Australian captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft have been punished severely by Cricket Australia for tarnishing the country's image on the global stage. The pre-devised plan to alter the shape of the ball illegally failed spectacularly as Bancroft was caught red handed on cameras, which ultimately led to the shocking confession from his captain Steve Smith.
After being sent back home mid-tour from South Africa, Smith broke down while admitting his mistakes in an emotional press conference.
Here is a blow-by-blow account of the entire saga, starting right from the roots:
What led to the incident
Australia and South Africa headed into the third test match at Cape Town with the series all square at 1-1.
The previous two Tests were played at high intensity with loads of exchanges between players, which even led to South African pacer Kagiso Rabada being banned for the final two matches for barging into Steve Smith while celebrating his wicket. The decision though was ultimately overturned due to lack of concrete evidence.
Smith said he was astonished that the judicial commissioner didn't ask for his consultation when reviewing Rabada's penalty, as Smith was the affected party.
In the third Test, South African gained a substantial first innings lead of 56 on a tricky pitch and moved into lunch on Day 3 with a comfortable lead of over 120 runs with 9 wickets in hand. With the game and the series slowly slipping out of their hands, Australia's 'leadership group' decided to take matters back into their own hands and hatched a plan during the interval.
The on-field drama
Bancroft was caught on TV cameras using a small, yellow object to rub the rough side of the ball, which is against the law of the game, and then placing the object in his pocket. When the Australian team management realized that the TV cameras had caught the illegal methods of the Aussie, the coach Darren Lehmann communicated this to substitute Peter Handscomb on the sidelines, who proceeded to inform Bancroft of the same. This led to the terrified Bancroft pulling his pants down and tucking the object into it.
When the umpires Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth intervened to have a discussion about the situation, Bancroft removed a bigger, black cloth in place of the material that he had just placed down his pants. The umpires quite surprisingly let the matter rest and continued with the game instead of changing the ball or awarding a penalty of 5 runs, which is the on-field penalty for illegally altering the condition of the ball.
The sensational press-conference on Day 3 in Cape Town
An official charge by match referee Andy Pycroft on Bancroft led to him joining captain Smith at the press-conference, and confessing to cheating. The skipper admitted that desperation drove them towards adopting illegal means to gain an advantage, in a move that they would live to regret.
Shockingly, Smith also revealed that the move was a pre-meditated one that was formulated by the 'leadership group' during the interval, with the onus on Bancroft to execute it in the middle. He, however, refused to name the members of the leadership group.
Despite apologizing and accepting the blame for the mistake he committed, Smith claimed that he was still the best man to lead the Australian team. However, it was only a matter of time before things began to heat up.
Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the incident a "shocking disappointment". Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said that this was a reason for every Australian to be disappointed with the Australian cricket team. The Australian Government called for Smith to be removed as the captain.
A few minutes before the start of the fourth day's play in a Test match that had by now lost significance, Smith and Warner were asked to stand down from their positions as captain and vice-captain respectively. Wicket-keeper Tim Paine, a man who was not in the Test squad four months ago, was named as the interim captain.
Former players and pundits from around the world condemned the actions committed by the players. Fans were outraged with the crime committed by the players and some even compared it to spot-fixing, though that was going a few steps too far.
The Test match
The third Test ended with a flat and demoralized Australia suffering a crushing 322-run defeat. The Australian team, chasing a record 430-run target, embarrassingly collapsed from 57 for no loss to 107 all out. All this slipped into obscurity though, with the ball-tampering saga now the prime focus.
Punishment from ICC
The ICC gave Smith the maximum penalty for tampering with the ball on the third day of the Newlands Test. He was handed a one-match ban and fined 100% of his match fee. Bancroft, the player who had actually tampered the ball, was given three demerit points and fined 75% of his match fee.
Most people felt the ICC had made the wrong decision by sticking to the rules and letting the players off lightly for a serious infringement of rules.
The statement and punishment from Cricket Australia
After allegations that the guilty players could be handed life bans, CA banned Warner and Smith from playing international and domestic cricket for a year for their pre-meditated roles in the ball tampering saga. Bancroft, the player who had actually committed the crime, was banned for nine months as CA believed he was pushed into the act by his superiors.
In addition to this, Smith and Bancroft have been banned from captaincy for a further 12 months, whereas Warner, who was identified by CA to be the man behind it all, has been banned for life from all leadership roles.
Though banned from international and first-class cricket, Smith, Warner and Bancroft are all permitted to play club cricket during their bans.
In the meantime, Smith and Warner, who were the captains of Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, have also been banned from IPL 2018.
How did the leadership group comprise only of the captain and vice-captain?
It's extremely surprising that CA named only three offenders in their report. Smith had clearly mentioned that it was a united decision taken by the leadership group, and it's puzzling how this leadership group comprised only of himself and his deputy, Warner.
Senior players like Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, who have also been part of this group in recent times, have not been named in this saga. The most shocking part of all is that Darren Lehmann, the coach who has always been at the forefront of things, was not in the mix.
It's bewildering to think how all this could have played out in the dressing room on lunch on Day 3 with only the three players caught being involved, and the complete absence of the other players and the management from the devious plan. Further analysis and investigations might unearthen truths that are yet to be exposed.
However, for the sake of the cricketing community, we sincerely hope that the story ends with the three disgraced players getting banned, instead of more dirt being pulled up around the rest of the team too.
The heart-breaking press conferences on arrival back home
A visibly heart-broken Smith broke down while claiming 'full responsibility' of the incident that occured under his leadership. He apologised to the whole of the cricketing family and the fans across the world. He continued to claim that this was the first occurence of such a devious plan being plotted by his team, and went on to assure that this will never happen again.
Smith expressed hoped that this incident will serve as a good lesson for the others and said that he will do everything possible to make up for the mistake and damage caused by him. A distraught Smith confessed to have let down all the kids who adore this beautiful game and also his parents who had brought him up.
Bancroft appeared at the press conference at the WACA in the presence of his mother and his state coach, Justin Langer. He admitted that he used sandpaper to alter the ball's condition under his deposed vice-captain David Warner's instructions. He cursed himself for giving away his hard earned spot for free.
Most importantly, he confessed to lying in his previous press conference. Having initially stated that he had used yellow tape to get rid of the dirt off the ball, he admitted that he had indeed used sandpaper to change the condition of the ball.
Bancroft, however, refused to blame his superiors Smith and Warner for compelling him into committing this offence. He also said that he will fight hard to get back onto the cricket field at the end of his ban.
Meanwhile, Warner, who was yet to deliver an official press conference, gave his first public statement as he apologized for the mistakes he had committed and for his role in bringing a bad reputation to the game. He also stated that cricket fans will hear from him in a few days.
What does the future hold for the guilty trio?
The disgraced trio have spoilt their reputation with this incident and will now find it difficult to win back their fans. All three players will end up losing a precious year during their primes.
Smith, who is the No. 1 Test batsman in the world, will now fall behind his competitors Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Kane Williamson. Warner, who has been touted to be a future Australian captain after his exploits in the IPL with Sunrisers Hyderabad, can now never lead his nation ever again. Bancroft, the youngest member of the Australian squad who had just made it to the Australian team, has lost a wonderful opportunity to cement his position; he will have to work his way up the ladder through domestic cricket again.
The three will miss the limited-overs tours to England and Pakistan, matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and visits from South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Most importantly, they will be missing from India's tour of Australia later this year, which would give the Indians a golden chance to conquer their final frontier.
The punishments that have been handed out to all the three players seem apt, and each of them deserve it for their respective involvements. One-year bans are just about right for Smith and Warner for playing major roles in the plan to cheat. Young batsman Bancroft was rightly handed a reduced ban of nine months.
Warner, who has been completely banned from leadership roles in the future, has always carried the bad-boy image having been involved in numerous controversies since his debut. It is only right that he gets a serious punishment for being the protagonist in this scandal.
The only thing that remains to be seen is if more players were involved in the hatching of this evil scheme. For the safety of our sport, let's hope that this saga brings about a postivie change and that all players think twice before committing such crimes.