NEW DELHI: Steve Smith today stepped down as Rajasthan Royals captain and was replaced by Ajinkya Rahane in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal that has left the Australian skipper's reputation in tatters.
The under-fire Smith will, however, continue to be a part of the franchise for the Indian Premier League starting April 7.
"Steve believes given the current circumstances it's in the best interest of the Rajasthan Royals that he steps down as captain so the team can get ready for the start of the IPL without the ongoing distractions. He would like to extend his gratitude to the BCCI officials and all the fans in India for their constant support," Rajasthan Royals' head of cricket Zubin Bharucha said in a media release.
The decision was expected after Cricket Australia indicated that harsher penalty was on cards for Smith and some other senior players such as David Warner for their role in an episode that has shaken Australian sporting fraternity.
Australian opener Cameron Bancroft was caught using sand paper to tamper the ball during the third Test against South Africa in Johannesburg, which the visitors lost yesterday.
"The incident in Cape Town has certainly disturbed the cricketing world. We have been in constant touch with the BCCI and taken their counsel. Furthermore we have been in regular contact with Steve, Bharucha stated.
Ironically, Rajasthan Royals are returning to the IPL after serving a two-year ban for the franchise's erstwhile top management's role in the 2013 spot-fixing scandal.
Royals' mentor and former skipper Shane Warne is in Cape Town and it is understood that he might have had talked the Australian captain into taking this decision.
About Rahane, who has been a stellar performer for Royals before their two-year ban, Bharucha said: "...he understands the culture and values of our team. We have absolutely no doubt that he will be a great leader of the Rajasthan Royals.
Co-owner Manoj Badale also expressed faith in Rahane's leadership.
"Rajasthan Royals will do everything possible to protect the values and the integrity of the game. We agree with Steve's decision to step down as captain, and we are fortunate to have such a capable successor with Ajinkya Rahane. It is important that all cricket fans retain a balanced perspective on the situation.
"What happened in South Africa was clearly wrong, especially given that it appears to have been pre-meditated. That said, this will be a difficult time for Steve as well, given how much he cares about the game." said Badale.
Rajasthan Royals will launch their season with an away fixture against Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 9 followed by their first home game in Jaipur on April 11 against the Delhi Daredevils at the Sawai Mansingh stadium.
Ranjit Barthakur, Executive Chairman, Rajasthan Royals, said, "Ajinkya Rahane has stepped up as a leader whenever he has been given the opportunity, be it for Team India or at Rajasthan Royals. We consider him the right candidate to lead the side this crucial season when the team is coming back to the IPL after two years. We wish him all the best."