Justin Langer defends batsman Steve Smith over scuffing claims

Sydney (BBC): Australia head coach Justin Langer has defended Steve Smith after suggestions the batsman deliberately scuffed up the crease during the final day of the drawn third Test against India.

Smith denied accusations that he was trying removing the marks used to guide India’s batsmen at the crease. “He’s 100% innocent,” Langer told BBC World Service’s Stumped podcast. “He was just standing on the crease in his own little world, his own little Steve Smith world.” India batted out the final day in Sydney, ensuring the series remained level at 1-1 going into the final Test in Brisbane on Friday. Smith appeared to be shadow batting on the crease during a drinks break in India’s fourth innings during the Test.

“We’ve joked about it for the last couple of years how he’s a bit different and a bit weird with what he does with his batting stuff,” Langer said. “He shadow bats whether he’s in the shower or in the bedroom, he does it all the time.

“On that wicket we just played on, you’d need 15 inch spikes to even put a little mark on the crease.

“You could have had a knife or sledgehammer to try and make marks and it couldn’t have happened, the wicket was like concrete.”

Smith, who was banned from playing and sacked as captain in 2018 following the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa, was heavily criticised on social media for the incident.

“Some of the comments saying he was out on the wicket scratching the wicket for the spinners, give me a break, I’ve never heard so much rubbish in my life,” Langer said.

“This kid had a year’s suspension from the game, he’s come back and for people to pour on him again for something as innocent as this, my gosh, I feel for him.” Langer also told Australia’s SEN radio station he has spoken to former England internationals Michael Vaughan and Darren Gough about their comments on the incident.

Vaughan described it as “very, very poor” on social media, while Gough told TalkSport it was “plain cheating”.

“I’ve spoken to Darren Gough, I also spoke to Michael Vaughan,” Langer said. “I thought it was out of line for an ex-player [Gough] to say what he said. “I know he makes a living from making some of those comments but I thought he was out of line”.

Langer also defended Tim Paine after the captain was involved in a sledging incident with India’s Ravichandran Ashwin.

Paine, who dropped three catches in the innings, apologised for his behaviour after he was heard on the stump microphone using an expletive to insult Ashwin. “He’s an outstanding leader and person and the best wicketkeeper in the world who had a bad day,” Langer said. Paine was also fined 15% of his match fee after also showing dissent to an umpire on day three.

He took the Australia captaincy after Smith’s sacking and has led the charge in improving the team’s culture since the ball-tampering scandal.