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By Gulu Ezekiel
Australian captain Michael Clarke being fined 20 per cent of his match for threatening England tail-ender Jimmy Anderson on the final day of the first Ashes Test at Brisbane was caught out only because Channel 9 kept the stump microphone on for too long and Clarke’s abusive language was heard by all and sundry.
Shane Warne, a Clarke confidant, called it a “disgrace” - not the abuse, but the fine. And he is not only Australian cricketer to hold such views. Serial sledger and legendary fast bowler Dennis Lillee in his 2003 autobiography Menace wrote that abusing an opponent is not against the spirit of the game. Instead, he chose to condemn leaving the stump mike on and broadcasting the sledges.
Former England all-rounder Vic Marks writing in The Guardian compared sledging on the cricket field to speeding—everyone does it but only those that get caught are fined. That was Clarke’s fate.
That brings me to an incident involving Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi, dubbed a “serial cheat” by Australian umpire Darrell Hair. It was during the fiery India-Pakistan clash at Centurion, South Africa during the 2003 World Cup that Afridi was caught using Urdu/Hindi gaalis (abuses) on air directed at umpires David Shepherd of England and South Africa’s Rudi Koertzen. Both of them were of course blissfully unaware that they were the target of Afridi’s foul mouth and so was Match Referee Mike Procter of South Africa.
Afridi must have thought he had gotten away scot-free. And he would have if not for a cricket fan in New Delhi, Kapil Rampal reporting the matter to the ICC. Rampal (then 27) who runs a PR agency mailed the ICC two days after the match. “Has ICC taken note of the volley of abuse which originated from Pakistani cricketers? It was loud enough for everyone to hear. The Indians were abused and even the umpires were not spared, though they could not understand what was being said. Afridi, after his appeal for a catch [against Mohammed Kaif] was turned down screamed loud enough to be heard in millions of homes “teri maa ki.. (“your mother’s…). I’m sure that deserves some attention. You can view the TV replays to view what I write.”
He got his reply the next day from the ICC. “ICC does not condone foul language on the field of play. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.” A couple of days later Rampal was informed that the Pakistan Cricket Board had acted on his complaint, forwarded by the ICC and Afridi received a ban from the three-nation Sharjah tournament which was to start a month later and was also fined half his match fee for the Centurion match.
Kapil, a friend of mine, gave me the exclusive. It was carried on the front page of The Statesman daily in their New Delhi and Kolkata editions of 14 March 2003.
Tailpiece: The 2007-08 tour of Australia was almost scrapped by the BCCI after off spinner Harbhajan Singh was accused of calling coloured Australian batsman Andrew Symonds a monkey in the Sydney Test match. After initially receiving a ban, he was let off as the stump mikes were not on. Ironically, Harbhajan claimed he had uttered the same Hindi/Urdu gaali and the Aussie players who overheard him and lodged a protest had mistaken it for ‘monkey.’
And the Match Referee at Sydney? None other than Mike Procter! History certainly repeats itself.