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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2368

La’ Affaire Harbhajan

By Tushar Charan - Syndicate Features

La affaire Harbhajan might have come to an end after the ICC-appointed Appeals Commissioner, New Zealander John Hansen overturned the three Test ban on the Indian off spinner while awarding him a ‘lesser’ punishment of imposing a fine of half his match fee. Yet, it may be too early to believe that the ugly fall-out of the incident or incidents during the third cricket Test between India and Australia at Sydney will be quickly erased from memory.

Cricketing bodies everywhere need to sit together urgently to go to the root of the problem that leads to the kind of bitterness witnessed in Sydney. The top of the agenda should be an agreement to stop players from using provocations against adversaries in any form, be it through abusive language or aggressive body language or vulgar gestures, during the course of a match.

This business of ban or suspension from matches is a bit weird. In football or hockey, for instance, a player found guilty of a very serious infringement of the rules of the game is ordered off the field. Not only the player but his team is also chastised instantly. The idea behind that kind of rigorous punishment seems to be that not only the player concerned but his team should also know that no one can get away with serious breach of the playing rules on the field. In cricket, no matter how serious the charge against the player, he gets the punishment after the match.

That the unpleasantness from Sydney may be far from over became clear from the vile reaction among the Australian cricketers and the media. In no uncertain terms the Australians were upset because the serious charge of ‘racism’ against Harbhajan Singh had not been upheld only because, in their opinion, the Indian cricket board had used its financial muscle to get a diluted verdict. If the furious Australians could help it they would have settled for nothing less than a life ban, not just three Test ban on the Indian bowler.

In contrast to the Australian shenanigans, the reaction in India was generally sober. Perhaps that was only to be expected as it was a big relief for everyone in the country to see that the absurd charge of ‘racism’ against Harbhajan had fallen through. If, as the Australians said, the Indian cricket board was able to influence the verdict because of its financial clout not many in India would resent it. After all, a country like India hardly has for long been denied any say in running the affairs of cricket and other sport, including hockey where the country had reigned supreme for more than a decade. A feeling exists in India that the sporting administration in world is still largely controlled by the developed ‘white’ world.

The disparity in the views expressed in India and Australia over the Harbhajan verdict may come to the fore again when the Australians visit India later this year, as scheduled. One of the matches they will be playing in India will in all probability be played at Mohali in Punjab, which is bound to attract a big contingent from nearby Jalandhar, hometown of Harbhajan. How this group will behave is not difficult to imagine, considering that the people in Punjab and Jalandhar in particular were deeply hurt when the Australians branded Harbhajan a ‘racist’ on the totally imaginary ground that he had described the Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds a ‘monkey.’

The hosts may do their best to keep the crowds within the bounds of decency, but how successful their efforts will be cannot be said if the people remain charged. Arguably, the people can be expected to mellow between now and year-end. That should lessen the chances of a repeat of the infamous ‘monkey’ chant heard in Mumbai when the Australians had plated there in 2007.

Trouble with the Australians is that the only way they like to play their cricket is through aggression. Their ‘killer’s instinct’ comes from sledging, which is constant flow of expletives and abuses against rival players in order to distract them. Before they land in Mohali, the Australians, some of them richer with Indian contracts, would have given enough demonstration of their vituperative power.

And not just on the field. They would have, as is always the case with visiting ‘white’ teams, they would have blasted the ‘heat’ in India, the ‘disagreeable’ and ‘unhygienic’ food, the mayhem on the streets and ‘unsporting’ crowds and so on. All this is old hat and Indians have not paid much attention to these issues, which are not really justified. But bad words spoken by Australians will be in danger of reviving the Sydney memories, at least in Punjab.

If it is part of the ‘culture’ of the ‘macho’ Australian cricketers to show off their aggression that to others looks offending and repulsive why can’t they put up with retaliation in kind? Is it because the Australians have come to believe that they are invincible and they cannot face the prospect of defeat, as no cricketing team in the world should even entertain the thought of beating them?

Cricket is certainly a game of fluctuating fortunes and uncertainties, though there can be no doubt that for long the Australian team has looked the best in the world. But the Australians would have to be super humans to think that they would remain unbeatable for all time to come. There are many, not just in India, who believe that the Sydney Test that India had lost could have ended differently had it not been for some remarkable inapt umpiring.

Cricket may not exactly be called a gentlemen’s game today since the original allusion was not to courteous on-field behaviour by the men in flannels but their privileged background. The Australians could well say in their defence that they were the victims of some boorish behaviour by their rivals during the ‘bodyline’ series which saw the head of the greatest cricketer of all times, Sir Donald Bradman, being picked as the regular target for the English fast bowlers in the pre-War Test series played down under.

It is interesting that the cricketing authorities have put a brake on intimidating tactics by fast bowlers by limiting the number of bouncers and banning beamers, but not enough attention has been paid to curb the now widespread practice of sledging or abusive on field exchanges by players.

Even the use of stump microphones, which can pick up the players’ conversation, has failed to subdue the more vocally aggressive players. It can be said that the stump mike may have prevented the Sydney fracas had Harbhajan used an English expletive, understood by the match referee who clearly took a one-sided decision at Sydney, South African Mike Proctor, and the Australians, instead of a ‘racist’ word. But that is condoning free flow of four-letter words in a ‘gentlemen’s game’.

- Syndicate Features -

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