Why Steve Smith is not a cheat
STEVE Smith is not a cheat. But if you've spent any time in England for the past three-and-a-half months, you'd be forgiven for thinking he is.
You hear it in pubs, in the party stands, on the street and on social media.
Should've been banned for life, they cry.
Live stream the India v South Africa T20 Series with KAYO SPORTS on your TV or favourite device. Get your 14-day free trial >
The problem is what started as pantomime booing of the world's best batsman has reached the point where fans might actually start believing what they're saying.
But it's time for England fans - and even some ex-players - to get their facts straight, acknowledge that Smith was the least culpable of the banned trio and admit that the only reason he continues to be singled out is because he's just too damn good.
To clear one thing up first: Smith was sidelined for 12 months of cricket… not for cheating but for bringing the game into disrepute.
His crime was that as captain of the team he could've done something about the bringing of sandpaper onto the field but didn't. Smith was aware something was amiss when he saw David Warner and Cameron Bancroft conspiring in the dressing room, but said "I don't want to know about it".
Of course, the captain carries the weight of these decisions. There is more expected of you.
But for his error in judgment, for turning a blind eye, he has the heaviest price imaginable - stripped of the captaincy and losing a year of the prime of his career.
However the notion that Smith is a cheat, despite having no hands-on role nor being the brains behind the sandpaper scandal, and the assertion from former England paceman Steve Harmison that it is the only way history will remember him, is absurd in the extreme.
And that's before we even enter the murky ball world of Murray Mints, dirt in the pocket and sharpened finger nails.
If Smith's legacy is as a cheat, then what does it say of the many who copped minor fines for actually ball-tampering?
"It's not cheating, it's bending the rules," former England spinner Monty Panesar said earlier this year when he owned up to ball-tampering throughout his career.
"I used to get a mint, this sugar, and put it in my mouth. I'd be down at fine leg, mix the sugar and saliva together, come up to mid-on pass the ball and start shining it up.
"The ball would be hooping everywhere and we would be off the field very quickly and everyone is happy."
The punishment dealt to Smith was unprecedented in cricket history. The fact that he copped it on the chin speaks plenty to his character and how much he values and respects the baggy green.
His stunning form upon his return? That's down to an outrageous work ethic, and should be appreciated by fans across the globe.
In the pubs, grandstands and hyperbolic world of social media the salty calls of 'cheat' are an embarrassing position to take from a desperate public ignorant of the facts before them.
All series Smith has been booed upon arrival at the crease and subsequently when passing 50, 100… and, at Old Trafford, even 200 - although by that point the heckles were noticeably quieter.
Either his vocal critics were being won over, or Smith had simply tired them out. Either way, it has been through sheer weight of runs.
And they don't look like drying up anytime soon.