Steve Smith’s controversial ‘brain fade’ has probably just one parallel in world cricket: In the 1999 World Cup match against India, Hansie Cronje, skipper of the fielding South African team, was being guided by coach Bob Woolmer through an ear piece before the horrified match referee, through the on-field umpires, ordered him to get rid of the gizmo.
On Tuesday, Smith’s apology of an excuse – “a brain fade” – for one of the most outrageous acts in recent times did no credit to him in his role as Australia’s cricket captain. Rather, it showed him as someone who would go to any length to save his skin.
Smith, on being trapped in front of the wicket and declared lbw, had the option of using what would have been Australia’s second and last referral for the time being. But the manner in which he sought to arrive at the decision was a downright low-down act and looked as ugly as sin.
Later, at the media conference after the Test, Smith admitted that his partner Peter Handscomb had said "look up". This probably meant: look at the replay on the giant television, which by itself is unacceptable.
But Smith turned around and looked towards the dressing room for some direction, a patently unacceptable ploy.
A livid Virat Kohli who spoke to the media after Smith’s post-match conference let off steam: “I saw this happening twice when I was batting. I pointed it out to the umpire as well, that I have seen their players looking upstairs for confirmation. That’s the reason the umpire was quickly on to him.
“When he turned towards the dressing room the umpire knew exactly what was going on, because we had observed their earlier acts and even informed the match referee. We had told him and the umpires that the Aussies have been doing this for the last three days.
“This had to be stopped, because there’s a line that you don’t cross on the cricket field. Sledging and playing against the opponents is different, but... I don’t want to mention the word, but it falls in that bracket. I would never do something like that on the cricket field.”
Was that unspeakable word “cheating”? one member of the media asked.
Kohli was quick to tell him: “I didn’t say that. You did.”
In the days of yore when cricket was reckoned to be a gentleman’s game the umpire’s decision was deemed to be final. However, in recent times, each team is given two opportunities to challenge an umpire’s decision. An unsuccessful appeal would cost the team a challenge. On the other hand, if the appeal is successful the team would be deemed to have not used its right to appeal.
The players who are out in the field are expected to quickly seek referral, if required, by themselves, without banking on help from TV replays or advice from beyond the play field.
Kohli’s blunt talking about the Australians having sought advice from the dressing room even earlier puts the visitors in an ugly spot. It is also not the first time that an Australian team is being accused of not playing the game according to its spirit.
Former Indian skipper Kapil Dev, who during a break from television commentary, was seated beside me in the print media press box, immediately lashed out that Smith’s act was extremely condemnable.
“It’s not the done thing and I hope the match referee has taken note of it. He deserves to be punished and I’m hoping that the action would be prompt and of acceptable scale. The game must be played in the right spirit.”
Former Australian skipper Michael Clarke speaking in a news channel said he did not want to be too judgmental of Smith, but was keen to find out more about Kohli’s claims.
“If Australia are using the DRS as Kohli alleged, then that is unacceptable. My concern is that when you look at the footage of what happened, Peter Handscomb actually suggests to Steve Smith to turn around and have a look at the support staff.
"The fact that Handscomb is even thinking about telling the Australian captain to turn around and look to the support staff has got me worried and concerned."
Former Indian skipper Sunil Gavaskar said the incident was not in the spirit of the game while another former captain Sourav Ganguly, speaking in another television channel remarked: "If the umpires themselves saw Smith infringing on DRS rules then they must report and take action. The umpires and match referee must ensure this doesn't happen in future."
Considering the gravity of the situation and the charge, it is good that Indian skipper Kohli has been outspoken on the issue. It is even better that he had cautioned the match referee and umpires in advance of Australia’s dishonest practices and this helped them deal firmly with Smith’s transgressions.
“My leaving the ball alone and getting bowled in the Pune Test is a brain fade. I accept that,” said Kohli. “But if something has been going on for three days, how can that be a ‘brain fade’?” he wondered.
The big question that the International Cricket Council (ICC) must ask is: Did Smith, and by extension the Australians, do what they did because they thought they could get away with it? If so, it is ICC’s responsibility to show that they don’t.