The quite remarkable thing about Steve Smith since he took over the captaincy of the Australian Test team has been how dramatically his own form with the blade has improved.
Since accepting the duties and responsibilities that come with leading one of the most trusted and revered institutions in world sport, Smith has been a leader by example, the sort of dynamic captain that will encourage the best out of his colleagues with his performances in the middle or, if required, drag his team along with him.
More than just a prolific compiling of runs, Smith had built a level of trust and expectation back into the Baggy Green and the 11 men wearing it at any one time. Typified by an Ashes triumph on home soil this past summer, the Australian side had taken huge strides back to being the sort of dominant force it was under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting in the late-90s and early 2000s.
A return to the good old days
A veneer of aggression and a cockiness reserved only for the best was returning. Australia had the sort of opening batsman in David Warner that could obliterate a bowling attack in a single session and a compiler of runs in Smith who drew genuine comparisons to the great Sir Donald Bradman.
With the red ball in hand, Australia could call on a battery of fast bowlers reminiscent of some of the more ruthless and devastating attacks of days gone by. Mitchell Starc and Patrick Cummins brought the raw pace and consistent wicket threat while Josh Hazlewood was metronomic but also capable of nabbing scalps in his own steady, dependable way.
Throw in Australia's greatest ever off-spinner Nathan Lyon and there were far more positives than in recent memory.
Today, that is all undone. Whatever Australia is as a talented bunch of cricketers, today they are cheats, the sort of unit that, in sheer desperation, would circumvent the rules of the game and try to force an advantage for themselves.
Unfathomable and disgusting
Ball-tampering doesn't rank on the same scale as match-fixing, let's be honest in that regard. There are people still in our game who have committed far worse acts and have either never been expelled or welcomed back with open arms and sympathy.
That said, to sit here and think that an Australian Test captain, in cahoots with a 'leadership group' of players would make the callous, calculated decision to cheat during a Test in which they were struggling is beyond unfathomable.
Smith's post-play denials where he insisted that this is the first time that this has happened are all well and good, but right now, they don't mean much at all. How can any of us here take him seriously when he's just admitted he's a cheat?
The problem here, aside from the obvious, of course, is that Australia has long been the moral standard of the sport. Our players, our management, and our media have taken leadership roles in combatting match-fixing, in championing the spirit of the game and in calling out whenever that spirit has been stepped on around the world.
From a moral standard to cheats
When South African captain Faf du Plessis was embroiled in a ball-tampering scandal of his own, ironically in Australia, the national media was outraged. They were angered and shocked that a Test captain would stoop so low and thumb his nose at traditional convention and the spirit in which our game is supposed to dwell.
It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media respond to this breaking story.
Smith has already vehemently denied he will step down from his role as captain over this scandal. Refusing to step down is his right, but the question must be asked, can Cricket Australia continue with Smith in its most vital, visible role as an ambassador for their brand and for our game when he has admitted to being part of a conspiracy to cheat?
Few have loved Smith and his swashbuckling approach to the game more than myself. I have been an unabashed fan for so long. This morning, I genuinely can't decide whether or not I'd be comfortable with him continuing to lead the Australian side and I'm sure I'm not alone.
Should Steve Smith be allowed to continue in his role as Australian captain moving forward? Let us know in the comments below.