The cloud over Steve Smith aside, what about Darren Lehmann?

The ball-tampering controversy unfolding in Cape Town has not only spotlighted what could be a common crime, but also highlighted another one — hypocrisy.

Updated - March 26, 2018 06:13 pm IST

Published - March 26, 2018 05:45 pm IST

That floating head in the middle is Australia coach Darren Lehmann. The only head that definitely needs to roll over the Cape Town fiasco. | AFP/Reuters

That floating head in the middle is Australia coach Darren Lehmann. The only head that definitely needs to roll over the Cape Town fiasco. | AFP/Reuters

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Appearances are lethal . On the third day of the 3rd Test, in Cape Town, a local cameraman caught Cameron Bancroft rubbing a yellow strip on the cricket ball. Other cameras caught Australian coach Darren Lehmann sending a message to his 12th man, to tell Bancroft that he had been seen on TV. Bancroft subsequently removed the yellow strip from his pocket and tried to hide it inside his uniform trousers. This time, there was a clear view of what the object was. It was a piece of masking tape, which had been subsequently rubbed on the ground so that some of the dirt on the ground would stick to it and create an abrasive surface that could be used to tamper with the ball.

The umpires cottoned on to this immediately. They are in constant wireless contact with the third umpire and he must have seen what the TV cameras captured. They had a look at the ball, talked to Bancroft and Australia’s captain Steve Smith. According to ESPNCricinfo’s ball-by-ball coverage, they asked Bancroft what was in his pocket and he showed them a larger black cloth.




All this occurred at the end of the 43rd over of South Africa’s innings. The game went on, and ball-by-ball’s resident wit immediately christened Cameron Bancroft ‘Captain Underpants’. Later, when pictures showing Lehmann’s attempted cover-up emerged, the roof fell in on the Australian squad, but not, interestingly, on Lehmann .

Matters have escalated to the point where the Australian Prime Minister has called for Smith to be axed from the captaincy, Cricket Australia has promised its own inquiry, and Cameron Bancroft has been punished for ball-tampering by the umpires under the ICC’s Code of Conduct. Smith has also been punished by the ICC under the Code. Smith says he has not considered the possibility of resigning the captaincy. On the morning of the fourth day, it was announced that Smith and Warner would not be captain and vice-captain for the remainder of the 3rd Test. But in a remarkably candid press conference, he essentially admitted wrongdoing and explained that it was not Bancroft’s initiative. According to Smith, Australia’s “leadership group” (a group of senior players in the squad whom he refused to name) knew about it. But Smith did protect Lehmann.



Smith and Peter Handscomb (coincidentally, the 12th man who conveyed Lehmann’s message to Bancroft in the current story) had tried, during Australia’s previous tour of India, to seek help from the pavilion on a DRS review. In that incident, though, there did not seem to be any intention to be surreptitious. There were no secret signals, no underhandedness. However, the current episode begins with underhandedness and ends in failure. Ball tampering is cheating. The attempt to hide the evidence is cheating too.

Australia’s left-arm ace Mitchell Starc won the 1st Test, in Durban, for Australia with a couple of lethal spells of fast reverse-swing. It was spectacular bowling. Given the revelations at Cape Town, what does one make of Starc’s spell at Kingsmead? David Coverdale, a journalist for The Sun posted a video which he said showed Cameron Bancroft appearing to put sugar in his pocket in January (during an Ashes Test).


Was this really the first time Australia tried all this? Did they try it at Kingsmead too?

And what of Smith’s participation in Rabada’s demerit point–inducing contact at Port Elizabeth? Just before the 2nd Test, Samuel Ferris, a journalist for Cricket Australia’s media company , wrote that “ Australia captain Steve Smith has hinted his troops will look to "fire up" South Africa spearhead Kagiso Rabada knowing the speedster is just one serious incident away from a two-Test suspension.”  Did Smith actively seek to provoke Rabada and draw contact at Port Elizabeth? Rabada was charged with a Level 2 Code of Conduct offence and found guilty. He appealed and was subsequently handed a reduced Level 1 conviction. The Level 2 finding against Rabada was set aside. Smith reacted by wondering why he had not been invited to give evidence before the ICC’s reviewer. But did he play a role in instigating the incident as Ferris’ story suggests was Australia’s intention?

Everything Smith does from now on, and everything Smith has done until today, is now under a cloud . Where previously people were willing to take things at face value and give Smith the benefit of any doubt (and rightly so), they no longer will. The former England captain Michael Vaughan summed things up.



Inconveniently for Vaughan, this inescapably means that Vaughan himself should forever be “known for trying to CHEAT the game”. After all, under Vaughan’s captaincy, England’s most famous Ashes win in our lifetime was achieved with the help of Murray Mints. England’s opening batsman and designated ball-manager Marcus Trescothick wrote in his autobiography that England had tested different brands of mints and concluded that Murray Mints were most effective in getting the ball to swing. Following Trescothick’s revelations in 2008 the Australian journalist Chloe Saltau reported that an Australian player had even worked out that the ball always returned back to the bowler via Trescothick, but Australia were unwilling to go public because they feared that this would be seen as sour grapes. Is it credible that Michael Vaughan, England’s captain during that series, didn’t know about the mints?



Vaughan has argued in the past that Murray Mints are not illegal in the same way as sandpaper, since there is no direct contact between mint and ball. The relevant clause in the law says that “applying any artificial substance to the ball; and applying any non-artificial substance for any purpose other than to polish the ball” is illegal. Trescothick admitted to having tested various mints, and using saliva produced while eating those mints on the ball. He admits that his point was to add an artificial substance to the saliva. This makes the spit applied to the ball ‘artificial’ since it has been deliberately adulterated. So it is completely illegal in both letter and spirit since the whole point of eating the mints is to turn the saliva into an artificial substance.

In 2010, again at Cape Town, the South Africans drew attention to video footage showing England fast bowler Stuart Broad with his spikes on the ball. Video also showed James Anderson picking at the team.



Head coach Andrew Flower observedI've seen a lot of tall fast bowlers stop the ball with their feet ”. Notice the subtle shift between the accusation (“spikes on the ball”) to the defense (“stop the ball with their feet”). No boot, no spikes, nothing on top of the ball. At the time, Vaughan took the view that England were lucky to get away with it. England’s management at the time defended Broad skilfully.

English schadenfreude is entirely predictable in this case, but Vaughan condemning an Australian captain as a cheat is rich. English teams have tried ball-tampering repeatedly. Teams will try it in the future.



Ironically, when England were accused in 2010, they complained of a “trial by television”. Given all that has transpired since the first pictures prompted Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball commentator to tell us about Captain Underpants, Smith could say the same thing. To his credit, Smith has not. Smith’s accounting is still not as complete as it ought to be. For instance, even if we assume that Bancroft volunteered to do this, Smith accepted Bancroft’s offer. Why did Smith, as captain, think it was Ok to have a junior player do something so obviously illegal? Smith has not addressed this. But Smith, at least, has taken questions and tried to protect his team without denying the essential facts of the matter.

Lehmann’s only participation in this entire episode is having murmured into a walkie talkie to Handscomb at the other end that he should run out and have a word with Bancroft. Bancroft panicked and proceeded to commit the action which left him nowhere to hide — he took the tape from his pocket and hid it inside his pants. Lehmann’s entire contribution seems to have been to inadvertently help produce the most damning evidence against Australia.

Consider what might have happened, had Bancroft not been given Lehmann’s message, and had not tried to move the evidence in full view of the cameras. Australia would probably have been able to defend Bancroft, just like Flower and England defended Anderson and Broad in 2010. Smith and Lehmann would had have deniability on the their side, just like England had at Cape Town in 2010.



Right now, the case looks terrible for Australia. But the fact remains that the umpires did not change the ball after inspecting it. Australia’s attempt failed. This does not suggest that this was their first or only attempt. Nor does it suggest that Australia are exceptional in their desire to gain an underhanded advantage. But the response that has followed does suggest that Steve Smith is alone among their leadership when it comes to taking responsibility for this.

Lehmann is Australia’s head-coach. He has previously accused Stuart Broad of “blatant cheating”. Earlier this week, Lehmann was at the forefront of the Australian team management’s outrage at David Warner being heckled (in crude terms) by an irate spectator after being dismissed in Australia’s first innings. Yet, in 2013, Lehmann was encouraging the Australian public to “give it to him [Broad] right from the word go for the whole summer and I hope he cries and he goes home” .

The rituals of righteous outrage and contrition have passed like clockwork. The usual nonsense about how this is terrible for the game has also made the public prints, to the usual sage nodding. But this is the best kind of controversy for cricket. A team has tried to cheat because it was desperate to win. This is ratings gold. It’s certainly better for cricket than a Test in which Australia quietly lose by 200 runs.



If there has been a failure of leadership in the Australian camp, then the leader must take responsibility and resign. That leader is Darren Lehmann, not Steve Smith. Cricket Australia could break new ground simply by focusing laser-like on the role of Lehmann and making every move he made public. This would be real moral scrutiny — a public examination of the the actions of the head coach without the assumption of loyalty from his squad about his approach to a cricketing contest. What did Lehmann say and when? It beggars belief that this idea came about during the lunch interval on the day that it was attempted. When did it come about? Who was involved in these discussions?

Lehmann’s position is entirely untenable. There are only three possibilities with respect to his actions — either he instigated the whole thing as part of a larger approach which normalised and rewarded sharp practice, or he knew about this attempt to cheat and condoned it, or he didn’t know about it. If it is the first, he is the mastermind, if it is the second, he’s a weak leader with an unacceptable moral compass, and if it is the third, he’s unacceptably incompetent because he doesn’t know the first thing which goes on in the squad where he’s supposed to be head coach. A real change from the ICC and CA would be assume that this is where the problem originates and to inquire into which of the three possibilities is actually the case.

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