SYDNEY: Australia’s top bowlers on Sunday lashed out at ‘false’ and ‘inflammatory’ claims they were planning a Test boycott if David Warner had not been kicked off the team in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal.
Warner was widely seen as the instigator of the plot to use sandpaper to alter the ball during the third Test in Cape Town last year, with rookie opener Cameron Bancroft carrying out plan and then-captain Steve Smith turning a blind eye.
Read more:Australia to confront past as ball-tampering bans expire
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Friday that Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon all intended to pull out of the fourth Test if Warner was not removed.
The newspaper, citing multiple sources, said it “highlights the extent of the fracture within the dressing-room in the immediate aftermath”.
But a statement from the quartet on Sunday denied a boycott had been considered and, with Smith and Warner now free to play again after their one-year bans expired on Friday, the bowlers said they were focused on ‘moving forward’.
“We are extremely disappointed in an article [that] claims we intended to withdraw from the fourth test during last year’s tour of South Africa had David Warner been free to play,” the four bowlers said in a Cricket Australia statement on Sunday. “This claim is disappointing on a number of fronts but most importantly because it is false.
“As a team we are all focused on moving forward together and helping the Australian men’s team prepare for the World Cup and the Ashes.”
The statement is the latest episode in the long-running scandal, which forced Cricket Australia into a major overhaul of its organisational culture and administration after a damning review labelled it as ‘arrogant’ which had produced a ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality in the team.
That hyper-aggressive mindset has disappeared under current Test captain Tim Paine and his one-day counterpart Aaron Finch, but the board are keen on ushering Warner and Smith — their bans ended on Thursday — back into the side as quickly as possible.
CA have attempted to smooth the pair’s return to the national side and published a curated video on their website earlier this month in which they reunited with the team in the United Arab Emirates ahead of the One-day International series against Pakistan when Lyon and Cummins were present, but the injured Starc and Hazlewood were not.
While pundits have questioned whether the playing group are accepting of their return, many have said they would be welcomed back if selected for the May 30-July 14 World Cup in England and Wales and the Ashes series that follows.
Both Warner and Smith are currently playing in the Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition, while Finch’s side finished their five-match one-day series against Pakistan on Sunday in Dubai.
They already hold a 4-0 advantage and have now won their last seven one-day internationals in succession.
Asked on Thursday whether Warner’s return would be disruptive, Cricket Australia chief Kevin Roberts compared the situation to any other workplace.
“What we’re focused on is doing everything we can to support Dave, Steve, Cameron and all of the other support staff with this integration … to build harmony rather than to disrupt the harmony that is building,” he said.
“At the same time, let’s be open about it — in any workplace you don’t need to be best mates with everyone, but there needs to be a foundation of respect and I think there is growing respect there.”
He added that Smith, Warner, and Bancroft had all “owned their mistakes, they’ve paid a price and have served their time”.
The ‘sandpapergate’ scandal triggered far-reaching consequences for Australian cricket.
Then-coach Darren Lehmann quit and all the top brass from Cricket Australia left after a scathing review said their ‘arrogant and controlling’ win-at-all-costs culture was partly to blame for players bending the rules.