The fall-out and the falling-out: what they don't seem to getIt hasn't been a week into a new year and cricket gets punched in the stomach already. There's just so much news and views flying about that it's hard to keep one's hat on. Here's an attempt.
What the Aussies don't get
* Ricky Ponting doesn't realise he's seen as being (and mostly rightly so) as statesman-like as a headhunter in Borneo aiming for the world record in skulls. The whole affair has turned into a question of integrity (what Inzy would call "izzat"). His behavior on the last day was fairly provocative and did not show any of the restraint or objectivity expected of an international captain.
* Clarke and Ponting have both explained that they felt they had taken their catches, while many viewers thought the opposite. In fact, Ian Chappell felt the same way about Clarke's case. I respect Chappell for his independent views, even though I don't necessarily agree with him. So assuming he has no reason to lie or cheat, the problem is as follows: these three think that the grounding of the ball happened after the ball was in control of the catcher. I'm not sure how this interpretation came about. It is commonly accepted that the ball should not touch the ground at any stage until the catch is completed. On both counts, this was not so. This little difference is at the heart of these incidents. I do not know how the Aussies came to believe this was so - no one else would agree. You try everything to keep the ball off the ground while taking a catch such that there is no reason to doubt your control of the catch. Clarke and Ponting do not realise this (read Rajaraman's account of his run-in at the stormy press conference at the end of yesterday).
* Clarke also does not acknowledge that essentially it is not his opinion that the catch was clean that matters. It must seem from the outside to have been clean. His opinion is superfluous to proceedings. The fact that Benson made that significantly stupid error in consulting Ponting (and the naivete of the "pact" - more on that later) should not obscure this.
* Gilchrist has been subdued in his reactions to Kumble's "one team was playing cricket" comment. He is somewhat justified in claiming that he did not know whether Dravid had nicked the ball or not - we can never tell. It is only speculation and opinion that leads people to claim he should know - I do not not have the experience to claim this. However, there is no doubt that he was carried along with the ugliness of the spirit of his team on the day, which will remain a blot on his record.
* The Australian cricket team does not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation w.r.t how it is being perceived in India. The Indians have a genuine grievance made worse by the fact that there is, as in the Harbhajan career, a couple of patterns. One, the Aussies have themselves escaped serious penalties in the past, right from the Slater-Dravid-Venkat incident in 2001 to the Sarwan-McGrath case. A Lehmann-ban apart, the Aussies are seen to have "getting away with it". Very few in Oz seem to recognize that. In addition, as in 03-04, the umpiring decisions again swung mainly for Oz. I have it as 8-2 in their favour. Ponting should at least have the grace to admit that had Symonds been given out at any stage, the match may not have gone the way it did. Their refusal to acknowledge the significance of the luck going their way becomes galling for the ordinary fan.
* Symonds says that Harbhajan deliberately struck Lee sparking off the confrontation. When did this happen? Why didn't he complain then? Why did no one see this?
What the Indians need to get right
* Harbhajan Singh has some serious history behind him. He's no angel or "genial offspinner" as one TV channel chose to put it. All this talk of "giving it back to the Aussies" before the series may only have worsened things for easily-provoked types such as Harbhajan. The Indian team has a certain style and the captain is no coward. But don't be oblivious to this fact.
* By and large, the Indians have come out well. Kumble's just about managed to rein his emotions - a gargantuan effort matched by his courageous batting. Tendulkar has strongly defended the offie, and that is a huge certificate to have. They have got to keep the high ground. But did they complain about Hogg too late? Perhaps they should just go to the umpires each time an Australian says something. And carry a tape-recorder.
* It's a pity (as Harish rightly said) if the Indians don't play at Canberra. They will anyway play at Perth, it seems (unless the players can put their feet down against the board's pressures), and a chance to give Pathan, Sehwag, VRV Singh, perhaps even Karthik would have been lost.
* It was incredibly naive of Kumble to have agreed to the "word of the catcher" pact. I know it was meant to be of the "batsman asks catcher" variety, but how did he think this would work? And I don't mean to suggest Ponting would have used this in a Machiavellian sense: Ponting himself is incredibly naive in saying "this is how cricket should be played". Is he nuts? This was never going to work - it's very easy to trust to be eroded, even unknowingly. Vaughan had rejected this in the last Ashes - I hope this will be the last such mistake by the rookie captain. It was very cynical of Clarke to walk when he had edged a sitter to slips given the diabolical nature of the umpiring (he's had a horrendous run with the bat), but I don't think the Indians shouldn't ooh-aah about that. He was out and clearly so, and even the umpires couldn't give it out.
Proctor, the BCCI, the ICC
* Proctor was under tremendous pressure to be seen to be strict. After his see-sawing on the Yuvraj-dissent case and the whole Hair episode last year, he's got it wrong. Unless he's seen something no one else seems to have.
* The BCCI was just about better than a bunch of headless chickens this time, but with Rajeev Shukla and Niranjan Shah and Prof. Shetty all over the channels, thankfully they'd didn't totally screw this one up. However, I remain cynical of their worth - remember that flip-flop on the Sehwag-Denness case where Sehwag had to serve out one Test's ban?
* The ICC - well, that's another fine mess you've got us into. Here's four things you can do:
1. Get Simon Taufel and Aleem Dar on the plane to Perth, pronto. Even if they make mistakes, no one will accuse them of incompetence or worse, racism.
2. Stop the umpires from making a fool of themselves on field. The idea is to get decisions right, not worry about undermining authority or technology. Do whatever it takes to get the decisions right, even if it means having to overrule the on-field umpire. This may waste time, lead to ridiculous appeals and so on. Penalise effectively for this, but don't let the poor umpire stand there with his pants down.
3. Get the backfoot no-ball rule back. The umpires are standing so far behind. Put the rule back and allow the umps to see the no-balls properly and then have time to consider the LBW carefully.
4. Do we need a match ref AND a third ump? Get the ref's hands dirty, or at least get him to overrule the third ump when the ump becomes a chump.
And finally, the media. Reports of the "Dark underbelly of aussie reporting" came to the fore. Well, we have our own tabloid news channels here, who liberally used the word "cheating" and what not. Some decent reporting came in from Kadambari Murali (Hindustan Times), Gaurav Kalra (CNN-IBN), Siddhartha V (Cricinfo), and so on. But some of the reportage was exceptionally bad. Rediff used the headline "Prem Panicker: Ponting should be banned" while Panicker seems to have not used the words himself, it was what many hysterical commentors were saying. They don't see that the stalwarts of the Aussie media such has Peter Roebuck have strongly lashed out against the Aussies. Wonder what Richie Benaud is saying. Need some statesmen around. Wonder what the Don would have said.
Naughty thought: If the situation really boils over into something massive that splits world cricket, would the ICL benefit from this? Could the Aussie board refrain from banning ICL cricketers? Whatever happens, we all love a good black nose for the ICC and the BCCI, who have utterly let down world and Indian cricket respectively.
Finally, I read a news article about jail inmates going on a rampage in Jalandhar. Regrettable though the incident was, I was relieved to note that it was not to protest their fellow Sikh's punishment. Such is our (certainly my) overriding occupation with cricket at the moment. Can't really blame everyone else now, can I?
* (update) It seems that despite all the hullabaloo, Bucknor will stand in Perth too. This perfectly sums up the myopia of the ICC and the reason they continue to regress each year. That's enough - come back. Since 1992 and the Indian tour to South Africa, Bucknor has continued to torment the Indians. That's enough - come back home. Bucknor is a cool investment for the ICC - he earns them a whopping 2 million dollars.
Oh, and Mr. Kirsten: still want the job?