Australia coach Darren Lehmann hopes that fans will forgive the three players involved in ball tampering and give them a second chance.
‘There’s a human side of this: they’ve made a mistake, as everyone including myself has made mistakes in the past,’ he said. ‘These are young men, and I hope people will give them a second chance. Their health and well-being is extremely important to us.’
An investigation by Cricket Australia’s Head of Integrity Iain Roy concluded that only captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were involved in the plan to use sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball during the third Test at Newlands.
Australia Cricket CEO James Sutherland emphatically denied that Lehmann was involved, despite suspicions aroused by film images showing him talking to 12th-man Peter Hanscomb. According to Sutherland, he was asking: ‘What the *** is going on down there?’
Lehmann broke his silence with a statement read out in Johannesburg on Wednesday afternoon, in which he said: ‘I’d like to reiterate what has already been said. The coach and background staff had no prior knowledge with regards to the incident.
‘Like all of Australia, we are extremely disappointed and as a team we know we have let down so many people and for that, I am truly sorry.
‘The players involved have been handed down very serious sanctions and they know they have to face the consequences. They made a grave mistake, but they are not bad people. As a coach, I feel for them and their families.
‘I worry about those three guys immensely, we love all our players and they are going through a really tough time.’
Smith and Warner were banned from all international and domestic cricket for 12 months, while Cameron Bancroft, the junior player recruited and coached by Warner to carry out the ball tampering, was banned for nine months.
In addition, Smith and Warner were kicked out of the IPL, which is estimated to cost them $2.5-million (about R30-million) in lost wages, as well as endorsements and bonuses.
Lehmann admitted that the image of the team was badly tarnished.
‘The team has been perceived quite negatively in recent times. There’s a need for us to change our philosophies and how we play the game. We need to work to earn the respect back from our fans.
‘I’m confident this was an isolated issue. A grave mistake. The group has said it has never happened before. I wouldn’t know if it’s happened before but I’m pretty confident it hasn’t.’