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Prem Panicker: It is about justice, not world domination

By Prem Panicker
Last updated on: January 08, 2008 11:59 IST
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Here we go again - no sooner does India protest some gross inequity, than some bloke (and in such cases, a couple of English journalists and Robert Craddock from Australia are the usual suspects) will harangue the world about how India should not be allowed to control cricket.

Apparently what happened in Australia over the course of the Sydney Test and in its immediate aftermath is, in the eyes of some at least, an Indian end run for world domination - and if that doesn't strike you as hilarious even as you read it, your sense of humor needs fine-tuning.

Here is the crux of Craddock's latest argument in support of his pet theory:

INDIA must not be allowed to run the game, and the International Cricket Council now faces one of the biggest days in its 98-year existence - when it simply must seize control of the game.

India's threat to boycott the Australian tour has come down to a battle of who runs cricket: India or the ICC.

ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed should give ground on one key issue and stand as firm as a brick statue on another.

India want Steve Bucknor sacked from the third Test in Perth, and so he should be. Every grievance India have against him is genuine.

But India's suspension of the tour while waiting for an appeal on the Harbhajan Singh suspension is a veiled form of blackmail, and it must be treated with the harsh response it deserves.

If the ICC feels Harbhajan was worth suspending, it must not crumble in the face of pressure from the world's most powerful cricket nation.

India's cricketing wealth may be 50 times that of any rival, but that does not give that country the right to run the game.

Righto, Bob. Just as you say.

First up, we are glad you think Bucknor (of whom, more later) should go. How do you propose to compensate the team for his mistakes, and those of his equally incompetent colleague, though - mistakes that by any yardstick changed the course, and result, of the game?

You can't, right? The best you can do is condescendingly agree that he Bucknor should go. Thank you.

That brings up your other argument, and the immediate temptation is to dismiss it by asking, well, why ever not? It is a fact of economic life - the bloke who pays the piper writes the music sheet, and if you don't like it you know what you can do about it.

It is not that the Indian board is 50 times richer than any rival, you silly little schoolgirl - the crux is that the Indian fans, and Indian corporates, bring in anywhere between 60-70 per cent of global cricket revenues. And without it, you don't have a game to dispute control of. Period.

That is the sort of contemptuous counter an argument like this deserves - but let's try if a little reason will work instead.

Firstly, the Indian establishment has repeatedly said that the tour has not been called off; the team is merely in limbo while awaiting the result of its appeal. What's your problem with that, again?

There is a provision for filing an appeal against a match referee's decision - are you and those who think like you suggesting that by availing of that right, by adhering to that process, India is dictating to the ICC? Or are you saying that by appealing a decision, India is trying to control the game?

That brings up the issue itself, and the reason for the appeal. In case you didn't get it yet, this is why: Firstly, it is a fact (which, over the past 24 hours, I got confirmed by independent sources) that Harbhajan Singh, during Australia's recent tour of India, called Andrew Symonds a monkey. Whether the word, as used by an Indian, has racist connotations or is merely insulting is a debate we won't go into with you, because you clearly don't understand our culture (and we don't understand your cricketing culture either, unless it is 'win at all costs, cheat if you must, abuse the opposition at every opportunity, then put on a saintly face and pretend to be Mother Teresa's more saintly brother).

In passing, please be advised that my wife, when particularly exasperated with me, calls me a bloody monkey - po da korangu is what she actually says - and I don't have a problem with that, I don't imagine she is abusing my Dravidian origins; if she were to call me a bastard or otherwise insult my parents, however, that would be a whole other story.

To put it in a way comprehensible to the meanest intelligence, in our culture, the epithet monkey is one used to mock intemperate schoolkids or even adults who behave like them; 'bastard' however hits home because we revere our parents; doesn't everyone, everywhere?

The fact then is, Harbhajan did use that epithet, as is being now reported; Symonds did seek him out after the game (Baroda, not Mumbai); the two players had a chat in the corridor separating the team dressing rooms; Symonds explained to Bajji why this word upsets him more than other forms of abuse; Bajji said sorry, and promised not to do it again. Thus much, by way of preamble.

In Sydney, Symonds accused Bajji of using the same form of insult. Ponting took it to the umpires, who took it to the match referee. So far, we have no problems - and do note that if Bajji did in fact use that epithet, after he had been told by the player about its implications for him, and why it hurts, then Bajji deserves all the punishment prescribed by cricketing law, and none of us here have a problem with that.

The question is, did he?

Australia trotted out some witnesses. Symonds himself, but he is the injured party - while he deserves to be listened to, his word alone has no evidentiary value. And if a lot of us feel that Australian players and even its media are not above concocting a story to gain an unfair advantage, well, sorry, but the team and the way it plays its cricket are to blame - when you resort to sharp practice, prepare to have your credibility dented.

Another witness is Ricky Ponting - who had it from Symonds. Hearsay is not evidence; it is even less so coming from Ponting, who thanks to his own actions finds his credibility in the toilet.

The third was Adam Gilchrist, who was at the other end of the pitch, and could not have heard something the straight umpire did not. In passing, there is some doubt about Gilchrist's vision and hearing both - created when he vociferously claimed a catch against Dravid when he was perfectly placed to see that the bat was behind the pad, and to hear the sound it made coming off the top of the pad.

There was only one other person within earshot -- and his name is Sachin Tendulkar.

Significantly, immediately after the hearing, it was Tendulkar who SMS-ed the Indian board, said point blank that Harbhajan was innocent, and demanded that the board back the player - the demand that has since led to the board acting as it did.

I don't know about you guys out there, but here in India, we don't all of us agree on Tendulkar's continued claim to being the best contemporary batsman; some of us say vociferously that he doesn't weigh in when the chips are down; some of us crib constantly that he does not win games for us; even in Sydney some of us cribbed that he was trying to stay not out and hence exposed the tail to the opposition.

In other words, we in India are not unanimous about Tendulkar the batsman. But one thing we are unanimous about: we trust him as a human being, as a gentleman-player (another concept we could try, but will surely fail, to explain to you, Bob). We believe, and we will stake our lives on it, that he will not lie about something on the cricket field. We believe, we will swear to on a stack of Bibles topped off by a Gita, that if Bajji had in fact said what he is alleged to have said, Tendulkar would not have sent that SMS to the board.

So, to boil it down, here is the situation: An allegation has been made. The only available, credible evidence is the word of the man making the allegation on one side, the word of the person against whom the allegation was made on the other, and the word of Tendulkar in the balance.

In India, such a case would have been dismissed out of hand - on the grounds that there is no evidence to prove the charge. Explain to us, if you will, what the principles of justice are in Australia - do you condemn first, and make up the reasons as you go along (the name of a certain Mohammad Haneef comes to mind, but that would be to hit below the belt)?

Can you, or anyone at all, explain how a judgment can be made against Harbhajan in this case?

None of this is to defend a player if he was in fact guilty, mind - the point being made is that neither we nor you know he is. One guy says he is guilty, he says he is not, and a player with international stature, with an unblemished reputation of close to two decades, says he is not guilty.

So, sorry, we protest; we appeal the verdict; we await the appellate process - and if to your paranoid imagination all of that translates into India bidding for world domination, then so be it.

In passing, and if this is arrogant then so be it, arrogance is a game two can play at - we don't need to grandstand in order to gain control of the ICC; to buy it lock stock and barrel is, for the BCCI, merely a credit card swipe. Sheesh - don't you get it? India does not need to do battle to dominate the financial side of the cricket world -- it already owns that aspect, by default. So please could you stop dragging irrelevancies into this debate, and further muddying the waters?

In passing, the ICC's control of the global game is under threat, yes - from its own incompetence, allied to bad governance. I could list an entire site's worth of examples, but here is one with immediate resonance. It proved in the West Indies that it is not competent to host a World Cup without earning universal condemnation - and it did so with no help from India. The lowest point of a World Cup that had more lows than highs came in the farcical finale, when much confusion attended the final overs.

One of the officials standing in that game , who by his actions reduced the ICC's own showpiece event to a comical horror story, was Steve Bucknor.

Does it strike you as odd that an official who thus disgraced himself and the global body continues to officiate at the international level - and officiate in such a way as to force even you to suggest he should go?

Does it strike you as significant that after all this, the best the ICC chairman can come up with is the statement that the umpires had a bad day?

No shit!

So if you are intent on the ICC "retaining control" of the global game, if you are so worried about threats to the 98-year-old history of the ICC, you might want to write a few columns about what is wrong with the governance of the game; you might want to make suggestions for its improvement - ranting and raving about India's "money power" will not come close to solving the problem; it merely leads us to suspect that you left a few words out of your column: "India should not be allowed to control the game - that is Australia's prerogative."

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Prem Panicker