Sydney/Perth: Steve Smith today fought back sobs as he claimed full responsibility for the ball-tampering scandal that destroyed his reputation, while David Warner and Cameron Bancroft also offered their apologies for the scandal that plunged Australian cricket into turmoil.
With father Peter by his side, a visibly broken Smith faced an eager media after touching down in Sydney and broke down more than once while seeking forgiveness for plotting the now infamous ball-tampering episode in the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town.
“As captain of the Australian cricket team, I take full responsibility. I made a serious error of judgement and now I understand the consequences. It was a failure of my leadership,” the 28-year-old Smith, who has been banned for a year by Cricket Australia, said while trying hard to keep his composure in a packed press conference.
Apologies also came in from Warner, declared the chief plotter, and Bancroft, the man who was entrusted the job of tampering the ball with a sand paper.
However, the three players did not say whether they will appeal against the bans imposed on them.
The most dramatic images poured in from the Sydney airport where Smith faced questions for his actions in a five-minute press conference, comforted by his father every time he broke down.
“I will do everything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it has caused. If any good can come through this, if there can be a lesson to others, I hope I can be a force for change. I know I will regret this for the rest of my life. I am absolutely gutted,” said Smith.
Smith and his deputy Warner were slapped with similar bans for their role in the incident. Opener Bancroft has been handed a nine-month suspension. Smith will not be considered for a leadership role until a year after his ban ends, while Warner has been ruled out of captaincy forever.
“I apologise for my part and take responsibility for it. I understand the distress this has caused the sport and its fans. Its a stain on the game we all love and I have loved since I was a boy,” Warner posted on his Twitter page.
The 31-year-old, who can still play club cricket, said he needs time to reassess his future.
“I need to take a deep breath and spend time with my family, friends and trusted advisers. You will hear from me in a few days,” he added.
In Perth, Bancroft also faced the media and sought pardon for denying using the sand paper when the controversy first broke out.
“I want to say that I’m very sorry … I’m very disappointed and I regret my actions … It is something I will regret for the rest of my life,” the opener stated.
“I lied. I lied about the sandpaper. I panicked in that situation and I’m very sorry … I feel like I’ve let everyone down in Australia,” he said.
Smith hoped that forgiveness would come along in time, saying the past few days have left him absolutely gutted.
“I hope in time, I can earn back respect and forgiveness. I have been so privileged and honoured to captain the Australian cricket team. Cricket is the greatest game in the world. It has been my life and I hope it can be again. I am sorry and absolutely devastated.”
Smith refused to blame any of the other players involved, saying he can only blame himself at the moment.
“Good people make mistakes. I have made a big mistake by allowing this to happen. It was a huge error of judgement on my part and I am sorry. To my knowledge this is the first time I have seen this happened. I can assure you it will never be happening again,” he said.
“I don’t blame anyone. I am the captain of the Australian team, I take responsibility of what happened last Saturday in Cape Town,” he added.
Before being escorted out, Smith hoped that his fate serves as a warning to anybody trying to attempt wrongdoing on the field.
“… (when) you think about making a questionable decision you should think about people who will be affected. You are affecting your parents and to see my old man’s pain (breaks down),” he said.
“(To see) My mum it hurts. I can’t remember what I was saying. I just want to say sorry for the pain I have caused to the Australian public. I am truly sorry,” he said sobbing.
All the banned cricketers were sent home before the fourth Test in Johannesburg and have been barred from domestic cricket at this point. However, they have been told to do 100 hours voluntary service in community cricket.
The 25-year-old Bancroft, whose eight-Test old career has been tarred by the incident, said he would try hard to make a comeback.
“The thing that breaks my heart the most is that I’ve given up my spot in the team for free. People know I worked so hard to get to this point in my career and to have given up that chance for free is devastating,” he said.
“It’s going to be a really long road particularly for myself to earn that respect back but for me that’s the most important thing,” he added.
Bancroft also asserted that he had not tampered with the ball before.
“I have never ever been involved in tampering with the ball (before) and it clearly compromises my values and what I stand for as a player and as a person,” he said.
Besides being banned by their Board, they were also barred from the Indian Premier League this season.
Smith and Warner were to captain Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad respectively this season but lost not just their leadership roles but also the chance to play in the event starting April 7.