“What the f*** is going on?”
These were the words that distanced Australia’s coach Darren Lehmann from the ball-tampering plot hatched by David Warner and Cameron Bancroft with the approval of Steven Smith. Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland has said this was the message Lehmann relayed to Bancroft via 12th man Peter Handscomb, whom he spoke to on a walkie talkie.
Lehmann offered this version of events to the CA head of integrity Iain Roy when interviewed at the team hotel in Cape Town on Monday, and it was accepted with the help of corroborating witnesses. Sutherland said this explained Lehmann’s absence from the charge sheet released by CA on Wednesday, which handed bans to Warner, Bancroft and Smith.
“It is understood and it has been verified by others that on the walkie-talkie he said… you guys probably saw it, the first time anyone knew about it was when it came up on the vision screen,” Sutherland said in Johannesburg. “He saw that and he radioed down and he said ‘what the f*** is going on?’ He said to Handscomb: ‘Find out what the f*** is going on’.
“Beyond that I would like to just touch on that he brought everyone into the room when the next break was [at tea]. He basically went through everyone and went ‘what is going on?’ There are other parts of the investigation that asked lots of questions of lots of people to try and understand that. But in Darren’s defence, these were findings that Iain Roy had.”
Asked whether Lehmann found out at that stage whether Bancroft was using sandpaper or the adhesive tape he later claimed to have used, Sutherland replied: “I don’t know what the specific messages were. But for Iain it was very important to hear. Darren’s reaction to those things was pretty clear. He’s obviously tried to verify or understand [what] anyone else’s involvement [was].”
However Sutherland reiterated that Lehmann’s role in the wider culture of the team would be examined by the independent review to be commissioned into the conduct of Australian men’s teams. “I’ve got no doubt that he feels some sort of personal responsibility for that. We all do. This is a terrible situation,” Sutherland said. “There are three guys going home that have been offered sanctions that are life-changing.
“There is a feeling of guilt and questions obviously being asked of lots of people as to why or how that might have happened. That’s part of the purpose of later discussion and review. We’ll clearly take on board whatever comes out of such investigations. But further to that I think it’s really important that to say this process is about culture and performance and all of that, but it’s also about the standing of the Australian cricket team and how they engage with the Australian public.
“There is a rebuild that needs to happen to reinstate the faith and the confidence and I guess the pride that the Australian public had and should have in the Australian cricket team. The review will be deep and far ranging. We’re committed to doing something about it. We cannot have this happen again. It’s just unquestionable and so obvious. If there are things that allow little things to turn into big things that allow this to happen, then you’ve got to go back to the core and find out what the little things are and address them. That is what we’ll be doing.”
Turning his attention to Smith, Warner and Bancroft, Sutherland agreed that their charges and hefty punishments had more to do with the outrage their actions had caused than the specifics of ball tampering itself. “They haven’t been charged by Cricket Australia for ball tampering,” he said. “It’s something that’s important to remind people that the code is worth reading, those four dot points, that’s what they’ve been charged for.
“That’s the significance. It relates to contrary to the spirit of the game, it relates to denigrating the game or having an impact on the reputation and image of the game, causing damage to the game, all of those things have quite clearly happened in a short space of time as a result of those actions. That’s what the report is for and the sanctions are on that basis.”
As for the future prospects of Smith captaining Australia again, Sutherland said the 28-year-old had a steep road ahead. “His ban is for captaincy is 24 months. It’s not before 24 months,” he said. “All I’d say is that he’s got a very steep hill to climb to rebuild the confidence and faith of the Australian public.
“Ultimately, the public and the Board who approve the captains of the Australian teams are the ones who will decide that or not. I think he’s got that opportunity. I know speaking to him today before he left, he actually said with a smile on his face when we were talking about the community service and working at club cricket, he said with a smile on his face ‘I’ll be doing that anyway’, which I think says a lot about him.”
Warner, by contrast, is believed to have a far more lowly standing with CA’s Board and management. “Everyone’s different, Cameron Bancroft’s different as well,” Sutherland said. “Different relationships with different people. Irrespective of that, I think when you boil it down everyone will have different perspectives.
“But when you have a look at it I think Steve Smith and David Warner both 12 months suspensions, it’s fair. Steve is the captain, David the vice-captain, they play different roles, they’re guilty of different things in our view, based on the investigation. People will have different views but the Board was dealing with the evidence they had in front of them.”
The prospect of a challenge to the sanctions and a code of conduct hearing, Sutherland said, was simply something that CA would have to negotiate. The three players have seven days to deliberate on whether to challenge or not. “All we can do is uphold the code to our best judgement and take into considerations the evidence we have,” he said. “It’s about the spirit of cricket, it’s about the good of the game, it’s not about individuals or thinking about those sorts of consequences.
“We’ve got to make those judgements on what’s best for the game and quite rightly as a course of natural justice under our code, players have the right to accept or reject the charges or the sanctions or both, and, if they do, to take that to appeal. That’s a good, proper legal process and that’s why it’s written that way.”