smith and now former coach Darren Lehmann – for giving him high office and indulging him.

The danger is that he will come back to haunt them.

David Warner with his wife Candice and their children after arriving at Sydney Airport on Thursday. Photo: David Moir/EPA

Warner is the smoking gun of this affair, and nobody knows what he will do next.

Will he blow out of the water the cosy damage-limitation exercise by Cricket Australia that insisted only three people knew about the ball-tampering? Will they tell us next that the Pope is indeed a Roman Catholic?

Warner is finished as a Test cricketer, so will have little to lose by exposing where Sutherland has buried the skeletons. Or will he take his punishment and keep his counsel until the time suits him?

Whatever happens next, it is essential that the right man is appointed to replace the discredited Lehmann.

If Cricket Australia have any sense at all, they should look no further than former Test captain Ricky Ponting.

In the wave of all the self-serving apologies yesterday, it was easy to miss a crucial piece of evidence delivered by former Australia coach Mickey Arthur, bundled out of office complete with ridicule five years ago.

The South African wrote a piece for the Players Voice website, which should be the last word on why Australia were absolutely right to ban Dastardly and Muttley for a year and their malleable pupil for nine months.

“Unfortunately, it was always going to end like this,” writes Arthur. “Despite generational change, independent reviews and too many behavioural spot-fires to list, Cricket Australia and the national team had shown no real willingness or desire to improve the culture within their organisation from season to season.

“That could only lead to one thing. An explosion.”

Once the press conference was done, Steve Smith left in tears alongside his father Peter. Photo: Brendan Esposito/EPA

Read the whole thing and weep for Australian cricket.

But do not shed any tears for Steve Smith and David Warner. Like the characters from the Wacky Races they so resemble, their dirty deeds have been uncovered at the last.

No amount of crying can put that right.