Johannesburg (AFP) – Australia coach Darren Lehmann said Wednesday he fears for the health of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft after they were suspended and sent home in disgrace following the ball-tampering scandal.
Lehmann, who has been cleared of any involvement in the plot which led to Bancroft using sandpaper to scratch the surface of the ball before hiding the evidence down his trousers, told reporters that the three players are “not bad people”.
“The players involved have been handed down very serious sentences and they know they must face the consequences. They’ve made a grave mistake but they’re not bad people,” said Lehmann in his first public comments since the scandal broke during the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday.
“As a coach you feel for them as people. They are hurting and I feel for them and their families. I hope the media and the fans don’t forget that. There is a human side to this.
“They have made a mistake as everyone else, including myself, has made mistakes in the past. They are young men and I hope people will give them a second chance. Their health and well-being is extremely important to us.”
Lehmann also said the finding that he had not known about the ball tampering plan was correct.
“The coaches and support staff had no prior knowledge. The first I saw of it was on that screen,” insisted the 48-year-old.
Regarding scepticism about three players devising a plan without others knowing in a small dressing room at Newlands, Lehmann said there were several rooms in the players’ area, including a dining room, where they could have spoken.
Despite his sympathy for the banned trio, Lehmann admitted that the culture of the Australian team, often viewed as ‘win at all costs’, has to change.
“We need to change how we play and the boundaries within which we play,” he said.
“The team has been seen quite negatively in recent times and there is a need for us to change some of the philosophies about the way we play.
“Previously we’ve butted heads on the line but that’s not the way for us to go about playing cricket going forward.”
Asked how that could happen in view of the fact that he was viewed as one of the instigators of Australia’s aggressive style of play, he said he would not resign but admitted: “I need to change.”
Lehmann said the Australians could perhaps learn from the way a team like New Zealand played their cricket.
“We do respect the opposition but we push the boundaries on the ground. So we’ve got to make sure of respecting the game, its traditions and understanding the way the game holds itself around the world.”
Training ahead of the fourth and final Test which starts at the Wanderers on Friday was cancelled on Wednesday.
“We’re not a hundred percent mentally right but we’re representing our country and we’ve got to get the ball rolling by playing the best cricket we possibly can,” said Lehmann.