Amidst plenty of buzz, under-fire Australia coach Darren Lehmann has finally broken his silence over the infamous ball-tampering scandal that rocked the entire cricketing fraternity on the third day of the recently concluded Cape Town Test.
Cricket Australia on Tuesday (March 27) gave a clean chit to Lehmann, saying that the 48-year-old coach had no involvement in this disgraceful incident. However, the cricket board announced a severe punishment on the convicted trio of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. CA banned skipper Smith and vice-captain Warner for 12 months, while Bancroft was handed a 9-month suspension from international cricket.
Addressing the press conference on Wednesday (March 28), Lehmann said: "I worry about the 3 guys mentally. There is a need for us to change the way we play. We need to work to bring the respect back from the fans."
Lehmann urged the fuming Australian cricket fans to give a second chance to the convicted trio.
"The players have made a grave mistake but they are not bad people. There is a human side to this. I hope people will give them a second chance. I want apologise to the Australian public. We know we have let so many people down. We are truly sorry," he added.
Lehmann also made it clear that he will continue to serve the national team as a coach.
"I'm not going to resign. We need to change how we play. Previously we butted heads but that's not the way to play going forward. I need to change," he said.
However, Lehmann avoided the trickiest question whether he is liable, as many pundits have suggested. The coach reiterated that the first time he got to know about the ball-tampering incident was when he saw it on the big screen.
"The first I saw of it was on that screen, I got straight on the walky-talky and said something. There were a couple of expletives in there. Then I spoke to the players at tea time and said we would deal with it at the end of play, which happened through the process. I am confident it is an isolated issue and a grave mistake. It’s never happened before in speaking to those guys," Lehmann asserted.
Contrary to various media reports, Lehmann said the trio had the backing of the entire team, despite their offence.
"When you lose three men in your team, who obviously made a mistake, that hurts all of us. Saying goodbye to them is difficult. The whole group is upset and we understand the enormity of it and the public perception. We have to try and win the fans back over and play the best cricket we can. If we take a leaf out of someone like New Zealand... we push the boundaries on the ground, so we need to make sure we are respecting the game and its traditions," he stated.
Lehmann also backed Smith to resume his international career when he will serve his one-year ban.
"He is going to come back a better person, there is no doubt about that. To see the hurt in him over the last three or four days, you just feel for him," the Australian coach concluded.
CA chief James Sutherland on Wednesday stated that Lehmann had absolutely no prior idea about the planning related to ball-tampering and he was as surprised as the thousands of spectators in the Newlands stadium. Sutherland further went on to say that the Australian coach had used the walkie talkie to ask Hanscomb “What the hell is going on?” rather than to tell Bancroft that he had been spotted with a piece of sandpaper.
"Darren Lehmann is the coach, he was in no way involved. He continues as coach. I have spoken to all three players as they left. The players are very sad, disappointed and remorseful about what has happened," James Sutherland said at a media conference.
"In Darren's defence i want to clarify, he sent a message to say 'what in the hell is going on?' He didn't use hell he used another word. Darren made those comments and Ian was satisfied he knew nothing of the plan," he further added.
In its statement, Cricket Australia also mentioned that Smith and Bancroft will have to wait two years before they are considered for leadership roles, while Warner will never again be considered for captaincy as he was found to be the instigator of the plan. While Smith, Warner and Bancroft are still eligible to compete in club cricket they can’t take part in state or international games for the duration of their bans.
Just a day after the scandal, Smith was handed a one-match suspension and fined 100% of his match fee by the ICC while Bancroft was penalized 75 percent of his match fee and awarded three demerit points for breaching Level 2 of the ICC Code of Conduct.