Steven Smith is arguably one of the greatest Test batsmen in the history of the sport after Sir Don Bradman. Such has been his incredible record in the sport’s prime format. 7449 runs in 76 Tests at an average of 62.07 including 27 hundreds. These are astonishing numbers. But there is another side to the great batsman, a side that has landed him in trouble in the past and which borders between playing hard cricket and poor sportsmanship.
After the infamous Sandpaper-Gate and the apparent Brain-Fade in the DRS-Gate involving Virat Kohli in Bengaluru in 2017, Smith was again involved in an on the field controversy today. Just after the drinks break in the first session of Day 5 before play resumed the stumps cam caught Smith shadow bat on the pitch and before leaving he tried to scruff up the batsman’s guard, who in this case was Rishabh Pant. The left-hander had to ask for his guard again. Pant was taking the game away from Australia with his counter-attacking innings and they were desperate to get his wicket. They had thrown everything at him but had failed. Was this another tactic used by the Australians via Smith to get the swashbuckling batsman out?
Smith has a history with such incidents. He was a part of the Sandpaper-Gate saga a few years ago in Cape Town. In March 2018, during the third Test against South Africa, he along with Cameron Bancroft and David Warner were alleged to have roughed up one side of the ball with sandpaper to make it swing in the flight. Smith was banned for 12 months and sacked as the Australian captain. It was seen as another desperate attempt by the Australians who were under the hammer against South Africa, to change the course of the match. Smith received widespread criticism from former players and cricket pundits – it was a big blot on his glorious career.
However, this quality of being a disruptor did not leave Smith. There was tension between him and Virat Kohli after the Australian was apparently looking up to the dressing room after being adjudged leg before wicket in the chase in the second innings of the second Test in Bengaluru in 2017. It was obvious that he was seeking help from his team-mates off the field to make the call of taking the review. Smith was denied a referral by umpire Nigel Llong. Indian skipper, Kohli, visibly upset at Smith for apparently resorting to ‘cheating’ had a few words to say to the batsman and the umpire as Smith walked off the field. Australia, chasing 188 were routed for 112 and India leveled the four-match series at 1-1.
Australia pride on playing hard but ‘fair’. They are great in almost all sports they play but time and again they cross the line and are guilty of not playing the game in the right spirit. Justin Langer, the Australian coach has often taken pride in the fact that Australia plays to win, plays some tough cricket but plays fair.
Yet, very so often, some of their best resort to tactics that are against the spirit of the game and lack sportsmanship. Several Australians in the past, some all-time legends have been guilty of verbal banter and abuse and sledging which they conveniently label – ‘mental disintegration’.
It is high time that the cricketing world calls on Australia and some of their greats for crossing the line again and again. ‘Greatness’ cannot be a substitute for poor sportsmanship.