JOHANNESBURG – A deeply contrite Darren Lehmann said Wednesday that the Australian cricket team would have to undergo a radical culture change and that the snarling aggression of recent years must be replaced by an attitude that shows greater respect for the opposition and the traditions of the game.
The Australian team's coach cut a disconsolate figure while still trying to come to terms with the fall-out from seeing his side’s captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner, along with opener Cameron Bancroft thrown out of the squad currently touring South Africa, after the trio tried to illegally tamper with the ball during the third Test in Cape Town.
Lehmann issued an apology to the Australian public, but asked that they also understand the error the players made and that they be forgiven.
“They know they must face the consequences, they have made a grave mistake, but they are not bad people. As a coach you feel for them as people, they are hurting and I feel for them and their families,” said Lehmann.
“There is a human side to this…these are young men and I hope people will give them a second chance. Their health and well-being is extremely important to us.”
There were emotional goodbyes when Smith, Warner and Bancroft left the team’s hotel in Johannesburg for OR Tambo International and a long trip home where more scrutiny undoubtedly awaits.
Asked specifically about Smith, Lehmann said: “We’ve lost a great young man that’s made a mistake, we all love him. It’s hard for him and his family at the moment. I feel for him. He will come back a better person, no doubt about that. Having spent a lot of time with him the last few days seeing the hurt from him, you just feel for him.”
BREAKING NEWS: Cricket Australia confirm that SANDPAPER WAS USED to tamper with the ball at Newlands, and that Steve Smith and David Warner have received 12-month bans, and Cameron Bancroft 9 months @IOL #BallTampering #SandpaperGate #SAvAUS pic.twitter.com/f6LSAHPNKy
Lehmann reiterated that he knew nothing of the incident, said to have been concocted by Warner, which saw Bancroft use sandpaper to rough up one side of the ball to help it swing. Smith and Bancroft lied to the umpires about what they were doing, while Warner lied and initially did not acknowledge his role in the affair.
“The first I saw of it was on that screen, which is when I got on the walkie-talkie and said something to Peter (Handscomb) …there were a couple of expletives in there. Then I spoke to the players at tea time and said we’ll deal with it at the end of play, which has happened through the process,” said Lehmann.
He added, that having talked to the players, he’s reasonably comfortable this is the first time that anyone has tried to tamper with the ball in that manner, but added “I wouldn’t know for sure.”
Lehmann said that his side tried to manage the ball the same way others do, by keeping one side dry and scuffing it by throwing it into the pitch – something umpires frown upon and for which the South Africans were warned at Newlands.
Lehmann said he would not resign from his position, and despite many pointing fingers at him for being responsible for the overtly aggressive manner in which Australia has played the game in recent years, he is confident he is the right man to lead a change in attitude.
“I need to change,” he said. “We need to change how we play and the boundaries in which we play. Previously we butted heads on the line but that’s not the way for us to go about playing cricket going forward.”
“If we take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book, the way they play and respect the opposition….we do respect the opposition, but we push the boundaries on the ground. We have to make sure to respect the game, and its traditions.”
Lehmann admitted his team would not be “100% mentally right,” for the fourth Test against South Africa starting at the Wanderers on Friday.
“But we are representing the country and we have to start the ball rolling, getting things right, by playing the game the best we possibly can,” he said.
* Meanwhile the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced Wednesday that both Smith and Warner were banned from the 2018 edition of the Indian Premier League. Both players have contracts worth over R20-million each with the IPL.