‘Deserved better’: Paine fronts up
AUSTRALIA endured one of the darkest days in its Test cricket history and sadly that didn't even include the collapse of epic proportions it suffered in the final session of day four.
While victory looked well out of reach after Australia was set a whopping 430 for victory, the hiding handed to the Aussies only rubbed salt into the gaping wound that was opened by the ball tampering scandal.
Before day four started, Steve Smith and David Warner stood down from their positions as captain and vice captain.
The decision didn't sit well with former Australian players Shane Warne and Allan Border, who questioned why the call was made in the middle of the match.
"I don't think it's the right thing Smith and Warner should be stood down during the match," Warne said in commentary. "Wait until the end of the Test match.
"At the end of the Test, if you want to get them out of the team and sack them as captain and vice captain, that's fine, but not during the Test match because everyone else is flat now."
Border shared similar views to Warne and also believed the decision came too soon.
"I can see what the hierarchy from Cricket Australia are trying to do by making a tough decision straight away," Border said.
"But me personally, I would have waited until I'd received all of the facts of what's going on and not make a decision too quickly and just let the game play out.
"And then you make the decision once you know all of the facts and the game is done and dusted."
As Cameron Bancroft and David Warner got the Australian innings underway, the ICC handed down their ruling from the ball tampering incident.
Smith was handed a one-Test suspension while also being fined 100 per cent of his match feel, while Bancroft copped three demerit points and was fined 75 per cent of his match fee.
The ruling means Bancroft will be free to take his place in the side for the fourth Test, pending the outcome of Cricket Australia's investigation.
Tim Paine was named as the interim captain following the Smith and Warner fallout and had to front up to the media after the disastrous finish to the Test.
"Its been a horrible 24 hours to be perfectly honest and while I'm here I'd like to take the opportunity to apologise to our fans and all of the Australians back home," Paine said.
"The guys who travelled here, they deserved better than what we put up. That's all I can say on the matter at the moment."
He admitted it was tough to stay focused on the match with the shock of the incident still looming large.
"It was difficult no doubt but we said this morning that one of things we can control is to go out and compete as cricketers. So from a cricket perspective today was extremely disappointing.
"The way we folded in that last hour was very disappointing on top of what was already a horrible Test match.
"It was difficult for all of us and really challenging but down the track there's an opportunity for us to grow as a team and as individuals.
"We have to take some sort of positives out of it long term and turn ourselves into the cricket team we want to be.
"Smith and Bancroft are struggling, the enormity of what happened is starting to sink in."
While the fallout will continue on into the week, the fourth and final Test of the current series is set to get underway on Good Friday at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg and Paine admitted there is frustration of the efforts since the opening Test.
"We kept getting ourselves back into the Test match but we couldn't quite get in front of it," he said.
"When you're playing against a side as good as South Africa and you're constantly chasing the game, it's hard to come out on top.
"We're all professional cricketers so we have to regroup, we have to come back and put on a show for the Australian public, our fans and our families."
As Cricket Australia's investigation into the ugly incident unfolds, plenty of questions will be raised and hopefully answered.
One of the main talking points over the coming day's will be centred around just who will lead the Australian team into the future.
"You'd have to say it's in real jeopardy as to whether he'll ever captain again," Warne said about Smith.
"I think Paine will be the interim, but not for the long term and then they'll work out just who is the best option for them."
Former South African skipper Graeme Smith agreed with Warne's comments.
"I think as a player Smith is incredible, Warner as a player is also incredible but I don't think either of them can lead Australia again," Smith said.
Sadly the fallout from the scandal has taken the shine off of the entire series and could mean the fourth Test may be as dour an affair as what unfolded during play on day four.