Former South African captain Faf du Plessis has claimed that he was suspicious of Australia doing something untoward even before the ball-tampering saga in March 2018. The classy right-handed batter expressed sympathy for Steve Smith, stating that the Proteas have also 'pushed boundaries.'
Smith, Cameron Bancroft, and David Warner were in the thick of things as Australia were caught tampering with the ball during the the third Test in Cape Town. As a result, Smith and Warner copped a year-long ban from all cricket, while Cameron Bancroft faced it for nine months.
In his book 'Faf through Fire,' scheduled for release on October 28, Du Plessis mentioned how well Australia reverse swung the ball in the first Test in Durban. The veteran cricketer revealed that the changing room was more vigilant, having noticed the ball go to Warner more often than not:
"During the first Test in Durban, the Australian pace attack had got the ball to reverse insanely. Mitchell Starc claimed nine wickets and, although I regard him as one of the best proponents of reverse-swing bowling I have ever seen or faced, those deliveries in Durban were borderline unplayable.
"Our balls had also reversed but not nearly as much as theirs. We now know that there was an obvious reason for that. There was a visible difference between how Mitchell Starc got the ball to reverse in the first Test in Durban and the final Test in Johannesburg."
Du Plessis continued:
"He would come in around the wicket with a badly deteriorated ball and get it to hoop past us. Our balls had also reversed but not nearly as much as theirs.
"We suspected that someone had been nurturing the ball too much to get it to reverse so wildly, and we watched the second Test at St George’s through binoculars, so that we could follow the ball more closely while Australia was fielding.
"When we noticed that the ball was going to David Warner quite often – our changing room must have looked like a birdwatching hide as we peered intently through our binoculars."
After investigating the matter, Cricket Australia revealed that then vice-captain Warner came up with the plan and got Bancroft to tamper with the ball. They also unveiled that while skipper Smith knew about it, but didn't make an effort to prevent the act.
"Personally, I don’t think Steve Smith did much wrong" - Faf du Plessis
Faf du Plessis also expressed sympathy for Steve Smith while speaking about the incident. He revealed that he reached out to the Australian after the latter publicly confessed to tampering with the ball, stating:
"Personally, I don’t think Steve Smith did much wrong. It’s no secret that all cricket teams want the ball to reverse. Not everyone knows how to accomplish this, especially not inexperienced players. But everyone knows it’s wrong to change the condition of the ball. We, too, have pushed those boundaries."
Du Pleassis added:
"Steve Smith and I have never been friends but we always played a hard game against each other, and Steve had been willing to defend me publicly in 2016 when ‘Mintgate’ broke. I texted him that evening [in Cape Town]: 'Message of support. Gone through this myself. It is a terrible experience when they attack your character. Hang in there. It will blow over.'"
Australia's bowling unit of Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins notably declared that they did not know of the ball-tampering tactics. Their comments came after Bancroft had suggested otherwise.
Steve Smith's two-year ban from leadership duties ended in 2020 and he was even named Australia's Test vice-captain last year.