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The seismic cricket fallout caused by scratching a ball

March 29, 2018

Former Australian cricket captain Steve Smith grimaces as he speaks to the media in Sydney, Thursday, March 29, 2018, after being sent home from South Africa following a ball tampering scandal. Smith and vice-captain David Warner were banned for 12 months while young batsman Cameron Bancroft received 9 months after an investigation into the Australian cricket team's cheating scandal identified Warner as the instigator of the ball tampering plan that unraveled in South Africa. (AP Photo/Steve Christo)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Seldom in sport has such a seemingly innocuous incident, rubbing a piece of sandpaper on the side of a leather ball, had such severe consequences.

The decision by three Australia cricketers to tamper illegally with the ball during a test in South Africa last weekend has brought down the three biggest figures in arguably the biggest team in the world, and sent the entire sport into some serious soul-searching.

The ball tampering episode even caused the International Cricket Council to announce on Thursday that it was launching a global review of player behavior in the game.

Here’s a look at the extent of the fallout from Australia’s cheating scandal:

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AUSTRALIA CAPTAIN STEVE SMITH: BANNED FOR 12 MONTHS

Australia captain Steve Smith broke down and cried at a news conference on his return home to Sydney, a figure vilified now by his cricket-obsessed country for his decision to allow the ball tampering to go ahead in the third test in Cape Town. Failing to put a stop to vice-captain David Warner’s plan to cheat has threatened to destroy Smith’s career.

One of the biggest stars of the game, and the best batsman in test cricket, Smith was banned for 12 months by Cricket Australia and will not be allowed to be the captain or vice-captain of the team for a further year after that. He has lost big sponsorship deals, too.

“I will regret this for the rest of my life. I am absolutely gutted. I hope in time I can earn back respect and forgiveness,” Smith said. As he broke down in tears, his father stood behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.

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VICE-CAPTAIN DAVID WARNER: BANNED FOR 12 MONTHS

Seen now as the chief culprit in the plot to cheat, David Warner was also banned for 12 months and — because of a history of disciplinary breaches — will never be allowed to hold a leadership role in the Australia team again.

At 31, Warner may not play for Australia again, especially if the allegations are true that his presence in the team became toxic after the cheating scandal broke, with teammates apparently turning against him for hatching the plot to cheat and then trying to avoid the blame.

Warner also returned home on Thursday. Through a statement on social media he apologized for his role in the plot and wrote: “I need to take a deep breath and spend time with my family, friends and trusted advisers.” The saga could force him into international retirement.

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BATSMAN CAMERON BANCROFT: BANNED FOR 9 MONTHS

Bancroft could be the biggest tragedy in a sorry mess. A 25-year-old opening batsman trying to establish himself in the team, he was pressured by Warner to hide the sandpaper in his pocket, take it out onto the field in Cape Town, and use it to rough up one side of the ball in an attempt to give the Australia bowlers an advantage. The plan didn’t even work and Bancroft was caught red-handed by television cameras, both in the act of tampering and then trying to hide the sandpaper down his trousers.

Bancroft was also emotional as he returned home in disgrace and apologized to his nation while holding back tears.

“People know I worked so hard to get to this point in my career and to have given up that chance is devastating,” Bancroft said.

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COACH DARREN LEHMANN: QUITS

Back in South Africa, with his broken team still due to play the fourth test against South Africa, coach Darren Lehmann announced suddenly on the eve of the game that he was quitting after that final test in Johannesburg.

Lehmann, who also cried as he addressed reporters, said he decided he was going to quit after watching the news coverage of Smith and Bancroft returning home, and watching the emotional turmoil they were going through.

“You think that you can keep going but the amount of abuse ... just takes its toll,” Lehmann said. “Everyone has their views, but they (the three players) made a mistake.”

Lehmann was cleared of any involvement in the cheating plot and said a day earlier that he wouldn’t step down. Weighed down by the scandal that happened under his watch, however, he felt he had no other option having sat up most of the night thinking it over.

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THE BOSS OF AUSTRALIAN CRICKET: HANGING ON

James Sutherland was forced to fly halfway across the world to deal with one of the most damaging episodes in Australian cricket. He insisted he would not resign but he’s ultimately responsible for the reputation of the national team, which is now in tatters. He’s facing mounting pressure at home.

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PLAYER BEHAVIOR IN CRICKET WORLD-WIDE: UNDER REVIEW

“Enough is enough,” International Cricket Council chief executive Dave Richardson wrote in a statement announcing a world-wide review into player behavior after a series of unsavory incidents in the game recently — not just in South Africa — which peaked with Australia’s ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town.

Richardson wrote that the last few weeks had been “perhaps one of the worst periods in recent memory for consistently poor player behavior.”

Cricket, and the rules that regulate player behavior on the field, was now set for a shake-up.

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Gerald Imray is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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