Australia's already-battered reputation hits a nadir

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'Australian players should hang their heads in shame'
'Australian players should hang their heads in shame' © Getty

Australian cricket is in full blown crisis and it doesn't get much worse than this. In an extraordinary press conference after day three of the Cape Town Test, captain Steve Smith admitted that Australia deliberately tried to tamper with the condition of the ball to gain an advantage.

Cameron Bancroft, the most inexperienced member of the team, has been charged by the match officials after he was directed by the leadership group to carry out a misguided ruse. A forlorn Smith admitted in the sombre presser that it was a grave error of judgement and that his team had never done this before. He vowed it would never happen again and that Australia would learn from it.

Smith deserves some credit for fronting up at the first opportunity but, unfortunately, the damage has been done. Simply put, Smith was at the helm of a premeditated plan to cheat and there must be consequences.

Smith was bullish that he would not step down as captain but the scrutiny will intensify as stunned Australians wake up to the disturbing news. His credibility is in tatters and Australia's already battered reputation has hit a nadir.

The problem with cheating is that it casts doubt on all and sundry. At the press conference, Smith was asked about Mitchell Starc's brilliant reverse swing bowling in Durban and whether that was achieved through the aid of ball tampering. Smith strongly refuted any suggestions, but inevitably eyebrows are raised with Australia being muddied after rolling in the dirt on day three.

Likewise, moving forward, exceptional reverse swing bowling from an Australian will be cast into doubt. It will take a fair time to remove the stains from this ugly episode.

Under the ICC's laws, players charged with ball tampering have recently escaped with fines so there is a possibility that Bancroft - and likely Smith who admitted guilt - could escape a ban. But Cricket Australia (CA) has a major dilemma as it starts dealing with the fallout and will need to determine its own way of sorting this sordid mess.

James Sutherland, CA's long-time chief executive, faces one of the toughest moments of his tenure. There will be fierce calls to sack Smith but it still feels somewhat unlikely CA will go ahead with that dramatic measure. A suspension could be more likely although one wonders if that is the requisite strong message needed to ensure this type of behaviour is not tolerated.

So desperate to win amid this cauldron environment that has engulfed Australia's tour off South Africa, Smith has unwisely resorted to unethical measures. Perhaps all the continuing controversies has taken its toll on him but, whichever way you spin it, Smith will be greatly tarnished by this sinister act and it casts into question his leadership traits.

Outside of Smith and Bancroft, it is murky. Smith was not forthcoming in naming who was part of the 'leadership group' concocting this brainless plan. He was adamant that none of the coaches were involved but scepticism will hover over Darren Lehmann, who is normally such a hands-on coach.

Television footage suggested there was communication between Lehmann and 12th man Peter Handscomb, who shortly after relayed a message to Bancroft. One day after he publicly criticised the behaviour of South African fans, Lehmann did not front the press alongside Smith and Bancroft, but he surely needs to address the situation immediately to clear the air.

In a silver lining, it is now an opportune time for CA to address the team's overall conduct and behaviour, which has been the subject of much debate on this tour. Australian players often talk about not "crossing the line" but, quite clearly, they have no clue where that line is. There is very little self-awareness and their antics have become grating even for many of their ardent supporters. It is high time for cricket chiefs to address the team's culture and, quite frankly, make them likeable and respected again.

Unfortunately, it means the result of the third Test and series is almost an afterthought now. That's just too bad because the action - away from the white noise - has been riveting, but the series has descended into farce now.

Australian players should hang their heads in shame. They have embarrassed themselves and the nation but it remains to be seen if heads will roll. The Australian cricket team is officially at rock bottom and it is a long climb back to respectability from here.




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