JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - An emotional Australia cricket coach Darren Lehmann said on Thursday he was stepping down after this week’s test match against South Africa due to abuse he and his family received over a ball-tampering scandal that has rocked the sport.
His voice choking with emotion at a news conference on the eve of the Johannesburg test, the last of the four-match series against arch rivals South Africa, Lehmann said his decision to quit was tough but voluntary.
“My family and I got a lot of abuse over the last week,” said Lehmann, a burly former test player known for his no-nonsense approach on and off the field. “Speaking to my family, it’s the right time to step away.”
He conceded that he should take some blame for the aggressive culture that has developed in the Australian team during his time as coach.
“Ultimately I’m responsible for the culture of the team. Been thinking about my position for a while, despite telling media yesterday that I’m not resigning,” he said.
Watching axed captain Steve Smith break down repeatedly at a news conference on his return to Australia removed any final doubts about quitting, he said.
“It’s only fair that I make this decision,” he said.
Former players had been calling for Lehmann’s head, suspecting that he might have been involved in the ball-tampering plan that led to the sacking of Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opener Cameron Bancroft.
Television footage showed Lehmann sending a message out onto the field before Bancroft dropped the piece of sandpaper he was clandestinely using to rough up the ball down his trousers.
However, Cricket Australia cleared Lehmann of wrongdoing, with the organisation’s CEO, James Sutherland, saying Lehmann was as surprised as the thousands of spectators in Cape Town’s Newlands stadium and millions more watching the images at home.
Reporting by Nomvelo Chalumbira; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Ed Cropley