South Africa captain Dean Elgar looked set and was on course to play yet another match-winning knock for his country, when Ravichandran Ashwin rapped him on the pads. Umpire Marias Erasmus had little hesitation in raising the finger and India felt they had a huge scalp.
Batting on 22 off 65, Elgar decided to take a review. Even before the ball tracking was aired, the umpire’s decision looked good. Elgar’s leg stump could be seen when the ball hit his pad and given that Elgar at 5’8” is not among the tallest players in the team, it looked like the opening batter would have to walk back.
However, the ball-tracking showed that the impact of the ball was bang on the middle stump, but it went over the wickets, despite the ball hitting Elgar below the knee roll. India captain Virat Kohli was seen absolutely livid, kicking the surface in disbelief at what had transpired. Umpire Erasmus too had a smile on his face, which seemed to indicate that he too was bemused at being forced to overturn his decision. "That's impossible," he was heard saying in the background.
This brings back memories of Sachin Tendulkar being given out off the bowling of Saeed Ajmal in the 2011 World Cup semi-final in Mohali. Umpire Ian Gould was amazed with his on-field decision overturned, which is something Ajmal still reckons only luck played a factor for India that day as they went on to pip Pakistan and make it to the World Cup final.
Drawing comparisons between Elgar's 'dismissal' and the one against Tendulkar in 2011, Ajmal said, “I have seen Dean Elgar’s review many times. Seeing him, no one can say that the ball is going over the stump. It is clear that the ball is hitting his knees and he is out."
"But why is Team India raising questions? In the 2011 World Cup, when Sachin Tendulkar’s decision on my ball was reversed, then India had said that DRS is a reliable and accurate technique. Then why are they now saying that DRS technology is not reliable and correct. Simply because the verdict went against you.”
Ashwin was the first to make a comment on the stump mic when he was getting ready to bowl. He said, “You should find better ways to win Supersport,” taking a dig at the broadcasters.
A clearly upset Kohli did not mince his words and between overs went up to the stumps and said, “Focus on your team as well and not just the opposition, trying to catch people all the time,” once again pointing fingers at the broadcasters and at the same time referring to the infamous 2018 ball-tampering episode at the same venue.
Kohli’s deputy KL Rahul too joined in with the chirping when he said, “Whole country playing against XI guys.”
However, India finally had their man when Elgar was dismissed off the final ball of the day, caught down the leg-side of Jasprit Bumrah. This time the DRS came to India’s rescue and Elgar was given a mouthful on his way out. Elgar added just eight more runs since the LBW decision was overturned in his favour.
Keegan Petersen is going strong and South Africa still need just 111 runs more to win the Newlands Test and clinch the series.
India bowling coach Paras Mhambrey refused to comment on the issue and urges everyone to move on from this episode.
"I think it's up to the match referee to decide. I don't wanna comment on it. We've seen it all. Just want to move on with the game now," the bowling coach said.
"Everyone's trying their best out there and sometimes you say things. It's just best to move on from these things and focus on the game," he said.
From the South Africa point of view, fast bowler Lungi Ngidi feels that such reactions show that the Indians are rattled.
"Reactions like that show a bit of frustration. And sometimes teams capitalise on that. You never really want to show too much emotion, but I guess we could see clearly right there that emotions were high," Ngidi said after the day's play.
Cricketer-turned-commentator Aakash Chopra reckons it does not set a good precedent for the kids watching.
"You have a right to perhaps voice your decision but is that the right manner. I'm not 100 percent certain because as Morne Morkel (co-panelist) pointed there are lots and lots of kids watching the game and they may actually form an opinion about the DRS, umpires," Chopra said.
Former India batter Gautam Gambhir too has called Kohli's behaviour immature. "This is really bad. What Kohli did, going near the stump mic and reacting in that manner, is really immature. This is not what you expect from an international captain, from an Indian captain," Gambhir told Star Sports.
What did Kohli say after the match?
After India's seven-wicket loss at Newlands, skipper Kohli categorically stated that the people on the outside do not know what actually happened on the field, indicating that there's more than what meets the eye. He further added that it was the team's batting collapses that eventually led to a series loss, despite taking a lead at Centurion.
Does this reaction warrant a punishment?
While India did not break any rules, they are certainly caught in a muddle when it comes to the spirit of the game. They could also attract fines and/or demerit points from the ICC as it could be deemed as dissent shown towards the umpire’s decision. It would be a different issue if the broadcasters decide to sue the BCCI over their players’ comments as they could be considered damaging to their image as the Indians' accusations come without any concrete evidence.
However, if they were to apologise, they could put all of this behind them and bring curtains to what has been a well-contested series otherwise.