Harbhajan's *** came because of provocation
Equally culpable in this is the international umpiring fraternity
In punishing Harbhajan cricket is punishing a victim
Australia have been obsessed with "reverse racism"
LONDON: If Harbhajan Singh is banned for three Tests because he called
Andrew Symonds "a monkey" then that is how it must be. In sport, as in life,
racism must be challenged at every opportunity.
Admittedly, "monkey" would not qualify in the top hundred racist insults.
Ian Botham used to revel in the nickname "Guy the Gorilla." When all is said
and done, we are all simian primates. But the word "monkey" had form, as
everybody knew that Symonds had supposedly suffered such insults last year
from Indian crowds. So case proven, the Indian spinner was guilty as
The Indian board should stop its posturing, accept what must be a galling
reminder that it is the International Cricket Council that still runs the
game, and get on with the tour.
Punishing a victim
Do not delude yourself, though, that in punishing Harbhajan cricket is
punishing a sinner. It is punishing a victim. It is punishing a player who,
it might be concluded, mentally disintegrated. Remember mental
disintegration? It is Australia's nauseatingly self-congratulatory phrase
for sledging. And it worked. It worked so well that Harbhajan cracked and
Australia have not stopped bleating about their shoddy little victory ever
Australia complain that Harbhajan crossed the line. On one side of the line
supposedly are the supremely talented, peerless, combative Australians who,
in the words of their fast bowler, Brett Lee, pride themselves in playing
"tough competitive cricket, fairly and squarely."
On the other side of the line is an Indian spinner, known by the Australians
to have a volatile temperament, who temporarily lost it. He lost his temper,
lost his reputation, lost the match.
The problem is that Australia's dividing line is not a reliable division
between the morally upstanding and the indefensible.
Australia's dividing line is repugnant, enabling the condemnation of the
likes of Harbhajan whilst legitimising obnoxious behaviour that cricket
should have had the bravery to root out a generation ago.
Racism cannot be countenanced. But it is a rum old world that bans a man for
three Tests for calling someone a monkey, yet allows the sort of boorish
behaviour that allows first slip to drone to a batsman or that convinces any
fast bowler with half a brain that personal insults every time a batsman
plays and misses are essential for any cricketer of spirit.
As long as you are careful not to refer to the colour of his skin.
It needs to be remembered that Harbhajan's *** did not come without
provocation. Before he was abused as a monkey, Symonds had been indulging in
a phrase or two out of the corner of his mouth. Australia and Harbhajan have
been at each other for years.
But Australia have been obsessed with "reverse racism" ever since Darren
Lehmann, their batsman, became the first international player to be banned
for the racial abuse of Sri Lankan players five years ago. They have been
intent upon revenge and now they have gained it.
What is deeply instructive in all this is Australia's wisest cricket writers
have saved the bulk of their condemnation not for Harbhajan but for
Australia. At the moment they matched their own record of 16 successive Test
victories, it is clear that once again they have won little affection.
"Opponents, most not as naturally confrontational, seek to match Australia,
but clumsily. Perversely, this gives the Australians the high m***ground."
Peter Roebuck, in the Sydney Morning Herald, was incensed enough to call for
Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, to be sacked, accusing his side of "the
ugliest performance an Australian side has put up for 20 years."
To punish Harbhajan for his overreaction, he suggested, would impress only
"barrack-room lawyers." Peter English may one day be regarded as their
His response to a fractious final day on CricInfo was to reflect upon the
Australians' supposed loyalty towards the Spirit of Cricket, a document
drawn up by their former captain, Steve Waugh, which seeks to encapsulate
their "hard but fair" approach to the game.
"They are shocked whenever their outlook is challenged," remarked English.
"After emotional days like this it is hard to sympathise with their
Equally culpable in this is the international umpiring fraternity. For too
long at Test level, they have done little to quell personal abuse, pleading
only that the stump mikes are turned down so that the public does not know
the full story.
The umpires in Sydney, Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor, would have ignored
Harbhajan's outburst, too, had not Ponting laid an official complaint.
The difference between personal abuse and a racist outburst is often smaller
than many suppose. For too long, in abdicating their responsibility, umpires
have played with fire.
Now cricket is burning with resentment. ? Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008