New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson has gone in to bat for embattled Australian vice-captain Dave Warner, saying the man claimed to be the ringleader of the ball-tampering incident is "not a bad person."
Williamson and the New Zealand team were obliquely drawn into the controversy this week when Australia coach Darren Lehmann, exonerated of any part in planning or attempting to change the condition of the ball during the third Test against South Africa, said Australia in future should behave more like New Zealand.
The New Zealand team under coach Mike Hesson and recent captains Brendon McCullum and Williamson has been lauded for upholding the spirit of cricket by refusing to indulge in abuse of opposing players or other forms of gamesmanship.
"The thing for me would be if we take a leaf out of someone like, say, New Zealand's book in the way they play and respect the opposition," Lehmann said, promising the Australian team would mend its ways. "We've got to make sure we're respecting the game and its traditions."
At a news conference Thursday ahead of Friday's second Test against England in Christchurch, Williamson was asked for his view of the ball-tampering controversy which has seen Warner and Australia captain Steve Smith banned for 12 months and Cameron Bancroft for nine months.
Williamson might have welcomed the chance to join many other leading current or former players in piling on to the pugnacious Warner. Instead he expressed sympathy and understanding for Warner and Smith who, he said, were paying heavily for a single lapse in judgement.
Williamson said he had been in touch by text with Warner, with whom he plays for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League.
"He's not a bad person by any means," Williamson said. "Through what's eventuated in recent times, there's been a lot of emotion and energy pointed at certain players which has gone to extreme lengths.
"It will blow over in time, but it's grown and grown and, like I say, he's not a bad guy. He's made a mistake and certainly admitted that and they are disappointed with that action."
Williamson said Warner and Smith "will have to take the strong punishment and move on. You always learn from tough lessons and I'm sure they'll do that. But it is a shame that two fantastic, world-class players have made a mistake."
Williamson acknowledged New Zealand had made a conscious effort in recent years to play in a way which demonstrated respect for opponents and the sport.
"For us it's about how we want to play the game, that's important to us," he said. "It's been part of our environment for some time and we want to maintain that.
"We believe it suits us as people and so we want to commit to that, play as hard and well as we can on the park, but at the end of the day the game finishes and you're still people. That's what we like to try and hang our hat on."
(With AP Inputs)