Nobody Really Won in the Steve Smith vs Virat Kohli Episode

While Steve Smith got caught exploiting a grey area in the game, Virat Kohli took things further by making claims of cheating without providing evidence.

Cricket - India v Australia - Second Test cricket match - M .Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru, India - 07/03/17. India's captain Virat Kohli (2nd L) speaks to the umpire as Australia's captain Steven Smith (R) walks off the ground after being dismissed. Credit: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Cricket – India v Australia – second test cricket match – M .Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru, India, March 7, 2017. India’s captain Virat Kohli (2nd L) speaks to the umpire as Australia’s captain Steven Smith (R) walks off the ground after being dismissed. Credit: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Oh, Urban Dictionary. The last resort for those who have lost touch with the times and those who are imprisoned by FOMO – fear of missing out, in case you are wondering. Use it in conversation sometime, if you want to demonstrate swag. It’s legit.

The open-source dictionary keeps track of all the faddish words and phrases that have somehow come to acquire conversational value. So, to keep up with the times, this writer thought it would not be a bad idea to look up the latest term that has caught widespread attention – brain fade.

Brain fade was used by Australian cricket captain Steve Smith to explain his controversial move when he sought the dressing room’s opinion on reviewing an umpire’s decision. The decision review system (DRS) controversy blew off on the fourth day of the second India-Australia test in Bengaluru when the visitors suffered a major blow with Smith’s dismissal. With the rules clearly stating that on-pitch batsmen cannot seek assistance from anyone before challenging the umpire’s judgment, the Australian captain was clearly at fault for hanging around and looking for hints from the dressing room.

An indignant Virat Kohli rushed to the scene and complained to umpire Nigel Llong. Llong, in hindsight the only man to keep his wits together, quickly stepped in to ensure Smith played to the rulebook. The Australian captain walked off and later expressed his regret by calling the moment a ‘brain fade’.

So, was it one? If you’re feeling rather generous towards Smith, you may accept his justification. Let us refer to the judgment of Urban Dictionary. Two explanations are on offer – 1) “is like a blond moment.” Well, casual sexism. So, let’s move past that one. 2) “A lapse in concentration leading to disaster”. This is probably closer to the picture Smith tried to present. But you would have to take a very benign view of the incident to believe his version.

A brain fade signifies naivety; Smith and his batting partner Peter Handscomb were guilty of stretching the rules in desperation. The skipper’s dismissal was a pivotal point in the chase. His exit brought India closer to what would eventually turn out to be a famous win. Rules were bent and it was important for Smith to be told that he had crossed a line.

Kohli, the loose cannon

But if you thought Smith’s expression of regret would be enough, you were wrong. Kohli let some cannons fly in his post-match comments.

“I saw that two times happening when I was batting out there. 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. When he turned back the umpire knew exactly what was going on, because we observed that, we told [the] 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, because sledging and playing against the opponents is different, but… I don’t want to mention the word, but it falls in that bracket. I would never do something like that on the cricket field… If something is going on for three days, then that’s not a brain fade, as simple as that…”

According to comments published in the Daily Telegraph, match referee Chris Broad refuted Kohli’s claims that India had brought the umpires’ attention to other such incidents. While the Indian captain may continue to back his version, it is unbecoming of him to lay charges of systematic cheating at the opposition without any evidence to back them up. It’s his word against Smith’s. Smith was in the wrong and he apologised for it. Kohli, though, branded the opposition as cheaters. His tendency to fly off the handle is not new.

The issue escalated on Wednesday (March 8) when Cricket Australia’s chief executive James Sutherland decried Kohli’s comments as outrageous. “I find the allegations questioning the integrity of Steve Smith, the Australian team and the dressing room, outrageous. 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.”

The BCCI had a response of its own ready, almost on cue. Kohli was backed and he was not. While praising the skipper for his “exemplary” conduct, the board restricted its statement to the Smith dismissal alone. There was no mention of the other incidents that Kohli had mentioned. But for the first time since the 2008 ‘monkeygate’ row, the cricket boards of India and Australia came out with public pronouncements that were overtly partisan.

It is evident that neither side has covered themselves in glory in this episode. Australia sought to exploit a grey area but was horribly exposed. Smith’s expression of regret afterwards should have been the end of the matter but Kohli, as is his wont, exaggerated the issue. Soon enough, his cheerleaders in the media and cricketing fraternity were ready to back his every word without demanding evidence. It has become a curious phenomenon these days to make accusations which do not stand the simplest of scrutiny. It would even be called presidential in some countries. Meanwhile Anurag Thakur, the former BCCI president who recently submitted an unconditional apology to the Supreme Court in response to charges of perjury, saw it fit to question Smith’s capabilities as a leader.

There was of course the potential of punishment being handed out to both or either captain. But neither the boards nor the ICC sought to press charges. Kohli could have had to battle a Level 2 offence under the ICC code of conduct for ‘serious public criticism’ of the opposition side. Smith, on the other hand, was liable to be charged with violating the spirit of cricket under the same code.

But the ICC, rightly, chose a conciliatory approach. The governing body’s chief executive David Richardson was quoted in a statement as saying, “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. We would encourage both teams to focus their energies on the third Test in Ranchi next week. Ahead of that, the match referee will bring both Captains together to remind them of their responsibilities to the game.”

That seems to have brought an end to the issue for now but there will be a few spikes in tension at the third test in Ranchi. Of course, all the decisions reviewed by the Australian team henceforth will be under the scanner to ensure there’s no repeat of the Steve Smith incident. It’s a scrutiny that the visiting side will have to accept, having been found guilty once.

India, though, is unlikely to change its tack. Under Kohli’s captaincy, the side has been encouraged to adopt an aggressive demeanour. While there’s nothing wrong with inculcating a domineering disposition on the field – in fact in some senses it should even be welcomed – the descent into boorish behaviour is a real danger.

While Kohli’s anger on the field was justifiable when Smith looked over to the dressing room, it was not the only time Kohli has been visibly agitated on the field. One could sense his desperation boiling over as India struggled against an Australian side which was written off by most observers. It was a stark contrast to the calm exuded by his predecessor M.S. Dhoni.

Even if one were to look beyond what happened on the field, Kohli’s post-match comments do not inspire confidence in the thought that he has come to terms with the demands of leading a side. Reckless utterances present him in a dim light. The blind patriots will continue to defend him any which way. But one wishes that Kolhi is able to transfer the equanimity of his batting to his leadership. Looking at his history, one would not bet on it but we should still urge Kohli to take a chill pill. Urban Dictionary nods in approval.

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