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.