Exclusive: Darren Lehmann to announce resignation as Australia coach as board considers 12-month bans for Steve Smith and David Warner


March 27, 2018

March 27, 2018

Australian Head Coach Darren Lehmann. – Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Darren Lehmann is expected to announce his resignation as head coach of Australia in the next 24 hours, becoming the first casualty of the ball-tampering scandal.

Sources in Australia have told Telegraph Sport Lehmann is ready to stand down with immediate effect and his decision is partly why James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, suddenly announced on Monday that he is flying to South Africa.

Sutherland is due to meet the players and coaching staff in Johannesburg on Tuesday with a press conference expected that evening when announcements about Lehmann and action against Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are likely to be announced. Smith and Warner are thought to be facing the prospect of 12-month suspensions from the sport. 

Lehmann, who has been head coach for five years, winning two Ashes series and a World Cup, has not spoken publicly since the ball-tampering scandal erupted on Saturday.

But as head coach he will have to take full responsibility for what happened on his watch, even if he was not directly involved in the decision. Lehmann, as coach, is accountable for the culture within the team and has presided over a side happy to agree to pre-meditated cheating. There are also few left who believe Smith’s explanation that Saturday’s incident was a one-off.

Australia have also pushed the boundaries in terms of on-field abuse under Lehmann and cleaning up the side will have to include changes to the top of the management structure. Lehmann announced last year that he will be stepping down anyway after the 2019 Ashes tour.

Lehmann was appointed in the aftermath of the 'homeworkgate' row which led to four players being suspended on a tour of India for failing to give coach Mickey Arthur feedback on how the team could improve. Arthur’s reputation never recovered and he was sacked during the 2013 Ashes tour of England. Lehmann was brought in to bring a harder edge to the side and a return to so-called Australian values. Those values have been shattered by what happened in Cape Town.

Smith and Warner are facing the likelihood of year-long suspensions by Cricket Australia that will also cost them millions of pounds in IPL earnings. Cricket Australia are under intense pressure to make examples of the two leaders in the team and suspending them from international duty, but allowing them make money in the IPL would send a terrible message.

Smith and Warner are the highest paid Australian cricketers in the IPL. Both were retained by their franchises before January’s auction on deals worth £1.1m. Warner plays for the Sunrisers Hyderabad and has twice been the leading scorer in the IPL which has rocketed his value.

Cricket Australia has been told to act swiftly and decisively by the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, and are facing the prospect of losing sponsors. The board is also at a delicate stage of negotiating its broadcast deals and cannot afford to have its position in those talks weakened by failing to act in the most shocking case of team discipline in the modern history of the Australian side. 

Until Saturday afternoon in Cape Town Smith was the golden boy of Australian cricket, billed as the new Don Bradman and poised to captain the side for years. But his world has been shattered. His reputation is in tatters. A serious form of punishment will have to include suspension from a home Australian summer. India are due to Australia this winter.

Cricket Australia has broad sanctions at its disposal under the terms of its central contracts with the Australian players and is currently investigating what exactly happened in the dressing room at Newlands before Bancroft went out on the field in the afternoon session with sticky tape in his pocket and attempted to change the condition of the ball.

The big decision for Cricket Australia is deciding the level of culpability. Does it punish players for simply knowing what was going on? That could lead to fines or suspensions for many others beyond the trio currently in the spotlight.

Several senior players are understood to be incensed by Smith’s comments on Saturday when he implicated the ‘leadership group’ as a collective in the plan to cheat. It is thought he was trying to protect Warner and spread the blame but team-mates such as Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are believed to be extremely upset to have been dragged into it and had not been involved in the discussions.

What Lehmann knew will be key. He was seen on camera speaking via a walkie-talkie to 12th man Peter Handscomb moments after Bancroft was caught on television using yellow sticky tape to rub the ball. Handscomb then immediately went on the field and delivered a message to Bancroft, who then stuffed the yellow tape down his trousers and when asked to empty his pockets by the on-field umpires, showed them the cloth for cleaning his sunglasses.

In many ways Lehmann is the easiest for Cricket Australia to deal with. Australia are not short of great former players to call upon to take control of the team. Ricky Ponting will be the favourite along with Justin Langer and Jason Gillespie. All three men are hugely respected for their playing careers and have enjoyed success as coaches. 

Ponting may not want the job full time but more countries are likely to split their coaching roles going forward anyway due to the amount of time teams are on the road. 

Smith had already lost his job as captain of the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL when the franchise announced on Monday that India vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane will replace him for the seasons which starts early next month. 

Cricket Australia has to move quickly. The fourth Tests starts in Johannesburg on Friday and Australia will need to fly replacements out to South Africa. Smith has already been banned by the ICC and it is inconceivable Warner and Bancroft will play even if Cricket Australia has not decided its sanctions by then.

Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw are on standby to join the touring party and Tim Paine is likely to continue as captain.

Joe Root said in Auckland on Monday that he was not aware of any ball-tampering by Australia during the last Ashes. “Not to my knowledge, I personally wasn’t aware of anything going on throughout that series. It’s obviously been very well documented and I personally have got plenty on my plate to worry about. But it is disappointing for Test cricket and cricket in general. 

"I think as an international player you know the rules and I think it’s important you shouldn’t really have to back that up. Every time you go out and represent your country you knows there’s a load of cameras around, you’re under the spotlight and I think it’s really important you, of course, give absolutely everything on the field and make sure you do everything you can to win but do it in the right way – it’s as simple as that.”

Courtesy/Source: The Telegraph