One Year On: Darren Lehmann reflects on the ball tampering scandal
A year ago, a nation of cricket lovers woke up to find our national team embroiled in a scandal of equal parts disgust, shame, and disbelief.
Things got worse as the days unfolded. We learned we had cheated in a display of rank arrogance by using sandpaper to tamper with the condition of the ball. If matters weren’t bad enough, we also lied about it to the world.
Cameron Bancroft was caught red handed. Captain Steve Smith engaged in a cover-up and failed as leader. Vice Captain David Warner emerged as the aggressive senior figure responsible for cooking up the plan and recruiting Bancroft to carry out the deed.
All three were complicit in the plan to cheat and all three were issued lengthy suspensions for their roles in the scandal, but theirs were not the only heads on the chopping block.
Twelve months ago, Darren Lehmann was the coach of the Australian cricket team and the events which transpired in Cape Town forced him to resign.
“It’s been a tough time for everyone,” Lehmann tells David Morrow and Mat Thompson.
“Hopefully everyone gets behind the boys when they come back, Cameron Bancroft is already back obviously, but Smith and Warner are going to be very important players for us for a long period of time, especially with a World Cup and Ashes coming up,
“Hopefully all is forgiven and we try and move on.”
Forgiveness and moving forward are themes for Lehmann who concedes he does feel personally responsible for the scandal, at least in part.
“Well, I’m head coach, aren’t I?
“Your responsibility is to try and win the game, not in that particular way, but you’re still in charge of a group of men and staff and that’s part of the reason why I stood down to be perfectly honest, it was about moving on and letting the game of cricket get back to where it should be.
“For me, I do take responsibility for that.”
The calculated plan to use sandpaper on the ball was absurdly brazen and people still find it hard to accept that the head coach had no prior knowledge of the plan, a claim which Lehmann shrugs off.
“People can have their views, I know what happens,
“Ball tampering, or some sort of [manipulation] has been happening, whether it’s mints, for many years. That’s the problem and that’s the grey area, but obviously not to the extent of sandpaper, that’s the biggest issue.
“For me, it’s a case of moving on really, I don’t want to reflect too much on it, whether it’s three guys or a coach or people that left the game, the game is bigger than that.”
Cricket teams and their coaches spend roughly 300 days of the year on the road, separated from their families and away from their homes, and Lehman says this takes a toll.
“I think I probably coached too long” he said.
The enduring question for cricket fans is simple: how? How did it come to this? How did the desire to win become so intense that it scrambled the team’s moral compass? How did the culture in the dressing room decay to a level where a premeditated plan to cheat was carried out?
“There’s so many different variables,” Lehmann said.
“The fact is it happened, that’s the simple fact of life. When you try to win a game for your country, and you want to play a certain way, that way obviously crossed the line.
“It’s hard to go back on it and I think the big thing is for everybody to move forward and hopefully the game is in a better spot now.”
Win at all costs. A phrase uttered endlessly in the aftermath of the scandal but a fair summation of team culture in the eyes of many. Did the demand for victory become the overriding principle?
“You always have demand for victory in high level sport, that’s part and parcel but it’s about playing the right way,
“You’re always going to have the pressure from above or below, or from media or from fans – to win, it’s about finding the right balance”
For his role in the scandal, Cameron Bancroft was issued a 9 month suspension from playing which expired in time for him to resume in the Big Bash. Recently, Bancroft was named captain of English county side Durham for the summer season. Steve Smith and David Warner copped lengthier 12 month bans and have been the subject of fiery debate since. With their suspensions due to expire shortly, do they walk back into the team? And if their form warrants selection, will the team accept them upon their return?
“Warner and Smith, people keep talking about ‘will they come back in’ – they will play, they will be in the world cup, and they will be in the starting 11 for the Australian cricket team, they are world class players,
“They [The Australian Cricket Team] will accept them back quite comfortably I would think, there won’t be any issues there, it’s about playing cricket and representing your country.
Acceptance, forgiveness, moving on. While the team might be ready to accept Steve Smith and David Warner’s return, the Australian public’s white hot anger remains palpable and many are not ready to forgive, something which Lehmann urges people overcome.
“I think it’s time to move on and I think that’s where the Australian public are, there’s debate about the length of the ban and whether it was too long,
“12 months is a long time, I think everyone is ready for them to come back.
“They’re good young men. Everyone is entitled to make a mistake and they’ve learned from that, I think everyone’s learned from that,”
“I just hope everyone supports them out there.”
Click PLAY to hear Darren Lehmann with David Morrow and Mat Thompson.