Cricket Australia sends Smith, Warner and Bancroft home as Lehmann stays

Cricket Australia sends Smith, Warner and Bancroft home as Lehmann stays

Offshore Technology International -
The three main players in the ball-tampering affair are sent home, Decisions on sanctions for them are due in the next 24 hours

Darren Lehmann has survived as Australia head coach after the investigation into ball-tampering during the recent Cape Town Test concluded that only three players were involved.

Steve Smith, the Australia captain, his deputy David Warner and the batsman Cameron Bancroft have all been sent home in disgrace and told to expect “significant sanctions” in the next 24 hours for their role in the plot in which Bancroft was caught scuffing the ball with a piece of grit-covered sticky-tape.

All three have been charged with “conduct contrary to the spirit of the game” and are expected to face lengthy suspensions, with Smith and Warner also expected to be stripped of their respective leaderships roles.

James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, stopped short of saying Smith could not lead the national team again but in the short term the wicketkeeper Tim Paine will captain in the Test series finale against South Africa in Johannesburg starting on Friday. He is the 46th man to hold the position.

The findings Sutherland announced on Tuesday evening left many baffled that so few were privy to the plan – not least Lehmann, who was seen communicating with the 12th man, Peter Handscomb, via walkie talkie before the latter ran on seemingly to tell Bancroft he had been caught on camera.

Smith’s predecessor as captain, Michael Clarke, tweeted: “To many reputations on the line for the full story not to come out. Cape Town change room is a very small place! The truth, The full story, Accountability and Leadership – until the public get this Australian cricket is in deep shit!”

Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, offered: “Only 3 people knew ......... #MyArse”, while the former wicketkeeper Matt Prior said: “Obviously the only people in the ‘leadership group’ were Smith and Warner? #notsosure”.

If the three players reject the penalties handed down on Wednesday they have the right to a hearing from an independent commissioner. In reiterating that the week has been “extraordinarily bad” for Australian cricket, Sutherland did not deny that long bans could be on the cards. “As a matter of urgency we will complete the process by tomorrow morning and in the next 24 hours we’ll be in a position to announce sanctions,” he said.

“I want to stress that we are contemplating significant sanctions in each case. These sanctions will reflect the gravity with which we view what has occurred and the damage it has done to the standing of Australian cricket. I fully understand the appetite for urgency for more detail. However, urgency must be balanced with due process given the serious implications for all involved.”

Sutherland also announced a review into the “conduct and culture” of Australian cricket teams at large, even though Lehmann, who has built this since his 2013 appointment, will continue until his contract ends next year.

It was stressed that Iain Roy, CA’s integrity officer who conducted the investigation, had found that neither Lehmann nor any other member of the squad or coaching set-up knew of the plot hatched at the lunch break on Saturday. Roy also reported that the tampering episode was an “isolated incident” at Newlands, with Sutherland saying: “I certainly hope it’s an isolated incident.”

Sutherland was asked repeatedly by television reporters to say the word “cheat” but refused to do so.

He did, however, reiterate his apology to the Australian public. “I understand and share the anger and disappointment of the Australian cricket family about these events. Particularly [I apologise] to all the kids who loved cricket and idolised the players. I also want to apologise to all Australia and South Africa.”

In a lengthy statement Sutherland said he also recognised that the matter “goes beyond” the specific incident on Saturday, adding: “A clear focus will be on re-engaging with Australian cricket fans and the public to rebuild respect.”

Sutherland had arrived in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning before the team and met Roy and Pat Howard, the high-performance manager, to discuss their findings from a string of interviews with players and staff.

The pair had been on the ground since Monday, looking to sort fact from fiction in a scandal that erupted on day three of Australia’s 322?run defeat by South Africa when cameras caught Bancroft using a piece of grit-covered sticky tape to scuff the ball, before attempting to hide it.

In a post-play press conference that day Smith had looked to offer a mea culpa and assurances that a repeat would not occur. But the admission that he and the “leadership group” had cooked up the plan, with Bancroft simply the one to execute it, led to the matter instead blowing up in his face.

The International Cricket Council banned Smith from the fourth Test as per its code of conduct but amid pressure from the public, commercial partners and even the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, his employer opened an investigation.

The mood within the squad on Tuesday morning appeared to turn against Warner in particular, with reports that it was in fact the vice-captain who was central to the plan’s conception – Smith simply agreed – but he was looking to share the blame around the team come explanation time.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood in particular were said to be incensed by this, with Warner reportedly leaving the team’s WhatsApp messenger group and striking an isolated figure before the squad’s departure from Cape Town. There are suggestions the opener may have played his last international.

At the same time as Sutherland announced the outcomes to a media conference later in the day, Glenn Maxwell, Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw were en route to South Africa to join the squad – the latter just hours after hitting the winning runs for Queensland in the Sheffield Shield final against Tasmania.

The 21-year-old Renshaw lost his place to Bancroft before the Ashes but now has the chance to reclaim it when a series marred by bad blood between the two sides – and which South Africa lead 2-1 – concludes at the Wanderers, starting on Friday.

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