January 10, 2008

Sydney Test fallout: ICC Sitting On Top Of A Dormant Volcano

By H Natarajan

Steve Bucknor may have been replaced and peace may have been bought, but to imagine that all’s well that end’s well would be naïve. The pusillanimity of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) and its failure to progress with times has brought up a situation from where it had to take some terrible decisions that has fearful ramifications in the times ahead. The decision could be particular hurtful as other teams could cite the precedence to demand change of unacceptable umpires in the midst of a series.

This is not to condone Bucknor. His inglorious past while officiating in India’s matches is too well documented and the ICC should have kept him away from the high voltage series. In the days when Tests were officiated by home umpires, the element of bias was had reached epidemic proportions towards the end of that era. But since the dawn of neutral umpiring, no team has suffered as much and as regularly as India from Bucknor. The litany against him is comparable to some of the diabolical and dark days of matches umpired by home umpires.

The BCCI has also not crowned itself with glory. It may be relieved that it did not have to take the popular - but extreme - step of calling of the tour if the impasse persisted. Such a decision may have pleased the angry masses in India, but a pull-out would have turned world opinion against India. But what would be interesting to know is: Did the BCCI object to Bucknor’s appointment in the first place?

Bucknor may have paid the price for his collective ‘sins’, but it was Mark Benson who was in reality the bigger culprit of the two umpires in the Sydney Test. Benson, who played one Test against India Kapil Dev’s Indian touring Indians in 1986, messed up with even the basics while ruling Sourav Ganguly out. Instead of consulting his square-leg colleague and then the third umpire, Benson thought it fit to make Ponting the deciding authority and then relay the Australian captain’s verdict to Ganguly! It was a shocker. Yet, Benson has gone relatively unscathed.

While there may be an uneasy calm about the umpiring row, the Harbhajan Singh fracas is far from resolved. Clearly justice has not seen to be done. Match referee Mike Procter indicted Harbhajan of racial slur despite not getting conclusive evidence to nail the off-spinner. It was purely the words of the Australians against the Indians – obviously contradicting each other. Yet, Procter, in his wisdom, chose to take the words of Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke – two men whose honesty lay open to question by their decisions to stay rooted after fully knowing they were out – over Sachin Tendulkar, someone whose conduct, honesty and stature has been exemplary right through his cricketing career. The implied message of the match referee was damning.

The fact that Ranjan Madugulle has been called in by the ICC to cool down tempers between the two teams underline Procter’s inability as a Match referee. Why should Procter continue if he is found wanting? Procter has now twice in recent times been at the centre of huge controversies – the Oval Test where Pakistan conceded the match being the other.

"The whole issue has gotten out of hand. It should have been dealt with then and there by the match referee," Malcolm Speed said after the unfortunate and unprecedented turn of events in the Oval Test. Procter has bungled again. The ICC may not want to vitiate the already messed up atmosphere and has quietly appointed a “Super Referee’ over the Match Referee. Third umpire to help on-field umpires and now a super referee to help the Match Referee! Ridiculous.

Procter’s sense of fairplay and justice is extremely questionable. He had once banned Rashid Latif and explained his decision by saying: “As captain, a lot of responsibility falls of Rashid Latif and he committed a serious offence by claiming that (unfair) catch which constitutes unfair play and a level-three offence of ICC code of conduct. Therefore, the Pakistani captain shall be banned for five One-Day Internationals." If Procter had applied the same logical thought process, the Australian captain should have copped it as well. Instead, it’s Harbhajan who was nailed without incontrovertible proof.

Coming back to the allegations against Harbhajan, even if he did call Symonds “monkey”, would that constitute racial abuse? Indians, in fact, consider Hanuman as their God. I guess school teachers around the world would hereafter be cautious in admonishing naughty children and not say, “Stop monkeying around,” for being of being hauled up for racial abuse!

It would be interesting to see what the verdict would be against Brad Hogg who, the Indians claimed, called Kumble a “b*****d”. To most right-minded people, questioning the legitimacy of someone’s parentage is far more offensive than calling somebody names like monkey or donkey. Will Hogg cop a suitable punishment or would he been seen as more equal than others as seems the case with the Australians as a team?

Peter Roebuck, the former Somerset captain and arguably the most cerebral and unbiased of modern cricket writers, wrote in his column in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Ricky Ponting must be sacked as captain of the Australian cricket team. If Cricket Australia cares a fig for the tattered reputation of our national team in our national sport, it will not for a moment longer tolerate the sort of arrogant and abrasive conduct seen from the captain and his senior players over the past few days. Beyond comparison it was the ugliest performance put up by an Australian side for 20 years…. Ponting has presided over a performance that dragged the game into the pits. He turned a group of professional cricketers into a pack of wild dogs. As much can be told from the conduct of his closest allies in the team.” Roebuck was the most scathing among many Australian writers who slammed their cricket team and captain. Polls conducted in Australia show that an overwhelming majority want Ponting sacked. But Cricket Australia has surprisingly defended Ponting and his men by calling the team “tough and uncompromising”. That CA is in minority can be gauged by the fact that even the normally slow to react ICC asked Cricket Australia to check Ponting and his men.

Ponting has long been captain and should have acquired the necessary maturity and diplomacy that is needed of a national captain. He could well learn a thing or two from Anil Kumble in decorum, public conduct and statesmanship. A captain is not merely leading a team; he has a responsibility towards his country as well. Kumble showed remarkable foresight and offered Ponting the chance not to allow matters to deteriorate by pursuing the Harbhajan controversy. Ponting refused and allowed matters to precipitate to an extend that it threatened the very cricketing future between the two nations.

A great Test match has been ruined by Oscar-winning theatrics of players whose desire to win at all costs has seen them come across as extremely poor role models. The ICC and the national cricket boards have a duty towards the masses. By allowing blatant acts of lies by players they are endorsing a despicable trait and allowing a generation of young minds to be corrupted by poor values that no parent would like to see in their children. The time to act is now.


At 2:18 am, Blogger Soulberry said...

Couldn't agree more with you.

The spin-off from all this, if the game of cricket is smart, is 1) sharper ICC scrutiny of its employees, 2) enabling umpires with technology 3) wiser boards in pre-series arrangements 4)greater value to feedback forms 5) sledgeing will have to float gentler around the cricket fields.


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