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The three sides of the coin by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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January 31 , 2007

The three sides of the coin

He said,

Antigua, 2003, West Indies vs Australia. Needing a little over 400 runs in the second innings to secure a history victory, West Indies were well on their way scoring 250-3, ably guided by Sarawan and Chanderpaul. In comes McGrath and bowls a bouncer, which Sarawan promptly dispatches it to the boundary. Fuming, irritated and still smiling, McGrath on his way back to his run up casually asks Sarawan how his captain Lara's genitalia tastes like. Not in a mood to defend at all that day, Sarawan promptly replies that McGrath's might be in a better position to answer that question and that he better defer the question to her counsel. This infuriates McGrath to no end and in a furious fashion walks towards Sarawan gesturing quite aggressively, pointing fingers, and stands tall over Sarawan and starts abusing him, not to mention, later walking past the umpire and complaining about it. A couple of Australian players come to McGrath's rescue and start warning/indicating to Sarawan that his comments were completely unacceptable. Because, after all, McGrath's wife was a recovering cancer patient and that the subject was a taboo and off-limits to passing comments, sledges and slurs. So the Australian response was to stand behind McGrath and warn Sarawan to not make personal insults as McGrath was too touchy and sensitive about it AND IT MIGHT HURT HIS FEELINGS. For an independent observer, it is quite obvious what/who started it all. Had McGrath not inquired about a certain taste, touch and texture of his captain's inner parts, Sarawan would not had passed on the question to McGrath's wife and shirk his responsibility. Which pulls into focus an important question that has now become a mantra on all the playing nations except Australia - who sets the limits, rules and syllabus of sledging, or more importantly, if Australia wants to play hard, why does it go soft on only certain issues that is not to its liking, or to put it in an even simple manner, if you can't take it, why dish it?

Steve Waugh, the celebrated champion to the cause of sledging, proudly proclaimed that this is not mere provocation. This is merely a part of the grand master plan - psychological/mental disintegration, to rule the worlds, to destroy the anti-matter, to subjugate societies, or in other words, to win a game. Lest the viewer in the stadium on in front of the television confuse that whatever he is witnessing is just a game, Waugh assures that they take their battles seriously and getting the opposition out in anyway possible is the sole aim of the game. Now that the Harbhajan's issue has blown up in the face, the question begs to asked - why sledge in the first place? what is the price of a win? Is it the spirit of the game, the camaraderie between the teams, or the sheer joy of making a living of something the players love to do most? what justifies a victory? Why does a batsman have to emotionally and psychologically manipulated into giving away his wicket? Why can't it be because of great bowling or superior fielding or a combination of the two, where athleticism can be appreciated and talent can be rewarded? What does it say about the fielding team? Frustration is a part and parcel of every game, or for that matter, even life. To channel frustration in an ugly manner and vent it on the opposition, only sits well with tots in diapers, not men in whites. Cricketers playing at the international level, who have risen through the ranks, overcoming failures, deficiencies and hurdles along the way, should already be equipped with enough balance and mental maturity, by the time they step on the international arena, donning their national colors. Kicking a ball, throwing a bat, yelling at oneself, glaring at the umpire for an unfair decision, even if punishable offenses under the laws of the game, are totally understandable acts of frustration. However, bowling 'accidental' beamers, intimidating with naked aggression, and verbally abusing the opposition, are simply childish, whatever scientific sounding term it wraps around.

If the Australians argue that sledging is a part of their sporting culture, and that those verbal taunts and personal insults are in fact nothing personal, not to mention any incestuous invectives, and that at the end of the day, the blokes and the mates can sit together and laugh about them over a pint of beer, then it should be equally acceptable that race, religion, nationality, caste, creed and sex be thrown in the mix and allowed to mingle with the rest of the filth, because in their own words IT IS NOTHING PERSONAL. If the Aussies believe that a personal comment on one's wife might rile the opposition batsman into losing his mind, poise and eventually his wicket, then it should equally agree to be taunted with any other kind of comment that would infuriate them just as much, to lose their mind, poise and wicket in that same order. After all one man's monkey is another man's bastard.

She said,

Imagine, for a second, that the roles are reversed, and it was the Aussies harassing Harbhajan, and the comment in question was not 'monkey' but a 'bloody darkie'. For all the talk now from BCCI officials about how the word 'monkey' isn't a racist one in the Indian parlance, and Indian colloquy, would the word 'bloody darkie' be passed off just as a passing observation on the physiognomy of the opposition - that they are all filled with blood, hence bloody, and they are darker in complexion, hence darkie? The recent comments of Dean Jones calling the South African player Hashim Amla a 'terrorist', just because he looked dark and he has a long beard, however jocular in intent, smacked of dangerous racial stereo typing. Calling a middle-easterner a 'towel-head' is one thing, calling one a 'Bin-Laden' is something else. And similarly the treatment meted out to Herschelle Gibbs for pointing out a couple of Pakistani supporters in the stands, and making racist remarks, makes it very clear that racial prejudice is an unpardonable and uncondoneable aspect of human behavior, in the present day global village. Having been subjected to colonial prejudices and racial oppression for over 200 years, Indians, of all, should know what it feels to be abused and discriminated on an aspect that one has no control on, like, the skin color. And to subject another human being, however much taunted and provoked, the same kind of abhorrent behavior, by comparing an individual to a primordial primate because of his physical features, suggests that Harbhajan himself hasn't evolved as much as he would like to think, and that the comparison should make the monkey more sorry, for being pulled into mess in the first place. Instead of taking the the high ground and leaving the poke from Symmonds alone, or better, brushing it off with the customary 'f*** off', Harbhajan allowed himself to dragged into the same mud, and with him, the team, the board and the rest of the nation.

People undermine the power of moral high ground and superiority in simplicity. A few years ago, in a tour to South Africa, the match referee banned 6 Indian players en masse for the next few games, citing ball tampering (by Sachin), excessive appealing (Sehwag and Harbhajan) and inability to control his team (on Ganguly). The players expressed shock and nothing more, as the charges sounded baseless, reactionary, and illogical. That Sachin was caught on camera filing the dirt away caught in the seam with his fingernails, clearly and conclusively proved his innocence and on further back door maneuvering by the BCCI, the charges were dropped and the tour continued on. The entire cricketing fraternity was shocked at the harshness of the verdict, as there never was a precedent of banning players just for appealing, and that too, players of only one team. The players kept mum, issued no public statements and let the board speak on their behalf. Nobody termed the board tactics as big-boy bullying, only because the cause was just and the charges, unfair. In this case, however, riding on a mere technicality that the said word wasn't caught on tape, in throwing its entire financial might behind such a stupid cause, the good intentions of the board of standing behind the player, came off as heavy-handed arm-wringing. And Harbhajan alone should be faulted to this loss of face mess, as his injudiciousness and impetuous temperament snatched away the team and the board its high ground, and also the sympathies of the cricket loving public (including the Australians) that poured in after the Sydney test. By wrestling in the same dirty mud, he made it impossible to distinguish between the perpetrator and the victim, the instigator and responder, and importantly, a winner and a sore loser.

Well, That said,

Ever wonder, what made someone to print the small print on some appliances - "The bottom surface would get really hot while plugged in, don't touch" on Iron boxes, "Contents are served really hot, be careful" on coffee cups, "Ingesting them can cause death" on pesticides? It is not so much as knowing the obvious, but spelling out clearly the obvious is what is needed in the present day scenario of technicalities, fine print and subtext. "Don't poke your eye with the sharp end of the pencil, you might go blind" - instructions as these are warranted as some buffoon might want to use the pencil as a multi-purpose tool to clear out, may be, a speck in his eye, injure himself in the process and turn around and blame the system, citing his sutpidity is the system's responsibility. The need of the hour is a zero tolerance policy on any personal 'banter'. A one strike rule that would wrap the wrists of the perpetrator. This tactic of mental disintegration has gone/is taken too far to erode the game and threaten its delicate balance, only because one team wants to win at any cost. This does not have to go down the route of boxing press conferences before the prize fight, where all that the boxers do is verbally hurl abuses at each other, their posse and entourages, to get them sufficiently pumped up for the bout the next day. If sledging is a part of the Australian sporting culture, then they better relegate it to their regional matches and tournaments, and when they come to the world arena and compete with people, who come from different cultures, different sensibilities, and importantly, and different kind of slurs, they better keep to themselves their culturally aggressive nature and congenital rugged behavior. It is high time the officials took over the asylum from the players and treat every minute violation swiftly and justly. Leaving it to the player for proper conduct during the game, seems to much of an ask of someone who is already burdened with securing a win at all costs. It is better to relieve them of this personal responsibility and transfer the control to the regulatory measures. Otherwise, the contents might spill over and scald the whole game once and for all. Which leads to believe the person who wrote all that small print on the coffee cup isn't stupid after all. It is time to realize that winning is only a part being a Champion. And if the players cannot realize that on their own, let the fines, bans and the money do the talking.

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