Australia in turmoil over cricketers' ball-tampering shame


Melbourne (AFP)

Sports-loving Australia is in uproar over the ball-tampering scandal that has ensnared the national cricket team in South Africa with demands for heads to roll.

It's been called the most shameful chapter in Australian cricket since Australian captain Greg Chappell infamously directed his brother Trevor to bowl the final ball of a tense one-day international underarm against New Zealand in 1981.

Australia captain Steve Smith and team-mate Cameron Bancroft sensationally admitted to ball-tampering charges during the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday.

Smith, acclaimed by some as the best Australian batsman since the immortal Don Bradman, confirmed that Bancroft's illegal actions to scuff up the ball were done with the full knowledge of the team's leadership group.

The admission as Australia battled to save the third Test detonated a nuclear fall-out back home with calls for Smith to resign as captain and scrutiny of coach Darren Lehmann's role in the murky affair.

Former Test paceman Rodney Hogg demanded via social media:"Unfortunately this is blatant cheating and Steve Smith will have to step down as Australian captain."

Cricket writer Robert Craddock weighed in: "Steve Smith's reputation ? and that of his team ? will never recover from this episode.

"If he is axed as captain ? and there is a strong push for it ? there can be no excuses."

But instead Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland on Sunday said he will wait for an internal investigation to determine if Smith or any of his teammates will receive additional sanctions.

Smith and Lehmann have been criticised throughout the acrimonious Test series in South Africa for condoning over-exuberant wicket celebrations, aggressive sledging and off-field confrontations.

Under Lehmann's leadership the Australian team's image, at home and abroad, has taken a battering, prompting one opinion writer at cricket web-site Cricinfo to pose the question:

"Why is it that whenever there is an epic-proportion bust-up in international cricket, Australians are almost always involved?"

Lehmann once wrote of his hard-nosed coaching philosophy:"We want to play within the rules but we will play aggressive, in-your-face cricket which was a trademark of (other) eras.

"When Australian teams are performing at their best they are playing right on the edge. That is the Aussie way."

Senior player Nathan Lyon even spoke before the current South Africa Test series of trying to "headbutt the line", now the Australian team appear to have well and truly crossed it.

Abrasive opening batsman David Warner, one of the team's leadership group, also made headlines during the series with a stairwell confrontation with Proteas wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock over what he claimed was a derogatory comment about his wife.

Lehmann has a little more than a year of his contract remaining, but along with Smith, in his 34th Test as captain, will be under the gun over this shameful trangression.

Former players voiced their disgust over the seismic news from Cape Town.

Fast bowler Craig McDermott tweeted: "Disappointing and disgraceful... a shocking day for the baggy green", while Michael Clarke, who preceded Smith as Australia captain, said on social media "WHAT THE ........ HAVE I JUST WOKEN UP TO. Please tell me this is a bad dream."

Clarke, who retired after Australia's losing Ashes series of 2015, said he would consider returning if asked, following the incident which he described as "disgraceful".

"If I was asked by right people, then I would think about my answer," Clarke said on television Sunday.