JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Under-fire Australia coach Darren Lehmann had no knowledge of a ball-tampering plot by his two most senior players and allegations that he then led a cover-up are false, Cricket Australia said on Wednesday.
Sacked captain Steve Smith and firebrand opening batsman David Warner have both been banned for 12 months, while Cameron Bancroft got a nine month ban in a scandal that has stunned and angered fans around the world.
Former players have been calling for Lehmann’s head after television footage showed him sending a message out onto the field before Bancroft dropped the piece of sandpaper he was clandestinely using to rough up the ball down his trousers.
But Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland said Lehmann was as surprised as the thousands of spectators in Cape Town’s Newlands stadium and millions more watching at home when images on big screens showed Bancroft brazenly cheating.
“In Darren’s defence, I do want to clarify that matter,” Sutherland told reporters in response to a question about what Lehmann told 12th man Peter Handscomb via walky talky before he ran on the field to pass the coach’s message onto Bancroft.
“He sent a message to say: ‘What the hell is going on?’ He didn’t use ‘hell’, he used another word. Darren wasn’t involved and didn’t know of the plan.”
Lehmann, a burly former player known for his no-nonsense approach, has been silent since the ball-tampering incident on March 24, after which Smith admitted there was a plan to try and alter the state of the ball to make it reverse-swing.
Smith and Bancroft will have to wait two years before they are considered for leadership roles, CA announced on Wednesday.
But the stiffest penalties were reserved for Warner, one of the most destructive batsmen of his generation who has relished an in-your-face style that has made him unpopular with many opposing players, fans and ex-players.
Vice-Captain until days ago, Warner will never again be considered for a leadership role after CA said he masterminded the secret plan, told Bancroft he should carry it out and showed him how to use the sandpaper to scuff up the ball.
Smith and Warner have also been sacked from their Indian Premier League teams for 2018, stripping them of huge potential income after the Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad agreed to pay $1.07 million and $1.84 million respectively for their services.
Reporting by Joe Brock; Editing by Ken Ferris