'Forgive them': Smith, Warner head home in disgrace


Johannesburg (AFP)

Disgraced Australia skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were heading home Thursday to confront mounting anger over the cheating scandal that has left both men banned for a year, their careers in tatters and cricket rocked to its foundations.

But as the two players also count the financial cost of their suspensions, there were calls from coach Darren Lehmann for them to be "given a second chance", adding that he fears for their long-term mental health in the current rabid climate.

Cricket Australia (CA) said Smith, 28, and 31-year-old Warner had been suspended from "all international and domestic cricket" while opening batsman Cameron Bancroft has been banned for nine months over the ball-tampering incident during the third Test in South Africa.

CA said in a statement that Bancroft, 25, who has played just eight Tests, had attempted to "artificially alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper".

Smith -- the world's number one Test batsman -- was charged with knowledge of the potential plan but Warner was charged with developing the plan and instructing Bancroft to carry it out.

The CA statement said Smith and Bancroft would not be considered for team leadership positions until a minimum of 12 months after the end of their suspensions, but Warner will be barred from such positions in the future.

Cricket Australia told AFP the players could still play at club level in Australia or in other countries.

However, both Smith and Warner have been ejected from this year's Indian Premier League (IPL), losing contracts worth nearly $2 million each.

- 'Sanctions' -

Although Smith, Warner and Bancroft have been banished, Lehmann remains in charge because Cricket Australia said he was unaware of the plot to tamper with the ball.

"As a coach you feel for them as people," Lehmann said Wednesday in his first public comments on the scandal.

"They are hurting and I feel for them and their families. There is a human side to this. They have made a mistake as everyone else, including myself, has made mistakes in the past.

"They are young men and I hope people will give them a second chance. Their health and well-being is extremely important to us. I worry about them mentally."

It is a dramatic fall from grace for Smith, who has been compared to Don Bradman, the Australian widely recognised as the finest batsman in history.

The 28-year-old averages more than 61 in 64 Tests with 23 centuries, putting him in the top bracket of players.

Australian great Shane Warne said the players had been harshly treated and the punishment does not fit the crime, referring to a "tornado of hysteria" in a post on Facebook.

"Their opposing captain in this series, South Africa's Faf du Plessis, has been charged with the offence twice and opening bowler Vernon Philander once," he wrote.

"The list of players who have been charged with ball-tampering is long and contains some of the biggest names in the game."

Wicketkeeper Tim Paine will take over the Australian captaincy for the fourth and final Test starting in Johannesburg on Friday, with hosts South Africa leading a bad-tempered series 2-1.

Matt Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns have been flown into Johannesburg to replace the exiled trio.

Smith had already been suspended for one Test and docked his entire match fee by the International Cricket Council.

He said after the third Test, which South Africa won by 322 runs, that the team's "leadership group" had been aware of the plan.

However, CA chief executive James Sutherland has insisted Lehmann was not involved.

Warner, a divisive figure in the world game, has become the focus of Australian media, who blame him for the scandal.

The Australian newspaper said there had been a "fierce feud" in the dressing room sparked by Warner's alleged testimony to Cricket Australia's integrity officers, with pace spearheads Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood reportedly livid at being implicated.

It said they felt he was willing to blame them to take the heat off himself, with emotions so raw that Warner may never be welcomed back.

But the hard-hitting opening batsman, 31, will also be an enormous loss for Australia -- he is ranked fifth in the world with a Test average approaching 50.

Sponsors have voiced "deep concern" over reputational damage with electronics giant LG dropping Warner as brand ambassador.