SYDNEY: The axe was hanging over the head of Australian coach Darren Lehmann and skipper Steve Smith Tuesday with cricket chiefs holding crisis talks in South Africa to deal with an escalating cheating scandal.
Cricket Australia (CA) boss James Sutherland, under mounting pressure to come down hard on what Australian media has dubbed a “rotten” team culture, was due in Johannesburg Tuesday where he will meet up with the body’s head of integrity, Iain Roy.
They are expected to update a shocked Australian public on Wednesday morning, with reports saying they could throw the book at Smith and his vice-captain David Warner by banning both for 12 months and sending them home in disgrace.
Smith has already been suspended for one Test and docked his entire match fee by the International Cricket Council for his role in a plot that saw teammate Cameron Bancroft tamper with the ball during the third Test against South Africa on Saturday.
It means he will miss the fourth and final Test in Johannesburg starting Friday.
Lehmann has remained silent since the furore, but Britain’s Daily Telegraph said he had decided to quit, effective immediately, meaning he too will play no part in the Test.
Lehmann took over the coaching reins in 2013 when predecessor Mickey Arthur was sacked, with Justin Langer considered a frontrunner as his replacement although Ricky Ponting will also be in the mix.
“We are aiming to be in a position to fully update the Australian public on the investigation and outcomes on Wednesday morning,” Sutherland said in an email to cricket fans.
“We understand the strong interest everyone has in this situation and we are following due process to properly address all of the relevant issues involved.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reiterated Tuesday that it had been “a shocking affront to Australia” and Cricket Australia must act “decisively and emphatically”.
Former Australian coach John Buchanan, who led the team from 1999 to 2007, said Smith must resign as captain and urged cricket chiefs to be fully transparent in their investigation.
“It is a very difficult time for members of Australian cricket; however, I believe there is a golden opportunity to reset the dial around player and staff behaviours, actions and decision-making,” he told reporters.
There has been a national outcry over Smith’s admission that the leadership group within the team decided to cheat.
That group of senior players usually includes fast bowlers Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, but they are reportedly furious at being embroiled in the saga and may contact the Australian Cricketers Association to enlist union support to clear their names.
The ramifications of the scandal have been far reaching with the Marylebone Cricket Club, the guardian of the laws of the game, calling for a “major shift in attitude” to preserve the game for future generations.
“The behaviour of some of the players in the current South Africa/Australia series, and other incidents in recent times in the game we all cherish, has fallen well below the standard required to inspire future generations of cricket-loving families,” the MCC said.
While Smith was removed from the Australian captaincy for the remainder of the third Test, former South African captain Graeme Smith hit out at the ICC’s handling of the scandal.
“I think the ICC missed an opportunity to really handle this properly and lead our game,” he told South Africa’s Independent Media.
“They haven’t done that. You have had two players, who have admitted guilt for cheating. I think that’s huge.”
Bancroft used a strip of yellow sticky tape he’d covered with dirt granules to illegally scratch the rough side of the ball, thereby facilitating more swing for bowlers.
He was filmed not only rubbing the ball with the dirtied tape but concealing the evidence down the front of his trousers. The ICC fined him 75 percent of his match fee and slapped him with three demerit paints, but he escaped a suspension.
Smith insisted it was the first time his team had cheated in this manner, but former England captain Michael Vaughan claimed he is “pretty sure” Australia were ball-tampering during their 4-0 victory in the Ashes, which finished earlier this year.
“I look at the amount of tape some of the fielders have worn, particularly during the Ashes series at mid-on and mid-off. You don’t have to name names, they know who they are,” he told BBC Sport.