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December 30, 1999


India Down Under

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Sauce for the goose

Prem Panicker

"He might have muttered something, but I didn't see it..." -- famous words, spoken by one match referee after Alan Donald went 'F*** you" and followed it up with a lot more abuse, to Rahul Dravid a few years ago, in Durban during the ODI final of the SBI Cup.

And till date, I thought that was the height of the ridiculous -- but Ranjan Madugalle, match referee for the India-Australia Test series, topped that by a mile. He didn't even open his mouth; did he, when Ricky Ponting abused Javagal Srinath, very plainly for anyone who has access to a television screen (the match referee does) to see?

Earlier in this match, when Madugalle fined Venkatesh Prasad a whopping 35 per cent of his match fees and handed out a suspended one-Test or two ODI suspension, there were many, in both countries, who thought the punishment was a touch too harsh.

On the surface, it did seem a shade much -- no one who saw that incident would have claimed malice in Prasad's actions. In the previous over, Michael Slater had needled him a bit as he ran one, nattering at him quite a bit from the non-striker's end. Thus, when Prasad got him in his next over, his reaction was probably the result of mixed emotions -- a bit of exuberance at having got back at his tormentor (remember the Aamir Sohail incident in the 1996 World Cup, when Sohail slammed him for a four and gestured to him to go fetch the ball and next up, Prasad took him out and helpfully pointed the way to the pavilion?) mixed in with the sheer relief of getting a wicket after turning in a spell where he could seem to get nothing right.

At the time, some of us felt that Madugalle had done okay. Whatever the reasons, you don't want to see one player go within inches of the other and make like he was working out with a punching bag (you could say the same for the gesture with which Greg Blewett greeted Ganguly's wicket today -- the bowler went down on one knee and with bent elbow, lifted a finger at the batsman, in a universally recognisable gesture -- but we'll call that 'boyish exuberance' and let that pass). A firm match referee is preferable to a blind one.

But not a biased one. And Madugalle is proving to be biased. One sided.

That might seem a strong word to use, but the circumstances here seem to warrant it. That might also seem a wierd word to use considering Madugalle is from the same part of the world, give or take miles of water. But if there is some more logical explanation for what is happening, I'd love to hear it.

With Australia on 189/5 and looking for quick runs, Ponting aimed a hook at a short one from Srinath, mised, and was hit on the grill of his helmet. He moved away a couple of paces, then turned around and very audibly abused Srinath. You didn't have to be a lip reader in the KGB class to decipher what Ponting was saying, including the suggestion that, how does one put this politely, Srinath go have sex with himself.

Madugalle might claim he couldn't make out what Ponting was saying -- but surely, there was no mistaking the implication of the gesture, when Ponting waved his bat at Srinath?

Surely Madugalle didn't miss the fact that Ponting, on getting to the non-striker's end, continued the 'conversation'?

You expect such behaviour from Ponting -- a player who has got into trouble with his own board for excessive indulgence in alchohol, a player who was pointed out by the Pakistanis as the worst sledger of the Australian team and one prone to flinging racist insults, a player who during the team's tour of India in 1997 was lucky to have a couple of instances of misbehaviour in discotheques hushed up.

But not one word in condemnation -- leave alone fines and suspensions -- from the match referee?

That is shocking. It is not, however, new to India. When Australia was here last, wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia got reprimanded by match referee Peter van Der Merwe during the Chennai Test, while obnoxious behaviour by the Australian fielders met with the blind eye.

Earlier, in South Africa, despite obvious -- and obvious abusive -- sledging by Allan Donald, and official protests by the then manager Sunil Dev, nothing was done.

And it is when you consider this that you find yourself feeling a tinge of admiration for the Pakistan board -- and contempt for their Indian counterparts. The Pakistan board had the courage to back its players when, after the recent tour of Australia, Akram complained of constant -- and racist -- sledging. The Pakistan board lodged an official protest with the ACB and, going further, has said that they would be forced to reconsider their participation in the upcoming one-dayers if this issue was not addressed.

Whether something will come of it is a secondary issue -- at least, the Pakistan board stood four square behind its players.

The Indian board never has, in the past. And will not, now. There will be no protest, no attempt to take up with Madugalle the issue of Ponting's behaviour, or with the ICC the larger issue of a match referee whose behaviour is inconstant, to put it mildly.

Why not? To answer that, go back in time to when Rajesh Chauhan was the centre of chucking allegations. At the time, it was pointed out that the Indian board meekly accepted the allegation, whereas the Lankan board in a similar situation in re Muthiah Muralitharan, had gone out of its way to get his action filmed, submitted the film to the ICC, demanded that they be shown what was wrong with the action and threatened legal action if the ICC fooled around with the spinner's career.

Why can't we do the same, a member of the media asked during a press briefing. The response of the board secretary -- fortunately, this has been printed in other newspapers as well, so he won't deny it, or will he? -- was illuminating. "The Lankans can behave like that, after all they have nothing to lose, but we can't do that, after all the ICC president is our very own Jagmohan Dalmiya!"

And of course, ensuring that we don't rock the ICC boat when our "very own" man is its head is more important, to the board, than ensuring that its players get a square deal.

Why, someone asked during cricket chat today, does this keep happening to the Indians? The answer is very simple -- because the Indian board does not care, never has, never will, to make a stand for justice, for a level playing field.

There is, of course, a rather more fanciful explanation of why this is happening. Look at it this way. Maybe Indians, with centuries of history and culture backing them, are expected to behave very well, wherever they go. So when a Prasad pumps a fist, it shocks the match referee, sends tremors of alarm down the ICC's collective spine. But such standards of behaviour are not, perhaps, expected of a Ponting, a Donald, whoever. So when they abuse, when they use the effs and other expletives in public view, it doesn't shock anyone -- least of all Madugalle and his fellow match referees.

If you have a better explanation, let me know.

Prem Panicker

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