Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Great White Cricket Conspiracy

The fallout from the second Test between Australia and India has been substantial, with pundits the world over queuing up to lambaste the umpires, the ICC, and the Australian cricket team. In the barrage of brickbats, some of the criticisms have become tangled up, forming the picture that the entire Western world has somehow conspired to prevent the Indian cricket team from winning a match in Australia. But how legitimate are these grievances? Let’s break them down and see where the problems lie.

Did the umpires (Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson) have it in for India?

Unlikely. The contentious decisions were almost certainly due to human error, as strange as some of them may seem.

But India still got a raw deal from the umpires, didn’t they?

Sure, if we’re talking about the number of wrong decisions that disadvantaged India compared to the number that disadvantaged Australia. Bucknor giving Australian batsman Andrew Symonds not out when he was seemingly caught behind on 30 was particularly costly. But Bucknor didn’t bowl the balls that allowed Symonds to smash another 132 runs after that. Similarly, the Australians were responsible for Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar scoring a century after he seemingly got a life on 36, which could have proved fatal to their chances. Where an umpiring decision is wholly responsible for disadvantaging a team is when they erroneously give a batsman out, but India didn’t fare any worse than Australia in this regard.

Did ICC referee Mike Procter (who suspended Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh for three matches for being guilty of racial abuse towards Andrew Symonds) have it in for India then?

Hard to see why. Indian players, officials and supporters were disappointed that he chose to take the Australian players’ word over that of the Indian players, but if the decision had gone the other way the Australians would have been similarly disappointed. The Indian players have a chance to provide a more convincing case when it goes to appeal.

Should (Australian captain) Rick Ponting have reported the incident?

Under the rules he had to as long as his team thought that there had been a case of racial abuse. So the real question is: did this incident qualify?

Well, did it?

If Harbhajan did in fact make the comments he is alleged to have made, then he’s in trouble. Such comments are more likely to be forgivable if the Indian cricket team were ignorant of how offensive the word ‘monkey’ would be to Andrew Symonds. But, after the recent Australian visit to India, any Indian player would have to be living under a rock not to understand the full implications of the word.

But what about ‘sledging’? Isn’t that a form of abuse?

This is where the Ponting-bashers may have a point. There have been many reports that the Australians have no peer when it comes to hurling abuse at opponents, and it’s not hard to believe that they up the ante when the match becomes tight. Some may say that this is simply part of the game, but it’s not pleasant to turn up to work and be abused for five straight days. In the end though, it’s hard to make laws against being a tool.

Did the Australians cheat by claiming catches that weren’t there?

We can never know for sure, but probably not. Ponting appears to be committed to the ‘honour system’ for contentious catches, as shown earlier in the match when he did not appeal for what looked to be a possible catch. And in the end, it’s not the players that make the decision, it’s the umpires. If Mark Benson thought Sourav Ganguly was not out on the fifth day, all he had to do was turn the appeal down.

But what about the Australians claiming dismissals that are not there? And not ‘walking’ when they know they are out?

If the Indians had been chasing victory on the fifth day, it’s not hard to imagine them appealing even if there was only a slight chance that the batsman would be given out. Similarly, there are few batsmen that ‘walk’ when the umpire decides that they are not out. In any case, Ponting has made it fairly clear for years that he wants a ‘honour system’ for catches but that other decisions should be left up to the umpire, so one can hardly accuse him of suddenly developing double standards. If other teams want to expand the ‘honour system’ to other aspects of the game then they should bring it up with him.

What about Ponting reportedly throwing the bat in disgust after he was wrongly given out leg before wicket?

Not the most serene reaction, but so what? If Ponting had thrown the bat while still out on the field then we would have a different kettle of fish. But once he got to the dressing room he should be able to swear his head off, put his fist through the wall, and make a voodoo doll of Steve Bucknor if he wants to. Yuvraj Singh’s behaviour in Melbourne was more objectionable than Ponting’s was.

How about the Australians not shaking Anil Kumble’s hand after the win?

OK, it would have been nice, but again so what? It has been pointed out that English all-rounder Andrew Flintoff consoled Australian Brett Lee after England’s narrow victory at Edgbaston in 2005. True, but I seem to remember Michael Vaughn and the rest of the team whooping it up in a similar manner to the Aussies’ celebrations in Sydney. It would be good to see the Australians acknowledge their opponents, but it’s hardly a hanging offence.

So where to from here?

The Australians probably need to remember to tone down their on-field behaviour and the Indians to remember that the game needs officials.

Were the Australians lucky to keep their winning streak intact?

Yep, but to win 16 matches in a row you need a bit of luck.

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