IPL April 28, 2008

Slap without tickle


Four months ago, he was the wronged Indian, the “Sikh warrior” who had been done in by malevolent Australians. Today, he’s the villain, the hot-head who’s gone too far, been banned for the rest of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2008 edition – and who was probably guilty as charged by Andrew Symonds too.

The most ridiculous aspect of the Harbhajan Singh-Sreesanth controversy – which in any case is the most riveting episode the IPL has thrown up so far – is the fickleness of the cricket media and the regiments of newspaper commentators and sound-bite pundits. With specials programmes like Chhante ki Goonj (The Resounding Slap) and Tamache ka Takkar (The Clash of the Slap) – and I hope I have those names right – making a further mockery of news television, Harbhajan has gone from national hero to international anti-hero, from one ridiculous extreme to another.

There is no doubt the stand-in captain of the Mumbai Indians needed to be punished for hitting Sreesanth. Whatever the provocation, whatever the pressure, this was not on. It went too far.

Yet, four things need to be pointed out.

First, just because Harbhajan slapped Sreesanth doesn’t also mean that he called Andrew Symonds a monkey. It does not necessarily prove Sachin Tendulkar was lying when he gave evidence in Harbhajan’s favour in Australia. There is no correlation. Let us not get carried away.

Second, Sreesanth’s guilt may be less recognisable but he surely deserves a strong reprimand as well. He has been obnoxious throughout the IPL. He has sledged, abused and provoked rival players, even junior batsmen and plain tyros. It could be understood if he were resorting to verbal warfare when faced with a batsman who had reached 95 off 35 balls. Sreesanth, however, has more often than not begun the battle.

Third, even if one were to be extraordinarily charitable and exclude the recent tour of Australia and explain it as a case of a volatile cricketer being targeted by a clever opposition, the fact is Harbhajan is not the best behaved sportsman in the world. Sreesanth hasn’t slapped anyone yet but, overall, he’s even worse.

Nevertheless, each time this is brought up, it is explained away with some pop sociology or similar claptrap: “This is the new, aggressive India”; “For years, we have suffered, now we will give it back”; “These are boys from small towns, middle India – they don’t care for reputations, they are not deferential to the white man”.

I once brought up Sreesanth’s behaviour on a television programme and suggested somebody have a chat with him. It was instantly apparent that almost everyone in the studio disagreed with me. Ajay Jadeja, a fellow guest on the show, jumped to the fast bowler’s defence and said he was absolutely fine and it would be unfair to curb his natural instincts.

Agreed, bad behaviour is as old as cricket. Some of what the Australians did under Ian Chappell – and seem to be doing now under Ricky Ponting – cannot be condoned. There is a crucial difference between playing hard and playing dirty.

If Indian cricketers – “new”, “aggressive”, “super-confident”: choose your adjective – want to give it back when assailed or want to occasionally needle a batsman as he walks to the crease, I have no problem with that. There is an ocean that separates such acceptable gamesmanship from plain boorishness. Waving his bat, exercising his pelvic muscles mid-pitch, screaming and shouting, bearing his teeth, grimacing menacingly without reason, Sreesanth is the most visible face of this cricket boor; at least on television. The face, let us accept, is ugly.

Precedent can justify anything, and nothing. Kepler Wessels hit Kapil Dev in the shin in the early 1990s, John Snow knocked down Sunil Gavaskar in the early 1970s. Neither was right and both should still be embarrassed. Harbhajan and Sreesanth are no better, no worse. There are moral absolutes on the cricket field. The state of Indian society and its evolutionary juncture cannot change those absolutes.

Fourth, while Harbhajan is going to be sitting at home for the rest of the IPL and will forfeit his millions as well, it is my guess that Sreesanth has lost more in the long run. As Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s column in the Hindustan Times this [April 28] morning suggests, the Indian dressing room is less likely to take a clear-cut, good-bad binary position on the unseemly business. To the rest of the Indian squad, there need not be one obvious villain and one obvious victim.

My hunch is Sreesanth will face a few barbs for, to use a friend’s phrase, “ratting” on a colleague and breaking club rules. This is not a value judgment; it is a cold, cynical assessment. By making a public scene, playing the wronged guy, crying on camera, blaming it on his “fever in the morning”, Sreesanth has betrayed a streak for exhibitionism and a low emotional quotient.

On television, it works in his favour. In the Indian team bus, it could be his Achilles’ heel.

Ashok Malik is a writer based in Delhi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on October 3, 2008, 15:02 GMT

    aree yaar!.... i think dat, u people have all gone mad!....to make such a big deal out of dis stupid subject...mostly i hate sree 'n' bhajji!...'n'not 'cuz of dat...dis's not such a big thing 2 discuss...'n' mainly...dis idea...whoever made dis, of writing comments 'bout these is really such a bore...den let me tell u 'bout my comment...it's dat...i really felt sorry for sree at first....den bhajji....cuz he did it by mistakely!

  • testli5504537 on May 8, 2008, 11:36 GMT

    I noticed this on Cricinfo's Quote-Unquote section:--"I fear the day is approaching when a high-profile, televised cricket match will see an outbreak of physical violence on the field." ... Scyld Berry

    Since it has now come to light that these two were separated by teammates and that Harbhajan tried to attack Sreesanth a second time and continued with his flood of abuse, I find it hard to believe that a neutral observer would isolate Sreesanth in the team, or could call him the worse behaved of the two.

    It would be disgusting if Rajput was laughing after the slap rather than looking to limit the damage done by Harbhajan. To me this sends out the signal that there has been a lot of talk in several camps of "teaching Sreesanth a lesson" and Harbhajan was the idiot who decided to carry out the action, possibly believing he could get away with murder.

    Your article seems to flow along those lines. Let's get one thing straight, Harbhajan is by far, and now irrevocably, the worse of the two.

  • testli5504537 on May 7, 2008, 9:56 GMT

    Why is it that Andrew Symond gets away with a brutal assault on a spectator" - The guy who he took out agreed he deserved it - so why would Symonds be punished???

  • testli5504537 on May 7, 2008, 8:58 GMT

    P Senthil: "Why is it that Andrew Symond gets away with a brutal assault on a spectator" - The guy who he took out agreed he deserved it - so why would Symonds be punished???

  • testli5504537 on May 3, 2008, 5:52 GMT

    Ganguly was the man who iniated bad behaviour by Indian cricketers.His adorer Bajji has only added more.the next in line may be Yuvaraj and may be Pathan.Shreesanth's behaviour of course is the worst.Media owns the responsibility by hyping these bad characters and looking down upon the gentlemen like Laxman,Dravid ad Javagal Srinath.

  • testli5504537 on May 3, 2008, 5:16 GMT

    You know we all have a problem...a problem to judge and comment on things without seing the pros and cons attached to it. I mean one should just over with it, whts done is done.

    But unfortunatley are media is the worse culprit and they r the ones who with uthopian headlines try to hijack trp ratings..loook wht aaj tak had to show immediatley aftr the match..not the match result bt the slap result.

    Whatever harbhajan did he did was wrng..bt we need to move on and also no need to corelate this to this past behaviours. Because if we do then we all r guilty because we were the ones who were backing him and now we r the ones villifying him. And i bet tmrw he repeats his 32 wickets feat against the aussie we all wld be worshipping him...

    so my dear friends ..our mindset first needs to change...so many things happen in the dressing room and none r reported..this too shld have nt made such a issue and shree i knw u were sick...bt thr is a place to cry ..nt inside the stadium bt in dressing room

  • testli5504537 on May 3, 2008, 0:49 GMT

    Cricket Guru: Dominated the Australians? It seems the delusions of some, I stress some, Indian cricket fan stretches beyond behavioural issues into results. Check the record books and you'll see a 2-1 test series victory by Australia. Followed no doubt by an impressive Indian performance in the ODI's. Hardly dominance.

    This current issue merely makes me cry with laughter into my cornflakes about all the claims of 'boorish/rude/take your pick Australians. Surely the lesson has now been learned to get your own house in order before commenting on others. Harby is obviously pretty weak in the wit dept that he's losing so many arguments and resorting to racism and violence. Tut tut.

  • testli5504537 on May 2, 2008, 4:48 GMT

    sreesanth should be punished for provoking the incident,hes the real drama queen of indian cricketers ... hail india hail harbhajan

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2008, 10:15 GMT

    Sreesanth should not be viewed in the context of him being a South Indian. That's simply is not the case. I think IPL was meant to uphold BCCI's view on Spirit of Cricket and no sledging. Sreesanth has been breaking all the rules. If BCCI can't control this hot-head/ pretender in its own tournament, what will become of him in an International? Should BCCI defend him or just accept the interpretation set out by the opposition? If BCCI softens its stance on Akhtar's exclusion, will it not mean double standards are been applied?

    There have been interesting reactions from Dhoni and co. Laxman wants to shut up Sreesanth by asking his batsmen to go after him. Their views on this matter and Sreesanth's own performances will be the key to how long Sreesanth remains in the Indian team. I think it wouldn't be long.

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2008, 5:25 GMT


    I agree with one of your statements. I do belive that just because Harbhajan is the villain now does not mean he was wrong in Australia.

    However, Ashok, you should be ashamed of yourself. Sreesanth crying was not just an act and by saying that this will be his achilles heel in the indian team bus is insulting the indian cricket team. What you are implying is that the Indian team are insensitive and will make fun of sreesanth for breaking down on camera. If this was true then why would yuvraj singh have hugged sreesanth?

    What you dont understand is that cricket is a game of high tension, passion, and emotions, especially when one plays in front of tens of thousands of people. Sreesanth breaking down on camera should not be percieved as his achilles heel.

    As far as his agressive attitude is concerned, what is wrong with it? Has andrew symonds been banned recently? He is as controversial but nothing has happened to him? In my opinion, Hyaden defamed harbhajan but nothing

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