Cricket is termed a gentleman’s game alright but it acquires a variety of tones in different countries. In the Caribbean it’s a carnival, in England a pleasant pastime, Down Under it’s hard ball and in India, a religion, followed by masses that outnumber populations of quite a few nations put together. So when an incident like that of Australian captain Steve Smith seeking help from outside the playing area erupts, the issue is bound to blow up in the face. And it did with a Bangalore.
The Decision Review System (DRS) turned into a Dressing Room Snarl with Smith’s desperately seeking signal moment that was instigated by his ill-informed batting partner Peter Handscomb. The Aussies were caught pants down. Firebrand rival captain Virat Kohli jumped into the scene with all his authority and began to breathe fire. The gloves, already busting at the seams, were ripped off.
Acerbic allegations, much mock and muck flew thick and fast as a cash-rich India paid Australia back in the same coin even as Smith put his action down to ‘Brain Fade’ on his behalf. “The last time I thought that to happen was in an Under-10 game, when my coach used to suggest where point fielders and cover fielders used to stand,” off-spinner R. Ashwin snapped at Smith’s slip.
Kohli stopped short of calling the Aussies cheats as he insisted he saw them regularly refer the referrals towards the dressing room. “There is a line you don’t cross on the cricket field. I don’t want to mention the word but that falls under that bracket,” was his crafty line.
Both the cricket boards and former players got into the game with Sunil Gavaskar, Sourav Ganguly and the BCCI demanding the authorities take action against Smith for using unfair tactics while Cricket Australia termed the comments ‘outrageous.’ Former Australia captain Steve Waugh said he would take Smith’s brain fade at face value but admitted his action was “not in the spirit of the game.”
After much sparring, the two boards shook hands as they “resolved to restore focus on the ongoing series” and put out a joint statement. “The two captains will meet prior to the Ranchi Test and commit to lead their teams by example and play the rest of the series, in the right spirit,” it read.
But the damage has already been done. Former BCCI President Anurag Thakur nailed it. “For years Australian ckt. team have been bullying world ckt. Not anymore. This time they are caught on camera and still denying,” he tweeted.
That confirms the fact that the Acrimonious Aussies, not our Pesky Pakistani neighbours, are India’s No.1 rivals in world cricket. Much of it comes from their practice of sledging to get under the skin of opponents. It’s par for them. Their almost all-conquering captain Steve Waugh termed it mental disintegration of the opponents... until the Indians adopted similar mind games.
The Indians, considered Tigers at home and lambs abroad, began to give it back after the (racism charged) Monkeygate episode involving Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds in 2008. In the one-day tri-series that followed, Robin Uthappa was handpicked to unnerve rival batsmen. Robin would walk all the way from the slips close to the stumps to vocally advise the bowler on the batsman’s weakness.
Mind games galore off the field too, with Matthew Hayden calling Harbhajan an obnoxious weed and challenging him to a boxing bout. They were not the same weight class though. The crowd went after Bhajji and the media followed, so much so that a photograph of him scratching his underarm on the boundary line was played up as him making a ‘monkey’ gesture at the crowd. After winning the ODI series, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni sarcastically said now that the Indian team would return home, the Australians would find it difficult to adjust to life without Bhajji in the papers.
If not anything, the controversies contributed two expressions to the vocabularies of Australians and Indians — Terimaki and Brain Fade. With two Tests to go in this series, we could learn some more.
- Melbourne, 1981: Sunil Gavaskar lost his cool after being adjudged LBW off Dennis Lillee and walked off the field with fellow opener Chetan Chauhan before the team manager sent Chauhan back to the ground.
- 2001: Sourav Ganguly was involved in a row with Steve Waugh when on a number of occasions he kept Waugh waiting for the toss.
- Mumbai, 2001: Michael Slater verbally abused Rahul Dravid after the umpire declined to give the batsman caught out. Slater was fined for his behaviour.
- Sydney, 2008: The spat after Australia claimed a controversial catch to dismiss Sourav Ganguly led India captain Anil Kumble to say “Only one team was playing within the spirit of the game.” India also threatened to cut short the tour.
- Monkeygate: Harbhajan Singh was charged with racism for allegedly calling Andrew Symonds a ‘monkey’ after Symonds confronted him over ‘touching’ teammate Brett Lee. Harbhajan was initially handed a three-match ban but was later let off with a fine as the charges were downgraded to use of abusive language.
- Delhi, 2008: Batsman Gautam Gambhir banned for one match as he elbowed Shane Watson while taking a second run on way to scoring a double century. Earlier, Watson had shoved his fist towards the batsman when he was taking his first run.