Virat Kohli's post-match press conference after India won the Bangalore Test was a cricketing Krakatoa. There has been plenty of bad blood before between Indian and Australian teams. Anil Kumble, after the Sydney Test in 2007 in the wake of "Monkeygate", famously said that there was only one team playing cricket in Australia. That was in the context of India feeling hard done by in the matter of umpiring decisions in that closely fought match, Ricky Ponting's decision to report Harbhajan Singh for racial abuse, and Mike Proctor's willingness to accept Michael Clarke's word over Sachin Tendulkar's and suspend Harbhajan for three matches.
While things have been tense between the two teams in the current series, given the pressure on the Indians and their captain after the rout in the first Test, this match would have ended without any real controversy, had it not been for Kohli's press conference. There might have been a fine or two for excessive chat or a visible reluctance to depart the crease after being given out, but no more than that.
Virat Kohli celebrates a dismissal during the second test between India and Australia in Bengaluru.
All that changed when Virat Kohli effectively accused the Australian captain and his team mates of cheating while using the Decision Review System. The context for this was Steve Smith's dismissal in Australia's second innings. Declared lbw, Smith consulted his batting partner before looking in the direction of the dressing room and with an interrogative upward tilt of his head, plainly asked for off-field advice. This is categorically disallowed by DRS rules and a furious Kohli, having spotted this little manoeuvre, rushed up to the umpires to complain. The umpires had already noticed Smith's unorthodox appeal for assistance, and summarily ordered him off the field.
After the match, Smith apologized for what he had done, admitted it was wrong and not within the rules, and described it as a "brain fade". Matters might have ended there, had Kohli not been asked in the press conference about Smith's explanation of his actions. I suspect one of the reasons he was asked the question was his on-field behaviour immediately after the last wicket was taken. Kohli gave Nathan Lyon, one of the two Australian batsmen on the ground, a piece of his mind while shaking his hand and seemed unusually wound up, even allowing for the adrenalin generated by his team's magnificent comeback victory.
Kohli claimed that the Australians had consistently asked for off-field assistance over the previous three days of the match. He said that he had complained to the umpires and the match referee about this and asked for it to be stopped and went on to assert that this was the reason why the umpires were alert to what Smith had been up to after he was given out. Just in case that wasn't explicit enough, he said "there is a line you don't cross on the cricket field -- sledging and playing against the opponents is different -- but, I don't want to mention that word but it falls within that bracket." He went on to say that he would never do anything like that on a cricket field.
He said that the "brain fade" explanation didn't wash. A brain-fade was a player making a mistake in the middle like the time Kohli had left a ball alone in the first Test and been bowled. "If something is going on for three days, that's not a brain fade."
Steve Smith is leading the Australian team for a four-match test series vs India.
Let's be clear about what the enormity of what was said at this press conference. The Indian captain accused his Australian counterpart and the Australian team of systematic and chronic sharp practice in their use of the Decision Review System, though he didn't use the word "cheat" or "cheating". He said he and his team mates had noticed this attempt to game the DRS and had brought it to the notice of the umpires before
the controversy erupted over Smith's dismissal. He said categorically that he had noticed the Australians consult the dressing room on two separate occasions while he was batting. He said that video that bore out his allegations was available for anyone to see.
The only official response to Kohli's allegations has been the match referee Chris Broad's statement that no sanction was contemplated against Smith and that the match officials had just the one attempt to consult the dressing room brought to their notice. Broad's response is utterly inadequate. Kohli was almost certainly in breach of ICC regulations when he went nuclear in the press conference. There must be a protocol for airing match-related grievances -- lodging a formal complaint with the match referee etc. -- which Kohli ignored and he should be sanctioned for this. But now that he has made this charge, it has to be transparently investigated and publicly resolved.
The match referee should ask the umpires if Kohli or any member of the Indian team complained to the umpires about Australian sharp practice before
Smith was seen consulting his dressing room. This should be easy enough to do given that Kohli has categorically affirmed that the Indian team complained to both the match referee and the umpires. There is already a discrepancy between Kohli's claim and Chris Broad's statement that no other such incident had been brought to the notice of officials. It is not a discrepancy that can be allowed to stand. If the umpires and the match referee both deny that they were given a heads-up by Kohli and his team mates before the fact (Smith's dismissal), they should say so. If the umpires bear out Kohli's claim, we will know, at least, that the Indian captain was telling the truth about his team's suspicions.
Whether those suspicions are well-founded can only be conclusively settled by the video evidence. Every Test match is filmed by many very sophisticated cameras. Given that Kohli's two innings in this Test were brief, and given his claim that he noticed the Australians illegally consulting their dressing room on two separate occasions while he was batting, it should be easy enough to call up those passages of the match on video and examine the reactions of the Australians to appeals turned down by the umpire.
Virat Kohli and Co made an unprecedented comeback today to level the ongoing test series with Australia 1-1.
If there is no conclusive evidence of the sort of behaviour that was caught on camera when Smith was mulling a review after his dismissal, the match referee should impose the severest possible punishment on Kohli. He should be banned for the maximum number of games that the rulebook allows. A captain who shoots his mouth off at a press conference is bad enough; one who accuses a rival captain of systematic dishonesty without the evidence to back it up should be tarred and feathered. The BCCI, instead of trolling the Australians -- the official BCCI Twitter account tweeted "DRS - Dressing room review system?"-- should sack Kohli and reduce him to the ranks.
But if Kohli's allegations are true, Steve Smith should be made to reconsider his position. For a visiting captain on a major tour to be caught red-handed bending the rules in his own cause is bad enough. But if, after explaining it away as an aberration, something that happened in the heat of the moment, he and his team are shown to have turned cheating into strategic practice, his credibility and integrity are fatally compromised.
Had Kohli gone through the "proper channels" instead of lobbing this grenade in a live press conference, the matter could have been fudged, hushed up, treated with what mandarins like to call "a sense of proportion". But now that Kohli has gone nuclear, someone in the ICC above Chris Broad's pay-grade and competence needs to sort it out. And at the end of the process, barring some serious, public contrition, either Kohli or Smith should go.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.