Steve Smith’s bizarre act was caught on camera. Photo / Photosport/Twitter
The cricket world went from wonderment to what-the-hell when it came to Steve Smith in the third test against India.
The Aussie superstar rediscovered his mojo at the SCG, bouncing back from several low scores to post his 27th century in the first innings before backing it up with a classy 81 in the second dig.
But while Smith’s work at the crease was sublime in Sydney, it was a different kind of footwork that saw him denounced by influential figures within the sport.
On a dramatic day five, which saw India do the unthinkable by surviving for the loss of just five wickets to secure a heroic draw, cameras caught Smith shadow batting on the pitch while Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant blunted the Aussie attack.
Bizarrely, the 31-year-old then used his spikes to scuff up the batsmen’s markings on the crease they use as a guide for where the stumps are behind them.
It forced Pant to take guard once again, the strange move serving no purpose other than wasting a few seconds of the Indian’s time.
It wasn’t illegal, because he wasn’t scuffing up the danger zone on the pitch, but plenty of cricket greats were left shaking their heads at Smith’s antics.
‘IT’S PLAIN CHEATING IN MY BOOK’
Ex-England fast bowler Darren Gough, who played 58 tests and 159 one day internationals, issued the most scathing takedown of the 31-year-old.
“You’ve got Steve Smith, who showed us all these tears and sorrow just a few years ago when he got done for sandpaper on the ball,” Gough said on talkSPORT radio. “Well now during a break in play between overs he’s dancing around and scuffing up the pitch and rubbing out the marks with his spikes, the batsman’s marker.
“That was totally out of order.
“People say he’s done nothing wrong — well he has! He’s going onto the pitch … and rubbing out the markers the batsman has put on to (signal) where he puts his bat.
“It’s plain cheating in my book.”
No other major cricket figures went so far as to accuse Smith of cheating — Gough was alone on that front because, as we said, nothing illegal took place — and while some criticised Smith, the main sentiment was one of bewilderment.
CRICKET WORLD MYSTIFIED, CRITICAL OF ANTICS
Former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted: “This is very very poor from Steve Smith!!”
Indian legend Virender Sehwag also noticed the odd moment. “Tried all the tricks including Steve Smith trying to remove Pant’s guard marks from the crease,” he wrote.
Former England star and coach David Lloyd hit out, tweeting: “Unreal isn’t it? Ridiculous behaviour.”
Ex-Australian spinner and World Cup winner Brad Hogg added: “Batsman’s area. Not his space to mark!”
English cricket writer Lawrence Booth said: “Just bizarre. Why would you even bother?”
Fellow sports journalist Paul Hayward chimed in, writing: “It’s the cheapness of it that’s so hard to grasp. People have compared you to Bradman, you’ve been banned in a massive sandpapering scandal, but you see a batting mark and think … I’m going to scrub that out. So odd.”
Football reporter Phil McNulty said you wouldn’t even see children doing what Smith did.
“What even makes him consider doing that? I’m not sure you’d find the most junior cricketer with that idea going through their heads,” he tweeted.
PAINE DEFENDS ‘HONEST BLOKE’ SMITH
Amid the accusations, confusion and criticism, many pointed out it may simply have been a case of Smith being Smith, defending the batsman by saying there was nothing sinister in his motives.
Smith’s eccentricities and mannerisms are often too much for the average fan to comprehend — which may be why his odd behaviour in this instance is so hard to explain.
Australia captain Tim Paine maintained there was nothing untoward in his teammate’s actions, saying he was not intending to ruin the markings, but was scratching the surface out of habit because it’s a quirk he has always done.
“He’s really disappointed with the way it comes across,” Paine told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s always marking centre — he was not changing (Pant’s) guard.
“That’s something I’ve seen Steve do that many times.
“He was not trying to change guard or anything like that.
“He’s quite upset about it.
“That’s something Steve’s done a lot … he just loves batting so much.
“There’s no way in the world he was trying to change Pant’s guard at all.”
Former professional cricketer Fabian Cowdrey wrote: “Steve Smith was just in his own world, much like the way he goes about his own batting. I don’t believe he has attempted to cheat in any way here.”
Cricket writer Simon Hughes added: “I have looked at the footage and I really don’t think Smith was trying to cheat. He is — truly — an honest bloke.
“I have never heard of anyone trying to scrub out someone else’s guard, he was more subconsciously remarking his own as he does every new session.”
British cricket journalist Elizabeth Ammon said: “Not a massive issue but a bit odd no? Just a bit weird and for no apparent benefit.”
Ex-England star James Taylor also said on Twitter he agreed there was nothing malicious about Smith’s actions.
Smith didn’t put Pant off his game as the Indian star launched a blistering counter-attack, deciding the best form of defence was attack on his way to a spectacular 97 from just 118 deliveries.
The wicketkeeper blasted 12 fours and three sixes before falling agonisingly short of his century, caught at backward point trying to bring up the milestone with another boundary.
His remarkable knock changed the course of the game and he shared in a fantastic 148-run partnership with Pujara, who scored a typically defiant 77 from 205 balls.
Hanuma Vihari (23 from 161) and Ravichandran Ashwin (39 off 128) then completed the job to secure a thrilling draw as India held on to reach 334-5 at stumps in pursuit of 407 for victory.
The series is locked at 1-1 heading to the fourth and final test in Brisbane starting on Friday.