Smith, Lehmann reduced to tears amid ball-tampering scandal
The fallout from the ball-tampering scandal in cricket reduced Australia’s two most high-profile figures to tears Thursday, with captain Steve Smith apologizing to the nation and his family before coach Darren Lehmann announced his intention to quit.
After losing the captaincy of the test team because of the incident in South Africa, Smith returned to Australia and broke down several times in a news conference at Sydney airport.
“I just want to say I’m sorry for the pain that I’ve brought to Australia and the fans and the public,” he said. “It’s devastating and I’m truly sorry.”
Smith started crying as he took responsibility for the ball-tampering plot in the Cape Town test last weekend and reflected on the effect his involvement in it has had on his parents.
Hours later, Lehmann wiped away tears in Johannesburg while announcing he would be quitting as Australia coach when the ill-tempered series against South Africa concluded after the fourth and final test, which starts Friday.
“My family and I have copped a lot of abuse over the last week,” Lehmann said, “and it’s taken its toll on them.
“I really feel for Steve, as I saw him crying in front of the media. All the players are really hurting.”
Lehmann maintained that he knew nothing about the ball-tampering plans.
Smith left South Africa in disgrace after being sent home by Cricket Australia. At the airport in Johannesburg, he was led through the terminal by up to six police and security guards, hearing boos and taunts of “cheater” from a crowd that had gathered.
Smith and Cameron Bancroft fronted news conferences on opposite sides of Australia, while the third player involved in the scandal — David Warner — used social media to issue an apology while still in the air.
Warner arrived in Sydney a few hours later and said it had been “a tough and emotional time.”
Holding one of his children and with his wife next to him with another, Warner said his priority was to “get these kids in bed, rest up, and let my mind be clear so I can talk to you in a couple of days.”
Smith, wearing a sports jacket and drawing deep breaths as he spoke, addressed the fans and the children of Australia who wanted to know why he cheated.
“Firstly, I’m deeply sorry. I love the game of cricket. I love kids wanting to play the great game of cricket that I love,” he said. “Any time you’re thinking of making a questionable decision. Think about who you’re affecting.
“You’re affecting your parents. To see the way my old man has been” — Smith choked up and cried, then continued — “and my mum. It hurts.”
Smith said as the captain, he took “full responsibility.”
“I made a serious error of judgment and I know and understand the consequences,” he said. “It was a failure of my leadership. I will do everything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it has caused. If any good can come from this, then I hope I can be a force for change.
“I will regret this for the rest of my life. I am absolutely gutted. I hope in time I can earn back respect and forgiveness.”
Some sympathy did come from South Africa.
“I did send him a text,” South Africa captain Faf du Plessis said in Johannesburg. “From a really deep place in my heart I feel for the guy. You don’t want to see guys going through that stuff.”
Nearly 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) west in Perth, an emotional Bancroft apologized and said he will forever regret his role in the episode that resulted in 12-month bans for Smith and Warner and a nine-month ban for him.
“Not a second has gone by when I wish I could turn back time. It is something I will regret for the rest of my life,” Bancroft said. “All I can do in the short term is to ask for forgiveness.”
Bancroft has played only eight tests since replacing Matt Renshaw in the lineup. Now Renshaw has been recalled to replace him.
“The thing that breaks my heart is that I have given up my spot in the team for free,” he said, holding back tears. “People know I worked so hard to get to this point in my career and to have given up that chance is devastating.”
A Cricket Australia investigator found Warner instructed Bancroft how to carry out the tampering with a piece of sandpaper during a break in play on the third day of the third test against South Africa.
Bancroft initially claimed he used adhesive tape and dirt to attempt to alter the shape of the ball. It was later proved he used sandpaper.
“I lied about the sandpaper,” Bancroft explained. “I panicked in that situation. I’m embarrassed by that. I have never ever been involved in tampering with the ball.”
English county side Somerset said Bancroft would not be its overseas player for the coming season because of his involvement in the scandal.
Warner has lost two sponsors.
“Mistakes have been made which have damaged cricket. I apologize for my part and take responsibility for it,” he said. “I understand the distress this has caused the sport and its fans.”
Smith and Warner were banned from playing any high-level cricket in Australia for a year. They’ve also been barred by Indian authorities from the lucrative IPL.
Smith won’t be considered eligible to regain the test captaincy for at least two years, Cricket Australia said. Warner will never again be considered for a leadership role in a national team.
Sporting goods company Asics scrapped sponsorship deals with Warner and Bancroft. Electronics company LG already said it would not renew its soon-to-expire deal with Warner.
Cereal company Sanitarium on Thursday said it was ending its relationship with Smith.
Reports in the Australia media estimate the suspensions could cost Smith and Warner 5 million Australian dollars ($3.8 million) each in lost earnings and endorsements.
The Australia Cricketers’ Association has foreshadowed potential appeals by the banned players, saying “there are a number of glaring and clear anomalies in the process to date which causes the ACA to query the severity and proportionality of the proposed sanctions.”