Darren Lehmann, right, and Australia spinner Nathan Lyon look on during a training session at The County Ground in Brighton, England. File picture: GETTY IMAGES
Darren Lehmann, right, and Australia spinner Nathan Lyon look on during a training session at The County Ground in Brighton, England. File picture: GETTY IMAGES

An emotional Australian cricket coach Darren Lehmann said on Thursday he was stepping down after this week’s Test match against SA, 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 SA, 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."

Ultimately I’m responsible for the culture of the team. I’ve been thinking about my position for a while, despite telling media ... that I’m not resigning

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. I’ve 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.

Earlier, SA cricket captain Faf du Plessis said he felt the 12-month ban on disgraced Australia skipper Steve Smith was "harsh".

He told a media conference in Johannesburg that he was "very sorry" for Smith and had texted him a message of support.

Smith and vice-captain David Warner were banned for 12 months and Cameron Bancroft for nine months for attempted ball tampering during the third Test in Cape Town last Saturday.

The Australian cheating plot was foiled when TV cameras spotted Bancroft seeking to alter the condition of the ball with sandpaper.

Du Plessis was speaking on the eve of the fourth and final Test at the Wanderers of a drama-packed series in which SA hold a 2-1 lead.

"It’s been a crazy week. I have compassion for what he’s going through.

"I think he’s one of the good guys and he’s just been caught in a bad place," said Du Plessis, who has twice been found guilty of ball tampering himself, but was only fined and never banned.

"I did send him a text. From a really deep place in my heart I feel for the guy. I don’t want to see guys going through that stuff. "It’s going to be incredibly hard for him over the next days so I sent him a message of support, saying he’ll get through this and he must be strong."

Du Plessis said that although he regarded the bans imposed on Smith, Warner and Bancroft as harsh, he understood it in the context of the "high values" Australians expected from their cricket team.

Du Plessis welcomed the announcement by International Cricket Council CEO Dave Richardson that there would be a review of the ICC code of conduct and penalties.

"I think it’s overdue. All we ask for is consistency. There are a lot of grey areas," Du Plessis.

Despite his sympathy for Smith, Du Plessis said he and his team were determined to "finish the job".

Reuters /AFP