JOHANNESBURG, March 28, (AFP): Disgraced skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were Wednesday banned from playing cricket for Australia for a year over a cheating scandal that has rocked the sport and dragged their side’s reputation through the mud.
Both players have also been ejected from this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), losing contracts worth nearly $2 million each.
Cricket Australia (CA) said Smith and Warner had been suspended from “all international and domestic cricket” while opening batsman Cameron Bancroft has been banned for nine months over the ball-tampering incident during the third Test in South Africa.
CA said in a statement that Bancroft, 25, who has played just eight Tests, had attempted to “artificially alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper”. The aim would have been to generate more swing for Australia’s bowlers.
Smith — the world’s number one Test batsman — was charged with knowledge of the potential plan but Warner was charged with developing the plan and instructing Bancroft to carry it out.
The CA statement said Smith and Bancroft would not be considered for team leadership positions until a minimum of 12 months after the end of their suspensions, but Warner will be barred from such positions in the future.
Cricket Australia told AFP the players could still play at club level in Australia or in other countries.
All three players will also be required to undertake 100 hours of voluntary service in community cricket.
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said: “I am satisfied that the sanctions in this case properly reflect a balance between the need to protect the integrity and reputation of the game.”
Smith, Warner and Bancroft have been sent home from South Africa but coach Darren Lehmann remains in charge because Cricket Australia says he was unaware of the plot to tamper with the ball.
It is a dramatic fall from grace for Smith, who has been hailed by many as the best batsman since Australia’s Don Bradman, widely recognised as the finest player in history.
The 28-year-old averages more than 61 in 64 Tests with 23 centuries, putting him in the top bracket of players.
The scandal will also hit the players hard in the pocket, with Smith and Warner losing their contracts in the IPL, Smith with the Rajasthan Royals and Warner for Sunrisers Hyderabad.
But Australian great Shane Warne said the players had been harshly treated and the punishment does not fit the crime, referring to a “tornado of hysteria” in a post on Facebook.
“Their opposing captain in this series, South Africa’s Faf du Plessis, has been charged with the offence twice and opening bowler Vernon Philander once,” he wrote.
“The list of players who have been charged with ball-tampering is long and contains some of the biggest names in the game.”
Wicketkeeper Tim Paine will take over the Australian captaincy for the fourth and final Test starting in Johannesburg on Friday, with hosts South Africa leading a bad-tempered series 2-1 as Matt Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns fly to South Africa to replace the exiled trio.
Smith had already been suspended for one Test and docked his entire match fee by the International Cricket Council.
He said after the Test that the Australia team’s “leadership group” had been aware of the plan.
However, Sutherland has insisted Lehmann was not involved.
Warner, a divisive figure in the world game, has become the focus of Australian media, who blame him for the scandal.
The Australian newspaper said there had been a “fierce feud” in the dressing room sparked by Warner’s alleged testimony to Cricket Australia’s integrity officers, with pace spearheads Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood reportedly livid at being implicated.
It said they felt he was willing to blame them to take the heat off himself, with emotions so raw that Warner may never be welcomed back.
But the hard-hitting opening batsman, 31, will also be an enormous loss for Australia — he is ranked fifth in the world with a Test average approaching 50.
Sponsors have voiced “deep concern” over reputational damage with electronics giant LG dropping Warner as brand ambassador, amid fears other could follow suit.