Thursday 26 April 2018

Darren Lehmann to announce resignation as Australia coach as board considers 12-month bans for Steve Smith and David Warner

Australia head coach is expected Darren Lehmann to stand down. Photo: Getty Images
Australia head coach is expected Darren Lehmann to stand down. Photo: Getty Images

Nick Hoult

Darren Lehmann is expected to announce his resignation as head coach of Australia in the next 24 hours, becoming the first casualty of the ball-tampering scandal.

Sources in Australia have said Lehmann is ready to stand down with immediate effect and his decision is partly why chief executive of Cricket Australia (CA) James Sutherland suddenly announced yesterday he was flying to South Africa.

Sutherland is due to meet the players and coaching staff in Johannesburg today, with a press conference expected this evening, when announcements about Lehmann and action against Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are likely to be announced. Smith and Warner are thought to be facing the prospect of 12-month suspensions from the sport.

Lehmann, who has been head coach for five years, winning two Ashes series and a World Cup, has not spoken publicly since the scandal erupted on Saturday.

But, as head coach, he will have to take full responsibility for what happened on his watch, even if he was not directly involved in the decision. Lehmann, as coach, is accountable for the culture within the camp and has presided over a team happy to agree to pre-meditated cheating.

There are also few left who believe Smith's explanation that Saturday's incident was a one-off. Australia have also pushed the boundaries in terms of on-field abuse under Lehmann and cleaning up the side will have to include changes to the top of the management structure.

Lehmann announced last year that he would be stepping down anyway after the 2019 Ashes tour. He was appointed in the aftermath of the "homework-gate" row which led to four players being suspended on a tour to India for failing to give coach Mickey Arthur feedback on how the team could improve. Arthur's reputation never recovered and he was sacked during the 2013 Ashes tour to England.

Lehmann was brought in to bring a harder edge to the side and a return to so-called Australian values. Those values have been shattered by what happened in Cape Town.

Smith and Warner are facing the likelihood of year-long suspensions by CA that will also cost them millions in Indian Premier League earnings.

Examples

CA is under intense pressure to make examples of the two leaders in the team and suspending them from international duty, but allowing them to make money in the IPL would send a terrible message. Smith and Warner are the highest-paid Australian cricketers in the IPL.

Both were retained by their franchises before January's auction on deals worth €1.25 million. Warner plays for the Sunrisers Hyderabad and has twice been the leading scorer in the IPL, sending his value rocketing.

Smith was also among the most marketable cricketers, securing lucrative sponsorship deals with food company Sanitarium, Commonwealth Bank, New Balance and Fit Bit. Sanitarium confirmed last night their support of Smith was "under review", saying: "The actions taken by the team in South Africa don't align with our values. We don't condone cheating in sport."

Commonwealth Bank also suggested it could sever its deal. "We are disappointed and have asked for a full explanation," a spokesperson said.

CA has been told to act swiftly and decisively by the country's prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and is facing the prospect of losing sponsors.

While CA had expected a total bid of around €620 million to cover free-to-air and subscription channels for the next seven years, the figure is likely to be substantially reduced in the wake of the most shocking case of team discipline in the modern history of the Australian side.

Until Saturday, Smith was the golden boy of Australian cricket, billed as the new Don Bradman and set to captain for years. But his world has been shattered. His reputation is in tatters. A serious form of punishment will have to include suspension from a home Australian summer. India are due to tour Australia this winter.

CA has broad sanctions at its disposal under the terms of its central contracts with the Australian players and is investigating what happened in the dressing room at Newlands before Bancroft took the field in the afternoon session with sticky tape in his pocket and attempted to change the ball condition. The big decision for CA is deciding the level of culpability. Does it punish players for simply knowing what was going on?

That could lead to fines or suspensions for many others beyond the trio in the spotlight.

Several senior players are understood to be incensed by Smith's comments on Saturday when he implicated the "leadership group" as a collective in the plan to cheat. It is thought he was trying to protect Warner and spread the blame, but team-mates such as Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are believed to be extremely upset to have been dragged into it and had not been involved in the discussions.

What Lehmann knew will be key. He was seen on camera speaking via a walkie-talkie to 12th man Peter Handscomb moments after Bancroft was caught on television using yellow sticky tape to rub the ball.

Message

Handscomb then immediately went on the field and delivered a message to Bancroft, who then stuffed the yellow tape down his trousers and, when asked to empty his pockets by the umpires, showed them the cloth for cleaning his sunglasses.

In many ways, Lehmann is the easiest for CA to deal with. It is not short of great former players to call upon to take control of the team. Ricky Ponting will be a favourite, along with Justin Langer and Jason Gillespie.

All three are hugely respected for their playing careers and have enjoyed success as coaches. Ponting may not want the job full time, but more countries are likely to split their coaching roles anyway due to the time teams are on the road.

Smith has already lost his job as captain of the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, with the franchise announcing yesterday that India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane would replace him for the season which starts early next month.

CA has to move quickly. The fourth Tests starts in Johannesburg on Friday and Australia will need to fly replacements to South Africa. Smith has already been banned by the International Cricket Council and it is inconceivable Warner and Bancroft will play, even if CA has not decided its sanctions by then.

Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw are on standby to join the touring party, with Tim Paine likely to continue as captain.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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