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Cricket: Australia trio sent home after ball-tampering scandal

By Ed Cropley

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Australia captain Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are being sent home from the South Africa tour in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal that has shaken the sport but coach Darren Lehmann was not involved, Cricket Australia said on Tuesday.

The sanction against the trio was announced at a packed news conference by Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, who had flown into Johannesburg just hours earlier to get to the bottom of the scandal.

He said significant punishments would be handed out to the three players after a more thorough investigation.

Tim Paine has been named as the new Australia captain in place of Smith, who confessed on Saturday that the team's 'leadership group' hatched a plan to tamper with the ball during the third test against South Africa in Cape Town.

Opening batsman Bancroft was caught on camera placing sticky yellow tape, which he used to pick up rough granules off the pitch, into the front of his trousers when he believed he had been spotted by the umpires.

The pre-meditated attempt to cheat has drawn condemnation from around the world, with ball-tampering a serious breach of the International Cricket Council’s code of conduct.

Sutherland apologized to cricket lovers in Australia and South Africa for the damage done to the game in the middle of a gripping test series between the teams, but when pressed to condemn the trio for "cheating" he repeatedly demurred.

"It's not a good day for Australian cricket," said Sutherland, who has traveled to South Africa to sort out the scandal sparked by Saturday's incident.

"It was not in the laws of the game and not in the spirit of the game," he added.

He also declined to comment on Australian media speculation that Warner, the combative opener at the center of a fracas in the first test in Durban with South African keeper Quinton de Kock, was at the heart of the decision to tamper with the ball.

(Additional reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris)