Darren Lehmann has announced he will step down as coach of the Australian cricket team after the fourth Test against South Africa, admitting that watching vision of a distraught Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft convinced him it was “the right thing to do”.
Despite insisting on Wednesday that he would not resign, Lehmann told reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday his exit would allow the team to move on following the ball-tampering scandal that has reverberated around the cricket world.
A visibly shaken Lehmann struggled to keep his composure as he read from a prepared statement.
“After seeing events in the media today with Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, the feeling is that Australian cricket needs to move forward and this is the right thing to do,” he said.
“I really felt for Steve, and as I saw him crying in front of the media, and all the players are really hurting.
“After viewing Steve and Cameron hurting, it’s only fair that I make this decision.
“I’m ultimately responsible for the culture of the team and I’ve been thinking about my position for a while.
“I hope the team rebuilds from this, and the Australian public find it in their hearts to forgive these young men and get behind the 11 who are going to take the field tomorrow.”
Smith and David Warner were banned for 12 months, while Bancroft copped a nine-month suspension for their roles in the Cape Town incident.
Lehmann’s contract was due to expire at the end of the 2019 Ashes, but the cheating scandal forced a rethink.
He said the vitriol aimed at his young family had taken a toll.
“As I stated before I had no prior knowledge of the (ball-tampering) incident and do not condone what happened at all. But good people can make mistakes,” he said.
“My family and I have copped a lot of abuse over the last week and it’s taken its toll on them.”
“As many who sit in this room would know, life on the road means a lot of time away from our loved ones, and after speaking with my family at length over the last few days, it’s the right time to step away.”
There were also plenty of tears behind closed doors.
“Speaking to the players and saying goodbye, telling them the news. That was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Lehmann said.
Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland thanked Lehmann for his part in delivering a World Cup and Ashes series to Australia.
“His work ethic has been terrific and he genuinely cares for and loves his players,” Sutherland said.
Asked whether he would follow Lehmann out the door, a defiant Sutherland said: “I’m not resigning and what’s happened over the last few days has only strengthened my resolve to ensure that Australian cricket and the Australian cricket team gets back on track.”
He said a new coach would be appointed ahead of Australia’s next tour, to England in June.
Sacked vice-captain Warner landed back in Sydney on Thursday night where he briefly spoke to reporters.
“As you can understand, it’s been a tough and an emotional time for my wife and the kids,” Warner said with his wife Candice and two young daughters in tow.
“At the moment, my priority is to get these kids in bed and rest up and let my mind be clear so I can think and talk to in a couple of days.”
Lehmann said his proudest cricketing moment came following the death of Phillip Hughes in 2014.
“We’re only playing a game, that’s all we’re playing,” he sobbed.
“We lost a great young man and the way we tried to deal with that is probably my proudest moment as coach. You win games, you lose games.”