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Bhajji's slap episode - IPL judgement is a mere slap on the wrist!
by Suresh Menon
May 01, 2008
By Suresh Menon

After losing out on thirty million rupees - even our cricketers cannot sneeze at a figure like that - perhaps Harbhajan Singh himself is wondering like the rest of India why he was allowed to get away through most of his career. A suspension here, a ban there, a stern talk now and then, and well might he have led the country some day. Now that dream is in ruins. Still, the fact is the cricket board let things come to this pretty pass.

The IPL’s eleven-match ban on Harbhajan means that the player, auctioned off for 850,000 dollars, will not get to see most of that money. The IPL has also fined Mumbai Indians manager Lalchand Rajput fifty percent of his match fees for not trying to stop Harbhajan. Well might the Board of Control for Cricket in India have been fined for exactly the same reason.

This was the player who almost created a diplomatic row between India and Australia; the alacrity with which the Board protects its bad boys must encourage others who equate boorishness with manliness and bad behaviour with toughness. Pakistan allowed Shoaib Akhtar to extend the bounds of the permissible, and converted a match-winner into the most disruptive influence in the team.

India too, egged on by a jingoistic media, encouraged their players to fight fire with fire in Australia, to give back as good as they got, and to flex their muscles in a way that was ridiculous.

And when the IPL auctions began, much was made of the fact that cricketing ability alone would not suffice. A player had to be saleable to sponsors and to the public. This meant being different, somebody the spin doctors could talk up. A track record of confrontations and controversies was considered ideal - it meant the player, and by extension the product he was endorsing, would be in the news.

Much, therefore, was made of the Harbhajan-Symonds showdown or the Sreeshanth-anyone else possibilities. The market value of these players went up. They were seen as representatives of the new India. The Board did nothing to discourage this dangerous notion.

Now both Sreeshanth and Harbhajan Singh are being taken to task for playing out the roles scripted for them. They are young, in their twenties, and cannot be blamed for being confused. There is talk of counseling now, of a version of anger management. But did we have to wait till one international cricketer slapped another before thinking of such things?

Match Referee Farokh Engineer said that there was no provocation from Sreeshanth, but still insisted on giving him a warning. It takes two hands to clap, goes the cliché, and fault-finders think they are being fair when they apportion blame equally between two players in a situation like this. But it was Harbhajan who brought the game into disrepute with his action. The ‘double jeopardy’ theory by which it is claimed that he cannot be punished twice for the same crime is being evoked to soften the BCCI’s judgement which is expected in a fortnight.

The IPL judgement is a superficial one, a mere slap on the wrist. The Board cannot be seen to be soft. A ban from playing international cricket in keeping with the Code of Conduct is called for. Harbhajan has become an embarrassment. And if the Board overcompensates now by coming down on him like a ton of bricks, he cannot complain. He has got away often enough. And so too has the Board. But who will judge the judges?

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