The recently complete test match between Australia and India has been remarkable for many reasons. Symonds and Hogg rescued Australia from utter humiliation on Day 1. Laxman and Tendulkar replied with magnificent centuries for India. Hayden and Hussey then followed suit to put the Aussies in a commanding position. Kumble and Dhoni all but rescued the game for India. And then a miracle over from Michael Clarke took the last 3 Indian wickets in 5 balls to seal victory (and retain the winning streak) with just 7 balls left in the match. I’d also like to commend Ricky Ponting’s leadership in coming out to act as a substitute runner for the injured Hayden when he’d been out for 0 and had every right, as captain, to sulk in the dressing room and send Phil Jacques out to run instead.
But if you weren’t lucky enough to be following the game, as Kevin and I were, you may only have heard the bad stuff. Justine has been stuck in New York with no coverage and is not happy. I’m not surprised, because things are fast descending into farce.
Let’s start with the umpiring. Certainly Steve Bucknor had a very bad game. There were two decisions that he gave that were really badly wrong. Both had a major impact on the game. Both went against India. This is unfortunate, but things like this will continue to happen while the TV companies have superb analytical technology available the the game refuses to take advantage of it. Every time someone suggests using technology to help the umpires we hear the same ridiculous excuses.
- If it is so important to retain a “human element” to the game, why does everyone get so upset when that human element is proved to be all too human and makes a mistake?
- Requiring them to use technology might show umpires up by showing that they make mistakes, but that happens anyway. Given that they are going to make mistakes, and they are going to get shown up, surely it is better to correct the mistakes?
- Yes, it is true that some of the technology is not 100% accurate, but neither are the umpires. It should not be a question of refusing to use technology until it is 100% accurate, it just has to be better than what we have now.
- OK, so the technology might not be available for all games. So what? Test matches are played in different conditions on different grounds in different countries with different umpires. Having some with better technology available than others isn’t going to magically make the whole process massively unfair.
- Obviously having every call referred to replay would slow the game down massively, but that’s just a straw man argument. Other sports, notably tennis, have introduced replays very successfully. It just requires a bit of thought, rather than outright rejection.
What is more, replays are available in some instances. Disputed catches is one of them, I believe. Having a pair of umpires ask the opinion of the fielding captain as to the legitimacy of a catch, when they could have asked for a TV replay instead, is plain stupid, and a far more serious issue than Bucknor’s bad calls.
Finally we come to the racism issue. For those not in the know, Harbhajan Singh has been accused of making a racist insult to Andrew Symonds (who is of West Indian descent). Singh has been found guilty by an inquiry and banned for 3 matches, and the Indian side (under the instructions of their management) is threatening to boycott the rest of the series in protest. What are we to make of this?
Firstly we should note that Australian sides are expert at needling the opposition. If Singh did say something, I doubt that it was unprovoked (though the provocation was probably non-racist in nature).
Secondly, the whole point of stamping down on racism in cricket is to discourage racism in society. At the time of the incident, Tony Grieg wisely pointed out that, by making an official complaint, Ponting was ensuring that an unwise word used in anger would be turned into an international incident. He has also ensured that Symonds will now be followed by racist abuse from crowds wherever he goes for years to come. What Ponting should have done, Grieg said, is wait until the next break, take his complaint to the opposition captain, and have the two of them sort the issue out in the dressing room. Only if Singh failed to apologize and mend his behavior should it have been taken any further.
Thirdly, in condemning Singh and handing out a pretty stiff punishment, Match Referee Mike Proctor appears to have come to a decision by means of taking the word of the Australian players against the word of the Indian players. How that is supposed to be a fair and reasonable judgment is beyond me.
And last but by no means least, by threatening to take their ball and go home, the Indian Cricket Board has shown all of the tact and diplomacy of a 5-year-old schoolboy. Because of their action, it no longer matters whether Singh is guilty or not. Whichever way things now turn out, one side or the other will be seen as having caved in to political pressure.
So now what began as an enthralling cricket match has escalated into an international incident. It is a thoroughly unedifying spectacle. I expect better of cricket players, umpires, and most especially administrators.
Update: Andrew Symonds’ ancestry corrected as per Justine’s comment below.