Australia wondered why there was little sympathy for their players in the face of personal abuse from the crowd at Newlands. Then Cameron Bancroft was shown on the stadium's big screen, and their question was answered.

"Disgraceful" declared Australia's coach Darren Lehmann. "Offensive and inappropriate," thundered the Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland. The CA chairman David Peever, never one to volunteer a public comment, had "taken the matter up directly" with his opposite number at Cricket South Africa, Chris Nenzani. A letter of complaint was written to Mike Gajjar, CSA's operations manager.

Seldom has so much outrage been assembled by one team about one day of crowd behaviour, by the usually genteel assembly at Newlands in Cape Town. The personal abuse faced by Australia's fielders on day one, specifically the calling out of their partners by their first names in disparaging and degrading terms, was indeed worthy of strong censure. But the CSA reaction seemed restrained, even reluctant: the acting chief executive, Thabang Moroe, spoke of the need to respect players "on both sides".

3:30
Voges: Australia's reputation comes in question now
Voges: Australia's reputation comes in question now

The day after the official written complaint, there was no formal reply from CSA. The Western Province Cricket Association was unable to identify the male spectator who had singled out David Warner upon his dismissal, nor even the WPCC member he had come into the ground as a guest of. There is no evidence to suggest that WPCC will be filing an official report on the incidents, nor making any substantial change to policies around spectators and their proximity to the players.

Around the world, the response was tantamount to a shrug of the shoulders at its kindest. Former players like Mark Boucher, Graeme Smith and Michael Vaughan suggested Australia look more closely at their own backyard. Many laughed at Australia's outrage. In short, there was little sympathy, least of all for this statement: "We accept it all around the world, but as soon as they cross the line and they talk about players' families the whole time and getting abused like that, it's just not on. There's been various incidents throughout the Test series but this one has taken the cake."

There it was, the line. Whatever had been said about the partners of Australian players, whatever the response of CSA, whatever the legitimacy of the touring team's complaints, nobody in South Africa or the rest of the world could see beyond the line. The sight of Warner being personally guarded by Australia's security manager Frank Dimasi at deep-backward square leg was an apt demonstration that the tourists felt additional protection was needed to prevent further line crossings from the crowd that the home Board was not quite so fussed about. And why?

Lehmann was the same man who had told a radio station he hoped Australian crowds would target Stuart Broad so viciously that "he cries and goes home". Sutherland was the same man who had talked up an ugly 2012-13 Big Bash League confrontation between Marlon Samuels and Shane Warne as "two teams playing in front of a very big crowd in a highly charged environment with a lot at stake. That was my observation of it and from time to time things cross the line in that scenario..."

Within the team, Warner and Nathan Lyon have been two targets of the Newlands crowd in particular. But it was Warner who let loose at Aiden Markram upon his run-out of AB de Villiers in Durban, and Lyon who carefully dropped the ball near de Villiers at the other end. Debates over Warner's encounter with Quinton de Kock were enlivened by the leaking of CCTV footage in two parts, but there was no doubt that the Australian spoke first. And who can forget Lyon's use of the term "headbutt the line" before the series began.

Nevertheless, the Australians wondered why there was little sympathy, even when they said it was not about them, but about their partners, and women in general. They had only until midway through the second session of day three, the best attended of the series so far, to find out. Seldom in elite sport has a team been caught cheating so clearly, so systematically, and so collectively. Seldom has a team normalising sharp practice, and enlisting the youngest members of the team to carry it out, been so wholly exposed.

Having been put in this position by repeated batting failures on this tour, the Australian team leaders - Steven Smith, Warner, Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood - reasoned over the lunch break that something had to be tried to rough the ball up to get it to reverse swing. Overhearing this and all too ready to volunteer his services was Bancroft, Australia's least seasoned player.

To suggest that Bancroft did not know the rules - the explanation offered for Peter Handscomb's suggestion that Smith ask the dressing room about a DRS referral in India last year - would be pointless: ball tampering is, rightly or wrongly, among cricket's most-high profile taboos - just ask Faf du Plessis. Indeed, Bancroft admitted to nervousness about a knowing attempt to rough up the ball illegally with the eyes of the world on Newlands. They knew this was wrong even as they contemplated it. To quote a detective observing a crime scene in the film Insomnia: "This guy crossed the line and he didn't even blink. You don't come back from that."

When footage of something amiss was aired on the stadium's big screen, worse was to follow. A ham-fisted attempt by the team - whether it was Smith, Lehmann, Handscomb or Bancroft involved is secondary to the attempt itself - to cover up the practice had Bancroft dropping the offending adhesive tape down his trousers and then innocently waving a cloth for his sunglasses to the umpires. Ever since the attempted bugging of the Democratic National Committee in the 1972, the dangers of a cover-up have been plain to all who uttered the term "Watergate", yet here was the Australian team trying one in plain sight.

The rest, of course, followed the pictures as surely as night follows day. Bancroft's actions were decried by seasoned commentators, brought to the attention of the match referee Andy Pycroft, and charged as ball tampering under the ICC code of conduct. So clearly and badly caught out, Bancroft and Smith faced television cameras, owned up to their offence, and gravely intoned that it would never happen again. "We'll learn from it and move past it," Smith said. "It's not what we're about, it's a poor reflection on everyone in that dressing room, particularly the leaders of the group."

Most certainly, there will have to be consequences beyond those levied by the ICC. Smith remains a young leader, with judgment shown to be less sound than the CA Board - who appointed him - had hoped. Lehmann has a little more than a year of his contract remaining, but will struggle to survive the exposure of a culture for which he is the most experienced overseer. Seldom has "within the spirit of the game" looked more like "whatever we can get away with". Sutherland's public response to the episode will be telling.

But the most sobering learning for Australia about Newlands must surely be that there is far more than this to move past. The world already had a low opinion of the Australian team, reflected in the indifference to their protests about abuse from the crowd. To then be caught cheating so egregiously on the same day they had complained was the "smoking gun" to underline countless low assertions about their integrity and approach to the game. The Australian line has become a noose.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig