Was 'Brain Fade' Just One Part Of It? India Presses Charges

Published: March 09, 2017 20:39 IST
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The post-match seemed as if it was headed for a draw. The ICC had announced that there would be no official investigation of Virat Kohli's allegations, which meant that the match officials and the ICC accepted that Steve Smith's dressing room consultation was a one-off thing, not, as Kohli insisted, part of a dishonest routine. Cricket Australia stood by their man and the BCCI stood by theirs, so honour was satisfied. In the Indian column, you could chalk up a point for Kohli's "success" in publicly accusing the Australians of serial sharp practice without incurring a reprimand or fine. Darren Lehmann, the Australian coach, defended his captain and denied the charge that the Australians had an illegal system in place for helping players in the middle with the DRS. Kohli's allegation was merely his opinion. The Indians, he said, had one opinion, the Australians had another.

Except that this couldn't remain a matter of opinion unless the ICC wanted the post-match press conference to evolve into the real contest. A Test match isn't a Times Now panel discussion where all the principals sound off, deaf to what the other is saying, and then go home as if nothing happened till the next round of ranting (in this case, the third Test at Ranchi). 

Kohli had accused the Australian captain and his team mates of serial dishonesty. That Steve Smith tried to cheat when he was given out lbw was clear from the video evidence. The narrow issue that needed to be resolved was whether this instance of sharp practice was part of a pattern or not. Kohli was emphatic that it was. He said that he drew the attention of the umpires and the match referee to the Australian habit of consulting the dressing room before things came to the boil with Smith's dismissal.

Chris Broad, the match referee, had effectively rejected Kohli's claim by stating that no other instance had been brought to the notice of the match officials. The ICC issued a blanket amnesty for the participants in this bad-tempered match by deciding not to press charges against anyone. David Richardson, the CEO of the ICC, tried to usher people away from the train-wreck like an officious policemen: 'Move along now, there's nothing to see..."

It was curious that the Australian Cricket Board didn't initiate the formal process by which such radical disagreements are sorted out. How could Steve Smith's integrity (or what remained of it after his "brain-fade") and the reputation of the Australian team have been salvaged without pressing the BCCI to put up or shut up? Cricket Australia was either worried about what a review of the video evidence might unearth, or it was confident of its players' honesty but reluctant to beard the BCCI in its den.

In this toxic moment, cricket's regulatory system seemed opaque and compromised by the interests of the ICC's two most powerful members. In Australia in 2007-8, the raging controversy about Harbhajan's behaviour was formally adjudicated. Here, we didn't even know if Chris Broad, the match referee, had asked the on-field umpires to corroborate Kohli's claim that he had complained about Australia's abuse of the DRS before Smith's dismissal on the fourth day. This bland willingness to see no evil, to look the other way, wasn't sage leadership, it was cowardly, short-term expediency. The rest of Test cricket's small world was watching. Not only had players on both sides escaped censure and sanction from the ICC for systematic sledging and worse, one of their captains, either Smith or Kohli, had just gotten away with murder. 

Given that the Australian Board had categorically rejected Kohli's charges as outrageous, the BCCI's statement that it stood by the Indian captain, that it supported his stand in the light of the video evidence and called upon the ICC to investigate, would have amounted to nothing had its CEO, Rahul Johri, decided not to press charges. The deadline for bringing a charge was Thursday. If the BCCI had gone along with the ICC's decision not to investigate, there would have been only two possible explanations for this capitulation: either the BCCI didn't believe that there was video evidence to substantiate Kohli's charges, or it had the evidence, but didn't want it to see the light of day for the sake of its relationship with Cricket Australia. Luckily, the BCCI decided that discretion wasn't the better part of valour, and made a formal complaint against Peter Handscomb and Steve Smith. 

Zee News, citing unnamed sources, reported that along with the complaint "the BCCI has emailed documents along with a video footage (sic) of the incident to the ICC, pressing Level 2 charges under the global body's Code of Conduct." Cricinfo said that "the complaint laid by the BCCI, however, is directed only against the Smith incident, and not any other alleged instance." If this is true, it is a huge disappointment because a complaint about a single incident will do nothing to clarify Kohli's allegation that Smith's behaviour was part of a pattern of DRS dishonesty. But if the BCCI's complaint presses Kohli's larger, more damning charge, it might set the scene for a necessary reckoning. 

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in Delhi. His most recent book is 'Homeless on Google Earth' (Permanent Black, 2013).

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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