Let’s state the obvious here first. Steven Smith not only went against what’s permissible under the ICC’s guideline for using the Decision Review System (DRS), but also crossed a moral line players are expected to be on the right side of. It was unbecoming of anyone playing this sport at a professional level, let alone the captain of Australia.
His junior partner and accomplice in that moment of madness, Peter Handscomb attempted to take the fall for his skipper by admitting it was at his suggestion, Smith did the unthinkable. However, the fact the skipper turned around and quite assertively sought input from the dressing room confirms he was well on-board and knew exactly what he was doing.
Later, the Australian captain chose to explain away the entire episode as a moment of ‘brain fade’, and even if one were to buy his explanation, it was a serious offence nonetheless, inadvertent or not.
It is therefore astonishing to realise Smith got away unscathed and that the ICC have chosen not to delve into the matter any further. There are quite a few boxes that do not tick here and things do not easily add up. For a start, the silence from all the match officials has been quite unscrupulous.
Match referee Chris Broad has apparently spoken exclusively to an Australian news outlet and refused to confirm the allegations Indian captain Virat Kohli made in his post-match presser of the Australians having engaged in systematic cheating and that the Smith incident was anything but a one-off.
Curiously, the ICC has chosen not to cite anything of the sort in its official statement released in the aftermath of the events. The two on-field umpires – Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth – haven’t uttered a word on the incident, presumably under the diktat from people above their pay grade.
Kohli quite affirmatively suggested to the media, he’d brought Australia’s tactical under the table approach of using the DRS into both the umpires’ as well as the match referee’s attention. He added that it was only after he pointed out did Umpire Llong intervene rather instinctively when Smith signalled at the dressing room for an input, for he’d already been primed this was going on for a while.
Once again, there’s one box too many that do not tick here. For one, Kohli was fairly specific in his allegations suggesting he’d observed the Australians exploiting the system by unfair means twice during his batting. Across the two innings, Kohli’s batting stints were fairly brief and during his time at the crease, no more than twice was there a serious appeal from the Australians.
As can be easily verified from the video footage of the instances, Smith’s men never contemplated a review over those, which leaves one wondered what Kohli was exactly pointing out to.
Several experts in the media, including some of the former players, seem to have suggested – the fact Smith acted so swiftly at Handscomb’s prompting indicates it must have happened before too and that this was a carefully employed practice by the Australians.
Now, these are assumptions at best and most certainly cannot pass as evidence in building a case of systematic cheating against a team. Moreover, it is hard to believe none of the cameras caught the players seeking inputs from the dressing room in the alleged instances the way Smith was.
The process of contemplating and deliberating over a review takes place right in the middle of the action and it is practically impossible for the players to evade the broadcaster’s attention while they’re at it. Smith couldn’t elude the cameras or the umpires during his attempted shenanigan, and for good reason, one might believe it’d have been the same in the other instances too, had they taken place indeed.
What leaves one entirely perplexed is the BCCI’s complete omission of Kohli’s allegations both in their official statement and in the complaint draft presented to the ICC. The board chose not to attest their captain’s claim and therefore passively admitted there was little merit in the insinuation of systematic cheating.
But shouldn’t Smith (and Handscomb) still have faced a penalty, for his actions were clearly in violation of the code? One possible explanation could be, it’d have been very difficult to level substantial charges against Smith for he never really succeeded in taking undue advantage of the system.
The umpire was quick to react and Smith would’ve been denied a chance to review the decision had he opted for it. It is possible the BCCI officials were informed on this by legal experts and thus chose to call truce than prolonging the inevitable mud-slinging.
Was Cricket Australia not pursuing the matter of Kohli’s outrageous press conference part of the settlement then? One would never know. What one knows for certain is, both the Australian and the Indian captain warranted a severe reprimand for their respective actions – one for breaching the code of game on the field, the other for throwing duplicitous and unsubstantiated accusations about the integrity of his opposition.
While Smith’s actions were borderline felonious, Kohli’s claims were disingenuous and insincere. The entire episode was played out rather ugly with the BCCI even resorting to trolling the Australians on social media. The least these events merited was the ICC’s proactive intervention, and commitment to investigate things meticulously and uncover the truth.
Even if it meant the two teams losing their captains and by all means their best players for the remainder of the series, it’d have been worth it. The cricket fans deserved not to be taken for a ride this one time. But that’s pretty much what both the boards and of course, in effect the ICC did.
The series is very interestingly poised now with parity restored after an India win. It’s only likely a riveting contest in Ranchi starting in two days’ time should take the attention completely off what’s transpired in the last week or so. The host presenters, the commentators, and the extended media should most certainly peddle the narrative of ‘moving on’.
But lest we forget, the ICC and the two boards in order to avoid the uncomfortable altercations, chose to keep us deprived of the truth. And let a thrilling contest between the two sides in the upcoming Tests not override that.
You might want to ponder however, if all parties involved would have been let off the hook so casually, had both the teams in question weren’t represented by the two boards that constitute 2/3rd of ICC’s power conglomerate. Faf du Plessis, anyone?