How Australia's cricket team hatched a plan to cheat

Steven Smith, Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine of Australia, from left, appeal a wicket on the first day of the third cricket test match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands Stadium, in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, March 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)
Steven Smith of Australia, right, in action on the third day of the third cricket test between South Africa and Australia at Newlands Stadium, in Cape Town, South Africa, Saturday, March 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)
Steven Smith of Australia and Mitchell Starc of Australia discuss strategy on the first day of the third cricket test match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands Stadium, in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, March 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The reputation of Australia's cricket team is in tatters after captain Steve Smith confessed to coming up with a plan with senior players to cheat South Africa by tampering with the ball in the third test.

Smith and Cameron Bancroft, the fielder chosen to carry out the tampering, admitted to cheating after Bancroft was caught on television using a piece of sticky tape to rub dirt into the ball, then trying to hide the tape down his trousers when umpires suspected something was up.

Here's a look at what happened on Saturday at Newlands.

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THE PLAN

At the lunch break on the third day of the third test in Cape Town, Australia is in trouble. South Africa leads by over 100 runs with just one wicket down, looks set to forge further ahead, and the ball isn't doing much to help Australia. With the series 1-1 with one more test to play after Cape Town, it's a crucial moment in a battle between the archrivals.

Skipper Smith and other senior Australia players — Smith referred to them as the "leadership group" but refused to name them — decide they will tamper with the ball when play restarts, a desperate attempt to get it to reverse swing and give their struggling bowlers an advantage. Smith said no members of the coaching staff knew about the players' intentions.

The Australians get some yellow sticky tape from a team kit bag, see if they can get some loose dirt from the pitch stuck to it when they're back out on the field, and then use it to rough up the ball.

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THE MAN

Bancroft, an opening batsman in his eighth test, is chosen as the player to do the tampering because he is in the vicinity of the discussion between the senior players in the dressing room, according to Smith.

Confessing later, Bancroft said he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time" but denied he was pressured into doing it. As a fairly low-profile player, Bancroft appears to be a good person to do the tampering as he wouldn't normally attract too much attention when Australia is fielding.

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STICKY POSITION

Sure enough, Bancroft hides the sticky tape in the pocket of his trousers. When he gets the chance, he collects some "granules" beside the pitch, sticks them to the tape, and uses it on the ball.

The problem is he's caught red-handed by television cameras, and it's replayed over and over on the big screen, in close up and slow-motion. The embarrassing images are also replayed on TVs all around the world.

Panicking when the on-field umpires become interested, Bancroft resorts to hiding the offending piece of yellow tape down the front of his trousers. He produces a harmless sunglasses bag from his pocket when approached by the umpires, and appears to have gotten away with it. But his desperate attempt to hide the evidence in his underwear is also caught by TV, and replayed multiple times.

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THE CONFESSION

Australia announces it won't be doing normal interviews immediately after the day's play with the host broadcasters, and appearing only at a news conference, at which it is unusually very late.

With overwhelming video evidence against them, Smith and Bancroft face the music at the conference, admitting everything in front of yet more television cameras. Smith said the players were desperate to try and gain some advantage because "we saw this game as such an important game."

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THE FALLOUT

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland has refused to take any immediate action against captain Steve Smith over the ball-tampering scandal, saying Sunday an investigative team has been sent to South Africa to look into all aspects before deciding what action to take.

Sutherland also refused to make comment on Steve Smith's long-term position as captain on Sunday, a position Smith, while embarrassed and regretful, had said he would not resign from.

"I still think I'm the right person for the job," Smith said. "Obviously today was a big mistake."

That would be a steep and sudden fall for Smith, currently the top test batsman in the world and the man who led Australia to a 4-0 Ashes rout just two months ago.

Misconduct charges brought by the International Cricket Council are also likely to be released on Sunday. Bancroft said he's been charged for ball tampering, which carries a penalty of 3-4 disciplinary points. If Bancroft receives the higher end of the punishment, he will be banned for the final test in Johannesburg.

Also intriguing is the role of Smith and the rest of the "leadership group." They could also face charges of bringing the game into disrepute. If vice-captain David Warner was part of the group, a logical presumption as the second most senior player in the team, a single demerit point would see him also banned for the final test. That could leave Australia without both of its opening batsmen.

The bigger picture is the public back home in Australia, who woke up to the embarrassing news. Australia's cricket team is its biggest sports team and as fiercely supportive as Australians are, they are also fiercely critical if the team has done wrong.

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