A Call For Cooler Heads

The Sydney Test has provoked three separate controversies (none of which deal with the fact that India could not last even three sessions on the final day): first, there were the umpiring decisions. Observers on both sides insist that both Bucknor and Benson were awful and generally one-sided, and something needs to be done at the highest levels.

I agree — big shame, the horror, and all that — and even though we have long accepted the “human element” in the game, the Test’s closeness has thrown everyone for a loop. That’s fine, but if you’re an Indian fan, you should also keep in mind that, occasionally, umpires have gone India’s way. When India fought off a loss at Lord’s last year, it helped that in the final overs, Sreesanth was adjudged not out to a brilliant Monty Panesar ball that straightened and hit the Keralite full on his pads. The man who denied Panesar? The very same Steve Bucknor. I’m not saying that that justifies what happened in Australia, and I don’t think it all evens out in the end — but at the end of the day, accept human judgment as the last word (especially since technology can’t solve everything) and let it end at that.

The second big issue involves Harbhajan and Symonds. At this point, I really cannot defend Harbhajan if he said what he did, and after eight hours of hearings, I cannot imagine that Mike Proctor would mete out the sentence without considerable thought. If you don’t think Singh said what he did, fine — feel aggrieved. If, however, you do think he called Symonds a “big monkey,” but still don’t understand what the big deal is, then you’re clearly beyond persuasion or rational discussion.

There seems to be some confusion on this point. One journalist wrote today that Symonds is “prone to treat the word ‘monkey’ as a racial taunt,” as if this was all Symonds’ fault. Another anchor on NDTV wondered aloud if this was all a cultural misunderstanding, since, he said, “we all grew up being called monkeys; our mothers and friends all did that.” It’s one thing, of course, to have your mother call you a monkey; it’s another thing completely to call someone of another race the same term. And — God, I feel like I’m talking to a five-year old — for a person of African descent, being called a monkey is a serious offense, especially if the person who says it means to offend (as Singh clearly did).

It makes me recall my days as a schoolboy in Bombay, when Sardar jokes were all the rage. Sardars, oh, so silly, those Sikhs, they are too proud, too stupid, hear this one! Little did we know that those jokes spread largely because of the anti-Sikh sentiment that exploded after Indira Gandhi’s assassination (and which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Sikhs). Sometimes, jokes go too far, even among people of the same skin color.

So, while I don’t think Harbhajan’s a racist (because, as I have written before, he is brown, and is more likely to be called a monkey than Symonds), he should definitely be punished because he did not use the word “monkey” as a mother or a friend would. And consider this: if a white person called you, an Indian, a monkey (and many British people did), you would have a cause for action. Now act civilly and play nice.

(Also, if you think that Hanuman’s divine stature absolves Indians, well, you should be revering Symonds, not using the word “monkey” as an insult. You can’t have it both ways: if you revere monkeys, and call Symonds a monkey, then get down your knees and worship. Otherwise, get off that high horse.)

Phew. This brings me to number three on our long list of problems (you can see why so much passion is on display of late):  the Australians are not gentlemen. Well, we knew that for a long time, but what exactly did the Australians do that even Anil Kumble had to say a word or two? Well, first, Brad Hogg apparently called Kumble a “bastard” (which might mean much worse things to an Indian than to an Australian). Okay, fine. Be angry about that.

But as for this walking business, no one is obligated to walk. Sure, Michael Clarke took it to ridiculous proportions when he didn’t move after knocking a ball to slip, but otherwise, Ponting, Symonds and Hussey did not have to move. When Murali Karthik nicked a ball in the final ODI against Australia last year, he stayed at the crease and went on to win the match for India (and he, like Symonds, even admitted that he nicked the ball in the presentation ceremony no less).

And what about claiming catches? Ganguly is convinced that Clarke grassed the ball, but Clarke (and Ponting) were convinced that it was a fair catch. Did Ponting cheat? Well, consider this video, from the Test series between India and England last year. Watch MS Dhoni claim an absolute shocker:

Do I think Dhoni’s a cheat? Actually, no: from his diving end, I just don’t think he could make the call. He thought it was fine, because the ball dived right in front of his glove, and he would be right: as far as he’s concerned, it was all good. Of course, we know otherwise. The same goes with Clarke and Ponting.

So where does this leave us? First of all, stop all this nonsense about Australians cheating and Bhajji’s ban being unjust. The ban might have been a tad too harsh (2 Tests would have been fine, or even a suspended sentence, given that this is not a white-on-brown affair), but it’s hardly without warrant. Secondly, if you do not want Bucknor to officiate, all right: but just accept that some decisions will go your way, and others won’t. Ask yourself this: if India had won the match because of bad decisions, would you be just as angry?

And finally, stop protesting and burning effigies: I’m amazed at how so many people think that India’s honor has been spoiled by such a silly episode. No, India doesn’t lose face because Harbhajan gets angry and says something mean. It loses face because, in a country with endemic poverty, caste prejudice, and widespread corruption, this is what people think deserves rallies and protests.

6 thoughts on “A Call For Cooler Heads

  1. arvind says:

    you make me laugh ..this post though written well shows that you are frustated for the mere reason that indians are getting sympathy and australians are not getting their recognition after their so called 16 th consecutive win.
    Well,lets keep that aside and talk about much more serious matter ..
    indians coudn’t survive 3 sesions
    Well,if you could give wrong desicions like that to two most experienced batsman on the last batsmen then pressure does play a role. and let me remind you last 3 wickets fell at the last moment..if dravid and ganguly were at the crease things could have been different.
    Yes i agree desicions go sometimes against you and sometimes not but 8 wrong decision like what geoffery boycott usually says his mom could have dont it better.
    Sledging has been a normal practice for australia not that other teams dont do ,but australians are more known for it ,this is the worlds point of view , IF australians do it ,its named aggression and when we do (which we hardly do ,except sreeshant) thats called foolish cricket.
    What would you do sayif in next match some of indian players complain agaisnt an australian player with no umpires hearing anything..would ban on him would be justified.. Well, i am not supporting harbajan here, if he has done is he must be punished but without proof banning is ridiculous..ask refree to show the proper proof to the media.. the only reason he has been banned was because last time when aus toured racial abuse became a problem…
    and if you say symonds is a small baby wouldn’t have opened mouth then its hard to beleive..murli karthik’s nick was a small one which could have been doubtfull…but clarke dismissal was crystal clear…what was he waiting for..umpire was too dumb to reject that appeal,
    and you had mentioned about some race..ARen’t we human race as a whole …
    inbetween you had deviated completely away from cricket ..What for??
    yes these rallies aren’t wanted but thats the way how democracy runs and name one country which doesn;t have …its all because huge population that it appears different from other countries.
    I am saying again , i don t blame indains on poor umpiring but what i am agaisnt is the sequence of events that have been triggered..

  2. duckingbeamers says:

    Arvind, thanks for the comment. What would I say if, in the future, Indian players complained that the Australians had racially abused them? I would say the same thing I say now: punish the guy, no hesitation. I don’t think any cricketer, Australian or Indian, would hurl accusations as serious as these just for the sake of doing so.

    Look, the team manager said that the match referee did not have “substantial” evidence — that’s the key word there. Yes, the umpires heard nothing, but these are the same umpires who didn’t hear Symonds’ or Ponting’s edges, so they’re hardly authorities here. And yes, there’s no audio or video footage, but really, if you set that as the standard, then it makes it very unlikely that anyone will ever be found guilty of violating the code of conduct.

    As for deviating from cricket, I did so because both Symonds and Harbhajan did: really, I think both are to blame, and both of them should clean their mouths (Harbhajan especially).

    Finally, my point regarding Karthik’s nick wasn’t about degrees: it’s just that many people have called Australians cheaters for not walking. Yes, you are correct, Michael Clarke should hang his head in shame for hanging about, but Symonds and Ponting shouldn’t: seen and heard in real-time, they were just as close as Karthik’s call was, and he didn’t walk — and nor should he have.

    As for “aren’t we human race as a whole” — that’s cute. Tell that to Harbhajan and Symonds.

  3. arvind says:

    well, ok so you would punish an australian too.,let me come ur way what if the aussie is really innoccent what if opposition team is setting him up.this is the point i am talking about..
    there’s no reason in punishing when there isn;t enough evidence..
    symonds and ponting sledging might be oblivious to the umpires standing but we could see it from our homes..
    yes there are a couple of indians in the same category but almost all aussies do it..excpet gilchrist who i really respect quite unlike from others,

    look at sachin in his 20 years of cricket has never done anything like that…being a player of his caliber can control his emotions why cant others specially aussies and south africans..these are the who have perhaps affected youngsters like sreeshanth,
    I haven’t seen a single match in which sachin hasn’t be instigated while he is batting good..
    it all happens ..
    When i play circket with my friends even then we use to get fights..these are high pressure games so these fights are normal and it should settle on ground itself,.,
    lets take that harbajan did use some remark do u feel symonds would n’t have given him back…i have seen players using words like F*** m****..
    well ,i guess every game has it..if you keep building an issue it would have huge repurcussions to the game ,rather than helping..

  4. ©hinaman says:

    And yes, there’s no audio or video footage, but really, if you set that as the standard, then it makes it very unlikely that anyone will ever be found guilty of violating the code of conduct.

    I agree that anyone who breaks code of conduct or regulations has to be punished. And in future every player “found guilty” of similar behaviour should also get three match bans. Any thing less will be seen as discrimination and/or unfair.

    I do not agree that any action can be taken based on hearsay, and no corroborative evidence.

    A batsman at the batting end will always be vulnerable. There is nothing to stop the wicket-keeper and close in fielders to falsely allege similar racial abuse from the batsman.

    Every time such an allegation is raised even if untrue, but five players comes and testifies, that batsman will have to be banned for three test matches, because he has no evidence to disprove it.

    then it makes it very unlikely that anyone will ever be found guilty of violating the code of conduct.

    Unfortunately that is the reality, players in the past have got away for lack of evidence.

    To me that is preferable to having an innocent player being framed and victimised.

    We have a set a stupid and dangerous precedence, this will come back to haunt cricket.

  5. […] a year having passed now, it’s clear that the Sydney Test between India and Australia was a seminal moment in the cricket world. You have the umpiring errors, which led to the referral […]

  6. […] main reasons not to like Harbhajan Singh: the first, he seems like a jerk. I defended him against racism charges during the Sydney affair with Andrew Symonds, but I thought he was obscene then and impolite […]

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