The fallout from the Australia ball-tampering scandal reduced the country’s two most high-profile cricket figures to tears yesterday, with former captain Steve Smith apologising to the nation and his family before coach Darren Lehmann announced his intention to quit.
After losing the captaincy of the Test team because of the incident in South Africa, Smith returned to Australia and broke down several times in a news conference at Sydney airport.
“I just want to say I’m sorry for the pain that I’ve brought to Australia and the fans and the public,” he said. “It’s devastating and I’m truly sorry.”
Smith started crying as he took responsibility for the ball-tampering plot in the Cape Town Test last weekend and reflected on the effect his involvement in it has had on his parents.
Hours later, Lehmann wiped away tears at a news conference in Johannesburg while announcing he would be quitting as Australia coach when the ill-tempered series against South Africa concluded after the fourth and final Test, which starts today.
“My family and I have copped a lot of abuse over the last week,” Lehmann said, “and it’s taken its toll on them.
“I really feel for Steve, as I saw him crying in front of the media,” he added. “All the players are really hurting.”
Lehmann maintained that he knew nothing about the ball-tampering plans.
It has been a tumultuous 24 hours for Smith, who left South Africa in disgrace after being sent home by Cricket Australia. At the airport in Johannesburg, he was led through the international terminal by up to six police and security guards, hearing boos and taunts of “cheater” from a crowd that had gathered.
Smith and Cameron Bancroft fronted news conferences on opposite sides of Australia, while the third player involved in the controversial ball-tampering scandal in South Africa – David Warner – used social media to issue an apology while still in the air.
Warner arrived in Sydney a few hours later and told reporters it had been “a tough and emotional time”.
Holding one of his children and with his wife standing next to him with another, 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”.
Smith, wearing a sports jacket and drawing deep breaths as he spoke, addressed the fans and the children of Australia who wanted to know why he cheated.
“Firstly. I’m deeply sorry. I love the game of cricket. I love kids wanting to play the great game of cricket that I love,” he said. “Any time you’re thinking of making a questionable decision. Think about who you’re affecting.
“You’re affecting your parents. To see the way my old man has been...,” Smith, stopping briefly to cry, continued. “... and my mum. It hurts.”
Smith said as the captain of the Australian team, he had to “take full responsibility”.
“I made a serious error of judgment and I know and understand the consequences,” he said. “It was a failure of my leadership. I will do everything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it has caused. If any good can come from this, then I hope I can be a force for change. I will regret this for the rest of my life. I am absolutely gutted. I hope in time I can earn back respect and forgiveness.”
Nearly 2,500 miles west, an emotional Bancroft apologised in Perth and said he will forever regret his role in the episode that resulted in 12-month bans for Smith and Warner and a nine-month ban for him.
“Not a second has gone by when I wish I could turn back time. It is something I will regret for the rest of my life,” Bancroft said. “All I can do in the short term is to ask for forgiveness.”
Bancroft has only played eight tests since replacing Matt Renshaw in the Australian line-up. Now Renshaw has been recalled to replace him.
“The thing that breaks my heart is that I have given up my spot in the team for free,” he said, holding back tears. “People know I worked so hard to get to this point in my career and to have given up that chance is devastating.”
A Cricket Australia investigator found that Warner instructed Bancroft how to carry out the tampering with a piece of sandpaper during a break in play on the third day of the third Test against South Africa.
Bancroft initially claimed he had used adhesive tape and dirt to attempt to alter the shape of the ball. It was later proved he used sandpaper.
“I lied about the sandpaper,” Bancroft explained. “I panicked in that situation. I’m embarrassed by that. I have never ever been involved in tampering with the ball.”
English county side Somerset said yesterday that Bancroft would not be their overseas player for the coming season because of his involvement in the scandal.
Warner, who has lost two sponsors already, posted a statement on Twitter and Instagram to say he was on his way back to Australia from South Africa and added: “You will hear from me in a few days. Mistakes have been made which have damaged cricket. I apologise for my part and take responsibility for it. I understand the distress this has caused the sport and its fans.”
Smith and Warner were banned from playing any high level cricket in Australia for a year. They’ve also been barred by Indian authorities from the lucrative IPL and reports in the Australia media estimate the suspensions could cost the pair 5 million Australian dollars (£2.7m) each in lost earnings and endorsements.