April 16, 2013

Was there a second slapper?

Conspiracy theories abound on who else had a hand in hitting Sreesanth back in 2008

As far as conspiracy theories go, it doesn't get murkier than Slapgate. Amid the many rumours and counter-rumours swirling around on what did and did not happen in Mohali on that fateful day, perhaps the most notorious one is that slapper Harbhajan Singh was not, in fact, acting alone.

"I know what I saw," said a member of the ground staff who was on duty that day. "Sreesanth was first slapped by Bhajji, but he was also slapped again, by a different, less hairy hand. The second hand appeared out of a crowd gathered on the grassy knoll, where the players in question were standing for the post-match presentation."

The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, added: "It wasn't really a grassy knoll but a cricket ground. 'Grassy knoll' just sounds cooler."

True or tall story? Some of those who say they have seen footage of the event, allegedly shot by a private citizen by the name of M Zaminder, have corroborated the claim.

"Harbhajan was just a patsy," said Dr Karl-Heinz Muckenfuss, an expert in the field of open-handed sissy combat and author of the bestselling book Who Slapped Sreesanth? The Unsolved Humiliation of an Irritating Man.

"There is simply no way one person acting alone could have caused that kind of damage," continued Dr Muckenfuss. "If you study footage of the Zaminder video and analyse the motion of Sreesanth's head at the moment of impact, as I have, you realise that not only was there more than just one blow to the tender cheeks of his fast-reddening face, but that the second slap must have come from a different direction from the first."

Yet another controversial theory making the rounds is that Harbhajan was working for the PCB, Pakistan's shadowy and mysterious cricket board.

"It was an open secret that Harbhajan had been to Pakistan before on a number of occasions," said Oliver Stone, director of a controversial film on the slapping, Foreign Hand, which starred Navjot Singh Sidhu as the slap-happy Harbhajan. "The question on most people's lips is: what was Bhajji doing in Pakistan if not to receive instructions from the PCB? Because let's face it, he wasn't there to spin the ball."

There is another twist to this particular angle of attack: the possibility that Bhajji was sent to Pakistan and was being funded by the BCCI. If so, was the slapping an inside job? Why would the Indian board want Sreesanth, one of their own, slapped?

That, however, is probably one of the easier questions to answer.

"Forget Pakistan, a lot of people in our own backyard have for the longest time wanted this man slapped, and slapped hard," said a BCCI official who wished not to be named. "People were getting sick of his antics. There were precious few results to back up his theatrics on the field. He was a liability and had to be put in his place. I cannot comment on whether Harbhajan was acting alone or not, but can say that if it wasn't him, someone else would have done it sooner or later. Me, for example. Or Andre Nel."

Anti-conspiracy theorists, meanwhile, have always remained steadfast in their conviction that the slap was delivered by a lone slapper, the delusional and unstable Harbhajan. Besides, a single slap, they hold, is more than enough to have caused Sreesanth's head to move in the exaggerated manner that it did and the tears to gush forth with the force with which they did.

All quotes and "facts" in this article are made up, but you knew that already, didn't you?

R Rajkumar tweets here