Sunday 22 April 2018

Lehmann stays on as 'tampering trio' await their fate

Australia’s Steve Smith arriving at Cape Town’s International Airport yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Australia’s Steve Smith arriving at Cape Town’s International Airport yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Nick Hoult

There was mounting criticism and disbelief last night that Cricket Australia let Darren Lehmann off "scot free" while sending three players home in disgrace for the ball-tampering plot during the Cape Town Test.

Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner will be told today how long they will be banned and will return to Australia after the most shameful incident in Australia cricket's recent history.

Sources close to Lehmann had indicated the head coach was ready to resign such was his shock at what had happened on Saturday but there appeared to have been a change of heart and, despite calls at home in Australia for Lehmann to be sacked, the chief executive of Cricket Australia James Sutherland cleared him of any prior knowledge of the plan to ball-tamper.

Instead Sutherland said preliminary investigations had shown "knowledge was limited to three players".

He announced a wider investigation into "team culture" which will scrutinise Lehmann's methods and ultimately decide his fate. Despite surviving for the rest of the South Africa tour, his position still looks untenable.

Smith looks certain to be sacked as captain and face a lengthy ban, alongside his deputy Warner and Bancroft, the young player who was chosen to carry out the ball-tampering.

Sutherland's claim that nobody else was involved in the plan was met with surprise and anger at home in Australia with suggestions of a whitewash.

"The truth, the full story, accountability and leadership until the public get this Australian cricket is in deep s***," said Michael Clarke, the recently retired Australia captain.

Sutherland had been under huge pressure to act decisively but he refused to use the word 'cheating' despite being invited to several times during his press conference. He would only go as far to say as what happened was not "within the laws of the game" and "it is not a good day for Australian cricket."

He refused to be drawn on whether Smith could lead Australia again.

Contrasted

Sutherland's avoidance of the word cheat contrasted with the Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who said hours before the press conference: "This cheating is a disgrace, we all know that, it is a terrible disgrace. This has been a shocking affront to Australia."

When Smith spoke after the match on Saturday, he said the decision had been taken by the 'leadership group' which somehow included Bancroft playing in only his eighth Test and none of the coaching staff.

"I find it remarkable that Darren Lehmann did not know anything about this and has basically been exonerated. The behaviour of the Australian team has gone down and down under Lehmann and Steve Smith. He (Lehmann) is lucky to get off scot free," said Bob Willis on Sky. "Surely the head coach has to be part of the leadership group of an international cricket team so I find that almost unbelievable and he is very lucky to survive."

International bowling attacks are very particular about the management of ball-shining with set routines on the field. It is Australia's bowling attack that is its strongest asset with senior players such as Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon integral to the team's fortunes.

"In every team I played in good luck doing anything to the ball without consulting the bowlers first! Be taking your life in your own hands," said the former England wicketkeeper Matt Prior.

When Sutherland sacked Mickey Arthur as head coach five years ago, he said the responsibility for team discipline lay with the head coach.

"Discipline, consistency of behaviour and accountability for performances are all key ingredients that need to improve. And we see that the head coach is ultimately responsible," he said in 2013. Arthur was sacked for disciplining players for not doing homework.

Warner looks set to be the biggest casualty. Smith is likely to return to the team and be rehabilitated but reports yesterday were suggesting Warner had been completely isolated from his team-mates who blame him for trying to implicate them.

Impossible

Reports in Australia said he had removed himself from the team's WhatsApp messaging group and a way back looks impossible for him as he leaves South Africa today.

However, if any have lied about their knowledge of the plot and Warner feels victimised, he could be the ticking time bomb ready to blow the whistle in the future. The same goes for Bancroft, seen by many as the patsy in all of this. There will be sympathy for him back in Western Australia where there are powerful voices within Australian cricket. Sutherland said Smith is "distraught, really upset" but did not comment about any other players.

"We are contemplating significant sanctions in each case. These will reflect the gravity with what we view has occurred and damage it has done to the standing of Australian cricket," said Sutherland. "CA will take the opportunity to review the conduct and culture of our Australian team. Clear focus will be on re-engaging with cricket fans to rebuild respect and pride."

Tim Paine has been appointed captain of Australia in Smith's place for the fourth Test with South Africa that starts on Friday. Batsmen Matt Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns are flying from Australia to South Africa to replace the suspended players.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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