Steve Smith

Steve Smith dishes it out, but expects the benefit of doubt for himself
© Cricbuzz

There is no thing easier than being moral when it’s convenient to you. It’s also relatively easy to be gracious when everything is going your way, when you are on top of the world, and every decision you take bears fruit. Under pressure, when it seems like the world is against you, when nothing you do works out, is when a person’s true nature reveals itself.

For two days, the final India-Australia Test match has been played in the best possible spirit. With Virat Kohli out of the game, and the “chilled out” Ajinkya Rahane leading India, this was always going to be a less contentious contest than the ones that went before. It was Steven Smith, in Bangalore, who derailed what was a peaceful outing, given the history of bad blood between these teams, attempting to take unfair advantage and help from his dressing-room over a DRS call. Smith was contrite enough after, explaining away his actions as a “brain fade.” At first, it seemed that he had made an honest mistake in the heat of the moment. After all, if the attempt was to cheat – a word Virat Kohli never used but has been an undercurrent of all interactions ever since he suggested that the public moment was not the first time this had happened – Smith might have attempted more subterfuge. But, with all the shenanigans that unfolded off the field, involving bosses from cricket boards, former and current players, journalists writing about each other and fans slugging it out on social media, the last thing this series needed was a fresh infusion of spite and pettiness. Unfortunately, that was exactly what Smith provided, his behaviour reverting to the stereotype that gave rise to the term ugly Australian, in cricketing circles. When M Vijay caught Josh Hazlewood, at slip off R Ashwin, and the batsman began his walk back to the pavilion, the catcher began his sprint back to the dressing-room, to get padded up to open the innings, the umpires decided they wanted a closer look at the catch. The third umpire, Chris Gaffaney, looked at videos over and over and decided that the ball had brushed the turf before getting under Vijay’s fingers. It is not unusual for catches taken close to the turf to be ruled bump balls even when the fielder has fingers under the ball, thanks to a phenomenon known as foreshortening. When looking at two-dimensional visuals of a three-dimensional event, as is the case with television replays, an element of doubt creeps in, and in the case of low catches this always goes in the batsman’s favour. Could Vijay have known that the ball had gone from edge straight to hand? Should he have realised that the catch may not have been a clean one? Could he have immediately suggested that he did not know for sure if the dismissal was straightforward? These intangible questions will never be satisfactorily answered, but anyone who has played even a basic level of cricket will know that it is entirely possible for a close-in fielder not to know for sure whether he has caught a ball cleanly, in that split second when the action happens. A fielder’s natural instinct is to appeal, which is all Vijay did. Why Smith, sitting in the viewing area outside the dressing room, assumed that Vijay knew he had not caught it cleanly and yet claimed the catch, made evident by his most eloquent outburst caught cleanly by television cameras: “F***ing cheat”, is anyone’s guess. Smith, who has been caught doing something the wider world will agree, falls closer to the cheating end of the spectrum than the brain fade, may well claim that he said “F***ing shit” rather than the more offensive version, should it come to that. Graeme Hick, Australia’s batting coach, fronted the media on the day and did his best to defuse the situation, saying he knew nothing of what Smith might or might not have said. When pressed, Hick, a quality slip fielder himself, said: “Close to the bat, sometimes you’re not 100% sure. He would’ve felt it go into his fingers and felt that it was a clean catch.” Smith, clearly did not believe in giving Vijay, the benefit of doubt. Why he then expects anyone to extend the same courtesy to him, for his alleged brain fade, is anyone’s guess. Smith may not have heard of Laurence Sterne, the Irish novelist and clergyman, but he will do well to ponder one simple line on the long flight back to Australia: “Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.”

(This article first appeared on Cricbuzz on March 28, 2017)