January 07, 2008

Testing times

Time for a little sanity. Or something.

  • If Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly had not been given out to atrocious decisions, India would probably have drawn the Test. Dravid's catch wasn't a catch, period. Ganguly's catch was impossible for an on-field umpire to have seen properly, but the reason it was an atrocious decision was not that the catch was iffy -- plenty of catches are -- but that umpire Benson chose to ask Ricky Ponting what he thought, and based his decision on that. I'm not conversant enough with rules for umpires, but it seems to me that there's a general principle: when there's a doubt, the benefit goes to the batsman. If Mark Benson had doubts about the catch, his immediate decision should have been "not out".

  • If Andrew Symonds, in particular, had been declared out to a catch behind the stumps, India would have probably won the match. (This simple metric is one indication: the number of runs Symonds went on to score after that is about the margin of victory).

    For this cricket fan, these are the only incidents that had bearing on the match, and these are the ones that deserve protesting. Therefore, I think it is right to ask that Bucknor step down from umpiring the next Test.

    As for the rest:

    If Harbhajan made those remarks, he deserves the consequent punishment. There is an appeals process, and it can and must be followed. But if he made them, and gets a fair hearing, and is determined to have done so by the people concerned, I have no quarrel with the punishment. (And no quarrel with him being let off, if in the appeal it is decided he did not make the remarks).

    There is precedent: the Australian batsman Darren Lehmann was similarly banned, for five matches, for his racist remarks in Sri Lanka in 2003.

    Yet I am somewhat bewildered at the reactions to this that I've run into in about an hour of surfing and newspaper-scanning. This is a matter of our national honour, people say; the BCCI statement indicates it is a slur on every Indian. There have been calls to remind Australia of that old chestnut, their "convict past". Etc.

    Why? In what sense is it a slur on me, or on other Indians? When a given Indian shouts abuse at someone else -- something that happens every minute of every day, I'm sure -- and is pulled up for it, why on earth should I feel offended? Or you? What national honour is involved here?

    And what bearing does the "convict past" have on this? Does it lessen Harbhajan's punishment? Increase his chances of getting off? Make his remarks any more acceptable or palatable?

    The only aspect of this episode that I find sad is that the Australian players chose to take it to the so-called "higher authorities". This is something that Ponting, Kumble, Symonds and Harbhajan should have sat down and talked about, acrimoniously if necessary, and settled. Sportsmen get angry and heated on the field, and say and do things they probably regret later (as Lehmann regretted his remarks). Those things should be resolved among themselves.

    Go on to Perth, would be my advice. If this Test showed anything, it showed that this Indian team has the heart and ability to come back from a pitiful loss (the first Test) and not just compete, but come close to winning. Go to Perth, play hard, and win. That's the best possible comeback to this dismal fiasco.

    Anonymous said...

    how come the views of the aussie players were considered by the match referee, but those of indians were not, in absence of any views from the two neutral people, viz. the umpires on the field who had denied hearing anything racist from the player...
    it was a trial, and each side will argue that its version is the correct one, but in the absence of any audio evidence how can mike procter hand out a ban to bajji???
    let's see what the appeal turns up...

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I feel similarly.

    You are right to separate the umpiring debacle and the racism accusation as two separate things.

    It is quite silly and outrageous for the Indian media and the BCCI to take on some kind of "moral high ground" and call it an issue of "national honour". Rather we should be self-critical and recognize racism when it happens, no matter who the perpetrator may be. It is furthermore ironic and shameful that the target happens to be Andrew Symonds, a man with aborigine roots and whose people have been targets of racism for centuries from white colonists, just like Indian people have. This is our shared history, for goodness sakes...

    The attempted watering down by Indian authorities that "monkey" is not a racist term, is pathetic. Also pathetic was the crowd behavior in the various games in India (the "monkey chants") and
    the subsequent denial by the Indian authorities.

    We shouldn't let millionaire Indian players and authorities use "national honour" as an excuse to get away with their shoddy and classless behavior.

    Vivek Kumar said...


    Why do you think India should continue playing on this tour?

    What possible gains are there for Indian cricket be had in playing against a bunch of players who resorted to every dirty trick in the book (written mostly by their own teams over the years) and blatant cheating the moment India started showing some class, in the pursuit of a fairly meaningless record?

    Unless you had some compelling reasons, would you go ahead and conduct a business deal with a person who has a reputation for cheating, has cheated you in the past, and has cheated you even in the last deal you made despite having a gentlemen's agreement to not do so?

    I am not trying to be sarcastic, and I am far from being a jingoist, but I really don't see why this tour has to continue.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    vivek #1 (sorry if you're the same as #2): how can there be audio evidence? Why should we expect it? In court cases judges have to decide guilt based on the evidence that has been presented, and often it is circumstantial. Proctor listened to both sides and made up his mind.

    The Harbhajan thing is, peculiarly enough, what seems to have got the BCCI and everyone else more riled (rather than the other incidents). Why? I don't find it hard to believe that Harbhajan used some strong language -- not because I think he is some foul-mouthed character, but because sportsmen, in intense competition, do it. Slater did it, McEnroe did it, I've personally seen a once-top-ranked Indian tennis player do it in a minor tournament, Sarwan did it ... plenty of examples.

    Vivek #2: why do I believe the tour should go on? Plenty of reasons. First, we went there to play cricket. Second, I'm tired of a game being turned into a national disaster (one indication: amid all the cricket news on the front pages I checked, I nearly missed the item about rioting in my own city). Third, by pulling out, we seem like as graceless losers as the Australian team was graceless in victory. Fourth, I've always believed that the best response to adversity and criticism is not to withdraw, but to prove yourself: as strong as this Australian team is, I think the Indians showed in this Test that they have the stuffing to compete and win. Fifth, I am addicted to the whole spectacle of Test cricket, and I want to see more of it, not less.

    I realize the players there in Oz probably feel differently, but those are my reasons.

    As for dirty tricks, actually I have little problem with that. Sure, it's nice if a guy walks, or shows some sportsmanship. But appealing for a decision is part of the game of cricket (almost uniquely). I don't think there's a single bowler in the world, for example, who can honestly claim he has appealed for lbw decisions only when he is absolutely certain it's out. Or that he has never appealed when he's absolutely certain it's not out. Especially as you get close to a victory, you will likely appeal every time the ball even brushes the pads, in the hope that the umpire might raise his finger.

    Similarly with marginal catches.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    An addition to the above: what amazes me is that Ponting does not seem able to see any problem in the situation. He does not comprehend the hurt and anger -- not in far off India, but in the players on the team he has been competing against. How much more of a man he would be if he acknowledged what has caused that anger and sat down with Kumble and others to address it.

    Pride swallows perspective, yet again.

    asuph said...


    I think you're missing the point wrt foul play. Sure bowlers make idiotic appeals. But then they're not asked whether it's out, if umpire is unsure. Same with bat and pads and what not. Here there was a pact. And it was broken. Plain and simple. If I were match referee I'd pull in Ponting and Clarke for disciplinary hearing, as much I would all the three umpires. Failing that, it's hard for any team to play on. What's the point? This hasn't been the first time. Neither this will be the last, unless some stern action is taken. It's what you are asking of Indian team to do which has been our problem. We're doing that, like Gandhians, and that's why we're where we are. It's time to put the foot down and say enough is enough.

    asuph said...

    Curiously, you believe Bhajji's is guilty because of there is no reason why he couldn't have said that? Sure, if Bhajji said it, especially after the history, he must sit out. I'm all for that. But did he? And is Symond's testimony enough? (Ponting and co being as far away as umpires). Could it be that he misheard something? Why is accuser's word believed and not that of the accused? What is the circumstantial evidence here? If Symond expects to get a justice because of history of racism, then what about the other silent racism in cricket for all these years? Why do you want to underplay one as a one-off, it-happens-in-sports situation while the other as a racial attack?

    Anonymous said...

    circumstantial evidence, which has been garnered by a proper investigating agency,(in this case the neutral umpires), would have held up against bhajji...
    but circumstantial evidence arrived at by the judge(proctor in this case), taking into consideration past conduct on part of the player involved, is something open to questioning...
    i dont know if proctor was officiating in that series too, but if he wasn't, he cant and shouldn't have taken bhajji's previous conduct for the case at hand...

    i m a different vivek...not the same as vivek kumar...

    Anonymous said...

    audio evidence has been taken into account in previous disputes...audio comes from the stump cam...

    Vivek Kumar said...


    When I asked for your reasons, I meant reasons for Indian Cricket, not for yourself. We all have our personal reasons for wanting one thing or the other, but that's neither here nor there.

    But what you said is interesting too. Your personal reasons are not conditional upon anything. Does that mean that you would want the tour to continue if, say, the same things were to happen once again in the next Test as well? After all, every single one of your reasons would continue to hold.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    asuph, when the umpire asked Ponting, that was an absurd thing for the umpire to do. That by itself was not a violation of the pact, as you seem to indicate it was.

    You're not going to stamp out marginal calls and attempts to cheat in any game, however stern the action is. It's the nature of people playing sport. (Hey, I've done it, playing tennis). That's why you have umpires. That ump should never have asked Ponting, period.

    Please read what I wrote. Did I say I believe Harbhajan is guilty? I said if he gets a fair hearing and is determined to have made them, I have no quarrel with the punishment. I have no interest in prior histories or the history of racism. If I was Mike Proctor, and this complaint was brought to me, I'd have no choice but to do what he did: listen to both sides, ask for whatever evidence they want to present, and make a decision. That's what a referee is there for.

    To me, the Harbhajan incident is far less important than the rest, yet it amazes me that it's that that seems to have inflamed people (and the BCCI) more.

    Finally, Gandhi did "put the foot down and say enough is enough."

    Vivek K: I believe if the Indians won the next Test, that would shut the Australians up and force them to clean up their act -- i.e. focus on cricket. That's the way when you lose. That's one more reason to continue playing.

    asuph said...


    My bad. I read this out of context:

    "I don't find it hard to believe that Harbhajan used some strong language -- not because I think he is some foul-mouthed character, but because sportsmen, in intense competition, do it"

    So I apologize for the wrong accusation.

    You say:

    "You're not going to stamp out marginal calls and attempts to cheat in any game, however stern the action is"

    That's not a given. That's a POV. I guess we have to agree to disagree on that. When you don't punish the bullies ever, they don't stop bending rules. If it weren't for Australian board's strong signal to the players, you wouldn't have seen this silent (relatively, of course) Australian lineup in the first place.

    Irrespective of the "logic" of umpire asking Ponting, it was decided that when in doubt on close catches, fielder's word would count. I cannot help but see this as being a pact broken. The pact only comes into picture when the umpire asks, so asking why umpire asked him doesn't change the equation. They could have said, not sure.

    wrt to Bhajji's ban, when I asked what about the racism by ICC all these years. I don't mean that as a justification for what Bhajji allegedly did. What I mean is, when it keeps on hurting you on every tour like this, in every which way, do we say "enough" or just keep on hoping that things will transform magically? Would Dean Jones have lost the contract if he weren't on Air?

    And can a decision as big as this be made on "he said, and I believe him?". Does hearsay qualify as evidence?

    Taken in isolation every single thing might seem trivial, but the pattern is too sinister.


    Dilip D'Souza said...

    asuph, quick reply before I lose web access for a couple days (I think, I hope to be wrong):

    I didn't say "don't punish the bullies" either. Of course punish them. But don't expect just such punishment and rules to stamp out attempts to cheat in any sport. Look at the risks Hingis, Canas, Armstrong, Flo-Jo, Ben Johnson and so many others have taken with taking drugs.

    I repeat, that's why you have umpires.

    If "it was decided that when in doubt on close catches, fielder's word would count", meaning if that was the pact, then what's the argument all about -- the fielder's (Clarke's) word was taken and it counted!

    No, the problem was that the umpire asked Ponting, which he had no business doing. The umpire is party no no such pact, and should not be. He has to take decisions on his own. If he had on his own given Ganguly out, I would have been far less troubled -- annoyed because it was a wrong decision, but that's all. It's that he went up to ask Ponting -- seems to me a clear violation of umpiring rules -- that worries me.

    As for a sinister pattern, I'm not one for conspiracies, so all I can say is, I don't see a sinister pattern.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    By the way, I also don't find it hard to believe that Hogg made whatever remarks he is supposed to have made.

    Now that he's been charged, if he's found guilty and suspended for some duration, I hope Indians and the BCCI react just as angrily and strongly to that as they have to Harbhajan's decision.

    Anonymous said...

    I'm following with some interest, the discussion but Dilip,please clarify your statement:

    ---- Finally, Gandhi did "put the foot down and say enough is enough."

    which seems to run counter to your advice in the post and this thread.


    Dilip D'Souza said...

    I realize this is off the topic, but anyway: Gandhi's message, despite what half-men politicians today try to say, was hardly that you should keep absorbing punishment. It was this: use the political weapons you have, use your strengths, to achieve your aims. In that sense, I've always thought Gandhi was a master politician, besides being courageous in a way we have forgotten.

    Anonymous said...

    Sorry, just wanted to clarify what ramkum said. Andrew Symonds is NOT an aborigine. His biological father was a West Indian, while his biological mum was English. His adapted parents were both English.