The captain and vice-captain of Australia’s national cricket team resigned in the middle of a Test match Sunday over a ball-tampering scandal.
Pressure had been building on captain Steve Smith after teammate Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera pulling tape from his pocket and rubbing it on the ball on day three of the third Test against South Africa Saturday.
The scandal caused outrage in Australia and prompted widespread calls for a full investigation from fans, former players, official sporting bodies and senior politicians including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
On Sunday, the resignations of Smith and vice-captain David Warner were announced in a statement from Cricket Australia.
“Following discussions with Steve Smith and David Warner they have agreed to stand down as Captain and Vice-Captain respectively for the remainder of this Test match,” said CEO James Sutherland.
“Cricket Australia and Australian cricket fans expect certain standards of conduct from cricketers representing our country, and on this occasion these standards have not been met.”
Tim Paine took over the captaincy for the rest of the Test match, which South Africa went on to win by the overwhelming margin of 322 runs to take a 2-1 lead in the four-match series.
In a news conference earlier Smith, 28, admitted to concocting a plan to tamper with the ball, by rubbing dirt onto the surface to cause it to swerve unpredictably in the air. The method goes against cricket’s code of conduct and is considered illegal within the sport.
Later on Sunday, the International Cricket Council – the sport’s governing body – suspended Smith for one match and took away his match fee, while Bancroft, 25 was fined 75% of his match fee, warned for his part in the affair as well as being hit by three demerit points.
Smith revealed that the idea of tampering with the ball was first raised at lunch Saturday and concocted by an unnamed “leadership group.”
He said Lehmann and the other coaching staff were not aware of the plan.
“It’s not what we want to see in the game, it’s not what the Australian cricket team is about,” a remorseful Smith said while sitting alongside Bancroft at a packed post-match press conference in South Africa.
“Being the leader of the team I’m incredibly sorry for trying to bring the game into disrepute the way that we did today. I’m not proud of what’s happened. It’s not within the spirit of the game.”
Smith vowed at the time he would not resign. “I won’t be considering stepping down…. I still think I’m the right person for the job,” he said.
“Today was a big mistake on my behalf and on the leadership group’s behalf as well but I take responsibility as the captain.”
Player ‘panicked’ when caught on camera
Bancroft told reporters he “panicked” when he realized his tampering had been spotted on camera, and shoved the yellow tape that he’d pressed against the ball down his trousers.
“I saw an opportunity to potentially use some tape to get some granules from the rough patches on the wicket and try to change the ball condition,” Bancroft said. “It didn’t work.”
Turnbull has shared his dismay over the ball tampering scandal, while the Australian Sports Commission called on Cricket Australia to act immediately.
Turnbull said he woke up “shocked and bitterly disappointed” after hearing the news of what had unfolded. He said he had spoken to Cricket Australia chairman David Peever to discuss the incident.
“It seemed completely beyond belief that the Australian cricket team had been involved in cheating,” he told reporters while visiting the aftermath of a town affected by recent bushfires in Australia.
“After all, our cricketers are role models. And cricket is synonymous with fair play.”
While he did not call for Smith to resign he said thought there should be “decisive action” soon.
Shortly after Turnbull’s comments the Australian Sports Commission issued a strongly worded statement calling on Cricket Australia to stand down the key players involved in the scandal.
The team’s head of integrity Iain Roy and performance manager Pat Howard are traveling to South Africa Sunday to investigate what happened.
“This is a sad day for Australian cricket,” he said. “I was extremely disappointed and shocked to hear the news this morning after the events in Cape Town yesterday,’ he said.
“We regard this is as an extremely serious issue,” he added.
As the scandal grew in Australia the hashtag #sandpapergate began trending on Twitter and former cricket players tweeted their disappointment over the team’s behavior.
Clarke: ‘It’s blatant cheating’
Former Australian captain Michael Clarke, who expressed his anger on Twitter, later told Sports Sunday, on the Nine network, said he believed Smith would be “sitting in his hotel room in tears.”
“I can’t believe the leadership group has made the decision to do this, that they’ve gone and got the young kid who’s played is eighth test match to do that… It’s pre-meditated cheating, it’s blatant cheating.”
The scandal occurred Saturday as South Africa strengthened their hold on the Third Test, building up a big overall lead in their second innings.
Ball tampering is taken very seriously and results in a level two charge under ICC rules.
The incident could lead to Bancroft from being suspended from the fourth Test in Johannesburg next week.
Peter FitzSimons, author and commentator, writing Sunday in an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, said what happened in South Africa was a “horror.”
“The horror of what happened in South Africa overnight was just how our national cricketing leadership could engage in such cold-blooded, premeditated , clear-eyed CHEATING. “..It’s wrong! It is not only against the spirit of the game, but is so far the other side of the laws of the game, it’s nudging up against the murder of cricket.”
He said not only was it wrong for Smith to “put the idea out there” but that no one around him had spoken up.
Roland Perry, Australian-based cricket expert and author, told CNN that, although the scandal showed a “lack of integrity,” it wasn’t as serious as other incidents which have hit the sport, including allegations of match-fixing.
“It’s a stupid thing they’ve done and they’ve got caught but at least they owned up to it – many don’t,” Perry said.
“I’ve been watching players get away with ball tampering for 50 years, so in my view what you are getting is a bit of a storm in a tea cup.
“Hopefully, because of the outrage it’s causing, it will put others off in the future.”