One of the nicest cricketers in the game has made a huge call on Australian cricket and the way they play the game. After the Sydney Test match of the ongoing Australia v India match was over, it was nice to see Anil Kumble being gallant and gracious in defeat. Not that Channel-9 bothered with what the Indian captain thought. The normal prize-distribution ceremony was ditched in favour of random interviews with Australian players. Channel-9 cut to interviews with Michael Charke, Ricky Ponting and other Australians but did not once realise that there was another set of 11 other cricketers that played the game! They were so busy ejaculating in their intense excitement that they forgot that there was another team that had played! This was not just rude and ingracious, but irresponsible of the host broadcaster.
Perhaps Andrew Symonds needs to be reminded of his comments about appropriate post-victory celebrations?
However, Anil Kumble did make what I thought was the most telling comment of the night. In an almost verbatim quote that was taken straight out of Bodyline (and not used since), Anil Kumble said, “Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game, that’s all I can say“. That is an astonishing statement that is normally reserved for blogs and private opinion pieces. His statement is now ingrained in print as an indictment on Australian sport. This sound-byte will travel and will be imprinted, especially since it comes from one of the modern-day gentlemen of cricket.
This Indian cricket team contains, in Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman, four thorough gentlemen. When they speak, the world listens. That is because they have always played their cricket hard but fair. They have had a blemish-free career and to last 12-18 years in International cricket without a single blemish or black-mark against your name is a telling statistic. These awesome gentlement are true moder-day sports heros. Most other modern-day heroes (Ricky Ponting, Glen McGrath and Shane Warne included) have had run-ins and blemishes against their names. This foursome from India have to be saluted for the manner in which they have played the game. I would not include Sourav Ganguly in that same list because he has had his run ins with the law-makers as well as opposing captains.
Against this backdrop, the stament from Anil Kumble is a huge call in my books.
It is an imposing statement from a thorough sportsman and Australian cricket would do well to take notice of this harsh indictment. It would do no good for Ricky Ponting and the Australian governing authorities to bury their collective heads in the sand and be in denial. Australian sport needs to take a good, long, hard look at itself in the mirror and ask some searching questions. This was a scathing attack from a visiting captain who was, simultaneously, gracious in defeat. He had savaged his own batsmen with criticism for not lasting 72 overs on what was still a reasonable batting surface. After all, Kumble himself had hung around competently for 111 balls. It was after that when launched this scathing attack on Australian cricket. This wasn’t sour-grapes speak. This was a telling and timely assault on the Australian way of playing.
No one expects, not least Anil Kumble, that the Australians will walk when they snick the ball to the wicketkeeper (Ponting, Symonds, Hussey). I am most certain that that is not where Anil Kumble is coming from for he too often stands his ground until he is declared out by the umpire.
However, there were four glaring instances of bad sportsman-like behaviour, in my view.
- The Australians had appealed for a catch when they clearly must have known that it was not out (against Rahul Dravid in the second innings). A “nick” and an “off the pad” sound different.
- Ricky Ponting claimed a catch off M. S. Dhoni even though he must have known that he had grassed it! The fact that there was some doubt that the shot itself may not have come off the bat, is yet another matter.
- The Australians had claimed a bump-ball catch (Sourav Ganguly).
- And they had violated their own “what is said on the field is left on the field” mantra.
All of these are monumental acts of unsportsmanlike behaviour that does not sit easily on a champion team. In my eyes, Australia will never be a Champion cricket team. Roger Federer would never be this desperate to adopt any means in order to secure a win. Tiger Woods would never adopt any means in a desperate bid to win. The Australian cricket team does.
Anil Kumble will, almost certainly, scrap the pre-match understanding that he had with Ricky Ponting on accepting the fielders’ word when a tough catch is taken. Ponting can react angrily and testily and point to his own withdrawal of a bump-catch against Rahul Dravid in the first innings. However, this agreement covers the entire team. If Michael Clarke’s bump-ball catch to get rid of Sourav Ganguly yesterday was referred upstairs, it would have been given not out — although you could never place your money on it, with Australian Bruce Oxenberg at the controls!
And with the expected fallout from the ruling on the Harbhajan Singh incident, this series has just reached nuclear-fallout territory.
One of my sources close to the team has said that the team will run to Mike Proctor everytime an Australian crickter opens his mouth because of the filth and the nonsense that is heard. Already there are early indications that this would indeed happen, because Brad Hogg has been reported by the Indian team for calling an Indian player a “B**tard” which is supposedly “a derogatory term in India”.
We live in interesting times and it is certainly not because of the quality of the cricket.