India vs Australia, 2nd Test: Steve Smith being let off by ICC for DRS 'brain fade' is unacceptable
Quite simply, Smith's actions - whether by his own lack of clarity in the moment or goaded by Handscomb - were of mischevious intent.
Two days after the Pune Test ended, an expected ICC media release arrived in the mailbox. It duly noted that the pitch for the first match had been rated 'poor' by match referee Chris Broad. The verdict didn't make sense - for the visiting team had scored a total of 545 runs and the home team had been bowled out for 212 runs in a little under three days.
At best, the judgment was debatable, yet the show moved on to a new theatre as India's massive 333-run defeat in Pune took over the headlines. It was a one-off loss, and recovering the winning touch in Bengaluru was vital. Now, after a magnificent second Test, the series stands at 1-1. But the end in Bengaluru was a bit acrimonious, and another ICC media release was expected to arrive soon after India won by 75 runs.
It took more than 24 hours to come though, for the ICC was busy announcing the schedule for the 2017 Women's World Cup on the occasion of International Women's Day on 8 March. Fair enough, as long as they didn't forget the other job at hand.
In the meantime, the day went on with statements from Cricket Australia and counter-statements from the BCCI in support of their respective captains. In between, Peter Handscomb happily put it out on Twitter that he was to blame for Steve Smith's 'brain fade' moment, when the Australian captain appeared to be seeking advice from the dressing room on a DRS referral after he was given out on the field. It attracted a strong reaction from Indian captain Virat Kohli in the post-match presser.
Finally, the anticipated media release did arrive in the evening, but it was a 'joke' at best. The ICC did not charge any player under its Code of Conduct, and after considering both the incidents in the context of the match, concluded that 'it will be taking no further action'.
Furthermore, ICC CEO Dave Richardson's words added to this facetious media release. "We have just witnessed a magnificent game of Test cricket where players from both teams gave their all and emotions were running high during and after the match," he is quoted to have said.
What does the magnificence of this second Test have to do with maintaining the integrity of the game? What do high emotions from players have to do with maintaining the sanctity of DRS rules listed by the governing body? Can the quality of a match and temperament of the players participating even be parameters for judging whether action needs to be taken or not for apparent mischief?
The ICC's inaction has reduced the significance of what happened during Australia's second innings, and afterwards in the press conference, to a mere happenstance. Wednesday's fall-out showed that it was anything but that.
Just look at what Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said of the incident. "I find the allegations questioning the integrity of Steve Smith, the Australian team and the dressing room, outrageous. We have every faith that there was no ill intent in his actions." That last line ought to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Quite simply, Smith's actions - whether by his own lack of clarity in the moment or goaded by Handscomb - were of mischievous intent. The Australian captain was caught on camera, trying to induce a hint from the dressing room, whether to go for a DRS review or not. And when caught doing so, he was asked by umpire Nigel Llong to leave the field.
Smith's admission of that brain fade moment later in the post-match press conference adds to his guilt. However, the ICC's logic of letting the incident go without a reprimand would have been acceptable if this was the extent of controversy. It simply isn't, as Kohli laid down a specific charge in the same post-match press conference as well.
"I saw that two times happening when I was batting out there," Kohli had said. "I pointed it out to the umpire as well, that it's happened twice, that I've seen their players looking upstairs for confirmation, and that's why the umpire was at him. We told match referee also, and the umpires, that they've been doing that for the last three days and this has to stop, because there's a line that you don't cross on the cricket field."
At this juncture, this incident becomes a whole lot more. Sutherland expressed confidence in the Australian team, and coach Darren Lehmann denied these allegations by saying that they were "Kohli's opinion". They are simply not opinions anymore, though, are they? Smith was seen, by the whole wide world on television, and there is a fair question mark if the same happened earlier as well. And, in uttering those words, the Indian captain also embroiled the ICC officials - match referee Broad and the two on-field umpires - into what precisely happened during that second Test.
If, as per Kohli, he had indeed reported these "instances over three days", then the Indian team management must have approached the match officials with enough proof. If not, then the question needs to be asked here if the ICC sought the same proof from the Indian captain (and team management) after he made these allegations in the press conference?
If yes, then what was the outcome of this submitted proof? If no, then why wasn't this proof asked for?
In the aftermath of this incident, the silence from match referee Broad is deafening at best. Late on Tuesday night, after the game ended, a small quote attributed to him appeared in Australian media (over social media) that his attention was "only sought for the Smith incident" and "denied Kohli's statement that India had brought it to his notice earlier".
It wouldn't be appropriate to take the word of the Australian media in this matter. But if Broad's words are true, these statements from the match referee raise two very important questions.
First, how was he talking to the Australian media at the end of the game, as ICC officials do not have authority to do so? Second, why hasn't the ICC released any official statement from the match referee supporting, or indeed refuting, this statement?
Quite simply, the bottomline is this: There needed to be a firm investigation by the ICC - and match officials - into Kohli's allegations. If Kohli cannot prove his allegations, then he should be reprimanded or sanctioned. It goes similarly for Smith, who was caught violating the DRS rules at least once, and that alone warrants a slap on the wrists. They are captains of two respected cricket nations, and cannot mislead or have brain fades, only to be let off so easily in such a combustible setting.
As such, what message does ICC's inaction in this matter send out?
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