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Smith quits as captain of Royals after cheat uproar

 

By Robert Jones

Steve Smith has stood down as captain of the Rajasthan Royals over the ball-tampering row, the Indian Premier League franchise have announced.

Australia skipper Smith admitted to cheating during the third Test with South Africa after Cameron Bancroft was spotted on TV cameras attempting to change the condition of the ball illegally.

The ICC have banned Smith from the fourth and final Test which starts on Friday, as well as fining him his entire match fee for the third Test with his IPL franchise now announcing their intention to replace him as skipper ahead of the new season.

"It's in the best interest of the Rajasthan Royals that he steps down as captain so the team can get ready for the start of the IPL without the ongoing distractions," head of cricket Zubin Bharucha said in a short statement. Fellow batsman Ajinkya Rahane will replace him.

Many are now convinced his role as captain of the national team has become untenable with Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland set to arrive in South Africa today "to determine recommended outcomes".

CA's head of integrity Iain Roy and Pat Howard, head of team performance, landed in Cape Town yesterday morning to begin an investigation into events during Saturday's play and Sutherland intends to discover exactly what happened "as a matter of urgency".

The scandal has gripped the country with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling it "completely beyond belief" and "a shocking disappointment" while the Australian Sports Commission - the lead Government agency responsible for Australian sport - has called for Smith to be removed as captain immediately.

Bancroft was seen holding the ball when TV cameras caught him producing a flat bit of material - that he later confirmed was a strip of sticky tape - from his pocket, with slow-motion replays being shown both on TV coverage and on the big screen at Newlands, and Bancroft then put the tape into the front of his trousers in an attempt to hide it.

He said that it was his intention to use granules of dirt from the pitch on the sticky tape to try and roughen the dirty side of the ball, which would aid Australia's seam bowlers in being able to reverse-swing it.

Smith admitted afterwards that it was a decision taken by the "leadership group" within the team.

"The leadership group knew about it, we spoke about it at lunch," he said. "I am not proud of what has happened. It's not in the spirit of the game, my integrity and the integrity of the team has been damaged and rightfully so. It's not on and it won't happen again, I can promise you."

But Smith - who was not joined at the press conference by coach Darren Lehmann - also insisted that he will not step down as captain.

"The coaches weren't involved," Smith added. "It was purely the players and the leadership group."

To complete a miserable day, the embattled team lost the third test to South Africa in comprehensive fashion, as South Africa seamer Morne Morkel ripped through the visitors' batting line-up to inflict a 322-run defeat.

Morkel picked up five wickets for 23 runs as the hosts took a 2-1 lead in the four-match series.

Stand-in Australia captain Tim Paine, who was drafted in to lead the side after Smith and vice-captain David Warner stood down before the start of play on Sunday, apologised for the ball-tampering controversy that has overshadowed the Test.

"It's been a horrible 24 hours, difficult for all of us. I want to take this opportunity to apologise to our fans for what has happened," he said at the post-match presentation ceremony.

"We are disappointed, too, with the way we folded in the last two hours of what was a horrible Test match," added Paine, whose side lost 10 wickets after tea on day four to lose the test.

Meanwhile, Simon Jones fears Australia's ball tampering goes back far longer than the current Test against South Africa.

He has called on the ICC to launch a thorough inquiry as to whether Australia's mistreatment of the ball and blatant disregard for the spirit of the game goes back to the start of Smith's time as captain.

"This wasn't something that was cooked up overnight," said the 2005 Ashes hero.

"You wonder if this was happening during the Ashes - you wonder how long this has been going on for.

"Has this been part of their routine for years? All of a sudden, you look at series and games that they've won and you start to question everything.

"We've had match fixing, which is as bad as it gets, but ball tampering is a stain on our sport.

"What gets me is that it was pre-meditated. I don't like that at all. They planned it and that's not something we should be seeing in international sport.

"These lads are experienced enough, Smith has been the Aussie captain for a while now and you have to say to yourself, 'What on earth are they doing?' This isn't Under-15 cricket, this is a Test match in Cape Town.

"You're playing in South Africa, you're using Kookaburra balls and they're going to reverse anyway. Those balls stay new for about 15 overs and then they naturally wear anyway. It just beggars belief what they've done.

"This is bringing the game massively into disrepute. It's a disgrace and the ICC need to take action."

Relations between this South African side and the Australian tourists are already at an all-time low as a result of a spat between David Warner and Quinton de Kock, as a well as a fan who verbally abused him after his dismissal in the third Test.

Building bridges is now an urgent priority for England's Ashes conquerors. Smith may well have burnt his already.

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