As anyone who reads a newspaper will now be aware, Australia played India in the 2nd match of a Test Series over the last few days. I (or more precisely my Sky+ Box) spent the nights diligently recording the play live, and I then spent the days, and the aptest word here is undoubtedly INDOLENTLY, replaying the action. I have to say, if you’d watched it as a Cricket match, with the sound turned down, you’d have got to the end with extremely mixed feelings, but having watched a real Roller Coaster.
It was a very, and I mean very, exciting match which veered, and on occasions careered, from one side to the other remarkably quickly. Firstly Australia, down and out at 134 for 6 (out of which please note – Ponting lbw bowled Harbhajan Singh - 55), ended up making a further 329 runs before their last wicket fell at 463. Andrew Symonds played a majestic, mature, intelligent and remarkably responsible innings ending up with 162 Not Out. The only real problem from the Indians viewpoint was he was unarguably out to a thick edge when he was on 30. But there you go – that’s cricket.
The Indians were 1 down for 8 runs, and you thought – here we go. Dravid scraped his way rather agonisingly to 54, and was given out wrongly, and badly wrongly, by Umpire Bucknor. But VVS Laxman made an excellent 109, and Tendulkar, who, it must be said, struggled at first, but played with terrific grit, concentration and flair in the end, ended up brilliantly unbeaten on 154. Harbhajan Singh (it’s him again), their off-spinner, added 63 runs of his own, in a great 8th Wicket partnership of 129. I love watching the fielding side getting increasingly pissed off when the rubbish tail-enders put a really good score together. The Indians, extremely unexpectedly, ended up with 532, 69 ahead of the home side.
Australia went at it again in their second innings, and seemed to bat for ever. They got to 250 for 2 (including Ponting c Laxman b Harbhajan Singh – 1). With good centuries coming from Mathew Hayden (123) and Mike Hussey (145 Not Out), they crawled up to 401 before declaring, leaving India to get 333 on the remaining part of the last day, in very short order. Once again in the 2nd Australian innings, the Indians must have felt the umpire was playing 12th Man for the Home Side when he gave Hussey the benefit of a microscopically small lbw doubt when he was on 20.
The rest of the story is History. It looked for almost all of the day that Ponting had been too greedy, and the Indians would play out a draw. In a last ditch, “try anything” effort, Ponting gave the ball to Michael Clarke, their No 5 batsman, who then ended up 11 balls later with the hysterically improbable figures of 3 wickets for 5 runs, and the Indians in despair. In his proper job as No 5 batsman for the Australians in this game, Clarke scored a total of 1 run, and was in the middle for a total of 5 balls. Bizarre.
To say the Indians felt robbed is an understatement, and it is difficult not to feel a huge amount of sympathy for them. Suffering from some of the worst umpiring I’ve seen for a while, they could point to a little matter of 257 runs scored by Hayden and Symonds when both had been clearly out, as well as Dravid being cut down just when he’d started to play some decent strokes. But, if you want a One way then the Other way type of excitement in a Cricket game, watch a copy of this one. You can't come to any conclusion other than that crass umpiring cost the Indians the game. they would not have won, but they would not have lost either.
But then, of course, we get the Harbhajan v Symonds “monkey” discussion. And who knows where that’s going to lead? Why can’t these guys behave like grown ups, at least when they’re on a cricket field playing fro their country?
Perhaps the real cause is that we have an International Cricket Board who seem to have no idea how to address the issue of “sledging”. Here we are in Australia, where, in its modern form, it was invented, honed, polished and turned into an Antipodean Art form. It’s been going on for decades – and, on occasions in the past, in a much wittier form. As an aside, try Bill Woodfull, Australia’s captain (note the country of origin even 70 years ago) in the Bodyline series of 1932-33, responding to Douglas Jardine's complaint that a slip fielder had sworn at him: “All right, which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?”
Trawl the Internet today and you don’t need to look far to find pages of the “Best 10 Sledges of All time”. The interesting thing is, for the first one I looked at, 9 of the 10 involved, guess who – our Australian friends.
I have no idea whether Harbhajan Singh called Andrew Symonds “a monkey”. Whether the comments are about race, colour, size, sexuality, their opponent’s wives, their appetite for other men’s wives (and their pets), these goings-on have been going on for too long, and it strikes me as childishly and naively inappropriate to jump on the issue in such a ham-fisted way. The authorities can’t be stupid enough not to realise what the potential consequence of their actions was likely to be. Why can’t either of the Umpires get the message to the team captains on the field? Are they so emasculated now? Why can’t the match referees feel the collars of the worst exponents, and advise them that the clock’s ticking? Why can’t the authorities make it unequivocally known what they wan’t and what they are going to do if they don’t get it? Why can’t they befuddle this particular issue to give them time to build an intelligent and workable strategy to combat it all?
But look at who made the complaint in this match. One Ricky Ponting. Now I think Ponting is arguably the best batsman in the world. But here’s a man who has been dismissed by the man he is now accusing, on 8 occasions in the last 8 Tests they’ve both played in. Ponting almost looked in the second innings here as if he was under a Harbhajan spell - and he got 1 run and stayed in for 4 very jittery balls. You could be forgiven for thinking rather cynically that with Harbhajan properly out of the way, he might just be able to get a decent score going in this series. Just a thought.
It does irritate me, at least, after a terrific cricket match, that Ponting either felt the need or allowed it to escalate this in the way he did. There’s a feeling of “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, or is it “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”, or possibly “Stop being a Great Wus”, about it all.
No-one doubts that the whole “sledging” issue needs to be addressed. But why do we seem to have people in charge of the game who seem unable to understand that there are more ways of killing a cat than smashing it over the head with a brick.
I was going to suggest the Authority's approach should be “Softly, Softly, Catchy Monkey”, but that would not have been in the best possible taste.
So I won’t.