Disgraced skipper Smith to face the music in Australia

Steve Smith surrounded by police as he is jeered at Johannesburg airport before flying back to Australia
AFP

Sydney (AFP) – Disgraced skipper Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner were heading home to an angry Australia Thursday after being banned for a year over a cheating scandal that has left their careers in tatters and sponsors deserting the game.

Cricket Australia said they had been suspended from “all international and domestic cricket” while opening batsman Cameron Bancroft was exiled for nine months over the ball-tampering incident during the third Test in South Africa.

Their fall from grace has been dramatic, and fast, with cricket chiefs bowing to uproar at home where sportsmen and women are held in high esteem and expected to act in the best interests of the game.

Authorities also needed to act decisively to counter mounting concern from sponsors over reputational damage.

CA’s response wasn’t enough to save an estimated Aus$20 million (US$15 million) partnership with naming rights sponsor Magellan which tore up its three-year contract Thursday after barely seven months.

“A conspiracy by the leadership of the Australian men’s Test cricket team which broke the rules with a clear intention to gain an unfair advantage during the third Test in South Africa goes to the heart of integrity,” said the fund manager’s chief Hamish Douglass.

“Regrettably, these recent events are so inconsistent with our values that we are left with no option but to terminate our ongoing partnership with Cricket Australia.”

The financial cost for the players is also growing with sporting goods company ASICS ending its relationship with Warner and Bancroft. Electronics giant LG axed Warner on Wednesday.

Other team sponsors, including Qantas and Commonwealth Bank, have voiced their deep disappointment over the scandal but so far have taken no action.

– Jeered at airport –

Smith, a golden boy compared to Donald Bradman for his batting exploits, is reportedly a broken man.

He was jeered as he made his way through Johannesburg airport on Wednesday surrounded by police and media and will face the music at home with a press conference scheduled for Thursday evening.

There are also concerns over his mental state in the current rabid climate, with coach Darren Lehmann calling for all three men to be “given a second chance”.

The Australian newspaper said Smith, used to being on a pedestal, had been a tearful wreck since the scandal broke and there were fears that his life might unravel during his exile.

“He deserves to feel the pain of exile,” the newspaper said. “But then another mission starts to ensure the grief that is crippling him at the moment does not destroy him.”

Former great Shane Warne, no stranger himself to controversy, offered the trio an olive branch despite days of a harsh and judgemental Australian public baying for blood.

“What the public wants to see is change. They want to see you be a better person,” he wrote in a column for the Sydney Daily Telegraph. “They’ll support you if they see that, and they’ll forgive you.”

– Misled the public –

Smith — the world’s number one Test batsman — was charged with knowledge of the potential ball-altering plan, while Warner was charged with developing the plot and instructing Bancroft to carry it out.

CA said Bancroft, who has played just eight Tests, had attempted to “artificially alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper”. 

CA added Smith had continued to try to cover up the plot by issuing “misleading public comments regarding the nature, extent and participants of the plan”.

In a further blow, it ruled Smith and Bancroft would not be considered for team leadership positions until a minimum of 12 months after the end of their suspensions, and Warner will never lead again.

While they are banned from top level cricket, they can still play at club level in Australia or in other countries.

However, both Smith and Warner have been ejected from this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), losing contracts worth nearly US$2 million each.

While they have been banished, Lehmann remains in charge because Cricket Australia said he was unaware of what was going on.

“As a coach you feel for them as people,” Lehmann said in Johannesburg.

“They are young men and I hope people will give them a second chance. Their health and well-being is extremely important to us. I worry about them mentally.”

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.

Matt Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns have been flown into Johannesburg to replace the exiled trio.

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