Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Jai Hanuman !!

One of the most controversial and exciting Test series in recent times concluded a few days back. While the clash between the top 2 ranked cricket teams in the world, Australia and India, lived up to the expectation of a combative on-field contest, some other unforeseen "Monkey" business that transpired on the field has left the entire cricket fraternity befuddled. I had been itching to write about the series for a while, but decided to wait it all the fun was over before posting my thoughts. I will take all the "hot" topics one by one.

Preparing for the worst
No one in the world with the slightest knowledge of the game would have concurred with the tour itinerary agreed upon by BCCI for this test series. Having only one warm up game before taking on the World Champions in their own den was almost as daft a decision as going out to bat against Brett Lee with no protective gear. It was bound to hurt India. Like countless decisions in the past, the bosses of the richest cricket board in the world proved that they know absolutely nothing about the game, with this decision. And what's worse, is that they don't seem to give a damn about it either. For long, the BCCI has been treating Indian cricket as a caged animal in a zoo, using it to rake in as much moolah as possible, while never caring for it's well being. The trend started during the Dalmiya era has only got worse in the current regime. Indian cricket has been doing well, not because of the board, but inspite of it.

Buck-was Umpiring
It can be safely said that the umpiring during the Sydney Test was one of the worst seen in recent times. While it is true that the recent advances in technology have exposed the umpires like never before, some of the erroneous decisions made during the test were even apparent to the naked eye. It was harsh in Bucknor to be removed from the subsequent test match, but most people know that his umpiring has been on the down slide over the last few years. As Bob Willis mentions in this article, Steve Bucknor is really past his prime, and at 61 years of age, should retire before he faces further embarrassment on the field.

ICC is not helping matters by having only 10 members in the elite panel, and making them travel for more than half of the year around the world. Every test match is umpired by two members of the elite panel not belonging to either playing nations, and every ODI by one of them. An umpire's job is almost as hard as the players themselves, as they need to be on the field for the entire duration of the match, and need to concentrate on each and every ball. They need to be physically fit and mentally sharp at all times. Hence, over work can easily lead to umpiring errors, like the ones seen in Sydney. The ICC needs to seriously contemplate increasing the number of umpires in the elite panel, so that they travel less, and stay fresh for the matches they officiate in. I also feel that the ICC look at inducting younger umpires into the panel, given the fact that the two best umpires on the panel, Simon Taufel and Aleem Dar, are also the youngest of the lot.

Andrew Symonds believes Harbhajan called him a "Monkey", and hence, he is a racist. Now while it will never be proven if Harbhajan actually called him a "Monkey", or if he was just abusing him with the common Punjabi slur "Teri Maa Ki", this incident should be looked in the light of many other facts, which have been conveniently ignored by most of the Aussie media.

Andrew Symonds has himself admitted to justice Hansen that it was he who started the confrontation by hurling abuses (including the F**** word, which might be a standard part of Australian vocabulary[1][2][3], but is not acceptable to any civilised Indian) towards Harbhajan, that prompted him to get back with his own slur. While Mr. Mike Proctor, who had previously distinguished himself in another tricky situation at the Oval in 2006, turned a blind eye towards this, thankfully, the New Zealand Judge Mr. Hansen did not.

Symond's justifies his abuse at Harbhajan saying that his friendly tap on Brett Lee's back saying "Well Bowled", was not acceptable, since "a test match is no place to be friendly with an opposition player" is as ludicrous as it gets [full text of judgement], since it would also qualify this

as unacceptable. If Symonds had been in Tendulkar's place, he would probably have abused Brett Lee in return for this gesture. I guess it is the Aussie way to return innocuous gestures with verbal abuse, as reflected here.

As many an expert has pointed out, the Aussies have been the worst sledgers in world cricket for decades, and have even been accused of racist comments[4][5][6]. While they like to hurl the foulest of language at opponents, they do not like it one bit when they get it back in kind. I guess they think asking one opposing player what his team mate's d**k tastes like[7][8] and spitting on opponents is fine, but "so called" racism isn't? The Australian media says that Harbhajan should know the word "Monkey" might be innocuous in India, but has serious racial connotations to Mr. Symonds. By the same yardstick, the Australians should also know that F*** and B****** are not words that Indians like to listen.

By the way, I felt the most interesting part of Justice Hansen's judgement was the following statement:- "Mr. Singh had innocently, and in the tradition of the game, acknowledged the quality of Mr. Lee’s bowling. That interchange had nothing to do with Mr. Symonds but he was determined to get involved and as a result was abusive towards Mr. Singh. Mr. Singh was, not surprisingly, abusive back. He accepts that his language was such as to be offensive under 2.8. But in my view even if he had used the words ’alleged’ an ’ordinary person’ standing in the shoes of Mr. Symonds who had launched an unprovoked and unnecessary invective laden attack, would not be offended or insulted or humiliated in terms of 3.3.”

One can only hope that the ugly incidents of Sydney and their aftermath, would make cricketers from all countries refrain from making personal abuse on the field of play in the future. It is also important that the on field umpires take charge of events, and proactively prevent such altercations, before things go out of hand (as suggested by Ian Chappell, who was one of the few Aussie commentators who looked at the whole issue without any bias).

The Sydney fiasco (questions on the Aussie sporting spirit, horrendous umpiring and the racism row), and the resultant bashing received by the Australian team [1][2][3] had placed the BCCI in a great position to drive home the advantage, and gain the moral high ground by a dignified and balanced stand on the issues. They botched a great chance of exposing the Australian hypocrisy, match referee's lopsided verdict and ICC's incompetence, by their own inept handling of the matter. The BCCI made a mockery of themselves dealing with the situation with the same political brinkmanship as would suit an Indian state assembly. So whats new, one could say, since Indian cricket is being run by politicians anyway.

Angry Young Men
The Aussie cricketers are apparently "angered" by justice Hansen's balanced verdict [1][2] on the matter, and say "...this shows how much influence India has, because of the wealth they generate. Money talks." I guess the appropriate way for them to register their protest is to refusing to endorse any Indian products and refusing to play in the IPL. Would they do this? Instead, they are now confronting their own board for a chance to participate.

अदम्य Gilchrist
The greatest wicket keeper batsman in the 130 year history of the game has decided to hang up his gloves (and squash balls too). While experts around the world have been talking about is fantastic feats with the bat and the gloves, I will always remember Gilly for being one of a few gentlemen among an otherwise uncouth and abrasive set of players. Gilchrist and Brett Lee are probably the only two in this golden generation of Aussie cricketers, who are equally loved through out the world, and not just in Australia. Most others like Steve Waugh, Shane Warne, Glenn Macgrath, Ricky Ponting, Mathew Hayden and Andrew Symonds, have not exactly distinguished themselves by their on field behaviour over the years.

Gilly was a unique cricketer in many ways. He was one of the quietest wicket keepers in the world, who would seldom utter more than a "Well bowled Warner" from behind the stumps. He was also one who almost never over appealed (this incident with Dravid being an exception, but I guess we can give him the benefit of the doubt here), was never involved in any major sledging incident, walked on most occasions and never once indulged in mind games with opposing teams by his remarks in the press. He was the epitome of the phrase "hard and fair".
We will miss you Gilly...

Final comments..
With all the controversies around the game, the media almost ignored the fact that this was probably the best test series played since Ashes 2005. As I had predicted last year, the simultaneous exit of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, has left a serious dent in the Aussie bowling armory. While Mitchel Johnson and Stuart Clark are more than competent bowlers at the international level, they are no match for Mcgrath. And with the ageing and inconsistent Hogg, and the injured McGill, the Australians will find it ever more difficult to dismiss opposing teams twice in a test match, specially away from home. Their repeated inability to get rid of tail enders quickly during the summer is an indication of the reduced sharpness in their attack. It can be fair to say that Brett Lee, who won the Man of the Series award in both series, has carried the attack on his shoulders. With Adam Gilchrist also leaving the scene, one can look forward to more competition from other sides to the aussie hegemony on the cricket field.

1 comment:

Nikhil Kulkarni said...

Classic post !!

Very well researched and as much well written - one of your best posts ever!

One aspect I missed is your analysis of Indian team's performance in the tour ...

But nevertheless - a very good post ...