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Slapgate - Chickens come home to roost
by Partab Ramchand
May 02, 2008
So Harbhajan Singh has been slapped with a suspension and Sreesanth let off with a warning. That’s the curtain call to this disgraceful episode and the game will go on, right?

Well, the game and IPL will certainly go on but one suspects that the last has not been heard of the well publicized slapping incident. For one thing the Board of Control for Cricket in India is conducting its own inquiry into the matter as Harbhajan and Sreesanth are contracted players. And secondly even as public opinion headed by former Australian batsman Steve Waugh feels that Harbhajan has got off lightly there is bound to be more and more focus on Sreesanth’s role in the incident. While no one holds any brief for Harbhajan after what he did there is a growing feeling that Sreesanth’s role should be probed and he deserves more than just the warning he was probably lucky to get away with.

Harbhajan and Sreesanth are two of the most hot-headed cricketers in the world and the altercation was something waiting to happen after recent incidents involving them in the Test series against South Africa. The genesis of the now well publicized `slap’ apparently lies in an incident that took place in the first Test at Chennai last month. Early on the final morning Hashim Amla pulled Harbhajan high to deep square leg where Sreesanth probably misjudging the flight dropped the catch. The off spinner displayed his displeasure in no uncertain terms which under the circumstances was pretty understandable. But Harbhajan clearly over stepped the line a little later when he made a diving stop at point and was seen gesturing to Sreesanth as if to say ``learn from me how to field.’’ One does not make such gestures to anyone on the field of play, least of all to a teammate who could well be feeling low at having let the team down with his dropped catch.

That was clearly unacceptable behaviour and moreover it was plainly inviting trouble taking into account that Harbhajan is no Jonty Rhodes in the field.

Later in the series it was Harbhajan’s turn to drop a catch – interestingly enough off Sreesanth’s bowling - in addition to making a few fumbles and allowing the ball to go past him to the boundary. Given his temperamental nature and his tendency to indulge in tantrums it must be said that Sreesanth took it really well. But deep down one supposes the hurt of Harbhajan humiliating him in full public view and before a TV audience of millions worldwide must have been in his mind. Incidents like these are not forgotten easily such is human nature.

Sreesanth has a terrible reputation of provoking rival batsmen unnecessarily as viewers on TV will readily agree. There is a growing feeling that no one would have reacted the way Harbhajan did without some kind of provocation and many former cricketers are advocating that the BCCI should look into the incident from this angle. Two former Indian stumpers Chandrakant Pandit and Kiran More are of the view that while Sreesanth’s tearful face on TV might have brought him sympathy they feel he is not as innocent as he is made out to be. They are of the view that when the BCCI probe the case, they should be a bit lenient towards Harbhajan, as he has already been punished, and more severe on Sreesanth. This is a view shared by former Indian medium pacer Balwinder Singh Sandhu who feels that Sreesanth is equally guilty as he enjoys the dubious reputation of provoking batsmen needlessly.

What has queered the pitch is a newspaper interview given by Amiesh Saheba one of the umpires who stood in the match between Mumbai Indians and King’s XI Punjab wherein he said that Sreesanth was repeatedly provoking the Mumbai Indians players. According to Saheba, Sreesanth was continuously commenting on the opposition players and was warned twice during the game by him and the other umpire Aleem Dar. Reports have it that the officials informed King’s XI captain Yuvraj Singh about Sreesanth’s behaviour but this did not stop the temperament fast bowler from continuing with the sledging. And who was the Mumbai Indians captain? Yes, that’s right, Harbhajan Singh.

While maintaining that no amount of provocation could justify Harbhajan slapping Sreesanth, Saheba made it clear in the interview that Sreesanth was disliked by his teammates in the national squad. "Yes, he is disliked in the Indian dressing room. He is one of India's main bowlers, and yet, he is not doing anything to get rid of that schoolboy image of his. His colleagues are not too happy with that," Saheba said.

Saheba incidentally was not asked by match referee Farokh Engineer to testify in the case and interestingly enough the IPL inquiry concluded that the attack from Harbhajan was 'unprovoked'. But the umpire will be one of the important witnesses to be examined by Sudhir Nanavati who has been appointed by the BCCI as the commissioner who will inquire into the incident. In the meantime though Saheba has been suspended by the IPL for two matches. The IPL are keen that the controversy involving Harbhajan and Sreesanth should not escalate any further and held the view that the umpire could have informed the tournament committee instead of going to the press.

So the last certainly hasn’t been heard of this unsavory episode and the Nanavati inquiry could well come up with a few more interesting revelations and perhaps a few surprises. Watch this space.

More Views by Partab Ramchand
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