The furore over India’s Harbhajan Singh supposedly calling Andrew Symonds a “monkey” during the second test in Sydney is escalating in confusion and intensity.
On the one side is the ICC, the body that protects the wider game from its tax-haven in Dubai; the other is India, the obsessive cricketing nation that frequently airs intention, albeit not from the BCCI, of breaking away from the establishment with its Indian Cricket League and of continued desire for more control in the game.
It may seem like exaggeration, but if this not resolved soon, it could have the potential to not just damage reputations, but to be ‘the straw that broke the camels back’, and with it splitting the cricketing world apart.
The issue now seems to transcend the role of Australia in the row, and is now concentrating more on umpires Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, and match referee Mike Procter.
For now, India have lodged an appeal and Harbhajan is free to play until it is is heard, but politics is once again threatening the game.
India are once again playing the ‘unjustly treated card’ by saying that the umpiring and refereeing was totally unacceptable, as well as stating that Australia played the game in a manner that was contrary to the ‘spirit of the game’.
Meanwhile, Australia are baffled by the whole thing, with Symonds saying that he is “surprised” about the supposed incident because there had been “no bad blood” during the series so far.
As for the tour continuing is uncertain; however, India’s assistance manager MV Sridhar believes that the tour will continue, but said that “we will await instructions from the BCCI.”
James Sutherland, chief executive of Cricket Australia, also believes that the tour will go ahead after discussing the matter with BCCI President Sharad Pawar:
“Sharad Pawar, who is the president of cricket in India, has overnight made such commitments, so that’s good enough for me. We’re looking forward to Perth now.”
This situation does bear some resemblance to the South Africa v India series in 2001, where five Indian players (including Harbhajan and Sachin Tendulkar) were suspended for ball tampering.
In this incident, which lead to the infamous Unofficial Test at Centurion, the match referee Mike Denness was lambasted by the BCCI and incurred, according to then Wisden editor Graeme Wright, “the wrath of a nation.”
Except now that is, the nation that believed was being racially discriminated, is now the believed discriminator.
In the 1982 edition of Wisden, former New Zealand captain Walter Hadlee wrote:
“The International Cricket Conference [as it was then known] represents the cricketers of the world. Its future can only be threatened if members allow themselves to be involved in politics rather than cricket.”
This is what is in danger of happening. Effergies of Bucknor, that most unlikely of hate figures, Benson and now Ricky Ponting, are being burnt on the streets of India. A political row is brewing, and the BCCI are trying to remain composed by awaiting the official ICC ruling on Harbhajan. But for now at least, the Indians are adamant and once again feel discriminated.
Time will tell whether this could be that proverbial piece of straw.