Barely six hours after Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland said he would wait several days to receive further information before ruling on the ball-tampering case involving senior players, the sport's national governing body announced captain Steve Smith and vice captain David Warner had agreed to stand down for the remainder of the third test against South Africa.

"This test match needs to proceed, and in the interim we will continue to investigate this matter with the urgency that it demands," Sutherland said. "As I said earlier today, Cricket Australia and Australian cricket fans expect certain standards of conduct from cricketers representing our country, and on this occasion these standards have not been met.

Calling it a "very sad day for Australian cricket," in a news conference in Melbourne earlier Sunday, Sutherland said he was "extremely disappointed and shocked" by the news from emerged overnight from the third test match at Cape Town, South Africa.

"Australian cricket fans want to be proud of their cricket team," Sutherland said. "I feel this morning they have every reason to wake up and not be proud of the team."

Advertisement

Sutherland said one of the cornerstones of cricket was to not only play within the laws of the game, but within the spirit of the game.

"Activities on the field yesterday, are neither within the laws of the game or the spirit of the game," he said.

Australia cricketers confessed to ball tampering in a desperate plot hatched by the team's leaders as they saw the match slipping away.

Batsman Cameron Bancroft was tasked with carrying out the tampering by using yellow adhesive tape to pick up "granules" beside the pitch and rub it on the ball to rough it up in an attempt to get it to reverse swing at Newlands.

But Bancroft was caught doing it on the field by television cameras, and then attempted to hide the evidence by shoving the tape down his trousers before he was questioned by umpires.

"The leadership group knew about it," Australia captain Steve Smith said. "We spoke about it at lunch. I'm not proud of what's happened. It's not within the spirit of the game."

When Sutherland scheduled a news conference at noon Sunday in front of Cricket Australia's corporate offices in Melbourne, commentators and former cricketers wondered whether Smith and other team members would be fired or sanctioned immediately.

But Sutherland's initial decision was to wait until Iain Roy and Pat Howard — Cricket Australia's head of integrity and high-performance manager — had traveled to South Africa and conducted an investigation. Smith on Saturday said he had no intention of quitting the captaincy, and Sutherland initially refused to make comment on the captaincy.

"We are in the middle of the game right now and that game needs to conclude. But over the course of the next couple of days we will get to the bottom of this and we will take appropriate action," Sutherland said.

Australia started day four trailing South Africa by 294 runs with two days of the test remaining. The four-test series is level 1-1.

In the fallout from the scandal, former cricketers have described it as a "national day of shame."

Former test batsman Simon Katich said Smith and coach Darren Lehmann must go, adding that he was "sick to his stomach" when he woke up to the news.

"They've got no option because this was premeditated and calculated at the break, and those guys are in charge of Cameron Bancroft behaving the way he did," Katich said on SEN Radio.

Ball tampering is not new in cricket — players have in the past tried to manipulate the leather ball to make it move in unusual ways to confuse batters.

As recently as South Africa's last tour to Australia in 2016, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis was found guilty by the International Cricket Council of ball tampering after TV footage showed him putting his fingers in his mouth while he was sucking a mint, then shining the ball with sticky fingers.

Cricket South Africa appealed the verdict, and du Plessis said he was unfairly made a scapegoat for doing something that cricketers all over the world have long done.

Regardless, the tampering headlines overshadowed the series and most of the ardent criticism came from Australia. The Australian teams have always claimed to play hard but fair, and to rarely "cross the line" in cricket.

The difference between this tampering case and others, though, is the clear premeditation by the Australians, the method of trying to tamper with the ball, the attempts to hide it when queried by on-field umpires and their previous condemnation of cheating, which now appears to be hypocritical.

The Australian government agency responsible for allocating sports funding had demanded Cricket Australia act swiftly.

Australian Sports Commission chairman John Wylie described the Australian cricket team "iconic representatives of our country" and the example the players set "matters a great deal to Australia."

"Given the admission by Australian captain Steve Smith, the ASC calls for him to be stood down immediately by Cricket Australia, along with any other members of the team leadership group or coaching staff who had prior awareness of, or involvement in, the plan to tamper with the ball," Wylie said. "This can occur while Cricket Australia completes a full investigation."

Former Australia test captain Michael Clarke was strident in his criticism, and didn't rule out a possible return to the test team, possibly as captain "if I was asked by the right people." He retired from test cricket in 2015 but is still active in the sport.

He left no doubt as to his thoughts on what transpired at Newlands.

"It is blatant cheating. It is disgraceful. It is not accepted by anyone, particularly in Australia," Clarke said. "We've got the best bowling attack in the world. We don't need to cheat to beat anybody."