“I’ve got a lot of respect for Steven Smith, but that was very, very surprising.” —R Ashwin
“Never, ever, ever,”—Darren Lehmann on his team seeking dressing-room help for DRS.
A day after Virat Kohli accused Australia of pushing the envelope over the DRS issue, the Australian cricket establishment closed ranks. Only Michael Clarke, former captain, wondered whether Peter Handscomb’s involvement suggested it wasn’t a one-off incident. The rest – from Cricket Australia to Steve Waugh – backed Steve Smith’s “brain-fade” excuse. Unsurprisingly. ICC have released a statement that no action would be taken on any cricketer involved in the game.
Of all the former Australian cricketers, only Clarke seems to have said anything remotely against their team. “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. I want to find out from the Australian team if they’re using the DRS in that way, if they are then that is unacceptable,” Clarke told India Today channel.
Peter Handscombe has tweeted that he would take the blame and that he “didn’t know the rules”. “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!”
Australia coach Lehmann denied Kohli’s claims but didn’t throw any counter-accusations at India. “”Never, ever, ever,” was his response to whether Australia had indulged in seeking help from the dressing room in DRS situations before the Smith incident. Lehmann instead chose to talk about how this Australian team has changed and how they are less confrontational in nature. “He (Kohli) has his opinion and we have ours, but at the end of the day we play the game the right way. 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 says this team wants to portray a positive image, and doesn’t want to carry the old tag of the Ugly Australians. “I’ll say we were very good with the way we went about it in trying to play the game the way that we want to play it. Gone are the days when we used to be probably the other way, and I was part of that as an Australian side. The young guys, the way they want to portray themselves and encourage people to play the game and enjoy the game, have been exceptional. So I’m really proud of the way they went about it this game, even though we lost.”
Expectedly, the Australian cricket board threw its full support behind captain Smith. “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. We reject any commentary that suggests our integrity was brought into disrepute or that systemic unfair tactics are used, and stand by Steve and the Australian cricketers who are proudly representing our country.”
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Almost immediately, the Indian cricket board swooped in with its version of the events. “Mr. Virat Kohli is a mature and seasoned cricketer and his conduct on the field has been exemplary. Mr. Kohli’s action was supported by ICC Elite Panel Umpire Mr. Nigel Llong who rushed in to dissuade Mr. Steve Smith from taking recourse to inappropriate assistance. BCCI has requested the ICC to take cognizance of the fact that the Australian skipper Mr. Steve Smith in his press conference admitted to a ‘brain fade’ at that moment. BCCI sincerely hopes that the rest of the matches are played in the true spirit of cricket.”
Former Australian captain Steve Waugh, too, put up a strong defence of Smith. “I would go with what Steve has said. I would take him on face value.” Unlike Lehmann, Waugh threw back a punch at Kohli. “I don’t mind him revving the crowd up in between balls but not when the bowler is running in … there is a fine line between revving the crowd up when the bowler is running in.”
Ashwin compared Smith’s act to that of a cricketer playing in a Under-10 game. “That is completely unheard of. The last time I thought that would happen was in an under-10 game, when my coach used to suggest where point fielders and cover fielders used to stand. I’ve got a lot of respect for Steven Smith, but that was very, very surprising.”
All the usual suspects pitched themselves into the issue with familiar remarks. Sunil Gavaskar wanted the ICC to take action against Australia, so did Kapil Dev. The best line on the whole issue came from Mark Butcher. “You might be the queen of England or the captain of Australia, but you can’t do that!”