Disgraced skipper Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner were heading home to an angry Australia on Thursday after being banned for a year over a cheating scandal that has left their careers in tatters and sponsors deserting the game.
Cricket Australia (CA) said they had been suspended from “all international and domestic cricket” while opening batsman Cameron Bancroft was exiled for nine months over the ball-tampering incident during the third Test in South Africa.
Their fall from grace has been dramatic, and fast, with cricket chiefs bowing to uproar at home where sportsmen and women are held in high esteem and expected to act in the best interests of the game.
Authorities also needed to act decisively to counter mounting concern from sponsors over reputational damage.
CA’s response wasn’t enough to save an estimated Aus$20 million (B468.75mn)) partnership with naming rights sponsor Magellan which tore up its three-year contract on Thursday after barely seven months.
“A conspiracy by the leadership of the Australian men’s Test cricket team which broke the rules with a clear intention to gain an unfair advantage during the third Test in South Africa goes to the heart of integrity,” said the fund manager’s chief Hamish Douglass.
“Regrettably, these recent events are so inconsistent with our values that we are left with no option but to terminate our ongoing partnership with Cricket Australia.”
The financial cost for the players is also growing with sporting goods company ASICS ending its relationship with Warner and Bancroft. Electronics giant LG axed Warner on Wednesday.
Other team sponsors, including Qantas and Commonwealth Bank, have voiced their deep disappointment over the scandal but so far have taken no action.
Smith, a golden boy compared to Donald Bradman for his batting exploits, is reportedly a broken man.
He was jeered as he made his way through Johannesburg airport on Wednesday surrounded by police and media and will face the music at home with a press conference scheduled for this evening.
There are also concerns over his mental state in the current rabid climate, with coach Darren Lehmann calling for all three men to be “given a second chance”.
The Australian newspaper said Smith, used to being on a pedestal, had been a tearful wreck since the scandal broke and there were fears that his life might unravel during his exile.
“He deserves to feel the pain of exile,” the newspaper said. “But then another mission starts to ensure the grief that is crippling him at the moment does not destroy him.”