Cape Town – Embattled Steve Smith was on Monday facing a career-defining week which is likely to see him deposed as Australia captain and slapped with a lengthy suspension after admitting being the mastermind of the ball-tampering scandal which has rocked cricket.
Smith, 28, stood down from his role as skipper for the remainder of the third Test against South Africa on Sunday and was then banned for one match by the ICC.
His team’s weekend of shame then ended in a crushing 322-run rout. Set an unlikely 430 to win, Australia were bowled out for a paltry 107 with fast bowler Morne Morkel taking five for 23.
Now Smith is expected to face a harsh sanction from under-pressure Cricket Australia for his role in the plot which saw teammate Cameron Bancroft tamper with the ball by using yellow sticky tape before desperately trying to conceal the evidence down the front of his trousers.
“A little birdie tells me that the weak ICC punishment isn’t anywhere near what Cricket Australia is thinking,” tweeted former England star Kevin Pietersen.
Smith, whose talents with the bat have drawn breathless comparisons with Aussie great Don Bradman, is not the only man caught in the crosshairs.
David Warner also stood down from his role as vice-captain on Sunday while questions remain over coach Darren Lehmann although Smith said the former Australian international was not involved in the conspiracy.
“It’s been a horrible 24 hours – I want to apologise to our fans and those back home,” said Tim Paine who was handed the stand-in skipper role on Sunday.
“We’re struggling but the reality and the enormity of what’s happened has probably started to sink in. I don’t think we expected this to be as big as it has been, the fall-out we have seen from back home.”
Smith, also docked 100 percent of his match fee by the ICC, will definitely miss the fourth and final Test in Johannesburg from Friday due to his ban.
However, Bancroft, the 25-year-old opening batsman, escaped an ICC suspension. He was instead fined 75 percent of his fee, warned and hit by three demerit points.
“The decision made by the leadership group of the Australian team to act in this way is clearly contrary to the spirit of the game, risks causing significant damage to the integrity of the match, the players and the sport itself and is therefore ‘serious’ in nature,” said ICC chief executive David Richardson.
“As captain, Steve Smith must take full responsibility for the actions of his players and it is appropriate that he be suspended.”
Smith, who was out for just seven runs on Sunday, Warner and Bancroft were loudly booed by fans during Australia’s second-innings surrender.
Australia’s admission of cheating brought a firestorm of anger down upon them.
“We all woke up this morning shocked and bitterly disappointed by the news from South Africa,” said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“It seemed completely beyond belief that the Australian cricket team had been involved in cheating.”
Cricket Australia (CA) chief James Sutherland issued an apology to fans.
“To our Australian cricket fans, we are sorry,” said Sutherland.
“This behaviour calls into question the integrity of the team and Cricket Australia.”
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis, who has himself twice been sanctioned for ball-related offences, gave Smith qualified support for coming clean.
“Obviously he’s trying to take responsibility so there is right in that but there’s also a right in that people are responsible for their own actions,” he said on Sunday.
“I don’t know what the right answer is but I can understand it’s a really tough time for him to be in right now.”
Smith had insisted on Saturday he wouldn’t resign the captaincy he has held for three years since succeeding Michael Clarke.
However, former wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist told Australian broadcaster Channel Ten the captaincy was a “tough position to hold after you have admitted to what you’ve admitted to and carry on with any faith from everyone watching”.
“Australian cricket now – and the integrity of Australian cricket – is the laughing-stock of the world.”
Former Australian seamer Jason Gillespie added in Britain’s Guardian newspaper: “Steve Smith’s time as Australia’s captain is surely up. It is impossible to envisage a scenario where he stays in the job. This is a train wreck.”
Smith admitted on Saturday to having committed “a big mistake” and took responsibility for Bancroft’s actions, admitting he was involved in planning the move at lunchtime with “the leadership group”.
“I’m not proud of what happened. It’s not in the spirit of the game,” he said.