“To all of my teammates, to fans of cricket all over the world and to all Australians who are disappointed and angry. I’m sorry,” a tearful Smith said in a five-minute press conference after being sent home in disgrace from South Africa.
“I take full responsibility … There was a failure of leadership, of my leadership. I’ll do everything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it’s caused.
“I don’t blame anyone. I’m the captain of the Australian team. It’s on my watch and I take responsibility for what happened last Saturday,” he said referring to the incident during the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town.
Smith and vice-captain David Warner were slapped with one-year bans for plotting the episode in which Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera pulling out sandpaper to scuff up the ball.
But as the two players also count the financial cost of their suspensions, there were calls from coach Darren Lehmann for them to be “given a second chance”, adding that he fears for their long-term mental health in the current rabid climate.
Cricket Australia (CA) said Smith, 28, and 31-year-old Warner had been suspended from “all international and domestic cricket” while opening batsman Cameron Bancroft has been banned for nine months over the ball-tampering incident during the third Test in South Africa.
Smith the world’s number one Test batsman was charged with knowledge of the potential plan but Warner was charged with developing the plan and instructing Bancroft to carry it out.
The CA statement said Smith and Bancroft would not be considered for team leadership positions until a minimum of 12 months after the end of their suspensions, but Warner will be barred from such positions in the future.
Cricket Australia said the players could still play at club level in Australia or in other countries.
However, both Smith and Warner have been ejected from this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), losing contracts worth nearly 2 million each.
Australian great Shane Warne said the players had been harshly treated and the punishment does not fit the crime, referring to a “tornado of hysteria” in a post on Facebook.
“Their opposing captain in this series, South Africa’s Faf du Plessis, has been charged with the offence twice and opening bowler Vernon Philander once,” he wrote.
“The list of players who have been charged with ball-tampering is long and contains some of the biggest names in the game.”
Wicketkeeper Tim Paine will take over the Australian captaincy for the fourth and final Test starting in Johannesburg on Friday, with hosts South Africa leading a bad-tempered series 2-1.
Matt Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns have been flown into Johannesburg to replace the exiled trio.