Dubai: After the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ of 2008, is it ‘Cheatgate’ this time? The charges against Australian skipper Steve Smith of abusing the Decision Review System (DRS), which snowballed into a major controversy on Wednesday, reminded the cricket fans of the contentious Sydney Test nine years back where Indian spinner Harbahajan Singh was accused of racially abusing Andrew Symonds a ‘monkey.’
The Indian captain on that occasion, Anil Kumble, had famously decribed the occasion as: “There are two teams out there in the middle, and only one of them is playing cricket.” In his new avatar as coach of the team, Indian cricket’s highest wicket-taker has his work cut out to keep the nerves of his effervescent captain Virat Kohli and the young team under control for the rest of the series which is now poised 1-1 on knife’s edge.
For the young Australian skipper Smith, who was seen looking to the dressing room while considering appealing against his dismissal for lbw against the rules of DRS, the challenge will be not to fritter away the fruits of labour after a morale-boosting win in the first Test in Pune and the hard yards of preparation in Dubai before that with an aim to conquer the ‘Last Frontier.’
While the International Cricket Council (ICC) has ruled out any action against the rival captains, the day saw a shadow-fight breaking with both cricket boards springing to the defence of Smith and Kohli, respectively. ICC Chief Executive David Richardson said in the evening: “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,” he said.
Cricket Australia’s chief executive James Sutherland was on the frontfoot, as he said any questioning of Smith’s integrity was “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,” said Sutherland, who was in Bangalore.
Coach Darren Lehmann also threw his weight behind Smith, saying the current crop of tourists was well aware of their responsibilities after previous spats between the two teams.
“He (Kohli) has his opinion and we have ours, but at the end of the day we play the game the right way,” Lehmann said on Cricket Australia’s website.
The Indian cricket board, meanwhile, said it had raised his behaviour with the International Cricket Council while launching its own defence of Kohli.
“Mr. Virat Kohli is a mature and seasoned cricketer and his conduct on the field has been exemplary,” the BCCI said in a statement.
Although Kohli stopped short of accusing Smith of being a cheat, Indian newspapers were less diplomatic. “Smith Caught Cheating,” said an Indian Express headline while The Times of India dubbed the episode “Cheatgate”.
Former Australian skipper Steve Waugh, now in India, said Smith would “probably be embarrassed” by what had happened.
“Obviously he can’t do that, and it’s not in the spirit of the game. I’ve just got to believe him when he says it was a one-off and it was an honest mistake,” Waugh told reporters in Delhi.
The next Test begins in Ranchi on March 16. In the post-IPL era where international cricket is often accused of lacking the cutting edge with the professional cricketers sharing dressing rooms as teammates for two months, the controversy has ensured something - there will be no dearth of sparks flying in the remaining two Tests.
- With inputs from agencies