Daily Archives: 9 January 2008

The show must go on…

Television, Radios, print media and the blogosphere reporting on cricket have all been running full steam on umpiring decisions, the game being played in the right spirit, racial slurs, bans and the lot after the Sydney test. I thought I’d break the monotony with a post on actual cricket.

Australia lead the series 2-0 and the focus now shifts to the Perth test which starts in a week. The Australians dominated the MCG test and were the clear winners. It was a different story at the SCG. Although they won the SCG test, the match was very much in the open till the 5th day morning. To the credit of Hussey and Symonds, they batted India out of the game and by lunch time, only 2 results were possible – either an Australian win or a tame draw. If it hadn’t been for bad umpiring decisions through out the game and an Indian batting collapse on the final day, we could have had a very different result and the Indians can take some consolation from that.

For starters, the fab four – Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar and Ganguly were amongst the runs. Even more heartening was the fact that in Dravid’s second innings, he seemed to have lost the shackles that tied him down in the first innings and the first test. In the bowling department, RP Singh excelled in the first innings and troubled the batsmen even in the second. Ishant was a bit unlucky, but we really missed Zaheer Khan. Kumble as always was reliable and Harbhajan bowled much much better than the MCG test.

Ok – those were the positives;  what about the negatives? Wasim Jaffer has been really disappointing so far and in my opinion should make way for Sehwag. Yuvraj Singh is also completely out of sorts. He needs to make way for Pathan, which will give us the extra fast bowling option in Perth (I can’t even imagine going to Perth with just 2 fast bowlers!) If I were a selector, I wouldn’t pick Harbhajan Singh for Perth – but that is unlikely to happen (Apparently he is allowed to play until the appeal is hear). I also think it is unlikely that Pankaj Singh or VRV Singh will replace Ishant Sharma in the playing XI. We managed to take 17 Australian wickets but at a cost of 864 runs. Unless we get all twenty wickets at a much lower cost, India don’t stand a chance. The batsmen – particularly the big 4 will have to play well again. My guess is that Pathan, Pankaj Singh, VRV Singh and Sehwag will be given a chance to play in the 2-day tour game in Canberra, which starts tomorrow.

Of course, Australia start as the overwhelming favourites. The bouncy wickets of WACA will be a challenge to the Indians and let us hope they put up a good fight like they did in Sydney. If the match does not have a clear winner on the morning of day 5, I’ll be a happy man.

Most likely team –

  • Sehwag
  • Dravid
  • Laxman
  • Tendulkar
  • Ganguly
  • Dhoni
  • Pathan
  • Kumble
  • Harbhajan Singh
  • RP Singh
  • VRV Singh/Ishant Sharma

-Mahesh-

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A letter to Peter Lalor

I could have written this on Peter Lalor’s blog in The Australian — but it got a bit too long.

I could have sent him an email — but there were points here that I thought I would share more widely.

I could have written a Letter to The Australian — but then I have, in the past and find that, in general, hard words end up in the “Trash Folder”.

I chose to write it here.

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Peter Lalor, the cricket columnist from Sydney for The Australian, has written today, an article that has made me want to write this piece.

In Lalor’s story, “Test furore was just lack of the draw“, he opens cheekily and with some innuendo. He says, “Had Anil Kumble’s men drawn the Sydney Test, you would have to wonder whether they would have sat in a luxury hotel for the past two days, refusing to continue with the tour..”

Lalor thereby signals that perhaps the only reason (or perhaps, the major reason) for all of this deadlock and imbroglio is that Indians are sore losers. This is simultaneously naive and insulting. I will say this in Peter Roebuck’s favour. Although I did not agree with his call for Ricky Pontings’ head, at least he did not hide behind the cloak of inuendo while making his point!

I’d counter Peter Lalor’s opener by saying: “Had Anil Kumble’s men lost in Sydney and had the umpiring been fair and had Ponting’s men played in the ‘spirit of the game’ and had Harbhajan Singh not been called a racist, one would have to wonder why the Indians would not have seen the Bradman Museum on Monday afternoon.”

After all, to say that Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman and their mates hung around in Sydney merely because they lost a cricket match flies in the face of history — something that Lalor has a penchant to reach out for via visits to YouTube (more of that in a minute)! History and past data teaches us that no one is perhaps more used to losing than the Indian cricket team right? They can’t bat. They can’t bowl. They can’t field. They can’t sledge. They can’t win overseas. We have heard it all — and more — from Lalor’s mates over the years. Surely, they are used to losing — and losing badly — by now! So, why is it that Lalor suddenly pins the grumpy attitude of the Indians singularly on that convenient coat hanger of a loss in Sydney?

To do that is to miss the point. To do that is to be disrespectful. To do that is to patronise. To do that is to be in denial. To do that is to be flippant.

Let us even forget, for a moment the umpiring decisions — after all, even though they were in my view incompetent, they were third-country umpires.

Let us also forget the commonly held view that integrity went out of the window in that match (particularly that last evening).

I would then venture to suggest an alteration to the opener that Peter Lalor commenced his article with: “Had Anil Kumble’s men lost in Sydney and had Harbhajan Singh not been called a racist, one would have to wonder why the Indians would not have seen the Bradman Museum on Monday afternoon.”

So, I’d like to appeal to Peter Lalor to get some perspective and context here.

And yes, as Peter Lalor says in his article, the truth is that the Indians lost their collective nerve and lost to a better team.

Losing a match is not the point, though, Peter Lalor. The Indian teams are masters at losing. The team — and her fan around the globe — experiences this feeling regularly.

Not winning”, however, is a feeling that is so very unnatural for the Australian team. So, anecdotally, we have the time-wasting tactics on day-3 when some 6 overs were lost despite the game having been extended by a half hour! Hence the excessive appealing on day-5. Hence the catches that were claimed by Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting.

Let us not forget, the Indian team is comfortable losing. Look into the history books please!

However, in a match where both the umpires thought all along that the Australians were truly honourable men and so all of their appeals must be upheld, we now also had the Match Referee suggesting that Harbhajan Singh was guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” of being a racist because a few honourable Australian men had said so.

Where is the natural justice in all of this?

Do you now understand why Anil Kumble and his men stayed back in Sydney?

Peter Lalor, when natural justice is denied, people do go to extreme lengths to make their point. You saw the anger in Anil Kumble when he said “only one team played in the spirt of the game“.

To trivialise that satement down to the fact that India lost is way beyond “head buried in the sand” territory. After all, Anil Kumble has seen more losses in his life than wins.

You then say that the Indian Team “refused to accept the ICC match referee’s decision to ban Harbhajan Singh for three matches for racially slurring Andrew Symonds“.

I would also refuse to accept a ruling from a Kangaroo-court (not a racist tag, I hope). Mike Proctor is no lawyer, nor is he trained in the law. How he could reach a conclusion “beyond reasonable doubt” and taint a player as a racist is beyond me. Where is the proof? If the proof is so very evident, then share it with the rest of the whole world.

Peter Lalor, you talk highly about the AFL’s bid to stamp out racism. Their hearings are subject to scrutiny and are conducted by well-honed and hard-nosed men of the law. Can we please stop comparing apples and jackfruits!

This “court” was conducted by one man with some help from a lawyer, no doubt, and behind closed doors.

Being accused a racist when there are no witnesses, no mikes and no evidence is a big call to make! For Mike Proctor’s sake, I hope he got it right. Even so, the team was entitled to make its case and press for an appeal.

Clearing Harbhajan Singhs’ name as a racist is more important than the loss in Sydney or Perth or Adelaide. These are mere games. Teams win and teams lose. The Indian team loses more regularly than it wins. They played good cricket in Sydney. They played attractive cricket in Sydney. They enthralled and entertained in Sydney. That matters more to me, and, I suspect the average punter in India, than the end result.

But it is not every day that someone in the Indian team gets called a racist!

Please do try and understand that view point. In Australia, playing hard and fair is a mantra. In India, playing well and fair is a mantra. The team members are ambassadors of the nation. They represent the nation’s voice and spirit. To have one of their members labelled a racist by a Kangaroo-court is a blemish on the nation. That national pride means more to India than a win or a loss. Playing hard is not part of the equation. There are cultures that run at odds here.

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In your article, you then talk about ICC appeasement of the Indians by sacking Steve Bucknor.

To begin with, you say yourself, in an ABC Radio interview that Steve Bucknor has to be sacked, for his performance at the SCG. I am sure you used the words, “He has to be sacked“! This was two days back! Start listening from about 5 minutes and 40 seconds into the interview. You start that segment by saying, “I am astounded that [the ICC] are insisting that [Bucknor] stands in the next Test“.

So, what has changed your view from then to this point where you now say that the only reason why Steve Bucknor was removed was because the BCCI flexed its financial muscle?

Peter Lalor, a response from you would be most appropriate…

It shocks and pains me that the BCCI had to flex its financial muscle power to have Steve Bucknor removed from its matches. It saddens me because I feel it was wrong for BCCI to have done so. It saddens me because natural justice was, similarly, denied Steve Bucknor too (in my view). He may be incompetent. But he is also human.

However, as Harsha Bhogle says, the Indians have been on Steve Bucknor’s case since 1992!

An organisation that sits on its fingers for 15 years will do nothing more than collect ring marks on its collective backside — and that is exactly what the ICC has been doing! Don’t blame the BCCI alone for this mess involving Steve Bucknor.

To their credit — and again, your sense of historical perspcetive will not fail you here — the Indians have been appealing to the ICC about Steve Bucknor since 1992! Harsha Bhogle refers to these complaints in this radio interview (fast forward to 4 mins and 50 seconds into the interview for this reference).

The ICC got it wrong by appointing Steve Bucknor in this marquee Test series in the first place! If they had listened to complaints from the Indians, things need not have come to this.

Did the Indians have a right to appeal against Steve Bucknor standing in the Perth Test? I do not think so.

Did the Indian playing-group make it clear that they had lost their trust in Steve Bucknor? Absolutely yes!

Was their mistrust in Bucknor vindicated during the SCG Test match? Absolutely yes, in my view.

The Indians have not appealed against Bucknor just now in Sydney after the SCG Test loss. They have had a problem with this umpire since 1992 (as Harsha Bhogle says). Which Indian fan can ever forget the way Bucknor mimicked and mocked Rahul Dravid in a one day match in Sydney after the Indian batsman was accused of ball-tampering in the previous match? That wasn’t cheeky or incompetent. It was something else — I won’t say it for it might amount to slander! Bucknor should have been censured and stood down on that day!

Which Indian can forget the crass manner in which Steve Bucknor admonished Parthiv Patel in 2003-04 when he appealed for a caught behind in that vital game in Sydney — Steve Waugh’s farewell game. His face had a look not of a parent admonishing child; not of teacher admonishing errant student. His face had something else writ all over it.

Peter Lalor, I can go on and on and catalog a litany of errors made by Bucknor against the Indians. It is not the errors that matter. It is the surrounding environment in which these errors are made that seems to suggest that there is more at play here than just incompetence. At the end of the day, it is the trust that a playing group has in an umpire that matters.

Bucknor was a good umpire. That his end in the game had to come in this manner is a regret. The ICC should take blame for it in my view. No one should be treated in this manner. Natural justice has not been served in his case. Moreover, this has set a precedent that is, as Sanjay Manjrekar says, quite dangerous for the ICC.

Am I proud that the BCCI flexed its muscles on this issue? Not the least bit. I wrote as much in my blog last night. But did it have to? Make your own mind up.

But when you next write about the BCCI’s bully tactics, please also write that you yourself were for Bucknor’s sacking and that the BCCI has been complaining to the ICC about Bucknor for yonks.

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And then your article delves into a history lesson that suffers from a blurred and tenuous context.

You talk about how the Indians accepted Bucknor’s decision on an LBW appeal at the famous drawn Lords’ Test — one that went in India’s favour in that game. Let us not go down the path of contentious LBW decisions Peter Lalor. That is a slippery path to nowhere. Even in the SCG Test, there were numerous contentious LBW decisions — against and in-favour-of both teams. The umpire makes the call. The players accept the LBW decisions.

Even if we remove these LBW decisions, the umpires — Steve Bucknor in particular — had a shocker at the SCG.

Even sans LBW calls, the decisions were stacked against the Indians at the SCG and they still make my eyebrows arch back to the back of my head!

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Peter Lalor, you seem to be a great fan of YouTube from where you dredge the “M. S. Dhoni, Kevin Pietersen episode”. While we are delving into history books, and while we are mucking around on YouTube to do so, please also type in “Slater Dravid” into YouTube. If this video does not make you wonder at the sheer gamesmanship on display, perhaps you are not a cricket tragic after all. The one video that is there on YouTube on the Slater-Dravid episode does not go on to show Slater giving umpire S. Venkataraghavan a choice spray too.

Let us delve into history appropriately. Let us not delve in selectively.

So what is the relevant context here then?

The catch that M. S. Dhoni claimed was not covered by the same pre-tour understanding that was struck between Anil Kumble and Ricky Ponting. In that context, why wouldn’t a player claim a catch — any catch? Slater claimed the catch. It was turned down by the 3rd umpire. Dhoni appealed for a catch. It was initially upheld and then turned down! For each Dhoni-Pietersen catch that you search on YouTube, I will present to you a catalogue of many more such catches claimed. The regime under which these catches were claimed was different. And so it is fair to appeal for those catches in my view.

In context, please present a list of catches that were perhaps-wrongfully-claimed under the backdrop of a pre-tour agreement when they ought not to have been claimed? I lay before you two catches in this context: (a) The catch that Michael Clarke claimed off Sourav Ganguly, (b) The catch that Ricky Ponting claimed off M. S. Dhoni.

Peter Lalor, while the time that you spent on YouTube may have been fun, the case you make is irrelevant in the context of the SCG game.

It is best that that pre-tour agreement is torn up in my view. In my view, when the going gets tough, integrity is the first thing to suffer with this Australian team. Anil Kumble was a dud to enter into a pre-tour agreement with this Australian team and must cop the blame for the consequence of it.

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Peter Lalor, you said in your article, “Some newspapers yesterday posted polls damning Ponting’s captaincy and the Australian team’s sportsmanship. The Australian has seen an email sent around Indian supporter groups urging them to vote against the Australians. Meanwhile, in India the nation is calling on its beaten team to return home.

Two points about this:

  • Which poll have you been a part of in which one group or the other has not developed a propoganda? That is the point of a poll, is it not? You are pitting one group of people with one view against another! I have seen TV programs in this country goading its public to visit a public website to vote for The Sydney Opera House as a Wonder of the World! Fair enough. I saw one of these TV programs and went on to that website to vote for the Opera House. Was I wrong? Why? Did that TV program commit a sin of humanity against the Taj Mahal? Why? I have also seen emails asking me to vote for Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi as “Person of the Century” in some poll that some magazine carried out in the year 2000 (I think). That is the point of polls. It pits one set of people against another and as a natural consequence, it initiates propoganda!
  • To suggest that public opinion has been drummed up only by Indian supporter groups that have dredged up support for their point of view through wanton and callous email lists ignores Radio talk-back callers. You will have heard some of these talk-back callers themselves. Most of these callers were utterly disgusted with the attitude and approach of the Australian cricket team. Unless of course, you are suggesting that Indian supporter groups have the gall (leave alone the ability) to mask their thick accents and suddenly develop an Australian accent and call in to talk-back shows as Bruce or Cindy?

There is a large cross-section of people out there that believes India was dudded in that game. There is a large proportion of people out there that believes that the win-at-all-costs attitude of the Australian team on that last day leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

It is time to accept that and not provide apologies. Australian cricket needs an honest mirror in my view.

This is not to absolve the BCCI or Indian cricket or the ICC of their contributions to this almighty mess. I have said from day-dot that all parties are to blame for this.

[By the way, I am still hugely pained by all of this… but please do not trivialise the pain by saying it is beacause of the loss that India suffered. A loss is a loss is a loss. Furthermore I, like the team I support — one that can’t bat, bowl, field, catch or throw well — am used to being on the losing side].

— Mohan

In a perfect World!

In Mohan’s earlier post, ‘Deadlocked Australia v India (2007-2008): Where does it all go now?’ he mentioned that all parties in this drama need to take up the responsibility. While I totally agree, the one single event that has caused this affair to reach boiling point is obviously Mike Proctor’s mind boggling decision on Harbhanjan Singh. What was he thinking? Did he expect to be applauded for handling the situation in a fair and professional manner. What a joke.

The Indians felt that the Harbhajan incident was adding insult to injury and quite rightly so. There wouldn’t have been such a stand-off but for Proctor’s decision. For all we know, the Indians may have actually agreed to play the Perth test ‘under protest’ for allowing Steve Bucknor to officiate and carried on.

The law is simple, innocent until proven guilty. Here, there was no proof. Nothing heard on the microphone or camera, just one’s word against the other. Which begs the question What are the criteria for the ICC to choose match referees? What qualifications are required? Surely, they need not be trained lawyers but should at least know when a situation is out of their league and need to be referred to a bigger panel or commission. I honestly think the ICC should take up a big chunk of the blame for the following:

Allowing a 61 year old to stand up to one of the most demanding jobs in a cricket field –

In an ideal world a much younger and fitter umpire like a Simon Taufel or an Aleem Dar could have ensured that the Indians didn’t get a raw deal and hence no umpiring controversy would have marred this otherwise high quality Test.

Not adequately training match referees to handle sensitive cases –
Again, in a ideal world, Proctor would have had the training and perhaps more commonsense to say that he did not have enough evidence to make a decision, but the allegation was serious enough to be handled by a qualified professional panel.

But then in a ideal world (atleast for Indian fans), India would have won the Sydney Test after taking a first innings lead of 300 runs!

On that note, here is a well written article that appeared on The Hindu

Vish

Umpiring goof-ups :: 2nd Test (Australia v India)

We all know what the score is… Even if you remove contentious LBW decisions from the equation, the video evidence presented here suggests that one team “was robbed” in Sydney. This video has been on YouTube for a long time and it has been played over and over on TV channels in India, I am sure. But we thought we would present it here for those of you who haven’t seen it…

— Mohan