Thursday, January 10, 2008

Making sense of the brouhaha down under

While most newspapers and television channels cry hoarse about the affront to “national pride” and bat passionately for the Indian cricket team, practically none of them have attempted any form of introspection. The Indian cricket team, after all, isn’t quite smear-free. Rohit Brijnath, my favourite Indian sports writer, fills that vacuum and offers some incisive and enlightening comments on the cricketing controversy.

Some excerpts:

It is interesting that despite losing two successive Tests the Indian cricket captain is still respected, and after winning 16 Tests in a row there are calls in his own country for the Australian captain to be sacked. A lesson is to be found here: how a team plays sport is important, but so is how it conducts itself.

only recently in India during the one-dayers against Australia in October 2007, team manager Lalchand Rajput spoke immaturely about giving it back to the visitors, and S Sreesanth and Harbhajan behaved in intemperate fashion. Then, India's "fearless, young" players were cheered widely for "fighting fire with fire", yet there was nothing fearless or smart about their behaviour.

Of course, racist language, which Harbhajan Singh is accused of, is unacceptable, and the effort of some Indian observers to downplay how vile the term "monkey" is to a black man is offensive. Yet it is not only racist language that is repugnant, but Ponting's team has yet to grasp this, and continues to use words that are not necessarily part of the banter in Asia. "Monkey" is wrong, but so is stuff about body parts and dubious parentage. Yet at the same time for the Indians to wail about "bastard" suggests their vocabulary is priestly pure.

No doubt Mike Procter's decision was absent of fairness, and the umpiring incompetent (though all teams will rightfully now cry for umpiring changes mid-tour), but predictably there is overreaction in India, where cricket is rapidly being infected with jingoism. One television channel argued whether the Sydney Test should be annulled, others considered a cricket referee's decision as some bruise on the national honour (this, in a time of farmer suicides)* and called for the team to return. In sport, you don't sulk and take the ball home, you play on like men.

And not just television channels. HT frontpaged a survey of a few hundred respondents on Tuesday (January 8) to say “Come back home, nation tells its players”.

Finally, Brijnath, in his conclusion, condenses the lesson from this controversy in two brilliant lines: Ponting's team needs to grow up. Kumble's team needs to remember how to bat. To which, I may add mine: Cut the chatter. Let the bat and the ball do the talking.

* Few would dispute the fact that Sharad Pawar seems more perturbed and proactive in times of cricketing crises rather than in times of agrarian crises. If there’s a second lesson that can be drawn from this episode, it is this: Sack Pawar as the Minister for Agriculture. Let him keep his cricketing portfolio for that is the cap he likes to don.


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