Johannesburg - Embattled Australia vowed to spearhead a new
era of "respect and sportsmanship" after the ball-tampering scandal
which sent shockwaves through the sport.
READ: Proteas, Australia 'shake off' bad blood
After a week in which captain Steve Smith, his deputy David
Warner and young batsman Cameron Bancroft were banned and sent home in
disgrace, Australia returned to action on Friday in the fourth and final Test
against South Africa.
In a gesture of reconciliation, the Australian and South
African teams lined up before the start of play at the Wanderers and shook
hands with each other.
"Cricket's a gentleman's game. I spoke to our players
about bringing it in. It's not something we'll do every Test match but I think
it's not a bad way to start a Test series," explained Australian captain
Tim Paine who suggested the pre-match handshake.
"I think it's just a good show of sportsmanship and
The 33-year-old added: "There's been a lot of water
under the bridge and a bit of tension between the two sides. We want to be
super-competitive but we also want to respect the opposition and it was
important to show that today."
Warner, damned as the ring-leader of the tampering plot, is
due to hold a press conference at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday, having
described the controversy as a "stain" on the game.
Both Smith and Bancroft made tearful apologies when they
arrived home in Australia earlier in the week.
Coach Darren Lehmann, who will stand down after the match
despite being cleared of any involvement in the scandal, gathered his
shell-shocked team in a huddle before action began on Friday, but admitted it
was hard to concentrate.
"We're not a hundred percent mentally right but we're
representing our country and we've got to get the ball rolling by playing the
best cricket we possibly can," Lehmann said.
Despite the cordiality on the Wanderers pitch, some fans in
a series-best crowd of 17 023 could not resist poking fun at the Australians'
attempts to doctor the ball with sandpaper in the third Test in Cape Town last
One banner among a group of spectators wearing yellow read:
"Sandpaper Special, Only R10 (10 Rand)".
The home fans also enjoyed the last laugh by seeing their
team, already 2-1 up in the series, pile up 313-6 with opener Aiden Markram
hitting a career-best 152.
Meanwhile, in Australia, a wave of sympathy for Smith was
gathering pace after he gave a heart-wrenching public apology.
Others questioned the severity of the bans handed out - one
year each for Smith and Warner and nine months for Bancroft who was captured on
TV trying to scuff the ball with sandpaper before comically stuffing the
evidence down the front of his trousers.
Smith's tearful appearance in front of media helped trigger
Lehmann's resignation but also prompted calls to rein in criticism which has
verged on hysterical.
"Dear Australia, that's enough now," ran a
headline in British newspaper The Times. "This was ball-tampering, not
Australia's leg-spin great Shane Warne wrote in Sydney's
Daily Telegraph: "We are all so hurt and angry and maybe we weren't so
sure how to react. We'd just never seen it before.
"But the jump to hysteria is something that has
elevated the offence beyond what they actually did, and maybe we're at a point
where the punishment just might not fit the crime."
Former Australia coach Mickey Arthur said he felt
"desperately sorry" for Smith, whose career as the world's top
batsman will now be put on hold.
"I know he eats, sleeps and drinks cricket," said
Arthur, who now coaches Pakistan.
The Australian Cricketers' Association voiced concern over
the players' welfare, and argued that the sanctions were disproportionate
compared to other sanctions for ball-tampering.
Cricket Australia also remains under pressure after sponsors
have walked away over the damaging saga.
Losses include an estimated $15 million partnership with
naming rights sponsor Magellan, which tore up its three-year contract after
barely seven months.
Former Test opener Justin Langer is a strong favourite to
become Lehmann's successor, although reports said Australia could name a
separate coach for the ODI and Twenty20 teams.