England captain Joe Root has dismissed suggestions that Australia tampered with the ball during the Ashes last summer amid allegations in a UK tabloid that vice-captain David Warner told English players how he'd altered the state of the ball in the recent series.
As Australian players and support staff were interviewed on Monday as part of Cricket Australia's internal investigation into the ball tampering scandal in South Africa, the focus has sharpened on Warner's role in the plot and what possible punishment he will receive from officials.
Warner stepped down as vice-captain on Sunday and a Fairfax Media report has claimed he will be suspended for at least the fourth Test of the series against the Proteas, which starts on Friday. He has not been sanctioned by the International Cricket Council for any part he played in the scandal.
While Smith and Cameron Bancroft admitted their role in the tampering plot on Saturday, Warner and coach Darren Lehmann are yet to speak publicly.
On Monday, the UK-based Daily Mail alleged that Warner had revealed during post-Ashes drinks between the two teams in January that he'd used heavy strapping on his hands to manipulate the state of the ball during that series.
Warner normally fields at mid-off and mid-on and plays an important role in maintaining and shining the ball during a match, a job that Bancroft took on during the Cape Town Test.
The heavy tape that protects Warner's previously broken fingers and thumb had been put under the spotlight in the preceding Test in Port Elizabeth, to which the opener responded by writing the names of his wife and daughters on the bandages.
The unconfirmed Mail report comes after England paceman Stuart Broad this week remarked on the reverse swing the Australians had achieved during the Ashes, "sometimes in conditions where you wouldn’t expect the ball to reverse".
"I saw Steve Smith say it was the first time they have tried it (used tape to tamper with the ball)," Broad said in Auckland.
"To me, it’s surprising — why they would change a method that’s been working?
"If you look at the Ashes series we’ve just played, they reverse swung the ball in nearly all of those Test matches sometimes in conditions where you wouldn’t expect the ball to reverse.
"I don’t understand why they have changed their method for this one game."
Root, speaking after his side's heavy defeat to New Zealand at Eden Park on Monday, played a straight bat when asked about tampering suspicions during the Ashes.
"Not to my knowledge," he said. "I personally wasn't aware of anything going on throughout that series."
The fact Warner, an at-times outspoken and polarising figure in the cricket world, is yet to speak publicly has been noted by several former players, including former Australia wicketkeeper Ian Healy.
"David Warner has been very, very quiet and yet 6-12 months ago he was the one doing all the talking as the players were demanding salary increases and models that suited them," Healy noted on Channel Nine.
"He's gone underground."
Former England captain Nasser Hussain added on Sky Sports: "David Warner seems to have a lot to say on a cricket field; in the last 48 hours the silence from David Warner has been deafening."
Warner's comments during the 'Mint-gate' scandal in 2016, where he said he'd be "very disappointed" if any Australian player was found guilty of ball tampering, have also resurfaced since the weekend.
"I won't comment on the way (South Africa) have been behaving but I just know from an Australian cricket perspective, we hold our heads high and I'll be very disappointed if one of our teammates did that," Warner said in November of that year after South African skipper Faf du Plessis was sanctioned by the ICC for using a mint to alter the ball during the second Test of the series in Hobart.
"The rules are in place for a reason, if you're not going to use them, then why bother having them?"
Qantas tour of South Africa
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Quinton de Kock, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, AB de Villiers.
Australia squad: Steve Smith, David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights
First Test Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard
Second Test South Africa won by six wickets. Scorecard
Third Test South Africa won by 322 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage