Handled the Ball is back!
We've been brought out of our hibernation by the countless ludicrous scenarios that have been played out in this summer's contests between India and Australia. And whatever you think about the individual (or collective) combatants, there is only one loser, the great game of cricket. Corny as that sounds, the face of cricket has changed this summer, and not in its best interests.
For now we have entered an era of the game where its future and direction is determined by cricket boards with money. At least in the old days when the old men of Lords with the mustard striped ties were running the show, we knew they had the best interests of the game at hand - as out of touch as they sometimes were.
The players are also to blame - running around like prima-donnas - but we'll get to that.
In the 80s when World Series Cricket was born, no one playing cricket was being paid. It was what cricket needed - money talked but so did boards and governments and after some time, the game was better for it. It may be hindsight talking, but the revolution ended up bringing better conditions and more opportunities to players and administrators. Fast forward to 2008. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has rapidly become, on the back of 1 billion passionate cricket supporters and countless sponsorship deals, the richest body in world cricket. This in itself is not a bad thing. However, when a board with money threatens to pull out of tour when it does not get its own way, threatens the livelihood of the game in another country because of lost revenue, and gets a foreign player's international contract torn up, we really must wonder where the game is heading. As opposed to World Series Cricket, no one would argue these are good things. There were three incidents that particularly hurt the game recently:
The "Monkey Row" and player behaviour
If you are interested in cricket and have not been living under a rock, you could not have missed this story. Harbhajan Singh allegedly called Andrew Symonds, Australia's only black player, a "monkey" during the Sydney test. Following this, on the basis of a few Australian players' words, he was banned for three games. Watch the video here.
The BCCI, having already cried foul about the spirit of cricket during the Test match (see below), promptly said that they would pull out of the tour if the decision was not reversed. Now, the BCCI has every right to appeal - sport these days is a business and as such is subject the civil and criminal laws. And indeed, the initial verdict was a bad one given that there was no evidence. But since when, if things don't go your way, are you allowed to take your bat and ball and go home? Even the Bodyline series was completed!
So to the appeal, and apparently the BCCI had a chartered plane ready to take the players home if they didn't get the verdict they wanted. Cricket Australia for their part feared it would be sued for $60 million if India quit the tour. Was the new decision ever in doubt? The ICC court found Harbhajan guilty of offensive language, but not of racial vilification.
So what did he say? He apparently said something offensive to be fined half his match fee. Is "monkey" not a racial term but simply an offensive one? I have been called worse on the field by my own team mates. Or did he say "maa ki", which is Punjabi abuse? If so, Symonds would not even understand the abuse and it could hardly be offensive.
Or was he, as the Australian Indian Community allege, in the heat of battle, actually praising Symonds? It's worth reading their statement:
United Indian Association President Raj Natarajan:
"Considering that the “Monkey God” is one of the revered idols of Hindu mythology and worshipped by millions, it is surprising it was considered a racist term. Even more surprising is that the word “monkey” is considered by the match referee serious enough to slap a three match ban on Harbhajan Singh. Many other more unsavoury words exchanged on the field go un-noticed."
There is a humourous and scientific take on this (so it appealed to me) here
The whole thing is ridiculous. Apparently Harbhjan is from a humble background and is an upstanding young man. But I would love to know what he said. It was offensive, sounded a lot like monkey, but wasn't racist. Racial vilification needs to be stamped out of all society, not only cricket. Everyone says stupid things on the field - and most of the time the actual players are not offended. But it is abhorrent in all society that someone should turn to racist words when in the heat of battle - that these are the words in your grabbag. These players are seen by billions each day - they should behave accordingly. I think the way the Australians behave a lot of the time is awful too (we'll get to that....) but this is not the point. The BCCI has got their outcome by flexing their financial muscles - we have a ludicrous outcome where Harbhjan has been found to have said something offensive - probably monkey - but not been punished accordingly. At least Darren Lehmann, when he went on his tirade against the Sri Lankans, admitted it and took it on the chin. The BCCI should be as against racism as the rest of society.
According to Tendulkar, Symonds misheard Harbhajan - but apparently it was still offensive. Gimme a break....
Which brings me to the behaviour of the Aussies. I think Australia lost their way on the field after Mark Taylor. Just because Steve Waugh redefines sledging as "mental disintegration" doesn't make it OK - likewise, simply because they have a Code of Conduct doesn't mean Ricky Ponting and team are pillars of virtue. Simply because Gilly walks doesn't mean every time he appeals he is right. The Australians sledge too much and, as many Indian readers have pointed out in newspapers, can't take it when they get it back. Remember McGrath and Chanderpaul?
McGrath: What does Lara's c*ck taste like?
Chanderpaul: Ask your wife
McGrath was livid and ugly. His reaction, mainly due to the fact his wife was sick, was outrageous, especially given he was so comprehensively outpointed in the sledge department by Chanderpaul. I personally think we should fine players and suspend them for the stuff they get up to. And Ponting should stop talking to umpires.
But this is not the point here. Racial vilification is a definite no. The result of all this is very very bad for cricket. The BCCI should have had more moral strength and not have been so cowardly. The ICC should have had the balls to stand up to the BCCI. And all the players should just shut-up.
The second black mark against the BCCI is their directing of the ICC to get rid of Steve Bucknor after a number of poor decisions in Sydney. Since when does a board have this power? In cricket, the umpire it always right. It is one of the pillars of the game. You can't complain when a few decisions go against you. Does the BCCI not remember pretty much every foreign tour before independent umpires where introduced? The number of tours that would have abandoned because of bad umpires....
You can not threaten to leave a country on this basis. Also, the umpires should have handled the Sydney Test much better. In my opinion, it was their fault that the match got out of hand. They should have gone to the third umpire on catches and been consistent, they should have calmed the players down, and they should have shut Ponting up. Clarke of course should have walked too.
Oh well, if India do leave, then perhaps CA should invite Shane Bond over for a few games. He's had his contract torn up by the New Zealand Cricket Board because he had signed on to play with the new Indian Cricket League, even though it had previously said it was OK to do so. His original contract with New Zeland Cricket allowed him to play for third parties when his NZC commitments allowed. Three months ago Bond sought and was granted consent by NZC to sign with the ICL in line with his playing contract. He also ensured his ICL contract released him for international duties if required.
So why was he sacked? Well, have a think... NZC is concerned about loosing money if the BCCI take a stand against them, given that the ICL is not sanctioned by the BCCI. So, NZC caved, simply because Bond was going off to play in a competition that the BCCI did not sanction. I hope that Bond takes NZC to court as this is ridiculous, unfare, and deprives us of seeing one of the world's best bowlers in action.
OK, rant over. I seriously hope that this situation improves soon. The next World Cup is in 2011, where? The sub-continent. The rotation basis for the World Cup meant that it was to come to Australia and New Zealand, but oh, that's right. Money.
Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Handled the Ball is back!