A disappointed Malcolm Turnbull has contacted the head of Cricket Australia amid the national team’s cheating scandal in South Africa.

The prime minister said he was shocked and bitterly disappointed to learn the national team, led by captain Steve Smith, illegally tampered with the ball during the third Test in Cape Town.

Mr Turnbull said he had spoken with David Peever, the Cricket Australia chairman and former member of the prime minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council.

“I’ve expressed to him very clearly and unequivocally my disappointment and my concern about the events in South Africa,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“Our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play.

“How can our team be engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief.”

Federal Sport Minister Bridget McKenzie called it “a sad day for Australian cricket”.

“Athletes who represent our country have a responsibility to the Australian public to set standards as role models for future generations of sports men and women,” she said in a statement.

“Australians don’t condone cheating in any form. It is completely unacceptable. “

Mr Turnbull said he looked forward to the national body taking “decisive action soon”.

But that could be a while, going by Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, who refused to make a call on Smith’s long-term position on Sunday.

Cricket Australia officials will travel to South Africa to investigate the cheating scandal before the fate of Smith and others involved are announced.