13th January 2022: 20.3 overs have transpired in South Africa’s second innings and the Proteas look set to haul down India’s total in the fourth essay. Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen have looked comfortable at the crease. The Indian bowlers, meanwhile, have struggled to extract a response from a surface that had performed all kinds of tricks when they were batting.
Ravichandran Ashwin, who is bowling the 21st over, takes in a deep breath, assesses the enormity of the situation, and decides to unfurl a clever variation. He has, by the way, seen Elgar plant his front foot on off stump, meaning that the latter seems susceptible to the arm-ball.
So, when Ashwin darts the ball into middle and off stump, and traps Elgar in front, the Indians break into rapturous celebration. This is the wicket they wanted. Not just because of what Elgar is capable of, but also because the Indians had probably gotten tired of his presence, especially in the fourth innings.
That, though, quickly slips into the periphery as the South African captain opts for a review. At first, there is an inclination to not do so. But considering he is arguably the hosts’ most important batter, he reluctantly goes upstairs.
The first image confirms that there is no bat involved. India, who have gathered in a huddle, begin rejoicing. Then, there is a side angle that comes up. It shows Elgar has gotten a decent stride forward but seemingly not enough to overturn the decision.
Finally, ball tracking projects the damning picture – a picture that indicates the ball would have bounced over the stumps. Remember, this was a dismissal that even the batter didn’t think of reviewing until being told to do so by his partner. Kohli fumed, the voices from Indian players grew. This was, arguably, going to define the outcome of a topsy-turvy Test series. Phew!
In the aftermath of the decision, India, unsurprisingly, expressed their disappointment. There is nothing wrong in doing that too, considering technology (especially the DRS) is something no mere mortal has been able to completely decipher so far. But the manner in which they did was shocking. It was, simply put, unacceptable.
As you can see here that ball was right on the length where the ball should be expected to go over the stumps. pic.twitter.com/Eta59tHJXw
— James Norton-Brown (@JamesNB95) January 13, 2022
Virat Kohli, long lauded for his passion and his tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve, took off his cap in disgust and re-watched the Ball Tracking images in disbelief.
The alarming bit, though, was that he then had a monologue with the stump mic, where he quipped “Focus on your team while they shine the ball. Not just the opposition. Trying to catch people all the time.”
Not only did Kohli insinuate that the broadcasters had something to do with the decision, but he also took a dig at how they had helped unravel the infamous Sandpaper Gate scandal in 2018. In usual parlance, that is called killing two birds with one stone. In this situation, it was unwarranted stone-pelting at an entity that had no say in what had materialized.
The others, as has become the norm lately, followed suit and magnified Kohli’s initial indiscretion. KL Rahul is alleged to have said that the whole country is playing against eleven guys, whereas Ashwin commented, “You should find better ways to win, SuperSport.”
The incident has, rather unsurprisingly, divided opinion. Some have claimed that India muttered these words in the heat of the moment – the team’s bowling coach backed this up in the press conference – and that should be forgiven. That, though, happens when a couple of cuss words are frantically spitted out. Not when three players insinuate a larger narrative than what actually exists.
The nadir of this entire saga, though, is that such occurrences have happened before. Earlier in the Cape Town Test, Mohammed Shami was warned for venturing into the danger area.
A huge replay showed up on the big screen, which hinted that he didn’t damage the danger area on the delivery when he was warned. This replay, by the way, was witnessed by Kohli and he immediately took it up with Marais Erasmus. He even allegedly told him, “Now keep an eye out for everything”.
What he didn’t know, though, was that Shami had been transgressing every time before he was punished. But because it was Kohli raising a point, everyone felt India were the team who had been wronged. That wasn’t the case.
A few months earlier at the Lord’s Cricket Ground, Kohli found himself shrouded by similar controversy. The light on Day 4 had been dwindling and the Indian captain, who had been dismissed for another low score, was busy umpiring the match from the balcony.
The batters in the middle had a polite word to the officials regarding the light but surely there wasn’t a need for Kohli to stand up on the terraces, wave his arms around and force the umpires to make a decision in India’s favour?
Over the past few years, Kohli has, to his credit (or detriment, based on your allegiances), developed a reputation of being too verbal. There is nothing wrong welcoming a batter with a few verbal volleys to make him step out of his comfort zone. That, by the way, is a major part of why India have seemed so fearless under his stewardship, irrespective of whether they are playing at home or overseas.
However, the kind of meltdown he had at Cape Town just isn’t good enough. Not only did he accuse the broadcasters of wrongdoing with zero evidence, but he also acted as if the sport, the DRS, and every small detail revolved around him and the Indian cricket team – an attitude that isn’t befitting of an Indian captain and someone more than a billion people look up to.
Kohli is aggressive and he wears his heart on his sleeve. And that is completely fine. But a line has to be traded – a line that differentiates between what is acceptable and what isn’t.
So far in South Africa, Kohli has looked a little edgier than usual – probably as a result of everything that has happened in recent months, ranging from an acrimonious elimination at the T20 World Cup to his sacking from ODI captaincy.
He has not been able to control his emotions adequately and it has led to circumstances both India and their Test captain could’ve done without. Funnily enough, he might not get reprimanded for his antics because there apparently isn’t a provision for someone insulting the broadcasters.
“Hawkeye is an independent body,” Shaun Pollock points out and Mark Nicholas agrees it’s a point worth making….
— CricXtasy (@CricXtasy) January 13, 2022
From one perspective, Kohli has directly contributed to the lawmakers thinking about a tweak in rules. The other and more damning side is that his actions left much to be desired.
As far as the perceived technological gaffe is concerned, there might not have been an error at all. To the naked eye, it seemed that Elgar was rapped dead in front. But with the bounce on offer and the fact that Mayank Agarwal was reprieved in very similar circumstances a day earlier, it doesn’t seem as absurd as India and Kohli made it sound. Even if it was, was the broadcaster responsible for it? Hawk-Eye, after all, is an independent body.
Technology can goof up at times. In an ideal world, that shouldn’t happen. But the world we live in is the same for everybody. This world has seen Josh Hazlewood bowling AB de Villiers, only for ball tracking to show that the ball would have gone over the stumps.
*Glass shatters pic.twitter.com/0LtsaSCkkb
— Tyson Otto (@tottodtsport) June 15, 2016
It has also seen Cheteshwar Pujara smacked below the knee roll against Ajaz Patel (Mumbai, 2021) and still survive. And, it has seen ball tracking probably pick the wrong point of impact (Jos Buttler vs Shardul Thakur, 3rd ODI Pune) during the India-England ODI series in March 2021.
Not one player has made as much a fuss of it as India and Kohli did at Cape Town. From that standpoint, it is perhaps time they understand they are just another team (and player) in the cricketing ecosystem and that everything doesn’t revolve around them.
Their bewilderment and disappointment in the possible DRS gaffe were justified. But their expression of discontent certainly wasn’t. The fact that we are still debating a solitary LBW decision – hours after it actually happened, tells you something wasn’t quite right.