Tag Archives: Ricky Ponting

MS Dhoni: An Assured Level-5 Leader…

This post first appeared in Clearcricket. The idea of a piece on MS Dhoni was initiated by Subash Jayaraman, founder and contributor to Clearcricket (@thecricketcouch on Twitter).

*****

I remember the day very very clearly.

It was the 8th of November 2008. A Saturday. It was the third day of the final Test match of the series (at Nagpur) between India and Australia. I had watched the most gripping session of Test cricket in my Melbourne home. Having commenced the day on 189 for 2 off just 49 overs (at 3.85 runs per over), chasing India’s first innings total of 441 all out, Australia had ended the previous day on an aggressive high. The first few balls of that first session of play on day-3 set the scene for that session, and that day.

My jaw hit the floor. “Was this Team India I was seeing?”, I asked myself.

I did not move from my place on the couch in that session — it produced just 42 runs from 25 overs at a run-rate of 1.68 runs per over! Dull cricket? Yet, I remember that session so vividly.

So what made it a gripping session?

Through the morning session India captain MS Dhoni set a 8-1 field with 8 fielders on the off-side and a lone leg-side fielder at square-leg. The bowlers who had been slapped around the previous evening, curbed their attacking lines and bowled a disciplined line to Mike Hussey and Simon Katich the two Australian left-handers. At the time this was thought of as a “defensive” tactic. The Australians were shackled. Their attacking shots were curbed. And they did not quite know how to combat India’s strategy — it took them a while to figure out that there was, indeed, a strategy! An Indian team did not just “rock up”. They were playing “thinking cricket”. The Australians were like rabbits caught in the headlights. In the process, Australia had lost a wicket too; Simon Katich lost his composure and got out — he had been out-foxed.

Rather than remove his foot from the pedal, in the post-lunch session, Dhoni continued his strategy in a ruthless and clinical manner. For Clarke he set a 6-3 field but still bowled a “defensive line”. In that post-lunch session, Australia scored 49 runs in 29 overs and had lost 3 wickets.

Many commentators — including Ian Chappell and Alan Border — attribute the loss in this Nagpur Test match to Ricky Ponting’s strange captaincy in the India second innings, when he had Michael Hussey and Cameron White bowling in tandem in a bid to catch up on Australia’s bad over-rate! However, I strongly believe that it was those opening sessions of Day-3 that led to Australia losing that Test Match. India acquired an Australia-like attitude, caught the match by the scruff of its neck, and did not let go. It called for mean-mindedness; an Australia-like bloody-mindedness. It called for a surrender of ego and pride. It called for discipline.

MS Dhoni’s tactics were rubbished by Ian Chappel, who asked for a rule-change to curb defensive and “boring cricket”.

For me, that was “exciting and gripping cricket” and not “boring cricket”. I had watched every single ball. There was drama and emotion. There was a battle; a battle of nerves; a battle for survival; a battle for supremacy; a battle to ascertain who would blink first. They remain the most gripping sessions of Test cricket I have seen in the last two years! Both sessions were “attacking sessions” in my view.

Dhoni had a clear strategy. He had a firm plan in his mind. He appeared to have communicated his plan very clearly to his personnel and got them to buy into his vision. His players responded to his plan, even though it meant that they had to swallow their ego and pride. The plan could backfire badly if it failed. Dhoni had to ensure that it was executed to perfection. Whether Dhoni had a plan-B or not, we never know. But his plan-A worked to perfection. And once he saw that it was working, he did not relent. He had placed his foot on the jugular and kept it pressed there. He had done to the Australians what they did to so many teams in the previous 15 years!

This was Test match cricket at its very best.

A few years back, in 2001, in that series, Sourav Ganguly had asked left-arm spinner, Nilesh Kulkarni, to bowl a negative line outside leg-stump from one end (especially in the second innings) while he attacked the Australians with Harbhajan Singh at the opposite end, in a must-win match at Chennai.

This was similar. Only better!

*****

MS Dhoni seems to have an astute, canny, discerning and incisive sense of his place in Indian cricket history. He comes across as an extremely perspicacious individual. Perhaps it is because of his small-town upbringing. Perhaps it is because a sense of sagacious, earthy and incisive unpretentiousness is ingrained in him due to his roots and upbringing.

That Test match in Nagpur witnessed two other moments that are enduring, stirring and indelible in my memory.

Towards the end of the Nagpur Test match, MS Dhoni handed over the captaincy reins to a man who had started India’s march towards the top of the tree at the start of the decade. Sourav Ganguly marshaled the troops and rang in the bowling changes as India marched towards a Test and series victory in that 2008 series. It was a wonderful and honest gesture of extreme appreciation and perhaps even respect by Dhoni towards a man who had been nudged towards retirement. Ganguly was playing in his last Test Match. The match report reads, “A less secure man would have wanted to hog the limelight, but by ceding space to one of Indian cricket’s all-time greats for a couple of overs, Dhoni showed just how aware he was of the bigger picture.”

If that was emotionally stirring and if that was a signal of a man who was totally self-assured, what followed at the post-match ceremony tugged at the heart-strings even more. Dhoni called Anil Kumble to the victory dais to accept the Boarder-Gavaskar trophy. After all, it was during the series that Anil Kumble had retired.

Dhoni had scripted the strongest and most compelling farewell gestures to Ganguly and Kumble. This wasn’t, in my view, false humility. This wasn’t, in my view the act of a man devaluing his own accomplishments for the sake of receiving applause, accolade or adulation from others. His humility in these actions were real. He expected neither praise nor favors. These were, I believe, anchored in a strong and calm sense of assuredness.

And so, the baton had passed so wonderfully during that exciting Test match at Nagpur. India had commenced the decade with a strong statement against the Australians in 2001. In 2008, the baton passed to a man who would take the team from being just good to perhaps being great.

*****

I have long held the view that Sourav Ganguly was the first leader of men in Indian cricket. He had a vision for the Indian cricket team. He developed short-term and longer-term goals for the team. He wanted India to be competitive in world cricket; not just good at ‘home’. He believed passionately in this vision and committed to it with fervor. He had a road map to get him to the goals along the way. This included a professional coaching setup and an army of support staff. He was able to argue his case for adequate resources and quickly established himself as the leader of the team. He was able to rise above regional politics and demonstrated his will and commitment through his actions. He demonstrated that he was unbiased. He was quick in identifying talent and supported players through (sometimes multiple) failures. What he built was a systematic meritocracy where players would go to many lengths to give their all for him and for the team cause.

Of course, he did build his team at a time when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Saourav Ganguly himself formed the backbone of an evolving good team. There were still questions on how they would be “replaced” to affect a transition from short-term good to long-term great!

Meanwhile, all of Ganguly’s good work was somewhat undone in his latter years through a dip in his own personal form, which coincided with the arrival of Greg Chappell — right man at the wrong time and at a very, very wrong place.

Indian cricket, which had started the decade with much promise and hope, was suddenly hopeless again. Through Anil Kumble, some balance was restored.

It was in this context that MS Dhoni took over the captaincy of the T20 and ODI teams and finally the Test team.

The road from good to great had not yet been traversed. The plan for this road was yet to be developed. What was urgently required was assured leadership, a vision and an organisational setup.

*****

As a player, Dhoni had transformed from being a flamboyant thumper to being an ungainly, yet effective artiste. His wicket-keeping was steady, if not brilliant. It was as a batsman, though, that he made his mark.

Initially, he was type-cast as an ODI player. After announcing himself with a 123-ball 148 against Pakistan, he made his big announcement with a massive 183 against Sri Lanka. Pundits wrote him off as a failure in Tests even before he had started. But then he made a terrific century in a high-scoring drawn-match in Faisalabad against Pakistan. He then made a fighting knock against England at Lords’ to save a Test match. Suddenly, he was a Test match player too.

From there on, a new and re-invented Dhoni played with maturity and calmness. It seemed as though he was comfortable in the team. He became a player who was able to play in many gears. He sometimes curbed his natural instincts to become a grafter, but young-India identified with the buccaneering marauder in him. They wanted him to play his trademark helicopter shot every match, every over, every ball.

That shot itself became symbolic of the rural rustic fighting for his space in a complex modern milieu, fully armed with a sackful of attitude, a satellite TV and many mobile phones! Dhoni represented the man he wanted to be. They wanted Dhoni to be the pillager that would plunder and raid runs from the opposition. They saw in Dhoni the big-city boldness and brashness that they aspired to.

But he was equally at home in the bright lights. He had the flamboyance, the long hair and the party life-style of a city lad. He even spoke English with the panache and confidence of a city lad! When his “Well of course” opener to any question became a trademark, he was assured enough to realize it and use it to mock himself! Today, he uses “Wellofcourse” in self-deprecation and smiles through it, knowing that many out there are having a guffaw. He blended into the city and the city men wanted to be like him.

Here was a common man from rural India who led a massive team with an earthy and grounded set of pragmatic sensibilities. Yet, he was a shining and suave diplomat under bright lights on the world stage. He had become a hero to both rural India and urban India.

Slowly, India accepted him as a very clever cricketer who could sum up the situation and play the way the game needed him to play. They enjoyed his barbs and exhortations from behind the stumps. They loved it when he asked Amit Mishra to bowl “udhar se” (round the wicket) in the Mohali Test against the Australians in 2008 to Michael Clarke. Clarke was out off that last ball of the day, leaving the Australians in disarray! They loved it when he said to Sreesanth to move in the field and when the speedster didn’t pay attention, he said, “Your girlfriend is not there… just move a bit” (or words to that effect) in a Test match. They loved it when he announced to the world and also exhorted his team to put in extra effort because Badrinath’s wife had just had a baby in Chennai!

So, slowly, one could see his steady and assured ascent to a leadership role. It is true that he seemed to posses that special Midas Touch that leaders crave for. Perhaps he had that auto loan calculator luck. Perhaps he made his luck. I never saw him as an accidental tourist. His was, in my view, a calculated assault at the top job in the Team India. In Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, he had his ‘seniors’ in the team. He first became ‘one of them’ and then surged ahead as a perceived leader. It helped that while Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh had occasional lapses in ‘form’ and/or focus, Dhoni kept improving as a player and a potential leader.

When the time came, it was almost natural that he would be anointed leader of the ODI team and the T20 team. The victories came… He led India to a famous victory in ICC’s inaugural T20 World Championships. It came at a desperate and desolate time in the post-Chappell and post-Dravid months and a few months after India had been knocked out of the 2007 ICC World Cup!

It was an important time and an important victory for Team India.

That T20 victory gave birth to the IPL — admittedly, some fans may not agree that this was a desirous outcome. However, in a year that was a disaster from most other perspectives, the rise of Dhoni as a leader in the T20 world cup was an unmistakable positive. He was the future. He was the alternative. Even though Yuvraj Singh had smashed six 6s off a hapless Stuart Broad over and despite all the machismo surrounding that, Dhoni emerged tall as the leader of a young-bold India.

From then, his ascent to the top of the summit was strong, assured, dignified and steady. He was marked as an under study to Anil Kumble, the statesman. When the time was right, the reins were handed over.

Today, Dhoni is the leader of three India teams: Test, ODI and T20.

Over the last many months, I have had many debates with friends — fans of Indian cricket — who maintained that MS Dhoni, the captain of Team India, has been extremely lucky as captain.

Initially, I would have been quite happy to agree with them. Not lately. Not now.

He is, to me a Level-5 Leader who works hard at identifying where he wants to be and works harder at getting there!

*****

Jim Collins, in his article, “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve”, [The Best Of HBR, HBR July-August, 2005, p.136-146] studies many successful companies. Collins concludes that perhaps the most important component of the transition from “good-to-great” is what he termed “Level 5 Leadership“. [I have extracted the concise summary below from here]

  • Level 1 is a Highly Capable Individual who “makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits.”
  • Level 2 is a Contributing Team Member who “contributes individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting.”
  • Level 3 is the Competent Manager who “organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.”
  • Level 4 is an Effective Leader who “catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards.”
  • Level 5 is the Self-assured Executive Leader who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and strong professional will.”

In his study, Jim Collins found that every one of his “good-to-great” companies had Level-5 leaders in the critical transition phase. Interestingly, none of the comparison companies did!

To me, though, a Level-5 leader is one that has many paradoxes embodied in the one person. They can be timid and ferocious, hesitant and fearlessly-adventurous, modest and pompous, diffident and audacious. More importantly, they might demonstrate an ability to focus on the small things while demonstrating a fierce, unwavering and uncompromising commitment to big goals, large vision and high standards.

Dhoni has demonstrated that he is highly capable. He has a strong work ethic and makes stunning and compelling contributions to the team. He contributes as an individual and sets an example for everyone else in the team to follow. They do. He ensures that he has the people and the resources and backs them. He backed Yuvraj Singh through all his troubles. He sometimes backs players a bit too much, but that is his method of catalyzing commitment. He is a big vision guy for whom the smaller details are important too.

The way MS Dhoni has gone about his task of leading this team is, in my view, a living example of an evolving Level-5 Leader. Even during the World Cup 2011 journey, he was at times shy-audacious, modest-brash, hesitant-bold. He was honest enough to admit his mistakes — and that effectively shut up the pack of loud jackals that were baying for his blood when they were not singing paeans of acclamation! By the end of the tournament, when the cup was won, there was no doubt that it was his team and he had done it his way.

He made decisions and made it clear that these were his decisions. After experimenting with several team-balance-options, he was certain that he wanted 3 pace bowlers for his team. He stuck to that format. He admitted that he experimented with various options along the way. He demonstrated honesty, when there was no need to do so. He demonstrated that he wasn’t quite sure of how to do it although it was quite clear what he wanted. In the end, he demonstrated immense personal courage and personal responsibility by coming up the batting order in the final match, at a time when the spinners were on. He didn’t place his gun on someone else’s shoulder and fire. He demonstrated extreme personal courage in the line of fire. It was a bold decision. It could have backfired like the 8-1 field. But he was determined to leave his stamp on the win. And if you doubted that, see the look in his eyes as he hits those winning runs, followed by that bat twirl.

He was very clear that he stood on broad and impressive shoulders when he thanked Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, for building the solid platform on which he stands today (although I would have liked it more if he had added Laxman’s name to make it a quintet rather than a quartet, but that is only a minor quibble).

Today Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly have already acknowledged Dhoni’s exemplary leadership. In Ian Chappell’s view Dhoni is amongst the great modern captains.

*****

The World-Cup victory did not actually mean much to me! At the risk of being stoned to death by unforgiving Team India fans, let me state again that it would not have mattered to me if India had lost in the quarters or the semis or indeed, the finals.

For me, it was a small — albeit important — step in a much more important journey. The road ahead for this team is hard and there are significant challenges as Dhoni takes this team from good to great. I am much more interested in seeing how this wonderful leader is going to take Indian cricket along that important journey. For, unlike Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, other outstanding leaders of excellent cricket teams in the recent past, Dhoni leads a team of committed players rather than a set of some alarmingly stunning players who could win a match on their own, if the situation demanded it!

In that sense, he is cut from the cloth that Imran Khan and Alan Border were made of. And that excites me tremendously. He seems to posses the dogged and unwavering occidental determination of Alan Border that allows Dhoni to focus so intensely on “methodology, standards and process” while retaining the oriental mystique of Imran Khan, which allows him to focus on the “absolute value of and need for individual expression”. This is a heady mix.

And that is why I have hope. I think back to that day when I watched two gripping sessions of Test cricket when an Indian captain was calm, mean-minded, inventive and fiercely determined. For that was the day my admiration for MS Dhoni commenced.

I think back to that 8-1 field that started the journey of fascination that I undertook with him. I also look at everything he has achieved in the 2 and a half years since that day. I then say to myself, “With Dhoni around as a Level-5 leader, there is much hope for this Team India fan.”

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

One match to go…

A week ago I wrote that there were more ‘positives’ emanating from India’s loss to South Africa in the Cricket World Cup 2011. One of these ‘positives’ related to India’s possible QF opponent. If India had finished top of Group-B, her opponent would have been Pakistan (according to my prediction then). I had attempted a prediction of the results of the remaining games and hence, a prediction of the QF line up too.

All of these were correct calls, I believe, apart from my prediction of last nights’ game between Pakistan and Australia. I should have listened to the heart and not my mind when I made that call. You never know with Pakistan. I should have stuck with the heart and predicted in favor of the mercurial unpredictability of Pakistan.

I did just that several weeks back when I had primed Pakistan and South Africa as the eventual finalists of WC2011. That early, risky and flame-worthy prediction is partially vindicated at the half-way stage of the World Cup because Pakistan and South Africa have topped their respective groups.

So why the change of heart/mind from Pakistan to Australia in last week’s result predictions?

The change of heart/mind was mainly because of Michael Hussey’s presence in the Australian team. Hussey lends stability to a middle order that is struggling with a weak Ricky Ponting an unsure Michael Clarke, a ‘lost’ Cameron White and an over-rated Steve Smith. Michael Hussey, who entered the squad as a result of Doug Bollinger’s departure, offered stability and sanity where there appeared to be neither.

That was the only reason I had changed my original prediction from Pakistan to Australia. However, even Hussey wasn’t able to prevent a Pakistan win in last night’s game.

I do believe that this Australian team needs a lot of re-work to be resurgent in world cricket. Change is necessary. And that change is right at the top. Ponting must morph himself or he must go.

Australia’s woes run deep at the moment. They could still win the World Cup from here. However, despite the proud and significant 34-match run of World Cup victories — interestingly, sandwiched by two losses to Pakistan in 1999 and 2011 — the chinks in Australia’s armory are worse than Ponting’s scowl might reveal. The scowl has now deepened into a semi-permanent fixture on his face.

Ponting is not just going through a rough patch. It is now a horrible patch. He is a proud man who protects his significant impact on the game with the fierceness of a terrier under attack. The now dreadful series of Ashes losses look terrible on his CV. He would like to redress that imbalance by visiting England again. And for that he must win the World Cup. He must know that only a World Cup win will protect his place in the Australian team. I doubt he will play under another captain — that is just not the Australian way.

Moreover, there was a time when Ponting appeared to be catching up on Sachin Tendulkar’s career aggregate, average and number of centuries — somewhat meaningless first-order measures of a batsman’s impact on the game. My sense is that Ponting worries a lot about things like that too. Over the last 18 months Sachin Tendulkar has hit a surreal patch of sublime resurgence. He has put daylight between himself and Ponting in these stats tables. I think that that daylight and the Ashes losses are weighing heavily on the mind of the Australian captain. He is just not playing like he can (or indeed, has).

A few months back, Ponting alluded to Sachin Tendulkar’s sublime form and indicated that he would draw inspiration from that resurgence. I personally think he has put too much pressure on himself. He is playing with less authority and composure these days than ever before. He reminds me of the unsure Ponting that suffered in India in 1998. And that lack of confidence reflects on his team.

Meanwhile, India has a somewhat important match coming up in a few hours’ time. I say “somewhat important” because the result doesn’t really matter as far as I am concerned. If India wins she will play Australia in the quarter finals (QF). If India loses, she will play Sri Lanka in the QF. Although I would have preferred India to meet New Zealand in the QF, she must either beat Sri Lanka or Australia in Ahmedabad to progress to the semi-final.

Either of these QF opponents will do. Both Sri Lanka and Australia are terrific teams — I say that, despite Australia’s batting woes. Sri Lanka suffers from the same woes, in my view. Apart from Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, there is nothing much in the Sri Lankan batting. So as a result of todays’ match against West Indies, India will face either a strong bowling attack (Australia) or a slightly stronger bowling attack (Sri Lanka). In either scenario, India’s batsmen will have to do the job of scoring a large number of runs and put the opposition under pressure.

In today’s game, India needs to sort out her team balance and commit to it regardless of the result.

There are some doubts over Sehwag’s fitness. I cannot see how Ashwin can be left out. India has a 15-member team in which two players rule themselves out due to “confidence” problems. One player — Sreesanth — does not appear to have the team captain’s confidence and another player — Piyush Chawla — who, by his own captain’s admission, does not have self-confidence. So that automatically makes this a 13-member team with two players fighting to be drinks’ carriers!

Therefore, given Munaf Patel’s reasonable performance, through a process of elimination, the only choices that need to be made are which ones of (a) Suresh Raina or Yusuf Pathan, (b) R. Ashwin or Ashish Nehra. It appears that the current choice is for Suresh Raina and R. Ashwin. Interestingly, both play for Chennai Super Kings! Call it luck or the whatdoycallit-red-dot-on-forehead syndrome.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Vale Australian Cricket?

Srikanth Mangalam wrote a brilliant piece on the disintegration of Australian Cricket yesterday. I loved his opening where he says, “If your resume states that you have spun a top atleast three times in your life, you would certainly qualify to play for Australia in the Ashes series.”

I abhor gloating, but I will take the bait — as Srikanth did — this one time. In the 1990s, I lost count of the number of times when I’ve not wanted to go in to work on a Monday (in Australia) for fear of being continually ridiculed by my Aussie colleagues for a(nother) pathetic show by Team India. When I said to one such colleague, “I don’t think it is acceptable to kick a guy when he is down”, his immediate reply was, “When else am I going to do it?”

Funny. But true!

The shoe is on the other foot. We can show a bit of grace, I suppose, but I am happy to stick it to the Aussies for a little while yet! Payback does feel good sometimes.

One aspect of the recent decline of Australian cricket that Srikanth Mangalam omitted is the fact that this entire period of slump has been presided by coach Tim Nielsen! And guess what? He has been awarded a 3-year extension until 2013! Why has he got this extension? Because he is the coach that took Australia from #1 in the ICC Test rankings to #5 — and the slide does not appear to have stopped! How is it possible that the coach gets a 3-year extension before even a single ball has been bowled in the all-important Ashes series? Well, I suppose Nielsen has consistency on his side — he has managed to string together a series of losses quite consistently!

The Australian selectors are panicking. Stuart McGill has come down on the selection panel like a ton of bricks. Soon, others will follow suit. If Australian cricket fans think that there is good news around the corner, please take a look at who is lurking around the dressing rooms: Greg Chappell! And we all know what he did with/to Team India!

I believe the Australian slide started on that fateful day in early-January 2008, when the world of cricket adopted a Gate of its own: MonkeyGate!

Almost since then, the Australian selectors have stolen the revolving door that the Team India selection panel used so effectively in the 1990s! Michael Beer will be the 10th Australian Test spinner used since the retirement of Shane Warne! Krejza looked good and Hauritz has the stats (except in India). But they have been revolved out! The Australian selectors are panicking — much like the Team India selectors did up until the 1990s — and the world of cricket is loving every second of this soap opera that is spiraling downwards and out of control.

The level of panic is so high that the selectors have turned to Michael Beer! I do know that beer is a fine Australian tradition. I am confident that the brown liquid does help the average Aussie drive away most pains, but most Aussies will know that the hangover from beer can linger for quite a while!

I am certain that the world of cricket needs a strong and vibrant Australia. I have no doubt about that. Test cricket is currently going through a slump and that is, in my view, due to the state of Australian cricket.

Rahul Bhattacharya, in an article in the Mint Lounge says it all. His piece starts off brilliantly. The hypothesis is quite clearly stated and Bhattacharya commences his arguments purposefully. He and then slides into a strange cackle, produces an incoherent set of arguments towards the middle and then slides into an immature oblivion — much like the slide in Australian cricket that he so bemoans. I believe Rahul Bhattacharya loses the plot when, in an article on the global slump in Test cricket, he devotes an entire chunk of his article to Ricky Ponting’s predilection for fellow Tasmanian cricketers!

Be that as it may, I believe Test cricket needs a strong Australia. It certainly was exciting when Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Glen McGrath played together.

Test cricket needs that kind of excitement! Today, instead of Marshall-Holding-Garner-Roberts or even McGrath-Lee-Gillespie, the best we have is Steyn-Morkel-Parnell! Instead of Prasanna-Bedi-Chandrashekar we have Harbhajan-Ojha or worse still Beer-North or Hauritz-Smith!

The Australian domestic system is too robust to see the situation slide to a point where Zimbabwe and Bangladesh start licking their lips in anticipation of a series against the Aussies! There is an abundance of talent in the Australian domestic scene. This needs to be, once again, harnessed, toughened and sharpened in a style similar to that which Alan Border adopted in the mid-80s. That fine tradition of tough Australian cricketers, so perfectly instilled by Border, was then carried on by Taylor and Waugh. Today, Ricky Ponting has lost it all. That is primarily because, in my view, Ponting is no Alan Border. Ponting is a good captain of a good team filled with good/strong individuals. The job now requires a tough, no-nonsense guy who is not given to existing in a prolonged and continual state of extreme denial. The job requires someone who has an internal mirror that offers nothing but uncompromisingly candid introspection. Ponting, unfortunately, does not possess mirrors. He is far too easily prone to denial-driven-operations — witness his reactions to criticism after his disastrous decision in the Nagpur Test against India in 2008!

Perhaps the answer is that Ponting has to go as captain. If he goes as captain, Australia may buck the trend and have him continue as a player. That is hard to say. However, what is needed is a no-nonsense captain who is uncompromisingly tough; a captain that can transform boys into men. Just as South Africa made an extremely bold decision in appointing Graeme Smith as captain a few years back, Australia needs to make a tough decision; a decision with tremendous foresight and far-reaching consequences.

And what has this got to do with India and Indian cricket? As I say, the world of cricket needs a tough Australia. To have India as #1 when Australia is weak means a hollow #1 for me.

That said, I am enjoying sticking the boot in right now and perhaps for the next few weeks.

— Mohan

Harbhajan Singh’s mother in Peter Lalor’s frame…

In this article in yesterday’s Australian newspaper, Peter Lalor, our good friend from The Australian, takes aim at Harbhajan Singh’s mother and squeaky-voiced Indian TV reporters!

My conclusion after reading Peter Lalor’s recent articles is that he is somewhat upset by Justice Hansen’s ruling. Maybe he has a dislike for anyone that plays the game like the Australians do.

What did Harbhajan Singh do? He stood up to an Australian player.

In my view, that is precisely why Sourav Ganguly, Arjuna Ranatunga, Harbhajan Singh, Sree Santh, et al, are disliked here in Australia. They play the game tough. They give it to the Australians as Australians themselves do to them. I do believe Australians need to get used to this new breed of cricketer from the sub-continent. They are not going to take things lying down — as they have, over the years!

One could mount the argument that Harbhajan Singh was a placid person on the pitch playing his cricket until he ears got pinned by a needlessly ugly behaviour on the field.

Let us not forget that Harbhajan Singh was actually trying to encourage his opponent, Brett Lee, with a “well bowled” comment, when his head got snapped off by the churlish Andrew Symonds. Symonds said that he had an objection to Harbhajan Singh saying some encouraging words to one of the Australians. Symonds said, “my objection was that a test match is no place to be friendly with an opposition player.”

Justice Hansen admonished Symonds’ behaviour and said, “If that is his view I hope it is not one shared by all international cricketers. It would be a sad day for cricket if it is.”

Indeed.

Was Harbhajan Singh provoked? Well, Justice Hansen seemed to think so. Was he right to mouth off back at Symonds in the manner he did? No. And he got slapped a fine for the lesser Level 2.8 offence which refers to “obscene, offensive or seriously insulting language”.

The facts are that both Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke accept that Harbhajan Singh said something in his native toungue that they did not understand. Both of them admit that Singh said something that sounded like “big monkey”. In fact, the transcript of Michael Clarke’s statement, in Mike Proctor’s original hearing, indicates that he heard things being said that he did not hear or comprehend which he referred to as “something something something”. And then he heard the words “big monkey”.

The fact is that Andrew Symonds himself accepted that Sachin Tendulkar of all the participants was closest to Harbhajan Singh during the course of the heated exchange. Tendulkar said that he heard the heated exchange that included swearing between the two main subjects, initiated by Symonds. He also said that he did not hear the word “monkey” or “big monkey” but that he heard Harbhajan Singh use a term in his native tongue “teri maki” (pronounced with a “n”).

The judge needed to be sure that the allegations could indeed be upheld. If he was left with an “honest and reasonable uncertainty” then he should have ruled in favour of Harbhajan Singh.

The problem here was compounded by the fact that of the three Australian players that heard the words “big monkey”, none of them could recall any other words that were said by either party! Which is somewhat strange. Justice Hansen finds this a bit surprising and states, “This is a little surprising in the context where there was a reasonably prolonged heated exchange. Indeed Mr Clarke went so far as to say that he did not hear Mr Symonds say anything. Given Mr Symonds’ own acceptance that he initiated the exchange and was abusive towards Mr Singh, that is surprising. This failure to identify any other words could be because some of what they were hearing was not in English.”

The balance of probability indicates, therefore, that it is probable Harbhajan Singh did indeed use the words “teri maa(n) ki”.

Justice Hansen, in his findings criticises Andrew Symonds for provoking the incident.

The really interesting segment of the ruling is this one below (reproduced here):

Given that is the view of the complainant it is hard to see how the requisite elements of 3.3 could be satisfied. However, given it is an objective interpretation that is not the end of the matter. I must consider if the “ordinary person” would have been offended in a 3.3 sense. That again requires a look at context. Mr Singh had innocently, and in the tradition, of the game acknowledged the quality of Mr Lee’s bowling. That interchange had nothing to do with Mr Symonds but he determined to get involved and as a result was abusive towards Mr Singh. Mr Singh was, not surprisingly, abusive back. He accepts that his language was such as to be offensive under 2.8. But in my view even if he had used the words “alleged” an “ordinary person” standing in the shoes of Mr Symonds who had launched an unprovoked and unnecessary invective laden attack would not be offended or insulted or humiliated in terms of 3.3.

In other words, Justice Hansen seems to have said that even if Harbhajan Singh had used the words “big monkey”, at Andrew Symonds, given that the latter had “launched an unprovoked and unnecessary invective laden attack”, he would not be offended or insulted!

Perhaps I am reading this wrong!

Justice Hansen even accuses Symonds of breaching a handshake deal made when Harbhajan allegedly first called him a monkey in India.

Harbhajan Singh has a problem and this needs to be addressed. He is an ill-tempered hot-head and needs to be counselled.

At the same time, it would be wrong for Peter Lalor and the Australian media to ignore that Andrew Symonds has a problem too. And this needs addressing pronto. Symonds can’t sit on a pedestal placed at 35,000 ft above sea level and preach eloquently on appropriate forms of celebration (cf: Indian post-Twenty20 celebrations) and then carry on like a pork chop after his teams’ Sydney victory. And did anyone see his war-dance when he got Kumble out at Perth? How can this man talk about appropriate post-victory celebrations?

I didn’t see Peter Lalor rushing off to interview Symonds’ mum at that point in time! But he got some choice words out of Harbhajan Singhs’ mother and proceeded to pillory and mock it.

Did Harbhajan Singh’s mother say that she was relieved that her son had made a “derogatory remark about his opponent’s mother’s vagina” (as Peter Lalor writes in his blog)? No. She said, “I am very happy today. It is the victory of truth. I was anxious before the verdict came, but now I am more at peace. I knew God was with us and I had full faith that my son would come out clean.”

What is the “truth” that she talks about? The truth is that there is no evidence to suggest that her son is a racist. Period.

It is easy to mock. Anyone can invade the privacy of another person’s home, stick a mike under her nose, get some choice words out of her and then proceed to pillory the innocent subject who said what she did. To write responsibly and with empathy is not really hard. But it calls for courage. It calls for dignity. It calls for a code of ethics.

And on the topic of mockery. What is with this squeaky-voiced Indian TV reporter? What does a squeaky voice have to do with the price of fish anyway?

Let us stick to the facts please? Court rulings are based on fact, not allegations, anger and opinions. Did Harbhajan Singh say something racist? We will never know. The Kangaroo Court set up by Mike Proctor, a man not trained in things legal, decreed “beyond reasonable doubt” that Singh did villify. That was a wrong ruling — we all know that now. It was wrong because natural justice was not served. The man did not review all the evidence properly enough to be satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt”. And yet, he pronounced his ruling “beyond reasonable doubt”. That is a huge call to make. And it was made by a man that just did not know.

In any case, the initial ruling by Mike Proctor got thrown out. Thankfully natural justice was served. A proper court indicated that that initial ruling was a mistake. There simply wasn’t enough incontrovertible evidence to suggest that Harbhajan Singh did say what he was purported to have said. On the contrary, there was some evidence to suggest that, on the balance of probability, Harbhajan Singh did say something abusive in his native tongue, when provoked needlessly, that may have seemed to an untrained ear to have sounded like “monkey”.

End of story. Time for all of us to accept that and move on.

Monkeygate: The Harbhajan Singh Saga

Once again, the key actors in this sordid racism saga were involved in this latest episode. Cricket Australia, ICC, BCCI, Harbhajan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, Andrew Symonds, Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, the Press…

The scene had shifted to Adelaide. The posturing was somewhat different. Some were approaching it with equanimity. Some were just tired. Some were angry. Some were sang froid.

But, for the first time in this saga, we had a properly trained legal professional handling the case.

In the end, Harbhajan Singh was cleared of the racism charge.

But the BCCI looked like totally ugly school-yard bully when it chartered a plane to take its players back home if the appeals court did not find in Harbhajan Singh’s favour. Their ODI specialist players, like Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, Sree Santh, Praveen Kumar, et al, who had arrived in Melbourne, were whisked to Adelaide in a “show of solidarity”. A chartered plane lay waiting in Adelaide, its engine revved up, in the event that the appeal did not go in India’s favour!

I agree with Peter Roebuck that this stance by the BCCI was “abominable”. What is required all around is strong, ethical, responsible leadership. The BCCI controls more than 70% of the world games’ revenues. The power that comes with this territory has to be used in a responsible manner. I am afraid the BCCI has let India down, yet again, by posturing in the manner that it has. It is all a bit sad really.

The initial ruling in this case was by a Kangaroo Court and it was flawed. I could understand the Indian anger and the disappointment when Team India performed a “sit in” at its Sydney Hotel. However, this was a proper court that was in progress in Adelaide. It was presided by an independent person of honour and experience. To not show respect for the law and the courts and to threaten to take its bat and ball and go home in the event of an unsavoury ruling in Adelaide was, in my view, grotesque. The BCCI is in urgent need of effective leadership, I am afraid.

Everyone anywhere with half a brain knew — as night follows day — that the finding by John Hansen’s court was totally inevitable. It was inevitable that the Harbhajan Singh appeal would be successful. There just wasn’t enough proof to justify the “beyond reasonable doubt” pronouncement that Mike Proctor made originally.

The whole initial process that the ICC put in place to hear the case smacked of a naivety that does not show the organisation in good light. The ICC needs to toughen its stand on procedures such as this. The game deserves it. The ICC owes it to the game.

The ICC is painted in even more shocking light now. It has since emerged that Mike Proctor is believed to have pleaded with Malcolm Speed, the ICC Chief Executive, that the initial case be heard in a proper legal setting. Instead, we had a Kangaroo Court being presided by a man who was not trained in things legal. We had a strong pronouncement of justice when the evidence was shonky and when there was doubt. The man played the emotion card and not the rational card. He was not trained. The man was made to look silly. The ICC had dredged up and conjured yet another scapegoat.

Justifiably there is anger in the Australian camp. The Australian players were sure that Harbhajan Singh used the “monkey” word. Singh denied it. Both deserved a fair hearing. They got it. They just need to accept the ruling and move on.

Did Harbhajan Singh actually say what he did? We had a few readers on our blog who are sure that Harbhajan Singh said it. How are they sure when the court ruled that there was no tangible evidence that he said it! Paranoia even reached comical proportions when a few readers suggested that the news was broken in Indian nwes channels even before judgement was made!

In the end, it does not matter what you or I think may or may not have happened. A court of law had ruled. Those who do not like it, need to take a pill and move on. Opinions and paranoia do not count in a court of law. Facts do. Justice Hansen’s ruling states that on all the evidence submitted before him, “the charge of a Level 3.3 offence was not proven but that Harbhajan should be charged with a Level 2.8 offence instead.”

We can speculate till the cows come home on whether the word “monkey” was used. It will not change anything. We need to accept it and move on.

As Peter Roebuck says, “Court cases are about fact, not stories or opinions or allegations or interpretations or guesses. Once the microphones and umpires did not back up the charges, the case was doomed.

The pity is that this was doomed from the start. Given the ICC’s incompetence, the case has dragged on for this long.

In my own personal view, if something was indeed said, a head-kick-in by Anil Kumble after a strong word from Ricky Ponting would have had a much better effect than all this needless posturing. But that is all history and is currently irrelevant.

The Australian players are angry at the BCCI for flexing its muscles. One un-named player is reported to have said to The Age, “The thing that pisses us off is that it shows how much power India has. The Aussie guys aren’t going to make it (the accusation) up. The players are frustrated because this shows how much influence India has, because of the wealth they generate. Money talks.”

There is one way for the Australian players to show their collective anger and disgust at this ruling: they could tear up that lucrative IPL contract that the BCCI slapped on the desks of Australian players! That will teach them bullies!

That would be radical step by the Australian players — these fine, upstanding gentlemen who do everything the right way. That would be the ethical thing to do perhaps?

However, it is most likely that the Australian players, including the one that was reportedly “pissed off” will queue up and play in the IPL.

Money talks. Life goes on.

— Mohan