A ball-tampering scandal enveloping Australia’s cricket team was described as a dark day for the sport today, as critics slammed the players for being out of touch with a furious public.

The premeditated plan to alter the condition of the ball during Saturday’s third day of the third Test against South Africa at Newlands dominated news headlines and captain Steve Smith and his teammates were widely condemned. Smith has admitted he was the mastermind of the premeditated plan hatched during the lunch break, adding that the team’s “leadership group knew about it”.

“We now find we have sent a squad of cricketers, pockets stuffed with money, tape and pitch litter, determined to stretch the game’s rules and etiquette until there is nothing left to do but cheat,” wrote Patrick Smith in The Australian.

“They came to a point where ‘the line’ could no longer be pushed any further validly and without a serious breach of rules. So senior players schemed to take action that did more than bring the game into disrepute, it has shamed our nation.”

Cricketers are among the most scrutinised athletes in the sporting-mad nation and there was dismay at their perceived lack of awareness of how serious their actions were. Smith has insisted he would not quit, saying he still thought “I’m the right person for the job” after teammate Cameron Bancroft was caught using a yellow object to alter the condition of the ball.

“What is extraordinary, I think, is how it was done and how easily it was agreed to by the team and how, not unapologetic, but sort of oblivious to the consequences Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft seemed to be at the press conference,” cricket writer Gideon Haigh told national broadcaster ABC.

“I think over the last year or so, I’ve sensed a real disconnect between this team and the public, and this administration and the public,” he said. It’s almost as though both organisations, the team and (governing body) Cricket Australia, are in a bit of a bubble – bubbles of their own making.”

ABC senior commentator Jim Maxwell, regarded by many as voice of Australian cricket, said he was “more and more offended by the arrogance of some of the players in the way they behave”.

“The fact that so much of this has been condoned in recent years, you sensed that there was going to be a blow-up at some point,” he told New Zealand’s Radio Sport. “Cricket Australia will more than likely have to make some very big decisions about the leadership in the team.

“If the leadership of Australian cricket can even think of doing something like this then they need to be ostracised and I’ve a feeling that Steve Smith is probably going to lose the captaincy over this.”

Russell Gould in the Herald Sun also echoed calls from former players, fans and commentators for Smith’s head to roll. “When your first option, if things aren’t going your way, is to cheat, then you don’t have the right stuff to lead a team,” he wrote. “Forget that the whole leadership group was in on it. The buck stops with the captain, what he says goes. The minute he said ‘go’ for cheating, was the minute he signed off as a real captain.