There has been much consternation and column space devoted to the fact that Australian Captain Steve Smith looked to the dressing room after being judged LBW in the 2nd Test between Australia and India. Without question this action is outside the laws of cricket, but some of the hysteria that has surrounded the exploration of the incident has been, at best, missing the point and, at worst, utter nonsense.
Like almost everything that happens on the field in an Australia v India cricket match, there has been little rational insight in the commentary. Having completed a famous victory at Bangalore, Virat Kohli gave one of world sports’ most ungracious and petty of press conferences. Stopping short of calling Smith a cheat, Kohli did nothing to dissuade those present that was his belief. He also went so far as to dispute his opposite numbers’ description that it was a ‘brain fade’ by asserting he had notified the umpires of a number of similar incidents. The implication was crystal clear, in Kohli’s mind at least, the Aussies had cheated and had done so systematically.
The BCCI’s official twitter account shared a similar view, tweeting a video of the incident accompanied with the message DRS – Dressing Room Review System? For many though the smoking gun that proved the Australian’s efforts to subvert the DRS came when Peter Handscomb took to Donald Trump’s favourite form of communication to address his role in the controversy.
The twin facts that Handscomb would direct his skipper to enquire of the dressing room and that he was ignorant of the law before doing so, was more than enough for those with a penchant for tin-foil hats to scream ‘conspiracy!’ Of course for this theory to work, you have to believe that the Australian captain was unaware of it and required prodding by one of the team’s junior members and, despite devising a system to overcome terrible decisions, they refused to implement it when Nigel Long delivered his howler of an LBW decision against Shaun Marsh.
There have also been the usual chorus of ‘it’s just not cricket’ by those who like to describe anything they don’t like as outside ‘the spirit of cricket’. This is hokum, like one run short or a no-ball, it is nothing more than a transgression in the game which has its prescribed penalty. In this instance the prescribed penalty is that the umpire cannot accept any challenge submitted by a player who has received outside assistance. If you want to question whether the penalty fits the crime, I am happy to join you.
But those of you suggesting Smith deserves a suspension, where was your outrage when Brendan McCullum as NZ captain, challenged an umpires’ decision during the 2016 Chappell-Hadlee Series only after seeing a replay on the big screen.
Happier in hypocrisy than to allow an opportunity to claim victimhood or righteous indignation pass them by, Indian commentators have unsurprisingly over-reacted to the situation. Despite having deemed Smith’s actions outside ‘the spirit of cricket’ and demanding action be taken against him, Sunil Gavaskar is now imploring Kohli do the same in the 3rd Test. The irony seemingly lost on the former Test runs record holder, that he now wants the Indian Captain to commit an act he feels worthy of sanction, to prove a perceived double standard in ICC disciplinary processes.
After trading press releases during the week, Cricket Australia and the BCCI offered a joint statement to the world in an effort to put a full stop on another flashpoint in relations between the two cricketing nations. Rather than try and use the incident as an opportunity to review the rule and/or its punishment, the whole commentary of the incident descended along parochial lines dependent on which side of the Indian Ocean you resided or were employed (I’m looking at you Michael Clarke!).
In no way do I defend Steve Smith’s actions in the heat of the moment at Bangalore, it is against the laws of the game and he shouldn’t have sought support from the sheds for this reason. On this it is hard to defend, that said I do not support the notion that his actions were part of some systemic approach by Smith and his team. Why would Smith need to be reminded of the system if it was something they had instigated and why did they let Shaun Marsh retire to the pavilion?
What I do question is the logic behind the law as it stands. The fielding captain can consult whoever of the ten team mates he is sharing the field he sees fit, as long as his challenge is submitted within 15 seconds. A batsman can only consult the non-striker. An unfair advantage to the fielding side without an apparent purpose. Like the ‘Umpires Call’ reliance in a system designed to review that very decision, how is this designed to help us get more correct decisions? Surely as long as the challenge is made within the time restriction, a team should be able to consult with its members to ensure that we get to the right destination more often? If DRS is in place to ensure that more correct decisions are reached, we should be encouraging this rather than finding ways to prevent it.