Australian cricket investigation into cheating plot underway

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CAPE TOWN: Australian cricket’s investigation into the cheating plot that plunged its team into crisis and threatens the future of its captain and best player began on Monday after two senior officials arrived in South Africa to start work uncovering the extent of the rot.

Cricket Australia’s head of integrity Iain Roy and high-performance manager Pat Howard are in Cape Town to lead the investigation.

After arriving, Roy “will immediately conduct his inquiries around the specifics of the ball tampering incident,” the Australian cricket body said.

The initial part of the investigation will likely be done at the Australian team’s luxury Cape Town waterfront hotel, where they are holed up ahead of traveling to Johannesburg for the final test of the series.

Captain Steve Smith, who has temporarily stepped down, confessed to being part of a player “leadership group” that came up with a plan to cheat by tampering with the ball during play on Saturday in the third test against South Africa in Cape Town. Cameron Bancroft, a newcomer to the team, admitted that he was the player tasked with doing the on-field tampering, roughing up the ball with a piece of yellow adhesive tape and some dirt stuck to it in a desperate attempt to give the Australian bowlers an unfair advantage.

Roy and Howard will investigate, among other things, who else formed the “leadership group” Smith referred to. Smith refused to name names at the time.

Like Smith, vice-captain David Warner temporarily stood down from his role a day after the cheating, and is implicated in being part of the plot by doing that. Tough questions have also been asked by the Australian media over the involvement of coach Darren Lehmann, and if he knew about the plan.

“We know Australians want answers and we will keep you updated on our findings and next steps, as a matter of urgency,” Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said.

Sutherland was also traveling to South Africa and CA said it expected to provide some answers to an outraged Australian public by Tuesday evening South African time, Wednesday morning back home in Australia.

The boss’s decision to head to South Africa himself underlined the severity of the scandal. He said he expected to receive a report from Roy and Howard in Johannesburg on Tuesday after the team travels there from Cape Town.

Cricket Australia chairman David Peever asked for a little patience to carry out the investigation with “due diligence”, with cricket-mad Australians, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, demanding answers and action with the reputation of their favorite sporting team in tatters.

Smith was banned for the last match of the series by the International Cricket Council, a punishment viewed as lenient by some but which was in line with ICC protocols. Cricket Australia may not be so kind on Smith, who has endured a steep and sudden fall from his position as the golden boy of Australian cricket and the top-ranked test batsman in the world.

Bancroft received disciplinary demerit points from the ICC, but not enough to be banned. Again, that’s been seen as insufficient after he was caught in the act of tampering with the ball on the field by television cameras in a highly embarrassing moment for a team seen as a giant in world cricket. Bancroft’s attempt to hide the evidence by shoving the small piece of tape down the front of his trousers and then trying to deceive the umpires by claiming innocence exacerbated the fallout.

Smith and Warner are in danger of being fired permanently from their positions and even expelled from the team. Bancroft could also be in for harsher punishment from Cricket Australia.

In a front-page headline reflecting the mood of a nation, which feels betrayed, one Australian newspaper said: “Sack them all.”

A team on the other side of the world had already taken action against Smith, indicating the far-reaching effect of his actions.

Smith was replaced as captain of the Rajasthan Royals, a lucrative position for him in the Indian Premier League. Royals head of cricket Zubin Bharucha said “the incident in Cape Town has certainly disturbed the cricket world.”

Former Australia captain Michael Clarke said Smith and the team, whatever punishments are handed out, faced a long road back in the eyes of the Australian public.

“I know (it’s) really hard for a lot of people and it’s going to take a lot of time, and I accept that, but forgiveness,” Clarke said in comments from a TV interview posted, interestingly, on Cricket Australia’s official website. “I do feel for Steve Smith. One hundred per cent he’s made a major mistake and he with a lot of people are going to have to suffer the consequences and I think that’s fair enough.

“But I think it’s important that we do, over time, forgive as well.”— AP

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