Monday, January 07, 2008

Making the most of now

People back home, here in India, would have seen the spate of new, innovative ads from Vodafone advertising to "Make the most of now". Vodafone took over from Hutchinson-Essar in India. Orange network was also a part of the Hutchinson network (not sure about the current status) and I guess Orange operates in Australia. My point is, am not sure if the same ads or similar ones appear in Australia, but the Australian Cricket Captain, Ricky Ponting definitely seems to be inspired to "Make the most of now" and how !!!. He is attempting to make a mountain out of a mole and unfortunately for the game of Cricket, he is being successful so far in this attempt.

In Harbhajan Singh, Australia found someone who could challenge them on the field - both in the cricketing skills department as well as in the verbal barrage. In him, they also found a weakness that they could exploit - his hot headedness. Most (I am now suspecting, ALL) of the current crop of Aussie cricketers are not just hot headed, they have hugely bloated heads, thanks to crushing victories over various opponents over different conditions over a long period of time in both ODIs and Tests. They go into matches not just wanting to win, like all teams, but expecting to win and win convincingly at that. They have shown of late that they don't take it well when they are being challenged, especially in the verbal department along with skills on the field.

There is no room for Racism anywhere, let alone sport. But the more pertinent question is, was Harbhajan Racist ? Did he make a comment meant to insult Symmonds based on his Race ? I wouldn't be surprised if Harbhajan did not even know what was Symmo's background or race. So, it is all the more surprising when the Match Referee Mike Procter goes on record saying "I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Harbhajan Singh directed that word at Andrew Symonds and also that he meant it to offend on the basis of Symonds' race or ethnic origin." He also says that this was not a case of taking the word of an Australian over an Indian. Well, Mr. Procter, then what is it ? Common sense (or naivety, depending on how you view) tells me that in the hearing, the Aussies would have charged that the comment (whatever it might have been) was meant to offend based on race. Indians would have naturally denied the allegation about the race. So, how did Procter arrive at his conclusion ? Unfortunately, only he would know, unless he cares to explain. But don't expect that to happen.

As we came to know later on, the Match Referee had instructed both the Captains before the start of the series asking them to report to him immediately, any issues of Racism. I am almost convinced entirely that he sought to mean that with respect to Crowd behavior, given both Australian and Indian crowds have been alleged of racist behavior in the past. Ponting very conveniently took it to mean anything remotely racist on field as well. So, once again, was Harbhajan racist ? Ponting and rest of the Aussie team would like us to believe so, but thankfully, there are still enough sensible people around the world to not buy that truckload of trash. Did Harbhajan mean to offend Symmonds ? Oh hell yes !. Symmonds by his own admission, let Bhajji know what he thought of his antics and it is but natural that Harbhajan let Symmonds know what he thought of him :-D, but did he mean to make a racist remark ? Hell NO!

So, was Harbhajan completely innocent ? Well, far from that as well. There has been a previously acknowledged crowd problem during Australia's tour of India with monkey chants surrounding Symmonds. I am not sure if it was communicated before the tour about between the teams as to what was construed as Racist by each of them. Even if that wasn't done, Harbhajan must have known better with his choice of words. But you don't punish a mistake like that with an allegation of racism and a subsequent ban. Ricky Ponting wanted to make the most of the opportunity, but he was naive and stupid enough not to realize that he was charing an opposing player of racism. Such an allegation is not a joke. Ponting quite simply failed to gauge the gravity of the allegation.

Harbhajan Singh is a brilliant character. The game needs personalities like Bhajji, Monty Panesar on the field. They are the ones who can light up not just the team, but the crowd as well. They are easily excitable and almost always give their 100% for the team's cause. Of course, such personalities have to be pulled up whenever they cross the limit, but not through such means without any forethought about the implications. This was an issue that Ponting needed to discuss with Kumble at the end of the day's play or at the end of the match and the Indian Management must have pulled up Harbhajan for that (it is a different matter if they would have really done that - but that is the best course of action from Ponting if he had any respect for the game and did not want it to go into disrepute).

Was this Punter's idea of a Mind Game, especially since he was woeful in tackling Harbhajan in the skills department ? Probably yes. Ponting has shown himself to be extremely stupid and hot headed at the best of times. He has shown qualities of a brilliant captain at times, but on most other occasions, he has shown himself in extremely poor light and unfortunately now, he has dragged the entire Aussie team along with him. A terrible act of immaturity and arrogance based on the belief that he could get away with anything since he is the captain of the world champions. Unfortunately, not for the first time though, Ponting and the Australians have demonstrated behavior that is unbecoming of true champions of sport.

The reaction in India is along familiar lines. Cricket is the most practised religion in India. The reaction of the majority of the crowd is almost always at an extreme (either end). Now those are during normal circumstances. These are not normal times, but extraordinary times and hence, the reactions are similarly that much more severe. There seems to be almost an unanimous feeling of being cheated and quite rightly so. India did not deserve to lose the Sydney test just as much as Australia did not deserve to win it. India played brilliantly for three days and decently for the last couple. They shouldn't have let Australia score 400 on that pitch in the second innings, but now, that really doesn't matter.

India were cheated, but not by the Aussies as majority seem to be liking to believe, but by the Umpires. It is not the fault of the Australian team that there were so many ridiculous decisions in that test match that went against the Indians. Including the last day, Australia did not do too much different from what other teams, including India have done on the final day of a tight test match. Indians have been equally guilty in home games of excessive and borderline ridiculous appealing with plenty of close in catchers. It doesn't make the job any easier for the Umpires, but unfortunately, in a close game, the excitement is at an exalted level and that is how the game is being played nowadays. India are just aggrieved at being very very harshly done in by some very crucial decisions and hence they are pointing at the behavior of the Aussies as well apart from the Umpiring. To that extent, the reaction by the one of the finest gentleman to have played this game, Anil Kumble is well and truly justified.

But, just as allegation of racism is serious and wrong, alleging the Aussies of cheating is also extreme. I have been a big fan of Australian cricket team for over 15 years now. I have admired them for the way they approach the game. Hard, professional, but mostly fair. Sadly, of late, the fair part is being ignored more often, especially in tight situations. :( I play the game in many ways similar to them. I sledge a lot, not abusive, but friendly banter, trying to get under the nose of the opposing batsmen while fielding. It is a different matter that, I did not play at any major level, but my point is that, some kind of bantering on the field is good and nice fun. :D But if you give, you must also be ready to take it.

Some of the incidents on the last day of the Sydney test makes me quite sad that it has to come from a team that I have been supporting for so long. I have played games, where we have appealed like crazy, mainly to infuriate the batsmen and make him lose concentration and also chance our luck. These rare games are the ones where the temper has been very high due to some incident or the other. BUT, I have never played as a professional and definitely never in the full view of millions of fans worldwide, not to mention the tens of thousands on the ground. Ricky Ponting and the Australians were doing that at the SCG and they behaved at times in a manner that is befitting of where I have mostly played cricket - in the backyard or gully cricket, as it is called in India.

What I saw was NOT professionalism. It was madness. It was a dangerously, mad desire to win. To secure the series, to equal the record. Unfortunately, it was a mad desire to win at any cost. The cost in this case has been professionalism and sportsmanship. I wouldn't say the Aussies cheated, but they definitely did not conduct themselves in a sportive manner. It was full of gamesmanship.

Symmonds has gone on record saying Australia were upset with India's celebration after their semi-final win over Australia during T20 W'Cup. How different were Australia in Sydney ? For Christ's sake, that was the Semi-final of a W'Cup, against arguably the best side in World Cricket by a very young team who had been almost written off before the tournament even started. What did he expect India to do ? To mourn for Australia's exit from the tournament ? Bollocks.
The Aussies might probably argue that Sydney was as excitingly close as a Test Match win can get and also it was a record equaling win. But, everyone has their own reasons to get excited and celebrate. If they really respected the game and its great ambassadors, they would have at least bothered to shake hands with one of the finest and someone who played the most brilliant and gritty innings, befitting a captain, Anil Kumble.

There has been enough written about Flintoff consoling Brett Lee at Edgbaston after Australia lost by 2 runs. 2 Runs Mate, that is still closer than 8 minutes, in my book. Andrew Flintoff wasn't the vanquished then, he was the Victor, but he had the wits (at least then :P) to respect and recognize Lee's contribution. Pitiably, none of the Aussies had the same wits to acknowledge Kumble's part. The Flintoff - Lee moment, I believe was recognized as the moment of 2005. The year has just started, but Aussie celebration might be tough to remove as one of the most Shambolic events of 2008. :(

In an ideal world, sense would soon prevail. Harbhajan should apologize for whatever was that he remarked (I believe he has already done so and if so, that should be that). Aussies should give up on their kiddish complaint and bury this and move on. But, we don't live in an ideal world. This has blown into a huge clash of egos and worse still, of national integrity. It is sad that, yet again, in a cricketing controversy involving professional cricket boards, National Pride is being dragged and brought to disrepute. Ponting being Ponting and Australia being Australia, I don't expect the inflated heads to be reduced by any measure. These are tough times for Cricket and sadly, I only see it getting murkier and tougher.

Comments - Most welcome. Scathing Criticism - Welcome. Baseless Abuse (Anonymous or otherwise) - Thanks, but no, thanks.

P.S: As much as the anger of the Indian Cricket fan is understandable and to a large extent justifiable, if only they realized and acknowledged that, election after election they are actually being cheated by the politicians and reacted even in half as reactionary a manner as this to issues more pertinent to the Country, things could be so much more better.


Sid said...

IMHO Bucknor is being bashed badly. Its about time he took his leave. His decisions have been erring, but in now way could he have been cheating the Indians in favour of the Aussies. It happens in Umpring, before all these funky gadgets came into picture. But what Mark Benson did was atrocious indeed. I remember an incident when Bevan stood his ground after Roger Harper had claimed him caught and bowled. The umpire referred to the third umpire and not hooper or harper. This is how it should have been.
As for Ponting, time for him to search a defintion for hypocrisy. And for the entire team, they are giving a tough time to Ronalds and his oscars.

Sid said...

and yeah forgot! excellent write up! cheers mate

Prakash said...

Thanks, mate.

LoL @ Ronaldo's oscars. :D But I don't mind as long as he gets me the points in the Fantasy League. :P

Thoughts Of A Hippie. said...

If someone doesn't agree with most views here,then that someone doesn't know Cricket. :P

But,if Bhajji did not say anything that was racist,he has no need to apologise and going by what Sachin says,and I believe him,there was no serious bad mouthing done by Bhajji.

What about Hogg who called Jumbo a "Bastard"?

Just because it is not a serious word in their primieval culture and civilisation :P,doesn't mean he can go away with his hands in his pockets whistling.

Prakash said...

I agree. But I have my own doubts about trusting the Sachin version as advertised by the News Channels simply because I don't trust these news channels enough. They have shown enough in the past that they can manipulate things according to their whims. So, if they are going to say that Sachin SMSed this or called Pawar with this - I will only take that with a pinch of salt. But if someone as accomplished as Sachin indeed feels aggrieved, then things are just not right.

It is also important that India don't go overboard in their demands. I mean, if they are absolutely 100% sure that Harbhajan did not say those words (forget if he meant to be racist - that is immaterial now), then they have a strong case. But if he did call him a monkey or whatever, he deserves some punishment and India shouldn't hope to get away totally.

sankara narayanan said...

Good blog KP,

But for god damn sake, try writing smaller ones mate.


Venkat said...

A well written artcile da.. U have covered up almost everything thats going on after the test match!! Finally India has to back all their words with performance now, not that they didn do well at sydney, but we need to show some results too:)(the media has hyped this issue so much that a bad performance at perth would bring everything crashin down to earth)

Prakash said...

Shanky - Sorry. I know ... will try my best to reduce it. Got carried away with the situation. :D

Venkat - That is correct. Media is doing its usual job of hyping things and trying to garner maximum mileage.

Prabha said...

U are tagged... Wanna know more? Come visit my blog! :P

princesss said...

pretty long post.. but I loved it.. you should write more.. :)

Prakash said...

Thank you. Will try ... :)

It looks you write for a selective audience eh ? ;)

princesss said...

Nah.. not much of a blogger.. and the selective audience comprises of just me.. :D

Prakash said...

LoL ! ok. Just curious ... how did you get to this post ?

princesss said...

random browsing!?!?!?!

Prakash said...

Hmmm. Must have thought so !