CAPE TOWN, (Reuters) – South Africa opened up a potentially match-winning lead on day three of the third test on Saturday as Australia captain Steve Smith admitted his side tampered with the ball in a confession that sent shockwaves through the sport.
In an extraordinary news conference after the day’s play, Smith and Australia batsman Cameron Bancroft confessed to a plan to use sand stuck to tape to alter the condition of the ball in an effort to produce more swing.
Bancroft has been charged with a Level Two offence by the International Cricket Council, but whether Smith will face any sanction after admitting to hatching the plot along with the team’s “leadership group” remains to be seen.
South Africa will resume their second innings on 238 for five on Sunday, already with a potentially match-winning lead of 294 on a deteriorating wicket that is offering assistance to the bowlers.
AB de Villiers is not out on 51 and will resume on the fourth morning with Quinton de Kock, on 29, as the pair look to push the lead past 350 runs at least with two full days remaining and sunshine predicted.
But the headline issue in an already tempestuous series in which five players have been sanctioned and Australia complained of “disgraceful” South African supporters verbally abusing their players, was the admission of the touring side that they tried to cheat in a plot hatched at lunch on the third day.
This came to light after Bancroft, the most junior member of the side and the player tasked with carrying out the plan, was caught on camera rubbing a yellow object against the ball.
He was then shown hastily putting the object down the front of his trousers before speaking to on-field umpires Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth, who had been alerted to the suspicious behaviour.
Bancroft turned out his pockets and showed the umpires a black piece of cloth before play continued and the hosts tightened their hold on the match.
The ICC announced its intention to charge Bancroft at the close of play and he faces a maximum punishment of a 100 percent fine of his match fee and four demerit points, which would trigger an automatic one-match ban.
“I’m embarrassed, the boys in the shed are embarrassed and I feel for Cam as well,” Smith told reporters.
“It is not what we want to see in the game, it’s not what the Australian cricket team is about. Being the leader of the team I am incredibly sorry for trying to bring the game into disrepute like we did today.”
The four-match series is poised at 1-1, with the final test due to start in Johannesburg on Friday.