Friday, January 11, 2008

The Spirit of the Game?

If you live in a serious cricket playing country you'd have to be living under a rock not to hear about the furore surrounding the second test between Australia and India (Jan 2-6). The test itself was one of the best matches in a long, long time, going down to the wire with the Aussies taking three wickets to win it in what would have been the second last over of the contest. Not to mention the fact that this win equals the all time record for consecutive test victories at sixteen.

Unfortunately a couple of incidents during the match (and several after), greatly overshadowed what should have been a showpiece for the game. Allegations of racial abuse (from an Indian player, directed at an Australian) and "cheating" umpires have been levelled, and shamefully India has seen fit to attempt to hold the cricket world to ransom by threatening to cancel the tour if the suspension for racial abuse of their "golden boy" Harbhajan Singh isn't overturned (and probably want him nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize...).

A lot of abuse is now being thrown at the Australian cricket team for being too aggressively competitive (although while playing entirely within the rules of the game, throwing everything at your opposition is surely what's expected of an elite professional sports team!?), allegations of claiming catches that weren't caught, and of falsifying the racial abuse claim. I can't help but think that if the Indian tail didn't crumble in the dying minutes, and they'd managed a draw, Steve Bucknor wouldn't have been dropped as an umpire and the whinging and threats would be a lot quieter.

Then all of a sudden the halo over Harbajan's head ("he'd never do anything like this") slipped when the news broke that Harbhajan has a history of racial abuse. This prompted the MAIT blog author Mickos into action - please excuse the sarcasm:

To summarise the Indian team’s complaints and to borrow a well worn summary device:

  1. Harbhajan didn’t say anything to Symonds: Actually this would be the second time that Symonds has received this abuse, the first time he let it slide. Odd actions from Symonds,
    supposedly a racially motivated player playing against the spirit of the game.

    One player here is racially abusive, the other is not.

  2. Match referee Mike Procter refused to take the Indian’s word against Australia’s: One only has to recall the supposed absence of racially motivated chanting in India during the last one-day series that was strenuously denied by the BCCI as having never taken place; that is, until there was photographic evidence proving otherwise. Australia were
    obviously making that up then and they are still just as insane now.

    One side is in denial here, the other is not.

  3. Australia don’t walk: Neither do India. Neither does any other test playing, second tier, provincial, state, county, first grade, second grade, or under 12 primary school third eleven anywhere in the world. Nor does it happen in many other sports. Would Thorpie have stopped racing because he thought he got slightly too good a start? Would Joey Johns hand the ball over to the opposition five metres out from his own line because he spotted a small knock on by the front rower playing him the ball? I could go on here, actually I will do; did Fabio Grosso admit that he took a filthy, under-handed, cheating dive to put Australia out of the 2006 soccer World Cup?

    Did Sourav Ganguly or Ishant Sharma walk in the last test match? I think not. No-one has walked in 50 years in Test cricket except for Gilchirst. And he’s one of the Australians who’s allegedly most culpable for not playing in the spirit of the game. No, the Aussies don’t walk en masse, but at least they leave when they are given out, and as a community are not taking to burning effigies in the street if a decision in a game doesn't go the way they want.

    One side respects the decision of the officials here, the other does not.

  4. Australia claim catches that weren’t taken and unduly influence the umpire: Refer to the pre-test agreement on catches, ie. if the fielder claims the catch it's out. Both replays proved that Clarke and Ponting took fair catches. Fact. As for the influencing of the umpire, one of the catches in contention here was given not out. Not a single complaint was made by an Australian against the decision.

    One side appeals excessively, the other does not.

  5. The umpires are cheating whiteys (or darkies, or something): Yes India got the raw end of a very large pineapple in the second test. So did Kumar Sangakarra in the Sri Lankan tour, as did Sachin Tendulkar in the last tour, Brian Lara before him and Michael Vaughan probably did too somewhere in between. We remember these decisions because they went against the opposition’s gun bat (well, except for Vaughan...). That’s why we remember them, because it affected the opposition’s chance to mount a contest because their side seriously lacked depth. Australia have obviously gotten a few raw ones too, Kasprowicz in the ashes comes to mind (again because it was a big one), and it wasn’t so long ago that two neutral umpires were brought into the game to curb poor home town decisions – where were the majority of those again? At the end of the day, you get just as many pineapples as you do supermodels. Just ask Warney.

    One side is having a big whinge, the other is not.

  6. Australia sledge the opposition: True, and we have been for years. Nothing new there. What is new is the increase in the amount of off-field verbal coming out of the Indian team of late (instigated by their good selves I might add) and nothing is being said about their spirit of cricket pledge. Actually they don’t have one. For what it’s worth I think their "I’m not taking this sh*t lying down" attitude is great – its almost Australian and can you guess who gave it to them? That’s right – an Australian, one G. Chappell. All great but you can’t have it both ways boys. Either put up or shut up. As Will Smith would say – don’t start notin’, won’t be notin’ aaeeiit?
  7. Both sides are guilty as sin, thus ruining my cunning summary device.

Finally, a mea culpa for the Aussies. They may play tough cricket but need to behave better under the pump. Having been on the received end of a few hidings in my career its no fun, even if you are winning. I’m not surprised Ponting gets the shits, as well he might if things are going badly. Unfortunately with a higher standard of play comes a higher moral obligation to the game as well it seems – gone are the days where "Captain Grumpy" becomes a cult hero in Australia. Remember the last time you had a shitty day at the office – was Australia calling for your sacking and did your coworkers threaten to go home for the rest of the week? I sure hope not. Now, Ponting is crucified by his press and effigies of him (and the umpires too) are burned across India. Don’t get me started on the racial and personal vilification there, not to mention a complete lack of respect for officialdom.

One must also feel sorry for Anil Kumble as he has not yet managed to impart his own disctinctive tough but fair style of play on some of his team mates. Most of them have got it spot on and are to be commended; more power to them if they stand up to be counted on the field and put on some competitive performances.

Both sides need to settle this the old fashioned way – get together at the end of the day’s play for a beer. There’s too little of that these days and is the leading contributor to the us-and-them mentality so clear in evidence here.

At the end of the day if India want to go home – let them. They were down 2-nil anyway. Bring on the Kiwis and the Sarfies – or dare I say it, Australia A.

That's how I'm seeing it,
Mickos (and Al).

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