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Harbhajan joins the list of Australian 'hate figures'
by Gulu Ezekiel
Mar 14, 2008
Harbhajan Singh is in good company. Douglas Jardine, John Snow, Mike Brearley, Richard Hadlee, Muthiah Muralitharan, Sourav Ganguly, Andre Nel…and now Harbhajan.

What do they share in common? Simple—they have all been vilified as ‘hate figures’ while touring Australia.

The Aussie crowds—though fiercely loyal to their own-- have also acknowledged champion players from opposing sides. Sachin Tendulkar is the best example. He is probably the most popular cricketer outside their own team in Australia and receives a warm reception at whichever ground he plays.

Yet lurking in the shadows of Australian cricket has been this history of vilifying opponents who have got under their skin, sometimes with good reason (Jardine) and sometimes for no discernible reason (Hadlee) other than anger and resentment at watching their players being knocked over.

It is tempting to pigeonhole these hate figures into neat categories.

Single-minded, to the point of cussedness? Perhaps.

Controversial? For the most part. Successful against Australia? Certainly, though by varying degrees.

A major factor in whipping up the frenzy against Harbhajan on this tour was the media, often referred to as the 12th man of the Australian cricket team.

With a few honourable exceptions, Australian cricket journalists are a remarkable bunch.

Not that the Indian media, both traveling with the team and at home, exactly covered themselves with glory. But at least this time they could have been excused considering the provocation from their Aussie counterparts.

It has long been understood that the media would mount a concerted attack on the star player of the visiting teams, more often than not the captain.

Jardine, Brearley and Ganguly all fall into this category though in the case of Jardine his Bodyline tactics aimed principally at Australia’s darling Don Bradman was enough to turn the crowds against him. The media did not really have a very active role in the case of the reviled England captain on that fiery 1932-33 tour.

Seventy-five years later there has been a sea-change as Harbhajan will attest to. And much of it is due to the all-pervasive nature of the electronic media with TV and still cameras all around the ground capturing every moment of every game and the Internet becoming a filter-free outlet for often vile and racist rants.

Australian crowds like their media also have a poor reputation. This is largely due to the large intake of beer that turns the crowd violent and unruly.

Racism is never far from the surface and though the barracking of Muralitharan was essentially due to his controversial bowling action, there was always something more sinister about the attacks.

The last straw for the Sri Lankan world record holder came in 2004 when then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard publicly condemned him, leading Murali to pull out from touring Australia and vowing never to return, though he fortunately changed that stance later on.

The chants of ‘no-ball’ each time he came on to bowl though pale in comparison to the hostility faced by Richard Hadlee, New Zealand’s champion bowler who tormented the cream of Australia’s batting throughout the ‘80s.

‘Hadlee is a wanker’ was the cry, plastered too on posters and banners around the grounds.

Hadlee has recounted in his autobiography how he was the target of abuse from kids as young as five or six, “no doubt egged on by their parents.”

The Australian captain of the time, Greg Chappell told Hadlee to treat it as a compliment as the fans realised he was a threat to their side. But he rejected that contention terming the fans as the most unruly in the world.

Jardine’s opinion of Australians was even less complimentary. The mutual animosity began on his first tour in 1928-29 when he was new to the team and then blew up when he returned as captain four years later. He usually referred to Aussies as illiterate bastards!

 
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