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JOHANNESBURG – Australia cricket captain Steve Smith and vice captain David Warner have been banned from playing for their country for 12 months, with Warner identified Wednesday as the instigator of the ball tampering plot in the test series in South Africa.
Cricket Australia also imposed a nine-month ban on Cameron Bancroft, who carried out the on-field tampering on the instructions of Warner and with the knowledge of skipper Smith.
Smith had earlier confirmed his punishment to The Associated Press and a small group of Australian reporters before leaving the tour of South Africa in disgrace.
Cricket Australia said Smith and Warner cannot play any first-class cricket — at international or provincial level — in Australia for a year. They would be permitted to play for their clubs in city-level leagues. Bancroft has similar limitations during his nine-month ban.
Smith can't captain Australia for at least at least after his playing suspension expires, Cricket Australia ruled. It also said Warner, the pugnacious batsman who has a series of disciplinary breaches in his past, can't ever captain or be vice captain of an Australia team again.
In one intriguing detail, CA said that Bancroft used "sandpaper" to tamper with the ball on day three of the third test against South Africa in Cape Town last weekend. The players previously said Bancroft used a piece of yellow adhesive tape covered with dirt to rub on the ball.
Warner, having initially avoided being named as part of the plot, emerged as the chief planner, according to CA's investigation.
Warner was found guilty of three key charges by CA:
"... development of a plan to attempt to artificially alter the condition of the ball ... instruction to a junior player to carry out a plan to take steps to attempt to artificially alter the condition of the ball using sandpaper ... (and) provision of advice to a junior player regarding how a ball could be artificially altered including demonstrating how it could be done."
The punishment confirmed a dramatic fall from grace for Smith, the star of Australian cricket and the No. 1-ranked test batsman. A few months ago he had led Australia to a 4-0 Ashes rout of England with a series of dazzling performances with the bat.
Now, he's an outcast in his sport, only allowed to play club cricket for the next year. As he left the team hotel in Johannesburg, Smith said he didn't feel like playing any cricket right now.
The fallout for the three players increased as the Board of Control for Cricket in India banned the trio for the 2018 Indian Premier League season following the sanctions handed down by CA. Smith and Warner had already been replaced as the captains of their IPL teams but the complete bans for all three denied them lucrative contracts in the Twenty20 league.
In South Africa, wicketkeeper Tim Paine will take over as Australia captain for the final test, which starts on Friday.
Smith, wearing a white T-shirt and dark baseball cap, hugged Paine as he prepared to leave the team hotel to fly home. Coach Darren Lehmann, fast bowler Mitchell Starc and batsman Usman Khawaja all were there to say goodbye to him. Bancroft also stood in the hotel lobby at one point speaking with a member of the Australian backroom staff.
The yearlong ban for Warner, the pugnacious 31-year-old opening batsman, may mean an end to his international career. He was already at the center of a contentious moment at the very start of the South Africa tour with his heated off-field confrontation with South Africa player Quinton de Kock.
The Cricket Australia punishments were significantly higher than International Cricket Council sanctions and followed an internal investigation into the extent of the cheating plot in South Africa, with CA's chief integrity officer flying in to interview players and backroom staff over the last few days.
Smith, Warner and Bancroft are all set to face the public outrage when they get home after their actions left the reputation of Australia's favorite sports team in tatters.
After a discussion during a break in play on Saturday, Smith, Warner and Bancroft decided they would try to change the condition of the ball by using what they claimed at the time was a piece of yellow adhesive tape and some dirt collected from the side of the pitch. Bancroft was tasked to do the on-field tampering — roughing up one side of the ball — but botched it when he was caught by television cameras doing the tampering and then trying to hide the tape down the front of his trousers. The evidence from the TV cameras was overwhelming and Smith and Bancroft came out after play to confess to their roles in the plot to reporters.
The International Cricket Council had suspended Smith for one test for the offense, and imposed a fine and demerit points on Bancroft.
Australia also lost the test in Cape Town by a crushing 322 runs.
With Smith, Warner and Bancroft on the way home, their places in the Australia squad will be taken by Matt Renshaw, Joe Burns and Glenn Maxwell.
Australia trails 2-1 ahead of the final test in Johannesburg. Engulfed in a crisis, Australia faces losing a series in South Africa for the first time in nearly 50 years.