January 9, 2008

Some balance, please

True, India were sinned against in the Sydney Test, but they're no innocents, and the reaction of the media back home has been consummately over the top

Men overboard: protesters in Patna enlist the help of donkeys to express their outrage at the poor umpiring in Sydney © AFP

If India's media are to be believed, the Indian players are angels, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an unpatriotic Gandhi-hater and should be condemned to watching Navjot Sidhu expressing his views on a dozen television channels.

By hauling up a player for a racial slur (just as all who drink are not alcoholics, all who use racially charged words are not racists), the match referee has apparently called into question our manhood, nationhood, honour, Gandhian way of life, support for Nelson Mandela in the days of apartheid, and the sacrifices made by our martyrs.

Yes, we lost a Test. Yes, the umpiring was horrendous. Yes, the charges against Harbhajan Singh might not hold up in a court of law. But do we have to go overboard like this? One television channel dragged out Harbhajan's mother, that expert on racial slurs and leg-before appeals, to share her thoughts with us.

How do we drop so quickly into us-and-them mode? The media paranoia feeds itself. If one channel demands an apology from Australia, another displays greater patriotism by asking for the Test result to be nullified. Pundits push themselves to the head of a gathering trend. Or, if they are Sidhu, suggest that Indian bowlers should kick the umpires as they approach the wicket to bowl. If this is what a Test player feels, what of the regular effigy-burners and professional naysayers?

That mythical creature, the Average Man, wants the team to return home, we are told. Politicians speak for the Man in the Street (who is there because politicians, in their rush to defend the millionaires abroad, have omitted to build a house for him).

"This is not about cricket," Sidhu thunders, "This is about national honour." The President-elect of the ICC, Sharad Pawar, is upset. This is not something trivial like farmers committing suicide, which he can ignore in his other avatar as the Minister of Agriculture. This is the real thing. The BCCI runs the ICC and the media run the BCCI.

Brinkmanship is our national sport. The way India treats the ICC is no different from the manner in which the "veto powers", England and Australia, did in their heyday. When the cycle turns and the power base shifts, we will have at least nine countries waiting to get at us for all that we are doing to them now.

Pawar has the bogey of Jagmohan Dalmiya on his shoulder. Didn't that worthy threaten to split the cricket world more than once? Didn't he save India's honour, nationhood, manhood and all other hoods by annulling the result of a match in South Africa a few years ago? How can Pawar go one better? Can he annul Australia's nationhood?

The board could not have asked for a better chance to show its patriotism. The players could not have asked for a bigger distraction from their own pathetic display in the second innings at Sydney. Two batsmen got poor decisions. What about the others? Is batting through two sessions to save a Test beyond the ability of the greatest batting line-up in the world? As for the board, the criticism about pushing the players into Tests in Australia without adequate time to acclimatise themselves is now residing under a carpet somewhere.

It is all so convenient.

But what of the incidents? We have been mixing apples and oranges. The boorish behaviour of Ricky Ponting and his men is independent of the umpiring boo-boos, which have nothing to do with what Harbhajan Singh said to Andrew Symonds. By bundling it all together, and then garnishing the mix with almost plausible quotes and Peter Roebuck's unusually over-the-top reaction, the Indian media have taken breast-beating to new levels.

A clever lawyer can pick on anything Symonds said and give it a racial twist. Even honourable cusswords like "bastard" and "son of a bitch" can be seen as insulting the parental uncertainty or animal origins of all non-whites. Logicians call this reductio ad absurdum - stretching a proposition to its logical absurdity. But logic has been a casualty in this fracas.

Let's get a sense of balance. No Indian writing or broadcasting from Sydney mentioned that replays showed Sachin Tendulkar was out leg-before when he was in the twenties. He added roughly the same number of runs that Symonds did after being reprieved when he was first out.

Brinkmanship is our national sport. The way India treats the ICC is no different from the manner in which the "veto powers", England and Australia, did in their heyday. When the cycle turns and the power base shifts, we will have at least nine countries waiting to get at us for all that we are doing to them now

Ponting's integrity may be in question after he claimed a catch off Mahendra Singh Dhoni though the ball touched the ground. Just as you can't be a little pregnant, you can't be a little upright. Integrity is indivisible. But if the two captains had an agreement regarding catches close to the wicket, then Mark Benson was right in turning to Ponting when Sourav Ganguly was caught. After all, Steve Bucknor was further away from the action.

Indians are not innocents. The average number of Tests played by the Sydney XI is 65. That's enough time to learn all the tricks. Ishant Sharma, in his third Test, showed you don't need to have played 65. His ridiculous time-wasting tactic of walking out with two right gloves would have embarrassed a schoolboy.

For a team that is trailing 0-2 in a Test series, India are on top Down Under. This is remarkable. It is the result of a combination of the BCCI's financial arrogance and media-inspired jingoism. This is dangerous, however exciting and ballsy it might be for an Indian. For it is this combination that makes huge headlines of incidents that might otherwise be handled with delicacy and tact. Already the ICC has replaced Bucknor for the Perth Test (question: if India had long-standing disputes with him, why didn't the board object at the start of the tour?). This may be good PR, but it is a bad precedent to set.

Likewise with the Harbhajan case. The ICC can neither revoke the ban nor endorse it without getting into a bigger mess. The Indian media are probably getting ready to speak to Malcolm Speed's relatives even as you read this.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • lavasama on January 11, 2008, 10:37 GMT

    Just for writing against the grain of common thinking, this article has been written. Firstly, Indians never raised an issue regarding australia's first innings reprieves given by Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor. The whole issue got out of the box when they saw the reprieves in the second innings - continuing the same pattern as the first. When India batted and if the test would have come to a draw, we would still be talking about bad umpiring, but may not be with the same charged emotion. The two umpires and the Match Refree made things worse by banning Harbhajan. The match refree's statement that "only side was telling the truth" added fuel to fire. "How did he know?", We are curious to know and, what special talent Mr. Mike Procter has got, to distinguish between a person telling truth or otherwise. May be we can patent that and dump all lie detectors to the garbage bins. The statements made by Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey in various interviews were ridiculous.

  • pk1981 on January 11, 2008, 9:20 GMT

    The problem Mr.Menon is that we have to create that kind of noise and chaos to make our voice heard. Its a pity that a man with high integrity as Sachin Tendulkar, was not trusted over a bunch of cheating and lying brats and here we are discusiing that we should have not made so much noise. If you think the Indian media is going over the top, seems you are out of touch with the Australian media who have conviniently assumed Bhajji to be a racist and are writing articles of being proud of australian behaviour in at SCG.

    As for BCCI's financial clout, I believe if we have it we use it, I would say it is the USA of the cricketing world.

  • SameerGupta on January 11, 2008, 7:36 GMT

    Well post Suresh!

    The issue here is how many test matches in the past have had so many mistakes? Is India going overboard in reacting to 11+ mistakes in a span of 5 days 90% of which seem to favor one team.

    No doubts Indian team didn't play well and there are issues to be discussed on their performances - however we seem to be missing the line here - mistakes against India - aussie spirit in the game - bhajji ban without proof!

    I would back not only BCCI, but even the smallest of cricketing boards like Kenya/Zimbabwe to protest like this if they were in this situation.

  • Springsam on January 11, 2008, 6:15 GMT

    Suresh Menon wants to become an angel in the eyes of the public by discovering that Indians are not angels. It is true that commentators like Sidhu went decibels over the issue but to under play the tardy happenings in the the Sydney test is gross travesty of truth and justice. There have been poor umpiring decisions against India in the past and no such fuss made. Blatant mistakes and so many, by umpires in the Sydney test against India warrants some investigations. Poor umpiring decisions compounded by the unsporting and arrogant attitude of the Australians headed by Ponting precipitated the kind of reaction that followed.Ponting attempts to tell the public that what all non stop lip movements that he and his colleagues made were all very cordial encouraging gestures meted out to the batsmen. The body language and the utter contempt displayed while claiming a grassed catch, tells all the truth.The virus of arrogance could be seen spread even to Clarke the young Vice Captain

  • popenoe on January 11, 2008, 5:43 GMT

    Suresh makes many points that I wholeheartedly agree with. Why has cricket become so ugly? It is a lovely sport for both the players and the audience. At least it used to be. Racial slurs, politics of power, and the desire to be the best at all costs have hurt the game so much that those who love it dearly are getting turned off. Will sane minds prevail? I hope so.

  • DoubleARon on January 11, 2008, 3:24 GMT

    And as far as Australia complaining if bad umpire decisions cost them a match, I seem to recall it costing Australia the Ashes in 2005 (Kaspovich "dismissal"?). What I don't remember is the Australia players acting like a rabble of unprofessional cry babies and threatening to take there bat and ball and go home. I also don't seem to recall anyone burning anything in the streets, which strikes me as a very mature way to handle things.

    And as for Australia making a complaint with regards to Harbajan Singh's comments. Racial slurs are not sledging. They are racial slurs. They are specifically banned in the ICC code of conduct. If it is proven that Singh is guilty, he should accept his ban, just as Darren Lehman accepted a similar ban when playing against Sri Lanka. Again, in that situation, it was Lehman's word against Sri Lanka's. Although I don't defend what Lehman said, at least he had the class to admit it and accept the punishment.

  • Shinypants on January 11, 2008, 3:22 GMT

    The refusal of the Chairman of the BCCI to adhere to his SIGNED agreement to the playing conditions, and his holding the ICC and CA to ransom with his insistence finding Harbahjan innocent says it all. The man is a politician and will sacrifice his morals to pander to his consituency. He is driven by the ballot box. India is 0-2 down because they are lazy and sloppy. They field, catch and run between the wickets like a 2nd grade city team. Instead of worshipping them as gods the Indian fans would do better to demand their efforts match their ability. Watching Sachin Tendulkar gasping for breath after running a 3 was laughable. Yuvraj Singh can't catch, can't field and he could have a bat in both hands and he still couldn't hit the ball. So wrapped up in their own importance are the Indian cricketers that they won't even allow coaches to take them to a suitable level of fitness and skill. After 50 years of watching and playing I've never seen such petulance. From an entire country!

  • DoubleARon on January 11, 2008, 3:17 GMT

    As stated in the Laws of Cricket upon which the game is based (Law 32 pertaining to being 'Caught')

    1. Out Caught The striker is out Caught if ... held by a fielder as a fair catch before it touches the ground.

    3. A fair catch The act of making the catch shall start from the time when a fielder first handles the ball and shall end when a fielder obtains complete control both over the ball and over his own movement.

    Note the rules state that a player must make a fair catch BEFORE the ball touches the ground. The rules do not say the ball cannot touch the ground only that the fieldsman must have control over it first. From the moment that Ponting grips the ball off Doni he has complete control over it. It does not move in his hand, therefore Ponting has every right to claim the catch. Doni was given not out because the umpire did not see the ball nick his glove (which it did). Reasonable decision by the umpire given the circumstances but Ponting has nothing to apologize for.

  • sriniv on January 11, 2008, 2:59 GMT

    I disagree with this article completely. This is typical of some Indians, showing up like a "more neutral guy" blaming our own country guys, media etc., Whatever media has shown, whatever we have done so far all seems right to me. Imagine, some one inviting you to their country, only to cast aspersions, no respect for even neutrality, plus act like saints do everything and turn around and put the blame on you. The point is not whether Indians lost the test or not, IT is about deliberate deriliction of ethics by Australia and umpires and on top of which they ban some one without any proof.

    I suggest you dont write such article being an Indian.

  • maharishi on January 11, 2008, 2:03 GMT

    if you see bucknor's performance in last few years it has been below par, really a bad one.umpire bucknor 61 years old,normally at this age you are not efficient this is retireing age, if you see best umpires in the world simon tauffel, alim dar both are good umpires are young . so the point is age does matter and icc should think about it.

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