Former Indian captains Sunil Gavaskar and Sourav Ganguly are right to insist that the ICC punish Steve Smith for his “brain fade”, which saw him look to the Australian dressing room for guidance while considering whether to review an LBW decision against him.
This is difficult to write, because it is never pleasant to make an allegation of cheating against any cricketer. But this is what Smith’s “brain fade” was.
He is the Australian captain and has graced the game, at every level, throughout his fabulous career. But what he did after a skidding delivery smacked into his pads plumb in front of middle stump was unacceptable and unbecoming behaviour.
I can’t see how it can be described as anything other than cheating. The term “brain fade” in this context is a coy way of admitting guilt.
Gavaskar and Ganguly are well-known mischief-makers when it comes to making allegations of cheating, racism and skulduggery against Australian cricketers.
But just as a stopped watch is correct twice a day, they are right on this occasion.
By calling his action a brain fade, Smith conceded that he looked up to the Australian dressing room for confirmation on whether to review the LBW decision or not.
That is bad in itself. It is a concession that he broke the rule that reviews must be dealt with by the players, on both sides, entirely on the field. There must be no off-the-field help or players on the field looking for it.
But was it really a brain fade? Or was it a deliberate action that followed the (equally unacceptable) intervention of his fellow batsman, Peter Hanscomb?
This question gets to the heart of the matter. Because if the answer is yes to the last question then the matter becomes even more concerning.
A yes answer indicates, and there is no getting away from this, that the Australians were rorting the review system.
The case against Peter Handscomb and Steve Smith, I regret to write, looks to be very strong.
My authority for this statement is Hanscomb himself, from his Twitter account: “I referred smudga to look at the box… my fault and was unaware of the rule. Shouldn’t take anything away from what was an amazing game!”
I referred smudga to look at the box… my fault and was unaware of the rule. Shouldn't take anything away from what was an amazing game!
— Peter Handscomb (@phandscomb54) March 7, 2017
If anyone believes that this tweet was not an admission of cheating let him/her explain why Hanscomb referred Smith “to look at the box.”
It is obvious from this that Hamscomb knew that the box would give Smith a signal whether to review the decision or not.
There are two aspects of this tweet that give away the game the Australians were playing in the box.
First, Hanscomb concedes that he suggested to his skipper he should get a nod from the Australian team room about whether to review the umpire’s decision.
Second, the claim that he was “unaware” of the rule forbidding getting an off-field nod about a review suggests that instruction from the team’s dressing room was an accepted practice.
If Hanscomb was unaware of the rule and, in turn, suggested to Smith that he look to the Australian team room for a nod, this must be seen as an admission that this was a practice or tactic used by the team.
Now, before anyone gets too worked up about Spiro going over the top, just read what Michael Clarke had to say about this very point in an interview with India Today: “My concern and my worry is that when you look at the footage of what happened with Steve Smith, Peter Handscomb … actually suggests to Steve Smith to turn around and have a look at the support staff.
“If it is only a one-off, I don’t think that would have happened.
“The fact that Peter Handscomb is even thinking about telling the Australian captain to turn around and look to the support staff, I’ve got my concerns.”
Clarke continued, “I think Steve Smith respects the game and if it’s a one off, then it is a brain fade.I want to find out more about it. But if Virat is correct and if Australia are using the DRS that way, then it is completely unacceptable and it is not a brain fade.”
This is powerful stuff from a former Australian captain. These words need to be said, and acted upon.
It is this last point that needs teasing out, particularly in the light of an initial and worrying response of the match referee Chris Broad.
According to The Australian‘s excellent cricket writer Peter Lalor, Broad told reporters he saw the Smith incident and he implied he was taking no further action regarding it. He also indicated that he was not aware of the Australians having “systematically” cheating.
This response directly disregards Michael Clarke, Virat Kholi and Sourav Ganguly.
Kohli told a tense media conference that he had seen three occasions, twice when he was batting, of the Australians attempting to seek input over the reviews from the dressing rooms.
He made a point, he said, of alerting the umpires about what he had seen. Surely Broad should consult with the umpires and check videos to see if Kohli is correct with his allegations?
We know for sure that for one of the occasions, the Steve Smith incident, that Kohli was correct.
Then there is the Ganguly accusation made to The Star Sports feed in Bangalore and published in The Daily Telegraph in an article written by Ben Horne, that he “personally witnessed Australia sending men to the stands and instructing them to give DRS signals”.
Now this is a particularly serious accusation. It would be relatively easy to verify. And Broad and/or the ICC must do this.
Horne also made the point that the Ganguly statement was carried on the feed on a “several second delay”.
The suggestion here is that the producers of the feed were prepared to allow the accusation to be published. If they were doubtful about it, they surely would have pressed the kill button.
Horne made a further point: “However, at this stage Kohli has no proof to back up his scandalous claim.”
I would dispute this. The umpires have not contested Kolhi’s claim that he informed them of actions by the Australians that he considered were not permitted under the DRS system.
Smith has conceded, too, that he did look to the Australian dressing room for guidance.
Hanscomb, too, has admitted that he suggested to his captain that he take this action which is in violation of the rules.
I can’t see, therefore, that Kohli’s claim is “scandalous.”
The behaviour of Smith, Hanscombe and people in the Australian dressing room was “scandalous”.
This brings us to what sort of punishments need to be levied.
A one-Test suspension for Steve Smith and Peter Hanscombe is in order. For the Australian coaching staff, a donation of their Test fee to an Indian charity would be the appropriate punishment.