Is India really the crazed mad bully of World cricket?

It should have been a terrific four-match series between two sides that were going hammer-and-tongs at each other; two of the best sides in international cricket today. The two sides boasted some fine cricketers. It is conceivable that Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Brett Lee, Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag would walk into any cricket team in the world. These were fine cricketers playing a terrific game. They should have been engaged in a terrific contest. They should have left a wonderful memory of a hard-fought, yet, attractive series that lingers in the minds well after the actors have left the field.

Indeed, the four-match Test series gave a lot to savour. We saw some imaginative captaincy from the two captains. We saw Anil Kumble emerge as a statesman and an ambassador of his team. We saw Ricky Ponting captain his team brilliantly in snatching a tense victory in Sydney. We saw two stunning centuries and in excess of 400 runs from Sachin Tendulkar who was accorded a standing ovation everytime he walked on to bat! We saw some sustained spells of accurate, penetrative, and at times, sensational fast bowling from Brett Lee. We witnessed the kind of elegance from the blade of V. V. S. Laxman that makes people draw breath and exclaim “how did he do that?” in several of his digs. We some imposing batting from Matthew Hayden who dug deep to score centuries almost at will. We saw the old, and sometimes forgotten, warrior in the moder-day spin-trinity, Anil Kumble, reach his 600th wicket. We saw a Team India that was down 0-2 in the series that pulled off a sensational victory in Perth, the traditional strong-hold of the Australians. We saw a kid who was still in the wet-behind-his-ears stage of his international career, who was denied a wicket when a batsman was on not much, walk up to the same batsman an congratulate him when he left the field, having made 162! In the very next match, we saw that same kid bowling one of the best spells of fast bowling that I have seen in a long time to Ricky Ponting. Surely, on another day, this would have been the kind of story that sells romance novels the world over!

Instead, a day after the series, there was much posturing, much finger pointing, much debate, much acrimony. The word bully was used so often that real school-yard bullies would be within their rights to demand another term to elevate their status to a newer high!

The series had so much grit, fight, skill, romance, determination and class that it ought to be right up there as marquee series go. Instead it will be remembered as one that was dominated by recriminations, court-room-hearings, finger-pointing, derogatory remarks, cultural hatred, racial hatred and much more. We had lost perspective. It was, as Dileep Premachandran writes in The Guardian, a “tawdry affair”, in which “there were no winners”.

In the aftermath of the tour, Monkeygate, the Harbhajan Singh racism saga has dominated sport pages and blogs and radio talkback — not only in India and Australia but the rest of the cricketing world too! Much has been written and said.

In these pages that have been written and consumed, India, through the BCCI, has been labeled a crazed, mad, bully of world cricket. This may or may not be right. But then that is the perception the world over; one that needs to be critically — dispassionately too, perhaps — analysed and assessed. There are as many as five articles in todays’ The Age and The Australian that touch on this topic. There will be, no doubt, many others that ask the same question. It is a question that does need to be asked for the future stability of world cricket.

But, lest we forget, let us remind ourselves that this is not the first time world cricket has been “held to ransom”. In the modern era, one could argue that Packergate was the first time that the UN-style ICC was held by the proverbials. In more recent times, we have had several incidents that came close to splitting apart world-cricket. I list them here and, for the sake of completeness, provide the nations that were involved as well as a brief description of the episode.

In this list, I do not include one-off school-yard fights like Ponting’s robust and angry questioning of Englands’ specialist-fielder tactics in the Ashes 2005 series, Andre Nel and Sree Santh going hammer-and-tongs and each other, Gavaskar threatening to pull his team off the MCG, Jeyygate, etc. I am concentrating here on issues that threatened to blow world-cricket apart; storms in tea-cups are what the rest were!

  • The year 1998-99 saw Muthiah Muralitharan being no-balled in Australia by an Australian umpire, Darryl Hair. The saga threatened to split world cricket apart. As a continuing part of this saga, Sri Lankan captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, a man who had built a reputation of standing up to his opponents, refused to continue the tour and also threatened to pull his team from an Adelaide ODI when Australian umpire, Ross Emerson, called Muthiah Muralitharan again for an “illegal delivery”. The Sri Lankan players, who had copped the goings on in their tour thus far, felt, rightly or wrongly, victimised by the Australian umpires — for here was Muthiah Muralidharan bowling leg-breaks when he was called!
  • India was outraged when Mike Denness, the match referee, banned Virender Sehwag for excessive appealing in a Test match agaist South Africa in 2001. On instructions from Jagmohan Dalmiya, the then BCCI President — another man who, like Ranatunga, loved seeing eye-to-eye with his counterparts from Australia and England — India included Virender Sehwag in the next Test match! It was played as an unofficial Test match! Mike Denness was locked out of the Test match! In that match Mike Denness, the former England captain, sanctioned six Indian players, with Virender Sehwag receiving a one-match ban and Sachin Tendulkar receiving a one-match suspended sentence for ball tampering! This wasn’t the first time that an Indian had been sanctioned by a match referee. So why was there outrage and effigy-burning at Denness’s decision? What bought things to an ugly head was the seeming imbalance of Mike Deness’s decisions. In that same match, we had South African captain Shaun Pollock who had appealed even more vociferously, aggressivelyand continually for an lbw against V V S Laxman in India’s first innings! We saw, therefore, that the oft-repeated bias-argument which suggested the “R” word in the actions of match referees. The Indians felt, rightly or wrongly, victimised.
  • Enter Shoaib Akthar, the Pakistan speedster: He was banned for throwing by an ICC committee that was chaired by Bobby Simpson. Jagmohan Dalmiya, by then the President of the ICC, gave Akthar the equivalent of a presidential pardon and that allowed Pakistan to continue to field Akthar in its games! Once again, world cricket was threatened by brinkmanship. A crisis was averted.
  • A by-now familiar actor, Darryl Hair, re-enters the scene in the most recent saga that threatened to split world cricket: The ball-tampering fiasco which was fuelled by England’s suspicions resulted in Darryl Hair effectively labelling the Pakistan team as cheats. The resulting no-show by the Pakistanis, who had Bob Woolmer as coach then, resulted in the first forfeit in international cricket! Pakistan moved to have the umpire removed. He was not only removed, but was sacked from ever umpiring again!
  • And now, Monkeygate…

Malcolm Knox reviews some of these episodes in an article in The Age (Saturday 2 Feb 2008).

There is a pattern here. Sri Lanka have been involved in one spat. Pakistan has been involved in two spats. India has been involved in two spats. The people at the other end have been, in order listed above Australia (notionally), England (notionally), Australia (notionally), Australia (notionally) and Australia. At a surface-level, there is a pattern here; a pattern of both mistrust and abuse. There is also a pattern of incompetence on the part of the ICC. One needs to just scratch at the surface of all of these episodes to know that the ICC has a lot to answer for, although, as Malcolm Knox says, “The ICC might be a convenient punching bag” for everyone. It is, no doubt, a powerless and toothless organisation.

We have to accept that teams from the sub-continent have grievances (some legitimate and some not so legitimate) with the colonial manner in which the game has been organised and run in the past. There are racist undercurrents and there are undercurrents that the game was invented to serve the best interests of England and Australia and their friends.

But to call India a bully because of its current financial clout would be to ignore the foundations, the symptoms as well as the cause of much of these grievances. After all, Sri Lanka and Pakistan do not have financial clout. And yet, they brought the game to its knees not once, but three times in the recent past!

As Malcolm Knox says, Bodyline itself wasn’t about money!

And if it was only about money, world cricket had better be scared. Very scared! For the amount of money in Indian cricket is set to double — or even treble — over the next 10 years with the introduction of the Indian Premier League. Bollywood actors and cash-rich Indian business houses have splurged money on the eight IPL teams. Some of them have invested nearly $80m in their team franchise. They will spend much more than that on buying players! They will also expect their money to multiply to $800m over a 10-year period! So, if we think that the BCCI is flexing its muscles only because of the money it controls now, we should be prepared for it to flex its whole body in ten years’ time.

But to assign money as the root cause of much of this would be to, unfortunately, miss the point. The 1999 flexing of muscles by Sri Lanka is a case in point. There was, then, a perception of injustice. That perception persists. The ICC and the world game needs to fix that first.

No doubt India is cash-rich. Nike paid $43 million to kit the side for five years! No other team can match that in the world of sport! The Indian cricket team is cash rich and sponsors continue to queue up to be associated with the team. The BCCI knows it has this money too and often uses this often to get the ICC to act the way it wants it to.

Most Indians will be, as Dileep Premachandran says, uncomfortable with both the power as well as the BCCI’s excessive greed. India is not a country that has thrived on having power on the world stage in any sphere — leave alone cricket. Nor has it demonstrated a need to indulge in “naked displays of strength”.

However, across the sub-continent there is a new brigade that is bursting through. A new brigade that is more confident. A new brigade that is more brash. A new brigade that is not quite like the V. V. S. Laxman who will smile placidly when told that his mother is a so-and-so and still manage to flick the next ball gloriously for a four! A new brigade that wants to look its tormentor in the eye — not because the new-brigade is necessarily good, but just because they know they can! A new brigade that has, in Harsha Bhogle’s words, an abiding memory “of visiting journalists and cricketers coming to India and making fun of us. We were a country finding our feet, we were not confident; we seethed within but we accepted. The new generation in India is not as accepting — it is prouder, more confident, more successful. Those bottled up feelings are bubbling through.”

As Dileep Premachandran says in The Age, there is certainly “a new, prosperous brigade that takes perverse pride in sticking it to the old world.” A new brigade that can do what their parents wanted to, but could not!

The sub-continent has vivid memories of being dictated to by an imperial power; of being sneered at by visiting teams; of being continually mis-understood. The food wasn’t good enough. The organisation wasn’t good enough. The travel wasn’t good enough. The hotels weren’t good enough. The grounds and facilities weren’t good enough. The pitches weren’t good enough. The logistics wasn’t good enough. The umpiring wasn’t good enough. The crowds weren’t good enough. The accent wasn’t good enough. The mores weren’t good enough… The list is endless. And it is not merely about people lampooning the accent. It runs deeper than that.

India and Australia head the new order in the game. India has the money and an emerging talent. Australia is right at the peak of its prowess as a cricketing and sporting nation. And that prowess shows no sign of diminishing. The two nations, together, have a responsibility to the game — to grasp it out of the colonial shackles of mistrust and misunderstanding. A mistrust that inbreeds a desire for the sub-continentals to square the historically imbalanced ledger.

In this hour of need, Indian cricket and world cricket needs ethical and responsible leadership. But world cricket needs to cleanse itself of its deep-rooted mistrust and suspicion too. This mistrust and suspicion is symmetric. There are no one-way streets in this town! If these suspicions are not removed, we will have Bodyline, PackerGate, MuraliGate, DennesGate, ChuckerGate, TamperGate, MonkeyGate… over and over again, with the old-world on the one side and the sub-continent on the other.

I was heartened though, by a comment from Inderjit Singh Bhindra in todays’ Australian when he said, “If we are feeling bad about something we should not repeat the same thing. It’s no remedy for what has happened in the past to repeat the past. We have to learn from history. I have been a student of history and we don’t have to repeat the same mistakes.”

Inderjit Singh Bhindra, former BCCI President — and peace-maker in the Adelaide pit-stop of the Monkeygate train — is the man that most people tip as Malcolm Speed’s replacement when the Australian’s term, as Cheif Executive of the ICC, ends soon. This thought might send shivers down the spine of people who think that India has too much control of world cricket already! Especially if we pitch that alongside the known fact that Sharad Powar, the current BCCI President will, in 18 months’ time, be President of the ICC!

In particular, Australians may feel that Bhindra’s role in brokering a peace in Adelaide with Creagh O’Connor, the Chairman of Cricket Australia, undermined the whole judicial process. To say that would be to be in contempt of Justice Hansen’s court. However, it is quite likely that, in Bhindra, India does have a statesman and a leader that is able to bridge sub-continental emotions with old-world ways. Both need to be understood and it is likely that this moderate would be one that brokers a greater understanding and delivers stability.

In an interview to Mike Coward from The Australian today, I. S. Bhindra says “What we want is on the basis of every country being equal. We want equity, justice and fair play. We don’t want money to be the main factor propelling the game of cricket. Of course money is important, it is important everywhere. But it shouldn’t be important to the extent of dictating decision-making.”

We all await a better future for world cricket. The game deserves it. And the best place to start much of this repair would be at the ICC. If not, there will be many more engrossing series that will be forgotten — only controversies will remain in our collective minds.

— Mohan

28 responses to “Is India really the crazed mad bully of World cricket?

  1. Mohan,

    Great post.

    Do you believe in the case of Murali being called for no balling, & the Pakistan forfeited test, that at least in law the decisions taken by the umpires were correct?
    From where I sit these two events have left a bitter taste in my mouth.
    Hair was correct in forfeiting the test, & rule changes have had to be made to accomadate a bowler.
    The Asian supporters and boards are vindicated by the outcome, & I feel that the rules have been altered to accomadate these supporters and the boards.
    These two events have done more in poisoning my view of the motives & intentions of the boards of India Pakistan & Sri Lanka in their dealings with the ICC, than any of the silly stuff we have had to endure of the last few weeks.
    Is the way I feel only due to my perception of events or I am just plain blind to the facts?

  2. Centerstage Vs Backstage – Therein lies the difference
    There is an expression in tamil called “Kozha adi sandai”[henceforth to be referred as KAS, for convenience], which refers to the verbal slurs and fistfights that women
    in chennai slums indulge in, during their pursuit to collect water from a common government provisioned faucet. The crux of
    the problem would be very trivial – was my bucket ahead of yours in the queue to collect water. If the simple rules of game
    theory were to be applied in such a situation by these parties, they would realize that it is not a zero-sum situation,
    and both will stand to gain if either of them were to let go. However, in contrast to this simple solution, the involved
    parties will indulge in arguably one of the most uncivil and unparliamentary modes of abuse to resolve this dispute, that
    will make every civil section of that neighbourhood cringe. Every facet of each other’s family life would be tethered to
    pieces in broad daylight in the presence of an august audience. The ripple effects of the initial fight would spread to the
    entire slum neighbourhood as more people get involved in trying to resolve the issue, pushing the forces of Tsunami to shame.
    The roots of this daily occurence of KAS are very simple – a general frustration with the plight of their lives with no hope
    in sight, and a craving for centerstage, their hollywood moment.
    The ICC official’s spates in the past few years with the sub-continent teams reeks of a sophisticated KAS in the confines of
    Ritz Carlton. Poorly educated on the skills of diplomancy and backstage show management, these officials have been the
    culprits for casting teams in poor light. Starting with Murali gate, a suspected action could have been dealt with behind closed
    doors, where all stakeholders could have been taken into confidence and given a fair chance to address the issue. But such
    was not to be the case. Certain officials, craving for centerstage, having missed out on such audience during their days as
    participating sportsmen and feeling unjust about it, decided to take upon themselves the responsibility of shoving down the
    srilankan’s throat, the rules of bowling action as interpreted by him/her. The same vein runs in almost all episodes with
    differnt forms of centerstage moments that the officials pounced upon, as a way to highlight their self. To the extent that in
    each episode, the end result would be to label an entire society of sportsmen as being in some form or fashion, cheaters or
    crooks or unfair. In some way, only the fair ended up fair, including the current episode.

  3. @Confused,

    I think the situation is far more complex than that. As I said, in the Muralitharan situation, my perception of the situation was that the Sri Lankans copped it on the chin when Murali was initially called for no-balling. It was only when he was called even when he started bowling leg-spinners that the confirmation of worst-held suspicions of this becoming “a pre-meditated assault by white umpires on talented sub-continental bowler” came to a head. Threats of walkout and splits emanated. Both sides were right to feel the way they did! If the ICC had more power like the FIFA has, more would have been done. More should have been done. Peter Roebuck has written on this matter in today’s Age.

    Of course, this is, in my view, a hugely complex issue and to thread it down to a few lines could do it and our sensibilities some injustice!

    On the Oval ball-tampering issue, there were a few mitigating circumstances that led to the “victimisation” theory. England had made their suspicions clear. Hair had “form on his side. There was no real evidence to prove that the ball was indeed tampered with. There were a few strange things about that episode: (a) no prior warning was given by the umpires — not that they need to, (b) no individual had been specifically named in the charge, (c) no specific incident was highlighted in the charge, (d) the ball was suddenly changed in the 56th over, (e) at the time Kevin Pietersen was going mad and had smashed a few balls for big 4s, (f) none of the 26 SkyTV cameras had picked up ANY images of suggested tamperin — it is hard to hide from 26 cameras!

    For the Pakistanis (as it was with the Indians in Sydney) it was about respect and honour. In the end, it was Hair’s word against the Pakistani word. They had had enough of being labeled as cheats and no-gooders by the “establishment”.

    Again, another complex issue that can’t be threaded down to a few lines.

    As I said in my post Confused, there are no winners in this. There will be, if there is greater understanding between the subcontinentals and the old-guard.

  4. It’s like the pot calling the kettle black. Who is blacker( I am not a racist….please).

    Who doesn’t flaunt their wealth and the power that comes with it? What is the US doing in Iraq? What did the UK do when the Sun never set on its Kingdom? What does Australia do in any sport?

    I would say that on the whole the Indian Board has not flaunted to the extent they can. It has been subtle most of the time. But then how can it be acceptable to Aussies and the English.

  5. Murali is a chucker, anyone with any concept for the rules (as they were) knows this. Its a shame because he is such a likeable bloke – his coaches and the Sri Lanklan authorities should be held accountable for letting the whole thing get out of hand, but it is understandable – he has taken 700+ test wickets!

  6. Then How about Bret Lee my dear. ??

  7. Karthick,

    How about Harbhajan Singh my dear. ??

  8. thats my point, then why target only poor Murali and no-ball him?

    Even Shohaib chucks, not all deliveries though..
    So Cricket allows chucking now.. so why are the OZ fans after Murali then?

  9. Karthick,

    Shohaib, Harbhajan and Lee are very differen’t from Murali. They were all looked at, with no findings.

    Murali was called for chucking and the umpire was the one that suffered. The rules where then changed so he continued to bowl (or he was able to continue chucking).

    Thats the difference.

  10. the real issue is not one of whether or not muarli is a chucker or shoaib is a chucker. the tipping-point occurred when murali was called by emerson when he bowled leg-spin! that is when the sub-continentals felt “victimised” by the old-world.

    the other point of my article was that to lump it all as “muscle flexing” would be wrong. sri lanka and pakistan have virtually no money-muscle to flex.

    — mohan

  11. It was strange that he was called when he bowled a leg spin delivery. But that doesn’t mean EVERYTHING was a mistake.

  12. @JB


    Let me repeat that my article was not about apportioning blame. Nor was it an exercise in providing apologies for bad bahaviour — on either side of the “fence”.

    There are a few points that need to be made:

    (a) a perception is that there is a subcontinentals Vs old-guard war at play.
    (b) neither is right.
    (c) a real understanding is needed.
    (d) to put this all to India flexing muscles ignores Pakistan and Sri Lanka that have no muscles to flex!

    — Mohan

  13. Mohan,

    Sorry, I wasn’t really talking about your article. More retorting the comments from Karthick and explaining why there is a difference in view between Muarli and the others.

    With reference to point (d), there is a perception that the subcontinentals tend to stick together. Just like there is a perception that Australia sticks together with the US and UK on political matters.

    I think both perceptions are right. Just because partners may be unequal does not make them any less partners.

  14. JB

    Yes, there could be a perception that the subcontinentals tend to stick together. Interestingly though, on the Pakistan-forfeit issue the BCCI supported ICC’s stand. Yet, we had a world-cricket split threat despite the fact that there was no muscle in sight!

    In the end, perceptions matter. And world cricket needs to sit up and take notice of all of these perceptions.


  15. Why can’t people just play and have fun anymore?. Sports are supposed to be fun, that is why they are also called “games”. Games are supposed to be fun. Why not just enjoy the games???

  16. IMHO an overall reasonable article for once coming out of India. The BCCI now controls world cricket and with power comes responsibility. I vote as an aussie to let the BCCI control all of world cricket, they can’t do worse than the ICC and probably will do a lot better.

    BTW I don’t blame the BCCI for bullying the ICC to sack Bucknor etc, just I blame the ICC for caving in.
    The ICC should be disbanded as it cannot stand up to its members.

  17. Umpire Emerson admitted he was encouraged by Aust Cricket Authorities to “Call” Murali. So here we have a situation where Aust Cricket is dictating to their umpires how to run the game.If Murali was not taking so many wickets nothing would have been said,The rules for Bowlers were not just changed to allow Murali to continue but to also allow some fast bowlers of which some were Aust to continue playing the game. Do any of you Cricket experts know why the Chucking rule was originally introduced. It was to protect Batsmen from bowlers whose sole intention was to Physically injure the batsman by throwing the bowl,to suggest that Murali is trying to injure a batsman is just to ludicrous to contemplate.Both Hair & Emerson were too busy Grandstanding.
    Aust has never gotten over the fact that an Aust Bowler was the first to be Banished for Chucking.Aust is Quick to point the Finger, BUT don’t you DARE point the finger in our direction.As far as sledging goes, WHY was it that Aust
    was so heavily AGAINST stump microphones being introduced, pretty obvious one would suggest.

  18. I forgot to Mention Aust fast bowler Ray Lindwall had a Diabolical action
    with regds to Laws of Bowling yet he continued to bowl and Become one of Aust’s great bowlers with no mention of his suspect action.

    rather than help Meckiff overcome his
    suspect action Aust Cricket found it easier to “chuck” him out & humilate him for embarrasing Aust Cricket.Its a
    shame Trevor & Greg Chappell weren’t
    treated the same way after that Dispicable Underarm Incident.

    The way Sri Lanka Cricket has supported Murali is nothing short of Magnificent.

  19. @ Vandy

    A little paranoid about Murali I think. He’s a great character and competitor but no-one else has had the games rules changed so he can continue to play, besides most people think he only chucks his doosra. By so long as umpires don’t call him for chucking then its legal, so end of story, I have no beef with him.

    In the end I have no beef with any neutral umpires decision, right or wrong, the main problem is people not accepting the umpires decision. (eg. Bucknor). We aussies accepted wrong decisions in Perth which turned the match, why didn’t India in the second test? The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

  20. “The way Sri Lanka Cricket has supported Murali is nothing short of Magnificent.” –
    Absolutely correct – Magnificent in allowing a chucker to become the worlds leading wicket taker, all by using the racism card.

    Tim – couldn’t agree more.

  21. JB peter Lalor’s son

  22. Karthick,

    At least you didn’t call me a monkey.

  23. Its a bit odd that no body has complained against Malinga.

  24. Whats wrong with Malinga?, there is no cloud or question over his action.

  25. Malinga has probably the least questionable action of anyone in the game. It looks wierd and can’t be good for the mechanics in his shoulder, but there is no question his arm is straight the whole way through….

  26. But his action definitely gives him an advantage over the rest, keeping the ball so low and not having his arm go full circle.If underarm bowling is illegal then how is this allowed.

  27. Srikanth Mangalam

    It was interesting to see Tendulkar shaking his head and walking over to Sehwag during a Malinga over. Did it have anything to do with the action? I am not speculating here but the master was certainly not comfortable with something? Batsmen have complained about the arm coming so side on that it is hard to spot the ball come out.

  28. Malinga’s action is near perfect. I doubt his elbow bends anywhere near 15 degrees. In fact it’s probably less than 10.

    But back to India and The BCCI.
    Their proposal to cut two associates from the next World Cup, for financial reasons, is a disgrace and should be rejected without further ado.

    The BCCI, bullies? Yes, I’m starting to think so!

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