Chris Waters: Darren Lehmann must lead by example in reboot of Australia’s cricket culture

Australia's coach Darren Lehmann talks on the phone,  after the arrival of the Australian team to OR Tambo International International airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Australia's coach Darren Lehmann talks on the phone, after the arrival of the Australian team to OR Tambo International International airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
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DARREN LEHMANN is a Yorkshire legend.

He scored 8,871 first-class runs for the club at an average of 68.

He hit 5,229 one-day runs at 49.

In his final innings, the Australian scored 339 against Durham at Headingley – two short of George Hirst’s county record.

Watching from the press box, it seemed to me that Lehmann deliberately gave his wicket away so that Hirst, a Yorkshireman, could keep the record, probably for all time.

A great bloke, “Boof” Lehmann, as well as a great batsman.

Australian cricket player Steve Smith, escorted by police officers to a departure area at OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Australian cricket player Steve Smith, escorted by police officers to a departure area at OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

It is why, as “sandpaper-gate” has scuffed up cricket’s reputation, that Lehmann’s association with it has been difficult to take for many in the Broad Acres.

Not that he had any involvement, insist both the man himself and Cricket Australia, in the shameful episode that has seen Steve Smith and David Warner banned for 12 months and Cameron Bancroft for nine – punishments, in my opinion, which fit the crime for what was obviously flagrant cheating.

According to Cricket Australia investigators, Lehmann had no prior knowledge of the plan to alter the condition of the ball with sandpaper in the Cape Town Test against South Africa last week and was merely trying, via walkie-talkie to 12th man Peter Handscomb, to find out “what the **** is going on?” when damning TV footage emerged.

As such, Lehmann was not ordering Bancroft to hide the evidence, as many thought, with CA confirming – albeit amid some eyebrow-raising among ex-pros – that only Smith, Warner and Bancroft were cognizant of the plot.

It is high time that the International Cricket Council and its weak code of conduct recognised that fact, with the ICC so toothless that they should really be operating in the field of dentures.

Chris Waters

All along, and based on my own dealings with Lehmann at Yorkshire, when he came across as a genuinely good man rightly revered by the club’s supporters, it seemed to me inexplicable that he could have been involved in anything so daft and dirty and that his only crime, if there was a crime, would be that of trying to protect his players.

Certainly, Lehmann has never struck me as the sort who would sit back and let others take the rap if he had been involved; indeed, how would he be able to look the likes of young Bancroft in the eye again were that not so?

Nevertheless, he must take some responsibility for the wider culture of the Australian team, which has degenerated to unacceptable levels and which CA have confirmed will now be the subject of an independent review.

It is a culture tarnished by on-field abuse, send-offs, celebrating in players’ faces and now cheating, all of which have contributed to the perception of a side out of control and one which has also adopted a holier-than-thou attitude.

David Warner has been banned for 12 months over the Australia ball-tampering scandal (Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire)

David Warner has been banned for 12 months over the Australia ball-tampering scandal (Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire)

Assuming that he survives the independent review, Lehmann – along with new Test captain Tim Paine – must press the reset button on Australian cricket and work to turn a reviled team into a respected one, as befits a proud cricketing nation.

No doubt he and his colleagues will be casting a close eye over the Tasman Sea, where Kane Williamson’s New Zealand are the best example of how the game should be played, building on the admirable legacy of Brendon McCullum, who proved that success does not have to come at the expense of respect for one’s opponents or the game itself.

Sport should be played with a competitive edge but also in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and it is high time that the International Cricket Council and its weak code of conduct recognised that fact, with the ICC so toothless that they should really be operating in the field of dentures.

Although the culture of Australian cricket needs to change, the biggest bad seed in the bunch was clearly Warner, whom CA say will not be considered for “any team leadership positions in the future”, as if that point actually needed making.

Warner’s crime sheet is so long that it is the cricketing equivalent of the one belonging to Don Corleone, and it was added to in the most damning fashion when CA said that Warner hatched the ball-tampering plan, instructed a junior player in Bancroft to carry it out and then gave him a demo in how to use the sandpaper.

Smith, an immature figure abdicating the responsibilities of leadership, turned a blind eye and then directed Bancroft to conceal the evidence on the field, while Bancroft later lied that it was sticky tape that he used rather than sandpaper.

Smith (and, if applicable, Bancroft) has also been suspended by CA from captaining Australia for two years, while all three players’ bans include Australian domestic cricket and they must undertake 100 hours of voluntary service in community cricket, pending any appeal against CA’s sanctions.

In addition, Smith and Warner have been banned from the forthcoming edition of the Indian Premier League, costing them more than £1m each.

After CA chief executive James Sutherland eventually admitted that “cheating” is indeed an appropriate word to describe what happened in the shadow of Table Mountain, having earlier shied away from using that C-word, Lehmann broke silence yesterday afternoon.

Visibly emotional, he apologised to Australian cricket fans and said: “We know we have let so many people down. We are truly sorry.

“There is a need for us to change the way we play. We need to work to bring the respect back from the fans.”

Lehmann, who admitted that he also needed to change and said that he would not be resigning, went on: “The players have made a grave mistake but they are not bad people. There is a human side to this.

“I hope people will give them a second chance. I worry about the three guys mentally.”

That concern is justifed, and it was unpleasant to see Smith hounded and harassed as he left Johannesburg airport to return home.

Although there should be no sympathy for what happened, for cheating is the worst thing that a sportsman can do and goes against the very essence of sport, the players, as Lehmann intimated, are human beings in the midst of a maelstrom.

There will be some sympathy for Smith and also for Bancroft, although little for the universally detested Warner.

This was summed up in a tweet yesterday from the former England batsman Jonathan Trott, which said simply - and with echoes of a Bond villain – “Goodbye David.”