Border and Waugh blame cultural misunderstanding
Allan Border and Steve Waugh, both former Australia captains, have suggested that cultural misunderstandings could have contributed to the race row boiling over to the point of India suspending their tour. Border said that while he thought Australia had no need to apologise for their on-field behaviour, which has attracted widespread criticism, it was time for international sides to start understanding each other more.
"What we think is just routine banter they take offence at - it is straight-out cultural stuff," he told the Courier Mail. "The cultural issues were always there in our day. When we say 'lucky bastards', they [West Indians and Indians] might take offence at that."
Waugh said that the senses of humour in Australia and India are, in his opinion, very different and that when Harbhajan Singh called Andrew Symonds a 'monkey' he may not have meant it as offensively as it was interpreted.
"An Indian crowd [...] will happily join in a chant in much the same way as the Aussie crowds call Hadlee "a w*****" and yell in unison "no ball" when Murali delivers his first ball," he wrote in the Sydney Daily Telegraph. "If Harbhajan did say it [monkey], it is both puerile and stupid after he was warned during the last one-day series. Clearly this can be viewed as racist but many on the subcontinent also see it as their way of 'taking the mickey'."
Nevertheless, he doesn't believe Australia should apologise for their attitude. "Teams playing against Australia fail to understand that banter, gamesmanship, sledging or whatever anyone would like to call it is just the way Australian kids joust and play in the schoolyard and backyards. On the other hand, Australian teams can't stomach time-wasting and perceived manipulation of the rules, including calling for runners, over-appealing and the alleged altering of the condition of the ball."
He suggested a better solution would have been for the players to have discussed the incident off the pitch which may have prevented it escalating to a near-boycott. Border pointed out that the teams no longer fraternised so closely in the dressing rooms, leaving it less likely that arguments would be resolved easily.
"Perhaps the stakes are higher. As soon as you become professional, the stakes do become higher. You have comitments to getting yourself right the next day. The media coverage of the game is an nth-degree change from my era. All that stops players getting to know each other because they just don't see each other."
Wasim Akram, meanwhile, has fanned the flames of the row engulfing world cricket by effectively labelling Australia "cry babies". Akram, the former Pakistan allrounder, believes that Australia give as good as they get and that what happens on the pitch should stay on the pitch.
"I have played a large part of my cricket against the Aussies. Sometimes they said stuff, sometimes we did and then we moved on," Akram told India's Hindustan Times newspaper after Ricky Ponting reported Harbhajan for his on-field comment. "We did not behave like cry babies and drag it to the officials [...] They do it constantly and much more than anyone else. So how they can go out and complain about other teams, I don't know."
Harbhajan was banned for three Tests, which India are appealing, and the former great Kapil Dev told the same paper that the ruling was too harsh. "It is surprising and unfair. The Indian team is one of the most gentle teams in the world."