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JOHANNESBURG, March 26, (AFP): Cricket faces one of the toughest weeks in its history as the backlash grows over Australian ball-tampering, a scandal that could cost Steve Smith not only the Test captaincy but a potential life ban.
The Marylebone Cricket Club, the guardian of the laws of the game, called for a “major shift in attitude” to preserve the game for future generations.
“The behaviour of some of the players in the current South Africa/Australia series, and other incidents in recent times in the game we all cherish, has fallen well below the standard required to inspire future generations of cricket-loving families,” the MCC said.
Australian captain Smith was banned for one Test and docked his entire match fee by the International Cricket Council for his role in a plot that saw team-mate Cameron Bancroft tamper with the ball during the third Test against South Africa which ended in a crushing 322-run defeat for the visitors.
Smith, who is on a $1.9-million contract with Indian Premier League side Rajasthan Royals, was also replaced as skipper of the IPL outfit on Monday, ahead of the season starting April 7.
“Rajasthan Royals will do everything possible to protect the values and the integrity of the game,” said the team’s co-owner Manoj Badale.
“What happened in South Africa was clearly wrong, especially given that it appears to have been pre-meditated.”
Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland, under mounting pressure to take responsibility for what Australian media has dubbed a “rotten” team culture, will arrive in South Africa early Tuesday where he will meet up with the body’s head of integrity, Iain Roy.
“We are aiming to be in a position to fully update the Australian public on the investigation and outcomes on Wednesday morning,” said Sutherland.
“We recognise how important the fans are to our game, and this process is the beginning of restoring your faith in Australian Cricket.”
Smith was removed from the captaincy for the remainder of the third Test against South Africa on Sunday after the shock admission that he and senior team members plotted to cheat, and his one-match ban means he will miss the fourth and final Test in Johannesburg starting Friday.
The 28-year-old is now expected to face a harsh sanction from Cricket Australia for his role in the ball-tampering plan, which saw Bancroft use a strip of yellow sticky tape he’d covered with dirt granules to illegally scratch the rough side of the ball, thereby facilitating more swing for bowlers.
Bancroft was filmed not only rubbing the ball with the dirtied tape but also concealing the evidence down the front of his trousers.
A charge of conduct contrary to the spirit of the game includes a possible life ban.
Smith, whose talents with the bat have drawn comparisons with Aussie great Don Bradman, and all members of the team will remain in South Africa to assist in the investigation.
David Warner also stood down from his role as vice-captain, while questions remain over coach Darren Lehmann although Smith said the former Australian international was not involved in the conspiracy.
Smith initially said the decision was made by the leadership group within the team, but reports in Australia said Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, seen as among those senior figures, were not involved and angry at being implicated.
“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.
“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.”
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 admission of cheating lead Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to say he was “shocked and bitterly disappointed”. In scathing commentaries Monday, Australian media said the team had heaped “disgrace and humilation” on the country, while sponsors also weighed in.
“This is deeply disappointing and certainly not what anyone expects from our national cricket team,” airline Qantas, whose logo is on the team shirts in South Africa, told AFP in Sydney. “We are in discussions with Cricket Australia as this issue unfolds.”