I know I have said a few times that cricket needs more Asian Match Referees. I will qualify that a bit more. The game needs more new-age Asian Match Referees. Currently, we have Asian gentlemen like Ranjan Madugalle, Roshan Mahanama and Javagal Srinath as match referees (G. R. Vishwanath was a Match Referee from the recent past).
The current Asian Match Referees are, in my view, not strong enough, in my view, and do not make the decisions against the old-block countries that Chris Broad and Mike Procter are regularly able to take against Asian players! Furthermore, the current Asian Match Referees are, in my view, not able to afford the Asian Teams the same amount of largesse that old-block Referees like Procter and Broad afford to non-Asian players!
This is a potentially inflammatory statement and I am certain there will be many from Sampath Kumar to Peter Lalor that will jump up and down and scream “shades of racism” in the statement above.
But this statement is beyond racism, in my view. It can be supported by documented evidence from a catalogue of wrong-doings. It is even beyond a need that I and the average sub-continental fan may have to throw off the shackles of imperialistic overtures that some of us have had to live and work through. It is even beyond feelings of inadequacy that one may — perhaps even legitimately — be accused of. Although I am leaving myself exposed to all of the above, I do believe that the game needs a good hard re-jig if it needs to move forward in an environment of trust.
And that shake up can and must occur through the induction of more new-age Asian Match Referees and officials.
I would like a new-Age match umpire, for example, that has the guts to put his finger to his lips and shut Ricky Ponting up when the latter argues vehemently with the match official. Is that possible? Well, when Billy Bowden can shut up V. V. S. Laxman’s polite protest, I am not sure why he would want to tolerate a spray from Ponting? Unless of course, he felt
(a) fearful of Ponting or
(b) that Laxman was a piece of dispensable old cloth
(c) that unlike Laxman, Ponting was a “good bloke who ought to be implicitly trusted but is just indulging in bit of a decent argument after all”?
I suspect it is a bit of (a), (b) and (c) above!
This is why I, as a fan, have a deep sense of mistrust towards someone like Billy Bowden or Steve Bucknor. It has nothing to do with the colour of their skin or indeed the colour of Laxman’s skin! It has more to do with consistency. A person that deals with Laxman with utter disdain and can yet tolerate virulent abuse from Ponting is inconsistent and does not engender trust in me the viewer! I suspect that such a person will not have the trust of a player like (say) Gautam Gambhir either.
This is why I feel that change is necessary before an environment of greater trust can be built. This environment of trust does not exist in world cricket and the ICC is incompetent to do anything about it.
I have felt that this change was necessary since the fractious SCG Test.
India has not been able to forget the anger, the utter pain and the agony of the fractious SCG Test and went to extraordinary lengths — like the setting of 8-1 fields — to win the recently concluded Test series in India against Australia. That one SCG Test was responsible for the breakdown of a talented player (Symonds) and triggered the retirements of two of crickets’ modern-day greats (Gilchrist and Kumble).
The SCG-anger led to M. S. Dhoni digging into the Mahabharata to explain why he adopted 8-1 fields in a bid to win the Nagpur Test match at “all costs”.
Dhoni used the epic battle in the Mahabharata as his motivation for the win in Nagpur.
In the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna told the archer, Arjuna, to forget everything else in the epic battle against the enemy and aim his arrow not at the dangling fish target but instead at the eye of the fish. Dhoni took inspiration from this Epic and told his troops to focus on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and nothing else. Nothing else mattered. Everything else was left in the peripheral vision. Even Dhoni’s own natural aggressive instincts were discarded. Nothing else was important. The team went to extraordinary lengths to deliver that single-minded — ruthless, perhaps — focus in order to secure the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. I can’t imagine that this was just because they played Australia.
Indeed, I am certain that it was because they were playing the team that played against them at the SCG.
The ghosts of the SCG had to be purged. Has that SCG Test anger been purged? It is hard to say. For the Indian fan, it may never ever be purged. For the team, perhaps under Dhoni and with newer players on the scene, the anger may dissolve over time.
This anger and fire is constantly stoked by counter allegations from the likes of Gilchrist, Ponting and Symonds who continue to yell out that they were right and the Indians were all wrong.
Perhaps we are all at wrong here.
But there will be many more fish that lose eyes before we can all sit down and understand the deepness of the hurt that was caused in Sydney.
That is a back-drop and provides further context for the contentious and anger-laden statement I made above.
I will say it again: The current Asian Match Referees are, in my view, not strong enough, in my view, and do not make the decisions against the old-block countries that Chris Broad and Mike Procter are regularly able to take against Asian players! Furthermore, the current Asian Match Referees are, in my view, not able to afford the Asian Teams the same amount of largesse that old-block Referees like Procter and Broad afford to non-Asian players!
Let is consider two two acts that provide the benchmarks for the above, perhaps startling, call for more new-age Asian Match Referees.
In August 2006, Darryl Hair accused the Pakistan team of ball tampering at the famously chaotic and horribly ill-fated Oval Test against England. Hair was a good umpire. In my view, he was also an umpire who thought he was bigger than the game — how else can one explain his no-balling of Muralidharan on Boxing Day when all the cameras were on him? He was bigger than the game itself! At least, one can discern quite easily that he and Simon Taufel do not share any genetic material!
But be that as it may. On that day in 2006, Hair had basically insinuated that the Pakistan team was a collection of cheats. Maybe they were? Who knows? But the events that led to that public insinuation raised more than eyebrows! Hair plucked the ball, kept it and pronounced his judgement in an utterly callous fashion. Did he have evidence? No. Did he check footage from any of the 20-odd cameras at the Oval ground to verify if his — perhaps valid and perhaps even legitimate — suspicions were valid? No. He ploughed on regardless like a crazed bull that ran amok in a busy China shop! Indeed, the subsequent investigation revealed that apart from a few dints and dents suffered from some brutally hammered boundary hits against the boundary advertisement hoardings, the ball was, in fact in perfectly good shape!
Was Hair prejudiced? You make up your own minds!
And by the way, here is the answer to the question you had perhaps asked earlier… You perhaps asked innocently “Who was the Match Referee in that infamous game at The Oval>”. Did you not?
Well, it was Mike Procter! The same Match Referee that handled the SCG Test match!
Cut to 2008, to the Test match just concluded in Nagpur.
During a bizarre passage of play when the wheels were falling of the Australian truck named “sanity”, we saw TV footage of an incident that would have made an average cricket fan draw breath! The footage showed Cameron White plucking something red off a red object in his hands! The red object that he had in his hand wasn’t an apple. And the stuff that he plucked from what may have looked like an apple wasn’t a dead leaf or residual stem. He had plucked leather that was sticking out of a badly scuffed up cricket ball. TV cameras captured this. Everyone saw what happened. Chris Broad, the Match Referee, would have seen that too.
Was the ball altered in any way whatsoever? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt.
Cameron White would have known that what he did was utterly wrong. He was captain of Victoria when Michael Lewis was probed for ball-tampering. Thumbnails and seam were allegedly involved in that incident. Cameron White would have attended the enquiry and would have known what constitutes ball tampering. Cameron White would have known from that at least — if not from playing at junior level and club level — that a player cannot alter the condition of the ball. He did. If there is a problem with the ball, you simply hand it over to the umpire.
It is quite likely and indeed, highly probable that Cameron White was not malicious in his intent. He had just pulled leather off. He had not lifted the seam. But was he wrong? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt, yes. Vehemently yes.
But it does make me angry when I think that Chris Broad, the Match Referee did not — to the best of my knowledge — even question White on that incident! It is quite likely that he thought, “I trust my basic instincts that Cameron White, this good, honest Australian bloke did something silly and not something with unscrupulous intent.”
I have nothing against that instinct. But I have to ask, “Would Chris Broad afford the same luxury to an Asian bloke?” My view is “No”.
Cut to South Africa in 2001.
Sachin Tendulkar had cleaned dirt off the seam of the ball. No finger nails were used. Just thumb. This was captured on TV cameras.
Why was Cameron White’s action different from Sachin Tendulkar cleaning the seam of the ball with his thumb (not thumbnails) in South Africa? The Match Referee in that instance was Mike Denness, in that initial dark hour of world cricket when India first flexed its muscles on the world stage.
Mike Denness first accused Sachin Tendulkar of “ball tampering” and and then issued this statement that claimed that he fined Tendulkar for not cleaning the ball “under the supervision of the umpires, which Tendulkar failed to do”.
Was Cameron White doing anything different? Was he not, also, cleaning the ball in a manner other than under the supervision of the umpires? Was he not, therefore, altering the condition of the ball?
The umpire in this instance was Aleem Dar, a mild natured man. A good man. If the umpire had been Darryl Hair and if the offender had been Sachin Tendulkar or Salman Butt, the player would have been accused of being a cheat! After all, Hair had acted pompously at The Oval with far less to go by way of evidence!
Aleem Dar had a quiet word with Ricky Ponting and the issue was killed then and there. There was no grandstanding. The game was bigger than Allem Dar, the man. The game moved on.
Chris Broad could have done something about it. He did not.
My point is that Broad did not have either the bravery or the integrity to pull up Cameron White when the evidence was there for all to see, while Hair, Procter, Broad and Denness would have no problems at all in picking off the Pakistani team or a randomly dispensable Indian player in order to prove that the game is beyond an individual.
To men like Broad, Denness, Procter and Hair, it would seem that rules must be obeyed by Asian players. However, there is an implicit level of trust deeply embedded within them that “players from Australia and England are good, honest blokes who play good, hard cricket and occasionally make genuine errors”.
Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that implicit level of trust. What is, however, wrong is that that same implicit level of trust is not afforded to the average Asian player — not even to Sachin Tendulkar!
When I saw the Cameron White incident, I commented about it and immediately thought back to Darry Hair and The Oval! Scorpicity, who comments on i3j3Cricket frequently, has written about this too.
What is required is that we have Match Referees that have the integrity and the courage to act against unacceptable behaviour of Australians and Englishmen.
Remember that Procter was the Match Referee who once said, “[Team-X] has always played pretty tough cricket, I don’t think anyone wants them to change the way they play. They are a wonderful side and play in the spirit of the game.”
What was “Team-X” in the above direct quote? Australia.
What was the context of the quote? The McGrath-Sarawan incident.
What did Procter do at the time? Nothing.
[Exit Stage Left]
Act-2 has borrowed heavily from Samir Chopra’s article in CricInfo’s Blog “Different Strokes” titled ‘Why is the Indian Fan So Angry’.
Samir Chopra is spot on.
My distrust with the officials that run the game comes from the totally insulting and perilously supercilious (in my view) actions of umpires like Billy Bowden when they deal with Asian players. Picture these following scenarios and take a check of your heart-rate if you are from the subcontinent. Let me know if it is anything below 85 bpm!
- Peter Willey shooing away the 12th man in Kolkata who was bringing in spare gloves for the batsman, as though the 12th man were nothing but odour coming out of rotting food,
- Steve Bucknor reprimanding Partiv Patel in Sydney as though the latter were a truant schoolboy,
- Billy Bowden shutting up Laxman in Delhi (in the recently concluded Test) as though the latter were an irritating fly.
In the third example above, Laxman had just attempted to complete a run. Bowden had ruled that Laxman had run on the pitch and deducted the run. Fair enough. But Laxman said, “How else could I complete the run?”, to which Bowden put his fingers to his lips and shooed Laxman back to the crease.
Now if that was the way Bowden always acts, that would be perhaps fine. But the same Bowden was repeatedly abused by Ricky Ponting questioning the authority of the umpire on everything from the legitimacy of an overthrow that went for 5 runs to the shape of the ball!
There are many many more examples that I can cite like the ones above. But these give you an example of the images that stay in the mind for a long long time. I have absolutely no trust in these gentlemen that run our beautiful game.
I would like to know that these images that I have are because Indians are inherently bad and not because it is inherently possible for the Bowedns, Bucknors and Willeys to act in this manner with Indians and get away with it.
As Samir Chopra says, these images make even the unthinkable very possible! For an Indian fan, what is perhaps most inconceivable, seems totally accceptable: Aleem Dar, Asad Rauf and even Ashoka DeSilva seem more acceptable as officials in a game involving India! They provide a calming influence!
Now, coming from a generation of Indian fans that were fed a staple diet of mistrust of Pakistani officialdom that included officials like Shakoor Rana, that statement is actually saying one heck of a lot!
[Exit Stage Left]
So, when I wrote above (and on previous occasions) that new-age Asians ought to be queuing up for ICC Match Referee positions this is exactly what I meant.
I would like Sourav Ganguly, for example, be a Match Refereee. I’d like him to officiate the game from an Asian point of view. Is it necessary? I do think so.
I would have wanted Billy Bowden to put his fingers to his lips when Ricky Ponting was abusing him on the field. Ponting was abusing Bowden’s authority. No doubt about it! And this was not the first time Ponting was doing it. He did it at Mohali too. But the officials will not pull Ponting up. They would rather concentrate their energies on the Laxmans of the world.
Chris Broad lacked the integrity to pull up Cameron White. He ought to have.
Just as there is no way Billy Bowden will put his fingers on his lips and motion (say) Matthew Hayden to shut up when the latter asks a genuine question of him, there is no way Chris Broad will pull Ponting up for anything other than kicking an opposition player!
This is the cricket world we live in. And I just don’t think it is good for the game.
We will see many more SCG Tests and many more Asian cricketers will re-read the Mahabharata (or similar Epics) to draw inspiration from before delivering ruthless focus to their game in a bid to “win at all costs”.
There will be fewer fish around — or plenty of fish with only one eye!
The game will be the loser for it all…