Lehmann quits as Smith breaks down in tears

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Cricket Australia had cleared Lehmann of wrongdoing this week following an investigation that saw sacked captain Steve Smith and vice captain David Warner banned for 12 months.
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AFP

Disgraced Australia cricket captain Steve Smith is comforted by his father Peter as he reacts at a press conference at the airport in Sydney yesterday, after returning from South Africa. A distraught Smith accepted full responsibility for a ball-tampering scandal that has shaken the sport, saying he was devastated by his “big mistake”.

AUSTRALIA coach Darren Lehmann said yesterday he would step down after this week’s test match against South Africa, as he took ultimate responsibility for the culture of a team embroiled in a ball-tampering scandal that has rocked the sport.

Lehmann, who had previously told reporters he would not stand aside, said that his decision was due in part to the abuse his family received after three Australia players conspired to scuff up the ball with sandpaper during the third test against South Africa.

Cricket Australia had cleared Lehmann of wrongdoing this week following an investigation that saw sacked captain Steve Smith and vice captain David Warner banned for 12 months. Batsman Cameron Bancroft was suspended for nine months.

In an emotional media briefing in Johannesburg, Lehmann, who had also come under fire for what critics called a toxic culture within the team, said his decision was voluntary.

“Ultimately I’m responsible for the culture of the team. I’ve been thinking about my position for a while, despite telling media yesterday that I’m not resigning,” he said. “My family and I got a lot of abuse over the last week. Speaking to my family, it’s the right time to step away.”

His resignation came after former test captain Smith broke down in tears of remorse as the three disgraced cricketers at the center of the Cape Town scandal made apologetic returns to Australia yesterday.

Smith was unable to complete his news conference at Sydney Airport and was ushered out of the room after a short display of raw emotion during which he repeatedly apologized for his misjudgment.

Batsman Bancroft spoke of his shame on his arrival in Perth and former vice captain Warner, who has lost two sponsors already, took to social media to apologize for his role in the cheating.

“To all of my teammates, to fans of cricket all over the world and to Australians who are angry and disappointed, I’m sorry,” Smith told reporters in a prepared statement.

“It was a failure of leadership, of my leadership, I’ll do anything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it has caused,” he added, breaking down for the first time.

“Cricket is the greatest game in the world. It’s been my life and I hope it can be again. I’m sorry and I’m absolutely devastated.”

Warner, who was identified as the instigator of the attempt to cheat by the CA probe, broke his silence via Instagram, apologizing and taking responsibility for his “part” in the scandal.

“I understand the distress this has caused the sport and its fans. It’s a stain on the game we all love and I have loved since I was a boy,” the opener said.

When he landed in Sydney late with his wife and two children, 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”.

Bancroft confessed to having lied about using sticky tape rather than sandpaper to scuff the ball in Cape Town in the news conference immediately after the incident last Saturday.

“I lied. I lied about the sandpaper,” the 25-year-old said. “I panicked in that situation and I’m very sorry. I feel like I’ve let everyone down in Australia.”

After four days of almost universal condemnation for the trio, the severity of the punishments brought some support.

Spin-bowling great Shane Warne, while condemning the cheating, said the hysteria whipped up by anti-Australian feeling around the cricketing world had led to overly harsh punishments. “The hysteria has gone worldwide, and everyone that dislikes the way the Australian cricket team has played ... has been given the opportunity to lay the boots in,” he said.

Smith and Warner were banned from playing any high level cricket in Australia for a year. They’ve also been barred from the lucrative IPL.

Smith won’t be considered eligible to regain the test captaincy for at least two years, CA said. Warner will never again be considered for a leadership role.

CA’s response wasn’t enough to save an estimated 20-million Australian dollar (US$15 million) partnership with naming rights sponsor Magellan which tore up its three-year contract yesterday after barely seven months.

The financial cost for the players is also growing with sporting goods firm ASICS ending its relationship with Warner and Bancroft. Electronics giant LG axed Warner on Wednesday, while Weet-Bix and Commonwealth Bank dumped Smith.

The incident has also triggered an International Cricket Council review of the players’ code of conduct to curb on-field misdemeanors.

“What happened down there has certainly created additional urgency that something needs to be done as quickly as possible,” chief executive David Richardson said yesterday.

Better behavior will be expected when Smith’s replacement Tim Paine leads out the team in the fourth test in Johannesburg today, looking to even the series at 2-2 but most importantly start restoring the good name of Australian cricket.

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