London: Shane Warne branded reaction to the Australian ball-tampering scandal a "tornado of hysteria" on Wednesday and said the punishments meted out to Steve Smith and David Warner do not fit the crime.
Captain Smith and vice-captain Warner have been banned from representing their country for a year over the cheating incident during the third Test in South Africa, while opening batsman Cameron Bancroft has been suspended for nine months.
"We are all so hurt and angry and maybe we weren't so sure how to react," Warne wrote on Facebook. "We'd just never seen it before.
"But the jump to hysteria is something that has elevated the offence beyond what they actually did, and maybe we're at a point where the punishment just might not fit the crime."
The former leg-spinner – second on the overall list of Test wicket-takers – said Australia's enemies had taken the opportunity to put the boot in.
"There are those countries that don't like Australia, don't like individuals in the team, and there has been a build-up of hate which has exploded and created this tornado of hysteria," he wrote.
"But what are the players guilty of? Cheating via ball-tampering and bringing the game into disrepute.
"Their opposing captain in this series, South Africa's Faf du Plessis, has been charged with the offence twice and opening bowler Vernon Philander once.
"The list of players who have been charged with ball-tampering is long and contains some of the biggest names in the game."
Warne also questioned the idea of pre-meditated cheating.
"Are there levels of ball tampering, or is it just ball tampering? Is putting a mint in your pocket so you can shine a ball on the field pre-meditated cheating, or just ball-tampering. What about putting sunscreen on the ball? You either ball tamper or you don’t."
Warne said Smith, the top-ranked Test batsman in the world, was guilty of a "severe error of judgement".
"I am still trying to wrestle with what I think the punishment should be," he said. "They have to be harsh, but if they are rubbed out for a year, the punishment does not fit the crime."
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Follow all the live scores and updates of the 2nd Test between West Indies and South Africa in St Lucia
Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Jhye Richardson and Kane Richardson also withdrew, leaving coach Justin Langer without many of his best players four months before the Twenty20 World Cup.
The Caribbean side, trailing on first innings by 225 runs and resuming from an overnight position of 82 for four, were dismissed for 162.