Axe to swing after Test debacle

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AUSTRALIA’S crushing 322-run defeat and the suspension of Steve Smith will trigger widespread change to the XI next week in Johannesburg, as KEN PIESSE reports from Cape Town:

FROM HERO to villain, all in 10 minutes of insanity, Steve Smith must wish this is just a nightmare and that when he wakes up overnight, he’ll still be Australia’s cricket captain.

His dethroning was complete in Cape Town on Sunday as he was booed and jeered all the way to the wicket and all the way back again after he had been Morkelled for the second time in the match. His double failures of five and seven were pivotal in Australia’s embarrassing loss.

David Warner and Cameron Bancroft received similar stormy receptions, but the real hostility was reserved for Smith after his flagrant disregard of cricket’s laws and moral code.

Tim Paine captained Australia on the final day, Smith having been stood down, another first for an Australian captain.

Steve Smith could be out for longer than one test. Pic: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Steve Smith could be out for longer than one test. Pic: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Paine is likely to lead a new look team in Johannesburg next week, with more heads likely to roll after Cricket Australia’s integrity officer Iain Roy conducts an in-depth investigation.

Smith admitted the plan was concocted among the senior leadership group at lunchtime on Saturday after the Aussies had failed to make an impression on South Africa’s batting at the start of their second innings. All in this group should be stood down and sent home immediately.

The joy among Protea fans was complete by 5.30 on the fourth day with Australia failing to bat even 40 overs in its second innings.

Smith’s ICC suspension for a match and fine will be followed by severe sanctions from Cricket Australia involving all the players involved in the deliberate ball tampering which so soured this Test.

The fact that Nathan Lyon took his 300th Test wicket was but a cursory happening. It hardly raised a murmur even among Australian supporters in Cape Town on holidays and with tour groups.

Throughout the farcical final day, the Australians looked crestfallen and did not have their hearts in the contest. Warner top scored but fell to Kagiso Rabada for the second time in this match.

The South Africans were chirpy and at one point Quinton de Kock and captain Faf du Plessis were called into a conference by the umpires unhappy with their banter towards Bancroft and Warner Once their fortunate 50-run opening stand was broken courtesy of a magnificent reflex throw by Du Plessis from cover, the Australians collapsed meekly.

Usman Khawaja was another to register a double failure, but he will probably play in Johannesburg from March 30 on default, as reserve batsman Peter Handscomb will replace Smith.

Other changes seem certain as Roy’s investigation continues.

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Author: Ken Piesse

KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. He has written, edited and published more than 70 sports books. Signed copies of his latest cricket book Heroes of the Hour, cricket’s quintessential moments from Bradman and Lillee to Warne and Steve Smith, is available from www.cricketbooks.com.au

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