The intrigue is not over India and Australia smoking the peace pipe after the Bengaluru Test controversy. The question is what did the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) get in return for allowing the guilty Australians to wriggle out of a tight corner?
There is no doubt that Australian skipper Steve Smith was in the wrong when he asked for DRS guidance from the dressing room on being declared leg before wicket. He himself admitted that he had had a “brain fade” when he sought that help.
Virtually every Australian cricketer, past or present, including non-striker Peter Handscomb, former skipper Michael Clarke, Merv Hughes, and coach Darren Lehmann accepted that Smith was in the wrong.
Cricket Australia’s chief executive James Sutherland and other officials sitting right above the sight screen in the Diamond Box would have been horrified at Smith’s action and the fact that he had been caught out although their public posturing of support said something else.
The television replays which captured umpire Nigel Llong frantically intervening and sending off Smith as soon as he had asked for advice is too graphic and leaves no doubt as to the turn of events.
The Australians should have condemned their skipper for his act and ridiculous excuse. Indeed since when is ignorance of law or ‘brain fade’ during implementation of rules an excuse?
Instead the Australians almost exclusively concentrated on alleging that Indian skipper Virat Kohli had brought the game into disrepute with his sensational outburst at the ‘cheating’. Their claim that his reaction to a “one-off” incident was “over the top” was a laughable attempt to deflect criticism from Smith.
This was made worse by Sutherland’s statement which many felt belittled Kohli.
"I find the allegations questioning the integrity of Steve Smith, the Australian team and the dressing room outrageous," Sutherland said.
"Steve is an outstanding cricketer and person, and role model to many aspiring cricketers and we have every faith that there was no ill-intent in his actions.
"We reject any commentary that suggests our integrity was brought into disrepute or that systemic unfair tactics are used, and stand by Steve and the Australian cricketers who are proudly representing our country," Sutherland added.
A peeved BCCI immediately shot off an official protest about the incident to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and attached footage of the incident to corroborate Kohli’s charge.
Realising that things were swiftly going out of hand to the extent that the Australian skipper might cop serious punishment, Sutherland opted for damage control by meeting BCCI CEO Rahul Johri in Mumbai. The duo thrashed out a rapprochement which led to India withdrawing their complaint to the ICC and the teams agreeing to play the rest of the series in the best of spirits.
This deal allowed Australia to dig themselves out of the charge of organised cheating, something Kohli hinted at when he said that he had earlier seen the Australians looking up to the dressing room for DRS guidance and had alerted the umpires about it. He even said the umpire caught on to Smith’s ploy only because of the alert.
The question is, did the agreement between Johri and Sutherland gain anything for India?
It may be recalled that in October 2014 the West Indies players abandoned a tour of India over a pay dispute with their board and the BCCI in turn had sought $42 million as damages from the West Indies board.
The Windies board was broke and the compensation could have crippled them forever. Both knew this and thus India were in a position to use the fine as some sort of leverage.
But Shashank Manohar, just before he took charge at the ICC, waived the damages. It let the West Indies board off the hook but left India without any control over them.
The point is other countries will not be so obliging if they have India squeezed into a corner. The recent manoeuvres at the ICC in an attempt to marginalise a weakened and indecisive BCCI are a case in point. The ICC wants to push through a long-term restructuring of finances and administration at a time when the BCCI has little or no voice.
Something for nothing?
In the current scenario, if Sutherland conceded nothing of note in the meeting and agreement thereafter, then the BCCI is already a loser. It would have thrown away an advantage. On the other hand, if it has wrested some commitment, is it not in the interest of transparency to come clean with it?
It is no secret in world cricket that Australia and South Africa are in a tug of war for scheduling Boxing Day and New Year Tests. In both their cultures these events are very big. South Africa are keen on hosting India, Australia and England during this period and want the Australians to oblige them every now and then.
Additionally, in competition to the Big Bash League (BBL), South Africa are floating their own T20 league and their officials were in India for discussion with the BCCI, advertisers, sponsors and potential franchise owners.
Thus a smart and alert BCCI could have plenty going their way even if the ICC is hell bent on wrecking or curbing its influence.
The deals with Australia and South Africa could be just the fillip that the BCCI needs to get back at the ICC and its manipulators. For that the Vinod Rai-led Committee of Administrators (COA) and Johri need to use their aces wisely. Not throw them away on a whim.