Rajasthan Royals announced Monday, March 26, that under-fire Steve Smith had stepped down as captain in order to make sure the former champions headed into the upcoming 11th season of Indian Premier League (IPL) without being affected by "ongoing distractions."

The Rajasthan-based franchise revealed they were in constant touch with Smith, who has been facing flak after he admitted to orchestrating the ball-tampering incident in South Africa that prompted strong reactions from quite a few, including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Ajinkya Rahane will lead the side while Smith will represent the champions of the inaugural IPL season as a top-order batsman.

'This will be a difficult time for Steve'

"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," Royals' official statement read.

Co-owner of the Royals, Manoj Badale, was quoted as saying: "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."

Smith in line for a lengthy ban?

Steve Smith
Cricket Australia is expected to announce its verdict on the issue Wednesday, March 28.GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Action against Smith was imminent as the Royals are heading into the new season of the cash-rich league following the completion of a two-year suspension over corruption charges.

The Royals were reportedly in touch with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) over the last two days. IPL Chairman Rajiv Shukla insisted Sunday they would wait for the International Cricket Council's (ICC) verdict before taking a call on Smith's future as franchise captain.

The ICC on Sunday evening slapped a one-match ban on Smith, who will also pay 100 percent of his match fee as fine.

However, Cricket Australia (CA), which has launched a probe into the incident, is expected to come out with a sterner punishment for the former captain and his teammates who were involved in ball-tampering. The country's governing body is expected to announce its verdict Wednesday, March 28.

How the ball-tampering incident unfolded

Smith and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft conceded they had devised a plan to alter the condition of the cricket ball during Lunch of the third day's play (Saturday, March 24) of the recently-concluded third Test in Cape Town.

The incident came to light after a camera caught the former using a yellow tape to scuff the red cherry at the Newlands Cricket Ground.

Bancroft stuffed the tape into his pants after realizing the umpires were suspicious. However, television cameras captured this as well, and it led to a huge uproar in the cricket fraternity.

It remains to be seen if Sunrisers Hyderabad take action against their title-winning skipper David Warner as the left-hander had also stepped down as vice-captain of the team following the much-publicized scandal.

Notably, Smith had conceded that the "leadership group" of the team was aware of Bancroft's act. However, he denied the involvement of coach Darren Lehmann.