May 01, 2008

Harbhajan & Sreesanth – Brothers in harm

H Natarajan

If Harbhajan Singh’s audacious assault on Sreesanth in full public view and before TV cameras exposed him as a spoilt brat, then the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) also stands culpable as an erring parent failing to reform a wayward child. The Board has not only been tolerant but, worse, defended the off-spinner’s outrageous behavior in the past.

Bhajji’s slap was not merely on Sreesanth but on the BCCI as well. Harbhajan, in turn, was ‘slapped back’ with a 11-Indian Premier League (IPL) match ban worth Rs 2.7 crore, but the BCCI could add a further five-Test or 10 One-day International (ODI) ban as per the ICC sanction, but who will chastise the BCCI for its own failure as a parent?

The late Hanumant Singh was the first to point a finger at Harbhajan’s misdemeanor by throwing him out – along with two others – of the National Cricket Academy. If Hanumant, suave, cultured and fair, could be provoked to take a tough action against a youngster, then it was an indication of the players’ indiscipline. The then NCA director NCA reportedly told a friend: “I would like to be proved wrong on this, but my experience says he (Harbhajan) will be an embarrassment to the nation.” Prophetic words.

Sreesanth may have subsequently called Harbhajan his ‘older brother’ and the off-spinner may have hugged his ‘younger brother’ at the hearing before the match referee. These histrionics were purely for the camera men – just like the Greg Chappell-Sourav Ganguly posings at the pool table in Zimbabwe. Make no mistake, the episode involving the two loose cannons will have a huge impact on the Indian team when the two share the same dressing room the next time they turn out next for a Test or ODl.

Harbhajan has his strong supporters within the team and they will certainly not take it kindly to the fact that it was Sreesanth’s provocation which triggered the ugly turn of events. Sreesanth is a known baiter, a habitual offender and someone who has scant respect for anybody (seniors or juniors, opposition or team-mates) when he is in the mood to show his abominable aggro – which is just about every time. Harbhajan may have copped the punishment, but it’s Sreesanth who is likely to face the heat of the Indian dressing room. I for one will not be surprised if he is treated like a pariah by his Indian team-mates.

Bhajji’s slap tore apart the façade of toughness that Sreesanth’s portrays on the field when he sobbed liked a child on copping it on the face.

It seems increasingly evident that quite a few in the present Indian team are unable to handle their instant fame and money and are acting in a fashion that’s unquestionably detrimental to the health of millions of impressionable young minds watching them on TV and at the grounds. The escalating rise in aggression, now leading to physical violence, is clearly getting out of hand. While nobody advocates Munnabhai-style Gandhigiri, no right-minded person would also like to see boorish behavior, totally alien to Indian culture. Players like Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid are tough blokes without finding the need to indulge in disgraceful antics like his doing pelvic-jigs, making faces that suit Ramsay’s horror films than a cricket field, or indulging in ridiculous theatrics – all of which the exhibitionist Sreesanth has been guilty of.
Sreesanth’s needling cannot be condoned and needs to be penalized with exemplary punishment. But there is no excuse for anybody – least of all a player with ten years international experience – to lose control of himself the way Harbhajan did. Bhajji’s act has weakened an already depleted Mumbai Indians. Worse, it has brought the team loads of negative publicity. Harbhajan is seen a publicity nightmare with Mumbai Indian getting rid of hoardings in which the off-spinner’s face appears.

Bhajji has shamed Indian cricket, brought ill-fame to the IPL, let down his team and, more importantly, his sponsors Reliance who have paid huge money to buy him. The slap on Sressanth was also a slap on the Indian Cricket Board which had gone to extraordinary lengths in defending him a few months back in Australia. One can imagine the repercussions internationally had the same offence been committed against, say, Ricky Ponting or, to turn the argument around, had Andrew Symonds slapped Harbhajan.

It would be safe to say that one has not heard the last on the fracas. The BCCI has appointed Sudhir Nanavati - a senior advocate of the Gujarat High Court and also the Chairman of the BCCI Finance Committee - to go into the matter. And if the commissioner does a good job, it would come as no surprise to see Sreesanth coming in for punishment as well to make an example out of him.

The BCCI, following the Harbhajan-Symonds flare-up, had advocated for a ban on sledging. Now that shit has hit the fan, the BCCI should take the kind of action that would deter potential from daring to cross the line that would bring the game into disrepute.

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