Wednesday was meant to be the day the guilty were all punished and the whole sorry saga was given some sort of closure. Yet, as the long arm of Cricket Australia brutally caught up with captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and scapegoat Cameron Bancroft, head coach Darren Lehmann went unpunished.
Turns out, 24 hours is an awfully long time for guilty consciences to take effect as Lehmann finally quit his position amid a second tearful press conference of the day. It had seemed unfathomable that the former international could have had no prior knowledge of the ball tampering plan but, even if this was true, his position remained untenable and, despite Cricket Australia’s investigation clearing him of any wrongdoing, he has done the right thing by leaving his post.
On his appointment in 2013, the Sydney Morning Herald described Lehmann as an “excellent communicator and manager of people”. During his time with Queensland, ‘Boof’ was renowned for his relaxed but brutally honest ‘old-school’ style of hands-on management. It was this attitude that helped him secure the position as Mickey Arthur’s replacement and that he continued to bring to the role in charge of Australia.
So, for a man so grounded in team relationships and understanding what makes players tick, how could Lehmann not have known about the plan? It seems unfathomable to think that he, a man who with a wry smile asserted pre-series that all teams have ‘methods’ of getting reverse swing, was so innocent in the whole affair. When you consider how bad the walkie-talkie image looked, despite James Sutherland’s defence, sceptical thinking was a given.
It seems that there were two possible scenarios at play, neither of which reflected well on Lehmann. Either, he had a full or passing knowledge of the plan and decided not to act, or he really did not know “what the fuck is going on” – the six-word spin used to cover the coach.
Either Lehmann was complicit or he lacked control over a side that had spiralled out of it with interpretations of “headbutting the line”, a philosophy surely in part influenced by the man himself. Tones within sporting teams are, after all, set by those in charge. Both explanations seem as bad as each other because this all happened under his watch, one way or another.
Lehmann’s departure does, though, give Cricket Australia the perfect opportunity for change. The whole ethos of the team, its backroom staff and those at CA itself needs changing. Remember the “4-0” hands? This will take time. Transparency needs to be brought in and the confidence of the Australian public won back, that will also take a while.
Two candidates who appear ideal fits: Ricky Ponting and Justin Langer. Both have the respect and admiration needed for slack to be cut with Australian fans but, as this controversy has shown, you can never be too sure. The “mental disintegration” tactics of yesteryear that both were a part of may never be too far from the surface.