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Mitchell Starc reveals anger at ball-tampering taint

Mitchell Starc struck in his second over Getty Images

Mitchell Starc was angry at being drawn into the Newlands ball-tampering scandal by association, when the former Australia captain Steven Smith said "the leadership group" had come to the decision to use a foreign object to obtain reverse swing.

There was clear indignance from the pace bowlers in the team that played in Cape Town about being linked to David Warner's instruction of Cameron Bancroft to use sandpaper on the ball, with the tacit approval of Smith. All three were handed severe bans by Cricket Australia.

On the day of the ball tampering, Smith and Bancroft fronted a press conference where the captain said it had been a decision made by the team's leaders. The "leadership group" had at various times also included Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, creating much anger and division within the team about who had known what and when about tampering.

"Going back to what Sue said before about being upfront and tackling a problem head on, that's something the group who decided to go into a press conference didn't really think about," Starc said at a Women in Banking and Finance forum in Sydney, after corporate adviser Sue Cato had discussed the pitfalls of poorly-prepared press conferences.

"They obviously didn't see how big the reaction was going to be at that time and then went down the path of not telling the whole truth and then I guess involving another group, which ruined - well, not ruined - but affected other reputations."

Divisions within the team were at their height after the Newlands Test, as the head of integrity Iain Roy interviewed Warner, Smith, Bancroft, Peter Handscomb, Darren Lehmann and David Saker about their roles in the episode. There have since been efforts to repair the fractures, but Starc's words show that these are far from complete.

The management of the ball-tampering issue has been dissected internally at Cricket Australia, covering issues such as decisions taken by the communications team that recommended Lehmann speak rather than Smith and Bancroft, only to be overruled, while chief executive James Sutherland was not made aware of events in South Africa until after the press conference in question.

Sutherland's predecessor as CA chief executive, Malcolm Speed, told ESPNcricinfo that in hindsight, Smith and the CEO should have spoken before public comment was made. Instead their first discussion was the following morning when Sutherland informed Smith and Warner that they had been immediately dismissed as captain and deputy.

"James did not seek the limelight in dealing with the many issues he faced. Likewise, he did not shirk the issue when he was called upon to face the media," Speed said. "He was always authentic and straightforward and did not seek to prevaricate or obfuscate and he should be given credit for this. Authenticity is the sports administrator's most important characteristic and James was always the real deal.

"The recent ball-tampering scandal is a case in point. With hindsight, I am sure James would have preferred to have spoken to Steve Smith before he made media comment. Time zones were against him and he was keen to be seen to be on top of the issue. Ultimately, the correct outcomes were achieved. Do we judge a sports administrator on how well he appears in the media or on the decisions that are made in resolving difficult issues?"

CA had recently appointed a new head of communications, Tim Whittaker, when the Newlands Test took place. They have subsequently hired a new team media manager, Jeremy Arnold, who was formerly at the AFL club Essendon during its lengthy drugs scandal.