Is Steve Smith, the golden boy of Australian cricket, a cheat? I’m going to stick my neck out and say that he’s not.
But then again, I don’t think too many would argue that Smith cheated, or at least tried to cheat, when he looked at the balcony for advice before deciding whether to review his dismissal in the second innings in Bengaluru.
Does this make Smith a cheat per se? I guess it depends where you want to draw an arbitrary line. Virat Kohli seems to think a ‘line was crossed‘ in the second test, but unsurprisingly the ACB’s James Sutherland thinks portraying Steve Smith as anything other than an angelic little darling is ‘outrageous‘.
My personal view is that Smith simply forgot himself at an emotional moment when the game was on the line. He was desperate to stay in and win the game for his country, and this prompted him to made an understandable but extremely unfortunate error.
Does this mean that Smith is the spawn of something sinister and should be harangued out of cricket? Although I have no concrete information on Smith’s exact lineage I’m inclined to say ‘no’. Why? Because I bet most teams have sought off-field advice over DRS reviews (or at least tried to) over the years. They just haven’t been caught.
Now let’s widen the discussion somewhat. Are the Australian team (in general) cheats?
It’s tempting to ask whether the Pope is Catholic at the juncture. However, considering some of England’s misdemeanours in recent years – the jelly beans, the dubious use of superb fielders as 12th men whenever lumbering fast bowlers take ‘comfort breaks’, Stuart Broad’s non walking, and players urinating over The Oval outfield – I’m not inclined to get on my high horse over this.
Having said that, what we do know is the following …
According to Cricinfo, the Aussies had actually talked about whether they should try to bend the laws (by getting a little DRS help from the dressing room) before the series started – or at the very least they’d discussed whether it was feasible.
Consequently, it’s fair to say that cheating / bending the rules / gamesmanship (delete as appropriate) was obviously on Smith’s mind (and the Australian team’s mind) before the ugly incident occurred.
As former captain Michael Clarke has pointed out, the fact Smith’s partner Peter Handscomb prompted his captain to seek help from the balcony (and Smith immediately responded) looks very suspicious indeed. I’d probably go further and say that it strongly suggests underhand tactics were on the agenda.
Because of this, I believe that Smith’s mental error / blatant cheating was somewhat premeditated. I simply can’t believe that the conversation with Handscomb was as innocent as this:
Handscomb: “I know we’ve never discussed this before skip, but have you thought about getting some help from the balcony? Boof might be able to tell you whether to review”.
Smith: “You know what Peter my boy? You’re absolutely right. What a spiffing idea. I can’t believe we’ve never thought of that one before”.
What’s more, Handscomb has actually landed himself in the stinky stuff by claiming (completely unbelievably) that he didn’t actually know seeking advice from the balcony was illegal.
Pull the other one, Pete! What were you doing when the team was discussing whether to adopt the tactic? Looking out the window with your fingers in your ears?!
Having said all that, and basically argued that Smith was caught red handed, I’m now going to argue (somewhat bizarrely) that the Australians and their captain shouldn’t be punished too severely.
Why? Because as I argued above, I bet every team has done this (or tried to) in the past. They’ve just been subtler about it.
Whereas Smith looked up at the balcony in an obvious manner, I’d be amazed if other teams haven’t worked out some kind of code – like the coach stroking his chin, or the tour manager doing the Macarena, every time they think a decision should be challenged. It’s just common sense, right?! Plus I’m philosophically opposed to making an example of people. Justice should be consistent for all.
Consequently, because I sense Smith’s crime was merely trying to cheat so blatantly, rather than subtly like everyone else, I think calls for a ban are over the top. I’d simply reprimand him, fine him, and make Smith play the next test from the confines of a hamster ball. Well, he does look like a hamster doesn’t he?!
And there ends a very serious discussion on a very unserious (and decidedly inane) suggestion.