Tuesday, January 29, 2008

cricket: truthiness will out

After a couple of truly beautiful weeks of cricket which allowed us to forget how disgusted we are with the institutions and (some of) the people who run, play and watch the game, it is only proper that we report the whimper that rounds of the series of bangs rocketing about the test at Sydney and the now infamous race row: A court of law has overturned the ban on Harbhajan Singh for his alleged racist remarks. In the face of a dearth of admissible evidence this will appear, to the armchair legal eagles among us, a sensible sort of conclusion to reach. The Guardian's Andy Bull believes otherwise.

While there is no clear explanation of what has happened in this case, the sport will continue to consume itself with accusations and suspicions that something far more Machiavellian in scope has transpired behind the closed doors and among the murky corridors of the ICC. The ongoing, irritating stone-throwing between the baser elements of fans, officials, players and journalists on either side of the sub-continent power bloc v the Anglo-Australian power bloc divide will run on unabated. This is not going to help the sport to be comfortable with its own evolution.

Someone was always going to be shafted by the outcome of this appeal. Had Justice Hansen decided to let the original decision to ban Harbjahan Singh stand, Singh would have been the victim of a trial that would seem unfair in any democratic court of law. If the appeal overturned Mike Procter's verdict, it would put Procter's credentials, already shaky after his famously inept handling of the Darrell Hair affair, in some jeopardy.

I'll admit to being disappointed at the Guardian's knee-jerk reaction to this development, but given the self-righteous frenzy of imagined vindication that is likely to be breaking out around India's news channels right now [and how glad I am that I don't have a telly around at the moment] I suppose it strikes a reasonable balance.

It's been a bad month to be an old-fashioned, repressed codger of a cricket fan. If the appalling lack of civility on display in the Syndey test was not enough, the sight of Harbhajan Singh, banned for the match in Perth, jumping on to the field waving the Indian flag in celebration (after a victory that left most of us witless with joy, admittedly) was detestable in its own special way.

Cricket is a sport played, at the highest level, by roughly fifteen nations, all of whom, at some point of time or other, have been in unhealthy imperial relationships with each other. Nationalism becomes more unpleasant than usual in this atmosphere. And while there's an amount of jingoistic grandstanding permissible in an all-or-nothing knockout tournament like a World Cup, it's a bit ludicrous to come out and unfurl your national colours after a game whose result is the exception to a long and unflattering rule. India has lost a lot more matches in Australia than it has won, and there is absolutely no reason to suppose that the national flag was sullied by those defeats, any more than it acquired some kind of miraculous sheen by a win like this. I can't think of a single Indian in whom the mawkish, manipulative sight of that flag inspired a pride or joy more intense than what it felt like to see this.

Did a 19-year-old from Delhi, slim as a girl and strong as a boy, end an era? You had to have been watching to appreciate the full extent of Ishant Sharma's murderous Saturday-morning spell to Ricky Ponting. This was Ponting as not seen before, a Ponting without reply. If the Australian captain is not his country's second-best batsman of all time, at the very least he is among the top five. For more than an hour Sharma picked him apart until he cut him open.

[Alright, maybe the English got a bit more excited about someone, anyone, being able to stand up to Oz than they should have -- here's hoping poor Ishant Sharma's teenage friends don't read the Telegraph, or he'll never hear the end of 'slim as a girl, strong as a boy' jokes -- but the cricket at Perth was its own reward.]


Brian said...

Is it just me, or does "slim as a girl, strong as a boy" weirdly imply that he's neither? You'd say of a dog that it was "sly as a fox, brave as a lion," not that it was "sly as a fox, brave as a dog." Then again I suppose the Telegraph has never been averse to a good tautology.

ursus arctos said...

The whole subject is just poisoned, isn't it.

Here I was thinking that "not proven" is the perfectly imprecise verdict that the situation required, and then the BCCI have to go bigging themselves up with the "Indians are incapable or racism" bollocks and the Aussies go home and vent all over the front and back pages of the SMH, Age and Australian. And as if what the conflagration needed further propellant, we have the spectre of megabucks 20/20 luring players from test cricket.

It's bloody depressing, it is.

Whereas the bowling was anything but, and the Australian reaction to Sachin demonstrated that they are in fact capable of much more than they are often given credit for.

roswitha said...

You're quite right, it's not impeccably constructed. I don't doubt the little demons who go to school with Ishant Sharma will latch on to it remorselessly.

roswitha said...

Ursus: The 20/20 thing is bloody disturbing. The establishment has already lost Shane Bond to it, and he's not going to be the last by any means. In my darker moments I worry for the future of the subcontinent's Test teams. For all their relative lack of success against historically stronger opponents, there's a tradition of cricket in India, Pakistan and SL that has produced some of the most graceful, enjoyable cricket the world has seen. I don't want that to disappear in a flurry of slog just because the market for it is disappearing.

And the ovation for Sachin Sydney was one of the finest sights this tour yielded up. It'll stick in my memory a good while after Bhajji and Symonds fade from it, I think.