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Sunil Gavaskar asks "Where's the proof?"
by Sunil Gavaskar
Jan 11, 2008
By Sunil Gavaskar - Special Columnist

The BCCI deserves the fullest praise for standing behind its team in the crisis that has enveloped it after Harbhajan Singh was handed out a three-match ban by the match referee for a ‘racial’ slur at Andrew Symonds. The off-spinner has denied having used the word which has caused offence and in the absence of any audio recording and most crucially with both umpires not having heard it, the charge should have been dropped straightaway for lack of corroborating evidence. By accepting the word of the Australian players and not the Indian players, the match referee has exposed himself to the charge of taking a decision based not on facts, but on emotion. Worse still, his decision has incensed millions of Indians, who are quite understandably asking why his decision shouldn’t be considered a racist one considering the charges that were levied on Harbhajan were of a racist remark.

Putting it quite simply, if there was no audio evidence nor did the officials hear anything then the charge did not stand. This is what has incensed the millions of Indians who are flabbergasted that the word of one of the greatest players in the history of the game, Sachin Tendulkar was not accepted. In effect, Tendulkar has been branded a liar by the match referee. At the hearing the Indians were represented by the manager Chetan Chauhan, the media manager Dr M. V. Sridhar, the skipper Anil Kumble and the two men at the crease when the incident was said to have happened, Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh. The Australians were represented by Ricky Ponting, who lodged the complaint against Harbhajan Singh, Andrew Symonds against whom the remark was supposed to have been made, Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist. Ponting claimed he didn’t hear anything nor did Gilchrist, so it all boiled down to the word of Hayden and Clarke and don’t forget Clarke had stood his ground after being caught at first slip and claiming that debatable catch of Ganguly.

The BCCI quite rightly respected Tendulkar’s word and asked it’s team not to carry on with the tour. The BCCI also asked that since the team had lost confidence in the umpire Steve Bucknor that he should not be officiating the next Test at Perth. Here the ICC too deserves praise for the swiftness with which it tried to defuse the tension by removing Bucknor from the duties of umpiring at Perth. But the ICC will do well to keep in mind that there were two umpires out there who had a bad game and not to penalize only one or it could be up against a racist charge too.

Ironically on the morning that the racism allegation against Harbhajan was made, one paper in Australia had a feature on Bucknor with his photograph with the catch line that he earns $ 440 an hour to make mistakes. Typically it forgot the other umpire Mark Benson who wasn’t exactly blameless in the game or did they really forget? Or was it simply that a black man’s errors were more highlighted than a white man’s? Throughout, as the controversy unfolded it was only Bucknor that the Aussie media was pillorying and not Benson. You form your opinion whether it was racist or not?

The moment a charge is upheld without any tangible proof and foolproof substantiation, it leaves the door open for similar charges to be made. Just suppose a team wants to get rid of a player who is a threat to them. The simplest thing to do is to have some players to say that there was a racist taunt directed at them and then its their word against the player who is accused if one goes by the recent verdict. So if Wasim Jaffer who is having a hard time against Brett Lee makes an allegation that he has been racially abused then without any proof he could get Lee out for three tests or more. That is the danger in this verdict and that’s why the BCCI is absolutely right in backing its man.

The Australian cricket media, which is almost like the extended support staff of the team, is doing its best to portray the whole issue as that of an umpiring one rather than the slur on Harbhajan Singh and Tendulkar’s integrity. Not one has stopped to think that if it was the reverse case and the word of their team member wasn’t accepted how they would have felt. And now as the charge against Brad Hogg is to be heard, they are now scouring footage to find out where Indians have used any offensive language and have targeted Ishant Sharma for using a Hindi expletive after his appeal for that catch off Symonds was disallowed. The difference is that Ishant’s expletive was not directed at Symonds or the umpire Steve Bucknor but in the direction of backward point and while that is no excuse to use foul language there’s a difference when a player is targeted and when a foul word is used in the air at no one in particular. If that is going to be the Australian defence for Hogg then all the Indians have to do is to crank up footage of every over that Australia bowled and they will find an abuse there just about every time.

Every time an Australian team has been cited for their behaviour on the field the standard line of defence that has been trotted out is, ‘what happens on the field should stay on it’. They seem to think that the worst of abusive language directed at a player and his family should stay on the field but when it comes to them getting something back then it’s to be reported. They also say that they play the game hard but fair. One would like to know exactly what is meant by ‘hard’ and what is their concept of ‘fair’ so that the rest of us ignoramuses are better informed than we are at the moment. And yes, while they are at it, also let the rest of the cricketing world know what exactly is the ‘spirit of cricket’ as they see it.

Maybe the spirit is black label.

 
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