Perhaps the most striking thing from an English perspective is that James Sutherland’s press conference was carried live on all the news channels plus Sky Sports News, meaning that the viewing audience for it will have been far in excess of any actual cricket shown on either BT Sport or Sky Sports. There is a significant irony in that on the one hand it indicates that whatever the problems the game has, there is still the vestige of significant interest in the sport, while on the other it means that for most, their only interaction with cricket is over this issue of ball tampering, and watching a suit talk about it.
The most interesting thing to come out of it was that despite press reports to the contrary (and a rare misstep from Nick Hoult who first broke it) Darren Lehmann remains in post as Australia’s coach. Of all the expectations for the statement, this was perhaps the most startling. The suggestion made that only three players were involved in any way is pushing at the envelope of what’s plausible; the idea that the coach had no idea at all is straining credulity, not least because of how swiftly he responded in radioing the 12th man to tell Bancroft he’d been rumbled. Equally, if indeed he truly wasn’t aware, then why on earth not? A side (or just three of the side) who cook up a plan of this nature without involving the coach, or indeed any of the coaching staff, is well and truly out of control. It begs the question of how tenable that position can be even on the grounds of having no authority over the senior players, let alone the likelihood of innocence.
For a board who have spent much of the time since the weekend emphasising how seriously they take this whole affair, it appears curiously as though they’ve still managed to underestimate the anger in Australia about it. Whether Lehmann staying on is remotely sustainable has to be open to question. There has been much comment about the team culture that has led to this point, and that has certainly happened on Lehmann’s watch, so Cricket Australia are leaving themselves open to accusations that they aren’t especially bothered by that, despite their protestations to the contrary.
One thing that is certain is that the lawyers have been all over this, hence the delay in announcing the punishments for the players involved. Smith, Warner and Bancroft have all been sent home, to learn their fate over the next 24 hours. With significant penalties indicated, it could well be that the rumours of bans for up to a year may be correct. There’s a disconnect here, for that would far exceed what would seem to be an appropriate response to the crime, but Cricket Australia are facing a meltdown in terms of the public reaction, and will want to make examples of them, and at the same time as absolving everyone else.
Here again there’s a contradiction – to do that at the same time as keeping the coaching staff in place and acquitting them of all guilt – and indeed responsibility – has to smack of scapegoating since the idea that this was done by three players, and only three players, with no one else aware and no one else in any way subject to censure beggars belief. Certainly, should the punishment be particularly heavy handed, it may be that we haven’t remotely heard the last of it, for there will be little incentive for them to stay silent and toe the company line.
These remain early days, which is perhaps why an instant response to it is the most honest one, but the failure to be as open in reply as indicated does seem to have stored up trouble for the future. It’s no clean break, and it leaves far more questions than answers. Perhaps the ability of any administrative organisation that there is no situation, no matter how bad, that can’t be made worse applies here. The response of the Australian media will be interesting, and the feeling has to be that they won’t be especially supportive.