January 30, 2008

What price justice?

If this is the way the Indian board intends to conduct its affairs hereafter, then God help cricket

As was inevitable, Harbhajan Singh's appeal was successful ... but that does not make him a hero © Getty Images

India's performance in chartering a plane to take the players back home in the event of an independent judge finding against them in the Harbhajan Singh case counted amongst the most nakedly aggressive actions taken in the history of a notoriously fractious game. If this is the way the Indian board intends to conduct its affairs hereafter, then God help cricket.

It is high time the elders of the game in that proud country stopped playing to the gallery and considered the game's wider interests. India is not some tin pot dictatorship but an international powerhouse, and ought to think and act accordingly. Brinkmanship or not, threatening to take their bat and ball home in the event of a resented verdict being allowed to stand was an abomination. It sets a dreadful precedent. What price justice now?

Not that the attempt made by Cricket Australia to broker a compromise had much more to commend it. Ricky Ponting and his players were entitled to take a stand on principle. As it happens, I thought their strategy unwise because they had fanned the flames, Anil Kumble had not been given a chance to intervene and the case was unwinnable.

But they were entitled to take a stand and demand a hearing - especially after their disgraceful treatment by the crowd and a local umpire in Mumbai not long ago (not to mention in Kolkata in 2004) last October. The Australian players may have let rage get the better of them but they were within their rights to demand a hearing. Cricket Australia had no business pusillanimously trying to talk them out of it. Racism was the issue, or there was no issue.

As was inevitable, Harbhajan's appeal was successful. Simply, there was not enough proof to justify a conviction. It does not matter what anyone thinks may have happened. Court cases are about facts, not opinions, or allegations or interpretations or guesses. Once the microphones and umpires could not back up the charges, the case was doomed. That does not make Harbhajan a hero. It is high time his seniors took him in hand. He has become a hothead with an unpleasant tongue.

Far from seeking revenge, the Australians should have treated him with derision. Throughout this episode, they have been driven not by reason but by a rage that ruined a match and imperilled a series. Harbhajan is not worth half as much. Nor is it wise to ignore Australia's reputation as champion sledgers. Everything has a history.

All around, it has been a bad business. Over the years, India have often been represented by gentlemen with high principles and a strong sense of sportsmanship. Australia have not been so fortunate. But it seems that power has corrupted. It was intolerable that India's one-day players were sent to Adelaide when they ought to have been practising hard in Melbourne.

It was not an implied threat to the justice system. It was a direct challenge to it. India took part in the creation of the legal framework they disregarded. If the Indians had packed their bags, Australia should have refused to appear in India next season. That India took exception to the original findings of the match referee was not surprising.

Realising that he was not properly qualified, Mike Procter implored the ICC to appoint someone else to sit at the hearing, but his plea fell on deaf ears. Indeed, the ICC has been notably unhelpful in these last few weeks. It is hard to believe that a legally trained professional could have reached the same decision as the former South African all-rounder. Procter is a cricketing man not versed in the intricacies of evidence and may not understand the difference between a balance of probabilities and reasonable doubt. That does not mean he deserves the venom directed at him by Sunil Gavaskar, also an employee of the ICC.

Accordingly, it was appropriate for India to appeal against the original judgment. For the convenience of all parties, and to allow for a cooling-off period, the appeal hearing was delayed. An independent and experienced judge was asked to preside over it. That the judge was a New Zealander should not have troubled anyone. The idea that a Kiwi might be in league with the Aussies will come as a surprise to both parties. In any case, the time to object to the choice of intermediary had long since passed. Judge Hansen duly applied legal principles and convicted Harbhajan of a lesser charge.

India's conduct was deplorable. That the Australians have been carrying on like pork chops for years was no excuse. India had every right to stand against them, but not to undermine the rule of law. Posturing has cost them the high ground. Indeed, the time has come to take a closer look at the behaviour of the BCCI, not least its liaison with the thieves and thugs running Zimbabwean cricket. A man is known by the company he keeps.

Now the Australians must accept the decision and move on. The allegation could not be substantiated. It's as simple as that. Now both captains must insist that their players conduct themselves appropriately - a responsibility bestowed on them by the laws of the game. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Richard on January 30, 2008, 13:05 GMT

    The Indian Cricket Board is a disgrace. India itself should be suspended from cricket until they learn to respect the fact they DON'T run cricket. To hold the cricket world to ransom like this is unforgivable. You accept the decision and move on. All of these people saying Australia dish it out and can't take it are hypocrites. Either you are against racial vilification or you aren't. Harbhajan knew what he was doing - he is a nasty piece of work and what is underlying this is hypocrisy of those who would scream blue murder if an Australian called an Indian a monkey. But then racism is something white people do to black people isn't it? The Indian board and team should show more dignity. And it wasn't the Australian team's fault the umpires were bad in Sydney and we also happen to have been the better team over the series and deserved the win.

  • Amit on January 30, 2008, 12:51 GMT

    Having read through various blogs, i am convinced that the nationalistic/jingoistic feeling that exists in both the camps has been carried a bit too far. But, how about facing some facts? Symonds started the feud and got away free whereas bhajji faces the ignominy of being branded a racist. Proctor chooses to listen to 3 aussies whose conduct in the match was anything but honest. Gavaskar asks a few uncomfortable questions about the decision & the media digs out his columns written 25 years ago to try & prove that he was racist. He stands vindicated today! Now that the decision has been in Bhajji's favour, aussie & english media in general, is all over the guy & BCCI - neither wlling to accept the growing influence of Indian eyeballs in the game. Dude, if you want money from a billion people-as some anonymous (coward) cricketer who wrote in papers today, be willing to have those billion angry eyes staring at you if you call one of them a cheat. No more. Not from the bully.

  • brazen on January 30, 2008, 12:23 GMT

    Well said "moizadtani". Mr Roebuck clearly and intentionally forgot the hard deal indian team got in Sydney test. Whatever Harbhajan's reaction, it followed a stupid action from Aussies. Remember aussies, if u can give out have the guts to take back as well.... behave like professionals

  • Shiv on January 30, 2008, 12:16 GMT

    Dear Mr.Roebuck

    Well written article as usual but I do believe that you have tried too hard in this case to play the devil's advocate. Why dont we all call a spade a spade and agree that the aussies are bullies and do not take it as well as they hand it out. Harbhajan is a hot headed chap no doubt and the aussies knew this very well and targeted him specifically.That the entire episode was planned is clear from the pre game agreement Ponting approached Kumble with - the agreement had a list of objectionable words inlcuding the now infamous'M.....' word.Symonds taking objection to Harbhajan tapping Brett Lee with the bat is indeed laughable as Judge Hansen rightly pronounced. The aussies had a larger motive in the way Symonds instigated Harbhajan with crude language and they expected Harbhajan to react with vitriol and he did not disappoint. Symonds would do well to change his appearance when he visits India next- the dreadlocks and zinc cream hold the answer to the simean puzzle.

  • P Subramani on January 30, 2008, 12:14 GMT

    Robuck's indignation is understandable. He adopted Australian citzenship some years ago and has been a prolific writer since. Perhaps the best there ever was since Jack Fingleton and Ray Robinson. By writing so objectively and indeed scathingly against Ponting and his men in the aftermath of the Sydney Test, he had incurred the wrath of a large number of Australians. His strong views about the BCCI in regard to the Harbhajan fiasco will have reinstated his credibility with the Australians. I am happy for him because he is very fair in his views. I agree with him when he says that the BCCI has been very high handed in the way they have handled the Harbhajan matter. In fact pretty distasteful. But I would indeed request him to to look into incidents in the past when the ICC have been rather impervious to the views expressed by players from the sub continent and the West Indies. Nothing would illustrate this better that the stand they took in the Magrath- Sarwan episode some years ago.

  • Jaipreet on January 30, 2008, 12:13 GMT

    A lot of shocking things have happened. The biggest sledgers of any sport in the World (Australian Cricket Team) could not take it back & cried like babies. They even lied, almost implied by Judge Hansen, during the legal proceedings. Symonds shockingly owned up that a test match is no place to make friends with the other team players & that he started the verbal abused. ICC came out as the biggest loser, again proving their incompetence. BCCI's stand was equally shocking when they repeatedly held the game/ICC/CA to ransom.

    But almost as shocking as the rest, the author of this article wrote just a very few days ago lot of stuff completely to the contrary to what he is writing now. He wrote earlier that "The only surprising part of it is that the Indians have not packed their bags and gone home. There is no justice for them in this country, nor any manners." etc. What a shocking U-Turn from someone who I believed was one of the most respected cricket journalists we have in Australia.

  • Shireesh on January 30, 2008, 12:09 GMT

    There are no saints anywhere. What happened when John Lever was found using Vaseline? India let him play. ICC/MCC did nothing. What happened when Aussie players were caught in match fixing. Mark Waugh and Shane Warne were let off as having only provided 'pitch information'. What happens when Murli approaches Shane Warne's record? He starts to get no-balled regularly in Australia possibly by a corruptible umpire. Somehow no other umpire in no other country fount fault with the action but Darrel Hair. Who then tried to blackmail ICC till the leaked letter forced him to back off. The Aussies need to stop whingeing period. It time they grew up and focused only on cricket instead of shooting their mouths off. They play hard but have never played fair. Dont let anyone be under that illusion. So much have their values eroded that the otherwise man of integrity Gilchrist too joined in a false appeal. I wonder if the Sydney behaviour is part of why he decided to quit.

  • Suresh on January 30, 2008, 11:38 GMT

    Is there something sinister about this place? Something that is critical of this place and the contributors never seem to get approved :-) Dear Mr. Roebuck, is this your way of salvaging the situation that rose out of your earlier column immediately after the Sydney test? If so, it seems to have done but spare of this hypocrisy henceforth. This has nothing to do with money, but apparently it wouldnt work any other way. Look back and you would find that money power or whatever, the truth has prevailed. From a legal perspective, things happens with evidences and facts not on hearsay. And a moral high ground certificate from an Aussie anyway is not worth the ink it is written with. So you can cut that out. When Aussies get a taste of their own medicine, it seem to be very bitter. For a good and just cause, if money power is being deployed, let it be so. Even the cooked up evidence did not stand in a rightfully conducted proceedings. Anyway, your position is secured and redeemed :-)

  • Madhusudhan on January 30, 2008, 11:30 GMT

    Bhajji is a hot-head, but the Aussies are no angels, specially Symonds. We have witnessed many a time when the Aussies and SA got away with 'murder' on the field, because of the dominance of the so-called 'white' countries in the ICC. So, it sounds very funny and hypocritical when these bunch of whingers go crying to the match-referee every time someone gives it back. Indians can easily recall how Ponting cursed Srinath when he was hit by a bouncer, how Slater pounced on Dravid, how Lillee and co treated Sunil Gavaskar and the so many other instances. The gold medal retort goes to Sarwan of WI, when McGrath got it royally from him... the Aussies and their racist crowds deserve what they are getting now and they are not man enough to take it... Roebuck, as someone else reminded, was all for Indian team packing up after Sydney. Now, he suddenly takes an about turn - so much for his credibility. I hope the Aussies have learnt a bitter lesson and forget their idiotic mind games now on.

  • sam on January 30, 2008, 11:22 GMT

    Peter Roebuck is a straight firing Englishman known for his fearless cricket comments. For more than a century, the center of gravity of what is right was heavily leaning towards light colour as opposed to black or brown. The justice was heavily "whitened" as much as they liked, truth was whatever they wanted to dish out, not what really was. They rarely faced what justice really is as they always decided what was suitable for them first and then called it "justice" either by force or by coercion. Not surprisingly thus, the Aussies do not like the verdict which is now dragged down to its proper center of gravity, by the Indian Rupee. If their coercion was right for 200 years why would it not be right once in 2008, Sir? I understand it is a hard and bitter lump to swallow, but I am sure those who are now falling in the receiving end will get used to it eventually. Let Cricket be "free at last"

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