MELBOURNE, March 25 (Reuters) – Cricket Australia (CA) will not make a decision about the future of Steve Smith’s captaincy until it completes a probe into stunning ball-tampering revelations that have plunged the test team into crisis, CEO James Sutherland said on Sunday.
Sutherland’s comments came as a shocked nation digested news from South Africa that Smith and senior players conspired to change the condition of the ball using sticky tape and grit from the pitch during the third test in Cape Town.
Smith has said he was “embarrassed” by the scandal but had no intention of stepping down as skipper.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the incident a “shocking disappointment” and said he had urged CA Chairman David Peever to take prompt and decisive action.
“I have to say that the whole nation which holds those who wear the ‘baggy green’ up on a pedestal about as high as you can get in Australia, certainly higher than any politician that’s for sure, this is a shocking disappointment,” he told reporters.
“It’s wrong and I look forward to Cricket Australia taking decisive action soon.”
Former players and pundits have called on Smith to step down immediately, describing his position as “untenable”.
Sutherland, however, said the 28-year-old would continue to lead the side while the investigation played out.
“Steve Smith is currently the captain of the Australian team,” Sutherland told reporters in front of a huge media scrum outside CA’s Melbourne offices.
“We are working through a process and once we have a clearer picture of the facts and understand things once (CA head of integrity) Iain (Roy) submits his report we will be in a better position to make further comment.”
Smith, who has led the team since 2015 and is their best batsman, confessed to reporters in Cape Town on Saturday that the ball-tampering had been orchestrated by himself and senior players.
Opening batsman Cameron Bancroft, the most junior member in the side at 25, was tasked with implementing the plan and was duly caught on camera using the tape.
He has been charged by the International Cricket Council (ICC), which could lead to a one-match ban and a 100 percent fine of his match fee.
The cost to Australia’s reputation is immeasurably higher, however, with former players across the globe branding the team cheats and fans castigating the players on social media.
Michael Clarke, Smith’s predecessor as captain, said the revelations were “disgraceful” and that he had no doubt that the skipper would be “crying in his hotel room”.
“I can’t believe the senior players have made a decision to do that,” he told Australian television. “It’s disgraceful and it’s not accepted by anyone.”
Former captain Allan Border said it was a “a bad look for Australian cricket” while former test bowler Rodney Hogg said Smith could not continue in his role.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan hit out at the decision to use Bancroft to carry out the plan.
“What I find appalling in all this is the youngster got given the job,” he tweeted, adding that it was, “Disgraceful behaviour by senior pros”.
Sutherland described it as a “very sad for Australian cricket” and said fans had “every reason to wake up and not be proud of the Australian cricket team”.
However, the long-serving CEO declined to call the ball-tampering “cheating” and steered studiously clear of using the word.
The Australian Sports Commission said it condemned “cheating” of any form in sport and asked for Smith to be stood down while CA completes an investigation.
“The ASC expects and requires that Australian teams and athletes demonstrate unimpeachable integrity in representing our country,” it said in a statement.
“Given the admission by… Smith, the ASC calls for him to be stood down immediately by Cricket Australia, along with any other members of the team leadership group or coaching staff who had prior awareness of, or involvement in, the plan to tamper with the ball.”
Australian newspapers described the scandal as the worst captaincy crisis since 1981 when skipper Greg Chappell instructed younger brother Trevor to bowl underarm with the last ball in a one-day match against New Zealand to secure a victory.