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India v Australia

The 2017 Steve Smith ‘brainfade’ – How a look to the dressing room sparked an almighty row

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

Australia and India were embroiled in a controversy-ridden Test series in 2017, which peaked with Steve Smith’s ‘brainfade’ moment at Bangalore.

The Australians were buoyed after winning the Pune Test by 333 runs, in a game where India managed 105 and 107 in their two innings. Steve O’Keefe’s match figures of 12-70, which remain the best figures by an Australian against India, helped them register their first Test win in the country since 2004. India also succumbed to a defeat at home for the first time since 2012, when they had lost the last two Tests to England, losing the series 1-2.

The caravan shifted to Bangalore with the hosts desperate for a comeback. India only managed 189 in their first innings despite a fighting 205-ball 90 from opener KL Rahul with Karun Nair being the only other batter to score more than 20 runs in the innings. Australia took an 87-run lead after sixties by Matt Renshaw and Shaun Marsh and were firmly in the driver’s seat in the series.


In reply, India started off cautiously, reaching 84-2 before Virat Kohli walked out to bat. However, he fell for his fourth successive low score, trapped lbw in front for 15. Kohli reviewed it immediately with replays suggesting it was very close to both pad and bat. After a number of replays, TV umpire Richard Kettleborough confirmed there was no “conclusive evidence to confirm it’s bat first” and Kohli had to depart, swearing towards the direction of the Australian camp as he walked off. According to reports, he later struck an Australian official with a Gatorade bottle, with head coach Anil Kumble walking up to the umpire’s box to seek clarification moments after the captain had been out.

India ended with 274 on the board, setting Australia a target of 188 to go 2-0 up in the four-match series.

Steve Smith’s “brainfade” moment

At 74-3 and with Smith ar the crease, the writing was almost on the wall and it needed something magical for India to get back in the game and the series. Umesh Yadav sent down a short-of-a-length delivery to the Australia skipper, which stayed low and hit him on the boot right in front of the middle stump. Smith, however, had a lengthy chat with the non-striker, contemplating whether to take the DRS, before he looked towards the change room, seemingly for assistance on the decision. Kohli immediately intervened, with the on-field umpires sending Smith back and preventing him from taking the DRS despite the timer not running out. According to the ICC guidelines, a batter or a fielding side can only ask for a referral without help from the dressing room, where the support staff have the assistance of TV replays.

(6:23 minutes here) 

Smith’s dismissal sparked a remarkable collapse, with Australia losing their last six wickets for 38 runs as India clinched a 75-run win.

On being asked about the incident later, Smith blamed it on a moment of “brainfade.” “I got hit on the pad and looked down to Petey [Handscomb, the non-striker] and said ‘look up there’ and I turned around and said ‘what do you reckon?’ [to Handscomb],” Smith said. “It was a bit of a brain fade on my behalf and I shouldn’t have done that,” he added.

Kohli later lashed out at Smith in the post-match conference, falling just short of calling him a cheat, and saying that the Australians were constantly looking at the dressing room for help with regards to the DRS decisions. “I saw that two times (Australia asking assistance from the dressing room) when I was batting. I told the umpires then, which is why they intervened this time. We told the match referee as well. We (India) make sure we don’t cross the line. Sledging and all is one thing, I don’t want to use the word, but this falls under that bracket. I wouldn’t do something like this on the cricket field.”

Handscomb, who was Smith’s non-striker when the incident panned out, later took to Twitter to take responsibility for the incident. “I referred Smudga [Smith] to look at the box… my fault and was unaware of the rule. Shouldn’t take anything away from what was an amazing game!”

Michael Clarke, who was commenting during the series, however, was uncertain that it was the first time Australia had taken “external help”. Speaking to India Today, he said, “If it is only a one-off, I don’t think that would have happened. The fact that Peter Handscomb is even thinking about telling the Australian captain to turn around and look to the support staff, I’ve got my concerns.”

Sunil Gavaskar, another commentator too echoed a similar thought, saying the Australians’ success rate with the DRS fell drastically after the incident. “After the brainfade incident, Australia have used 12 referrals and got just one right. I think they got seven out of 16 spot on before. You need to look at this a lot more closely.”

The BCCI later filed a complaint with the ICC, which was later withdrawn.

India went on to win the series 2-1 but not before another heightened incident where the TV cameras caught Smith utter “a f****** cheat” after Murali Vijay’s catch of Josh Hazlewood was ruled not out in the last Test.

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