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Ball-tampering scandal a 'train wreck' for under-fire team

 

By Mark Staniforth

The "friendless" Australian cricket team and under-fire captain Steve Smith have been described as a "train wreck" as the sport comes to terms with their ball-tampering confession.

Former Australian pace bowler Jason Gillespie was just one voice to call for Smith's captaincy to end in the wake of the controversy, saying it was "impossible to envisage a scenario where he stays in the job".

Criticism in the wake of Cameron Bancroft's attempt to manipulate the ball with sticky tape and debris from the pitch on day three of the Third Test against South Africa in Cape Town was not restricted to the cricketing world either.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull labelled the incident a "shocking disappointment" and called on Cricket Australia to take "decisive action" as the governing body launches an investigation.

Smith will not captain the side in the Fourth and final Test which starts on Friday, banned for one match by the International Cricket Council and fined his entire match fee after a personal intervention from chief executive Dave Richardson.

Smith and vice-captain David Warner stepped down from their roles for the fourth day of play in the third Test - in which a deflated Australia collapsed to defeat by 322 runs - but both of their long-term futures remain under scrutiny.

"Steve Smith's time as Australia captain is surely up," Gillespie - a taker of 259 Test wickets - wrote in the Guardian.

"This is a train wreck. This was pre-planned cheating."

Smith absolved coach Darren Lehmann of blame when the saga blew up on Saturday, saying a group of senior players were the drivers of it.

"Who is this leadership group? Were the coaches involved? We need this information and we needed it yesterday," Gillespie added. Lehmann has yet to comment while ex-England spinner Graeme Swann said the Australians had brought the fall-out upon themselves for acting as guardians of the game.

"You have to remember that this Australia team are so friendless in cricket because of the way they've carried on, and especially Warner," he said.

"They've set themselves as this higher than high, this pious team who look down at everyone and set the benchmark for what is right and wrong in cricket, when everyone who's played against them knows that's an absolute joke."

The South African fans made their feelings known as they booed Bancroft, Smith and Warner to and from the crease at Newlands yesterday.

None of them hung around either, with Australia losing 10 wickets after tea to fall to a heavy defeat.

Tim Paine was promoted to captain for the day, saying at the post-match press conference that Smith and Bancroft were "struggling" after "an absolutely horrible 24 hours".

He added: "I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise."

Richardson, who charged Smith with a serious breach of the spirit of the game, delivered a strident statement on recent developments.

"As captain, Steve Smith must take full responsibility," he said.

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