BANGALORE: Australia’s cricket chiefs sprang to the defense of embattled skipper Steve Smith Wednesday after he was accused of cheating in the second Test against India, amid calls for disciplinary action.
India’s dramatic, 75-run victory on Tuesday in Bangalore, after Australia crashed to 112 all out, has left the four-match series between the world’s top two sides tantalisingly poised at 1-1.
But Wednesday’s headlines were dominated by Indian skipper Virat Kohli’s accusation that Smith abused the decision review system (DRS), after he was seen looking to the Australian dressing-room while considering appealing against his dismissal for lbw.
The rules forbid players to consult with anyone off the pitch about whether to seek a review from the umpires, particularly as support staff have access to television replays in the dressing-room.
At the post-match press conference, Smith — who was quickly waved off the field by the umpire — admitted he had been at fault, but put it down to a one-off “brain-fade”.
But an angry Kohli said it wasn’t an isolated incident and “that it’s been happening for the last three days, and it has to stop”.
Although Kohli stopped short of accusing Smith of being a cheat, Indian newspapers were less diplomatic. “Smith Caught Cheating,” an Indian Express headline said.
But Cricket Australia’s chief executive James Sutherland, who was in Bangalore for the match, defended his captain and team.
“I find the allegations questioning the integrity of Steve Smith, the Australian team and the dressing room, outrageous,” he 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.”
Coach Darren Lehman also threw his weight behind Smith, saying the Australian team were well aware of their responsibilities.
“He (Kohli) has his opinion and we have ours, but at the end of the day we play the game the right way,” Lehmann said on Cricket Australia’s website.
“We’ve changed the way we want to play, we’ve obviously changed the side and we’re a younger side so I’m pretty pleased with the way we do things now.
“We’ve never done any of that, so we’ll just get on with the next game,” Lehmann said of his side, who resume training on Sunday for the third Test in Ranchi starting March 16.
– ‘Blatant breach’ –
But Smith’s cause was not helped when his predecessor Michael Clarke voiced doubt over whether it was really a one-off, given that the non-striker Peter Handscomb seemed to suggest he consult the dressing-room.
“If what Virat Kohli is saying is true and Australia are using their support staff to help them decide on a DRS decision then that’s not on, that’s unacceptable,” Clarke told the India Today network.
“I think Steve Smith respects the game and will always uphold the integrity of the game and if it is just a one-off then it is a brain-fade and he’s made a mistake.
“My concern, my worry is, that when you look at the footage at what happened, Peter Handscomb… actually suggests to Steve Smith to turn around and have a look to the support staff.
“Now if it is only a one-off, I don’t think that would have happened.”
Although no formal complaint has been lodged with the International Cricket Council (ICC), a source in the Indian board told AFP that the team would press for charges.
The record-breaking Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar said the ICC should punish Smith for a “quite blatant” breach of the rules.
Another Indian batting great, VVS Laxman, tweeted that the Australian’s actions were “totally against the spirit of the game”.
There was no immediate comment from the ICC but, depending on the nature of any complaint filed by the Indians, the match referee could decide to either warn, fine or even suspend Smith.
Handscomb tried to deflect blame from his captain, writing on Twitter that it was “my fault and was unaware of the rule”, saying the row “shouldn’t take anything away from what was an amazing game”.