As a walloped and reeling Australia surrendered wicket after wicket in Johannesburg to end the day at 6 for a dismal 110, the three men at the centre of the ball-tampering scandal are mulling appeals against the stiff sentences handed down by Cricket Australia (CA).
Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft have all sought legal advice and are strongly considering the merits of challenging their bans.
The suspended trio have all returned home and apologised to the nation in a series of tearful press conferences.
All acknowledge erring in Cape Town but not one has yet to formally accept the rulings that ban Warner and Smith for 12 months and exile Bancroft for nine.
While public sentiment continues to condemn the scandal there is also a growing feeling that the penalties are simply too harsh.
On sports talkback shows a now commonly voiced view is that ball-tampering is universal, but no other perpetrators have ever been made to suffer as much the Australia captain, vice-captain and their junior fellow conspirator.
Should the players request a review at a formal hearing chaired by an independent commissioner and thereby prolong the saga of shame and sandpaper, they will be hoping that time and cooler tempers will be on their side.
And, much like last year’s pay dispute, CA may also come out of a judicial stoush poorly, given the potential for more sordid details to emerge just as the vital quest for fresh sponsors and a TV rights deal is proceeding.
“All we can do is uphold the code to our best judgment and take into consideration the evidence we have,” CA chief executive James Sutherland said when asked if formal hearings could further batter the sport’s image.
“As a course of natural justice under our code, players have the right to accept or reject the charges or the sanctions or both.
“If they do take that to appeal … that’s a good, proper legal process and that’s why it’s written that way.”
Just how badly the tainted threesome are missed was evident on the Test’s second day as the the Proteas’ pacemen triggered a collapse which saw the tourists limp to the pavillion with a whopping 378-run deficit and just four wickets in hand.
History will record this tour as an addled exercise in ineptitude and self-harm, and that appraisal will be rammed home by memories of Temba Bavuma’s unbeaten 95 lifting South Africa to a mammoth first innings tally of 488 all out.
In response, Australia simply could not get up to speed. Indeed, the best it could manage was a staggering hobble, with Usman Khawaja (53) offering the only genuine resistance to the hosts’ pace and spin attack.
At stumps, Tim Paine was 5 not out alongside Pat Cummins, unbeaten on 7, but the task to save the match appears so grim the only realistic hope of salvation is the weather.
Rain that was predicted for the second day failed to arrive, and if a similar forecast for day three fails to materialise and bring play to a halt it will require a fairy godmother’s intervention to save Australia’s bacon.
On the strength of the second day’s effort, however, that bacon is as good as cooked already.
The new opening pair of Matt Renshaw (8) and Joe Burns (4) did not last long, while Peter Handscomb — preferred in the line-up to 12th man Glenn Maxwell — chopped onto his stumps for a first-ball duck.
Brothers Shaun Marsh (16) and Mitchell Marsh (4) fell in quick succession — two of the six wickets that fell for 96, with the tourists still 178 runs short of avoiding the follow-on.
The shaken and demoralised Australians’ abysmal showing might well prove another factor nudging Warner, Smith and Bancroft to demand a sentence-review hearing.
After all, what cricket fan wants to see the national team humiliated before the world?
As the trio attempt to collect their thoughts over the Easter weekend and formulate their next moves, lawyers continue to probe how CA meted out its version of law and order.
The players’ union, which continues to offer the trio welfare and legal support, made the argument in a media release on Thursday there were a number of “glaring and clear anomalies” in CA’s expedited investigation and disciplinary approach.
Many domestic and international players – past and present – feel the governing body bowed to public pressure that came all the way from the top.
CA chairman David Peever, upon landing in Australia the day after footage emerged of Bancroft stuffing sandpaper down his trousers, had a “frank discussion” with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and explained there would be a decisive response.
Shane Warne has been vocal in his condemnation of CA, accusing the sports overlords of caving to “hysteria”.
Some of the Test stars currently in Johannesburg feel incredibly sorry for Smith in particular.
The skipper became the figurehead of the scandal – and took responsibility because he was leading the team – but was least culpable, according to CA’s investigation.
-with AAP and ABC