January 15, 2008

Gavaskar's double role

Sunil Gavaskar is bomb-thrower and bomb-defuser put into one, who somehow manages to operate as the chairman of the ICC's cricket committee while also acting as peppery columnist and media provocateur

How many hats should Sunil Gavaskar wear? © Getty Images

The usual excuse for misbehaviour on the cricket field is that it was done in the spur of the moment, in an excess of competitiveness, under the pressure of the situation. It doesn't always render such incidents forgivable, but it sometimes makes them more understandable: after all, these are young men strung up to concert pitch fighting for their livelihoods and in the name of national honour.

What to make, though, of those who should know better, those with vast experience and great reputations, who commit sins of tact and taste? What to make of those who hold roles in the game gravid with responsibility yet who cannot help making mischief?

Step forward Sunil Gavaskar, who somehow manages to operate as the chairman of the ICC's cricket committee while also acting as peppery columnist and media provocateur. The ICC finds itself in a tight corner, as ever, as it strains to arbitrate on the matter of Harbhajan Singh's verbal skirmishings with Andrew Symonds. You might expect all at the organisation to be pulling in the same direction towards a calm-browed settlement that allows both teams to move on with honour.

Well, unless someone has presumed to write under nom be plume "Sunil Gavaskar" in a syndicated column in various Indian newspapers, you would expect wrong. Because here this senior officer of ICC has launched an attack on a referee of ICC that can do nothing, but damage to the organisation, to the relations between countries, and to the game itself.

"Millions of Indians want to know if it was a 'white man' taking the 'white man's' word against that of the 'brown man'," Gavaskar wrote. "Quite simply, if there was no audio evidence, nor did the officials hear anything, then the charge did not stand."

Millions of Indians might want to know this - but it doesn't actually make them right. Does Gavaskar himself believe this to be true? If so, he should say it. And if he does believe it, then he should almost certainly resign, for if the ICC is a bastion of "white man's justice", Gavaskar bears some of the blame for having failed to change it.

On the other hand, maybe he hasn't been paying attention. After all, how many times has audio evidence ever been definitive in any case of on-field behaviour? The stumps mikes didn't pick up Glenn McGrath's tirade at Ramnaresh Sarwan in 2003, nor did the umpires David Shepherd and Srinivas Venkataraghavan make any report, but that didn't stop the failure of the ICC referee to take action being an abysmally weak decision.

That referee, of course, was Mike Procter. He was also the referee at the Oval in 2006 when Inzamam ul-Haq had his Achilles-like sulk, and at Melbourne in 2007 when Yuvraj Singh had his Paris Hiltonesque pout. There are some good arguments that while he bowled magnificent inswinging yorkers off the wrong foot, Procter has been a serial failure in enforcing the ICC's code of conduct. But you'd be forgiven for wondering exactly who is helped by the following assessment of his work by Gavaskar: "This is what has incensed the millions of Indians who are flabbergasted that the word of one of the greatest players in the history of the game, Sachin Tendulkar, was not accepted. In effect, Tendulkar has been branded a liar by the match referee."

Again with the "millions of Indians"! It's not me folks - it's those "millions of Indians". In fact, this debating point is a much less impressive notion that it seems. India has a population of 1.13 billion. There's probably at least a few million who believe in flying saucers. Should we really pay them serious heed? It's also far from clear that Tendulkar has been branded anything at all, for we know precious little of what was said during the relevant proceedings. Perhaps Gavaskar knows more that he lets on; if he does, it is disingenuous of him not to explain how he knows it. Perhaps he knows as much as we all do; if so, he is hastening to a conclusion on little more than supposition.

Nobody can be happy that the Sydney Test, and cricket, was dragged into ignominy. No Australian can be gratified that the deportment of their national team contributed to it. But the free bandying about of the word "racism", and the use of phrases like "white man's justice", might just make a few people look like particularly obnoxious hypocrites.

It is strange that he [Gavaskar] should be so gravely concerned about the damage Mike Procter has done to the ICC's authority, and so little aware of the damage he is doing himself

Which brings us back to Gavaskar. Because all this "monkey" talk can't help but remind the cricket bibliophile of the chapter in Gavaskar's autobiography Sunny Days (1976) in which he recounts the blood-spattered Kingston Test of 1976 where Bishan Bedi famously declared his innings closed rather than risk further injury for his batsmen from the West Indian pace enfilade. Here's a sample:

To call the crowd a 'crowd' in Jamaica is a misnomer. It should be called a 'mob'. The way they shrieked and howled every time Holding bowled was positively horrible. They encouraged him with shouts of 'Kill him, Maaaan!' 'Hit im Maan!', 'Knock his head off Mike!' All this proved beyond a shadow of doubt that these people still belonged to the jungles and forests, instead of a civilised country....

Their partisan attitude was even more evident when they did not applaud any shots we played. At one stage I even 'demanded' claps for a boundary shot off Daniel. All I got was laughter from the section, which certainly hadn't graduated from the trees where they belonged....

They were stamping their legs, clapping and jumping with joy. The only word I can think of to describe the behaviour of the crowd is 'barbarian'. Here was a man seriously injured, and these barbarians were thirsting for more blood, instead of expressing sympathy, as any civilised and sporting crowd would have done....

The whole thing was sickening. Never have I seen such cold-blooded and positively indifferent behaviour from cricket officials and the spectators, to put it mildly, were positively inhuman.

"To put it mildly!" The reader would wish the author to get off the fence and share what he really thought! In hindsight these are unattractive passages. Actually, at the time they were unattractive passages for that matter. For these weren't cross words exchanged on the field; they were crude lines penned in repose and with malice aforethought. Perhaps they should be seen as reassuring. If Gavaskar can have become such an important figure in the ICC after perpetrating such passages, Harbhajan could in time represent India at the United Nations.

The point is, of course, that Gavaskar should not be that important a figure at the ICC. Pelham Warner acted as chairman of selectors for England while working as the cricket correspondent of the Morning Post, but that was in the 1920s and 1930s, and he wrote such namby-pamby nonsense that it hardly mattered. Cricket today is constantly bemoaning the lack of professionalism shown by its administrative classes. Gavaskar's dual role as bomb-thrower and bomb-defuser has become a key exhibit in the case for change.

The Queensland politician and oaf Russ Hinze was famously asked about his conflict of interest in owning racehorses while acting as minister of racing. "It's not a conflict of interests," he replied. "It's a convergence." Gavaskar seems to share the same attitude. But it is strange that he should be so gravely concerned about the damage Procter has done to the ICC's authority, and so little aware of the damage he is doing himself.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • PALLAB on January 17, 2008, 5:35 GMT


    Can he occasionally do some pieces of Mohinder Amarnath's high-octane batting exploits in the West Indies and Pakistan in 1983- both nations with the best pace attacks during that time? Or how the classy marauder Aravinda de Silva always fared well against Australia? Or how Imran Khan's team fought the great , all-conquering West Indies team to a stand-still in three drawn series in the eighties ? Or does only the Ashes battles construe as cricket history to him?

    I also challenge Gideon to discuss/debate the issues raised in his column-my e-mail add is included in the cricinfo.com registration details.

  • PALLAB on January 17, 2008, 5:33 GMT


    Even Jeff Thompson has classified the twenty year period -1971-1991- as the period with the fastest bowlers in history and Gavaskar's career ran for 16 of those years. Thompson should know having Gavaskar reeling of 3 centuries in that 1977-78 series in Australia. Pity, the sub-continent press was not so well-established or far-reaching enough to glorify his exploits during his era. Gavaskar has enough standing as a columnist to make the grievances of the Indian cricket lovers heard.

    PS. Also, can historian Gideon do a historical study of why only 2 non-white cricketers (Jason Gillespie and Andrew Symonds) have played in 130 years of cricket in Australia? The Invincibles- a misnomer of a term given that they just played against primarily against one nation, boors like John Howard (or historians like Gideon with their selective historical references and study points ) did not allow them???

  • PALLAB on January 17, 2008, 5:30 GMT

    COMMENT 3 Is it any wonder that Muthiah Murlitharan (statistically nearly as good as Donald Bradman in the bowling category ) Wasim Akram , Gary Sobers are rarely iconized or lauded by them, except patronizingly at best The joke is that most Australians rate Shane Warne as the best bowler -not even the greatest spinner or greatest leg-spinner of all time! Going by the example of Harbhajan Singh getting appointed to United Stations in the future , for all the boorish history of Ricky Ponting ( he shoulder-butted a 17 year old Singh in the Sachin Tendulkar starring "Desert Storm" Sharjah tournament in a non-contact sport, the infamous drunken brawl in Kolkata in 1998, mouthing off towards the English dressing room when he was run-out during the Ashes, finger wagging at and pushing BCCI President Pawar, numerous "intimidation " incidents of umpires), he does not deserve to be in the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame itself- let alone ICC administrative roles in the future.

  • PALLAB on January 17, 2008, 5:27 GMT

    I had to register myself to express my outrage...and thoughts

    Oh yes! Mr. Gideon Haigh , cricket historian but with only a world-view of English and Australian cricket and should I daresay "white" South African cricket before 1991-the year they were re-admitted to the ICC fold again. New Zealand is probably a "territory/state" of Australia for him. This is typical of the Anglo-Saxon press- mainstream, gutter, tabloid pres or otherwise- ganging up immediately when a white man is denigrated/castigated/reviled -and rightly so, as in the Mike Procter case with his brand of kangaoroo court justice. Notice also the litany of Blogs/Columns coming out of England about India's supposed power and bullying of ICC. The same used to happen when Jagmohan Dalmiya was in power-expect more of the same 'brown washing' when either Sharad Pawar or IS Bindra gets to be President-Elect of ICC in the future.

  • FEROZ on January 17, 2008, 3:03 GMT

    The last Australian Captain who was the least bit sporting was Mark Taylor. The Thug of his team was Steve Waugh; he was the perfect choice to be Captain, in the eyes of the Australians; then in Waugh's "all-conquering" team the thug was Ricky Ponting. It was absolutely no surprise when he was elevated to his current position. Now Mr. Haigh sniffs and smirks at Sunil Gavaskar for oversteping his bounds, when the Australian team have been doing so on and off the field for the better part of 12 years. I'm all for Mr. Gavaskar on this one. The Aussies can give it but heaven help them for they can't take it. It goes without saying that the next Captain of Australia will be Michael Clarke. I'd bet my house on it.

  • Seenu on January 17, 2008, 2:24 GMT

    Gideon, when ICC imposes penalties, bans and other punishments to Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Indian players, and ignores gross offences from the likes of McGrath, Ponting, Gatting, Andy Flintoff with not even a tap on the knuckle, does it make you want to cry out loud, and make you write pompous articles such as these? Foul accusations of ball tampering against Indian players like Dravid and Tendulkar, and the subsequent punishments, were the last straw for a believer, and boy, am I glad BCCI has the current monetary clout.

  • old on January 16, 2008, 19:35 GMT

    First of, I'm Indian. Anyone that has followed Mr. Gavaskar's career for as long as I have (since that memorable 221 in Old Trafford) knows that there has always been a hyprcritical streak in him that frequently turned into churlishness when things did not go his way. I'm not really sure why he's on the ICC committee as he hasn't done anything of note to help the game after his retirement.

  • Chetan on January 16, 2008, 19:06 GMT

    In response to an email request from Mr. Richardson, I have documented a several instances of what looks like discriminations against cricketers originating from India by ICC's match referees, requesting him to ensure ICC action against the erring officials OR at least provide us normal human beings with basic explainations about why the Indian who suffered was at fault for a smaller offence than an Australian / West Indian / South African who was let off the hook by ICC's match referees. I had explained to him that when we read this apparent discrimination against cricketers from India alongwith the largely unbalanced volume of "human errors" by his umpires which seems to favour Australia / England / SA in matches involving India, we Indians have begun to question the integrity of ICC. ICC have not had the guts to reply to my email, in spite of several reminders including public statements like this one. ICC are lying through their teeth when they say that ICC does not discriminate

  • Vijay on January 16, 2008, 17:32 GMT

    I think there seems to be a planned motive behind this article. It takes bits and pieces of irrelevant information about a respected and learned person like Sunil Gavaskar, and tries to tie them together in a dangerous fashion aimed at maligning him and to caste aspersions on India's stand in the Harbhajan case.

    Please note that Gavaskar's issue was with the West Indies crowd was about their barbaric enjoying of folks getting hurt, and about Australia's hypocrisy about foul-mouthed language on the field. The author of this article conveniently misses the point that many non-Indians and in fact many Australians like Mark Taylor, Tony Greig, Geoff Boycott, Neil Harvey etc have supported the stand that Sunil Gavaskar has taken. In saying what the author has said, he himself shows tinges of bias and has spoken ill about a person like Sunil who is more respectable and succesful in life than the author. Also, the opinion of a large population of educated Indians cannot be ignored.

  • Venu on January 16, 2008, 14:41 GMT

    Gideon, You're quite right about Gavaskar but why conclude that Harbajhan is guilty of said offence. As you pointed out, the evidence is shaky at best. Harbajhan is hot-headed and tends to get into trouble but so do many others when put under pressure. Anyone who watched Serena Williams' match last night (or day) knows that she was warned for obscene language does that mean she should no longer be part of an organization such as the UN?

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