Further action against Australia captain Steven Smith, deputy David Warner, the coach Darren Lehmann and any other implicated members of the South Africa touring party will be confirmed by Wednesday morning, enough time for replacement players and staff to be flown to Johannesburg ahead of the fourth and final Test of a series now synonymous with the ball-tampering fiasco of Cape Town.
In the face of universal outrage from Cricket Australia’s corporate sponsors and amid negotiations for the next round of broadcast rights, the chief executive James Sutherland will travel to Johannesburg to assess the findings of the integrity officer Iain Roy’s hurried investigation into the events of the Newlands Test, which commenced at the Australian team hotel in Cape Town on Monday.
While the CA’s code-of-behaviour (CoB) charges likely to be brought against numerous members of the Australian team will require CoB commission hearings, with the right to natural justice and procedural fairness are also enshrined in its terms, the board will have the option of standing down any players or coaching staff found to be in breach until the hearing or hearings can be held with an independent commissioner.
This means that in addition to Smith, already banned from the Wanderers Test by the ICC, Warner is almost certainly set to miss the match, with Cameron Bancroft also an unlikely participant. CA advised state associations on Monday of Roy’s investigation needing to be concluded in time to determine “at a minimum” selections for the fourth Test, which starts on Friday, and of the possibility of replacement players being flown over. Justin Langer, the Western Australia coach, is also reportedly waiting in the wings should Lehmann be removed.
Sutherland’s journey to South Africa has echoes of a similar trip made on the eve of the 2013 Ashes series, when the then coach Mickey Arthur was replaced by Lehmann as a result of disciplinary problems within the team personified by Warner’s drunken punch at Joe Root in a Birmingham bar following the loss of a match at the Champions Trophy. At the time, Sutherland spoke of “grasping the nettle” in advance of public expectation, but this time he and CA have been left reacting to a far greater level of umbrage.
“Iain Roy and Pat Howard arrive in Cape Town this morning local time, and Iain will immediately conduct his inquiries around the specifics of the ball-tampering incident,” Sutherland said. “I am travelling to Johannesburg this evening and will arrive Tuesday morning local time to meet Iain to understand the findings of the investigation to that point, and to determine recommended outcomes. We know Australians want answers and we will keep you updated on our findings and next steps, as a matter of urgency.”
Players most likely to be added to the squad will come from the Queensland and Tasmanian teams currently contesting the Sheffield Shield final, which ends in Brisbane on Tuesday. The Bulls openers Matt Renshaw and Joe Burns, plus the Tasmanian captain George Bailey, would appear the most likely players to be called up.
There has been considerable disquiet within the team about events, with the pacemen Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc particularly unhappy to be drawn into the episode via Smith’s use of the term “leadership group” to describe discussions around ball tampering. At the same time, Warner is becoming seen as the central player in the decision to try to manipulate the condition of the ball with a foreign object, leading his opening partner Bancroft to make the attempt captured on television cameras.
Save for the acting captain Tim Paine’s brief appearance at the end of the Newlands Test, no member of the Australian team has spoken publicly since Smith’s initial press conference alongside Bancroft. Lehmann’s customary post-match media conference did not take place, and a call with the spin bowler Nathan Lyon was also cancelled on Monday after Sutherland’s plan to fly to South Africa emerged – he is now expected to be the next person to speak on the events of Newlands, in Johannesburg on Tuesday night local time.
“The Cricket Australia Board has been fully updated on the issue and supports James travelling to South Africa to manage the response to the investigation currently underway,” the CA chairman David Peever said. “We expect to be able to fully update the Australian public on the findings on Wednesday morning. We understand that everyone wants answers, but we must follow our due diligence before any further decisions are made.”
The urgency of the issue for CA was underlined on Monday by an unprecedented rush of critical comments from corporate sponsors of the governing body and individual players. Sanitarium, Qantas, Lion, Commonwealth Bank, KFC, Accenture, Magellan Financial Group and the health insurer Bupa, all expressed disappointment in the national team and encouraged CA to take prompt action.
A spokesperson for Sanitarium, which sponsors the Twenty20 Big Bash League and also Smith, said the company would consider its future relationship with the suspended captain pending the outcome of the CA investigation. “Cricket Australia updated us on this issue as the story broke yesterday and we’re continuing to follow it closely. It’s a shameful moment for Australian sport.
“Regarding our sponsorship relationship with Steve Smith, we will assess our response once the management team of Cricket Australia has finalised its investigations. Like the rest of Australia, we’re incredibly disappointed. The actions taken by the team in South Africa are not aligned with our own – Sanitarium does not condone cheating in sport. We expect Cricket Australia to continue to keep us updated over the coming days and weeks.”
Former England captain Michael Atherton, himself embroiled in a ball tampering scandal in a Test match against South Africa at Lord’s in 1994, said that Smith did not appear to realise the gravity of the situation when he first spoke about it. “It seemed clear to me from watching Smith’s press conference, that he had not grasped the seriousness of his situation,” he wrote in the Times.
“He could have been talking about a dropped catch or two. When I was fined at Lord’s in 1994, the first thing I did was call Graham Gooch into the back office and ask him whether he thought I should resign. Even in those fraught hours, I was completely aware of the gravity of the situation, and that it was a possibility that I would have to stand down. Smith seemed to lack that awareness which speaks of hubris.” (ESPNCricinfo)