Things will change… after Sydney
The recent Sydney Test match between India and Australia is possibly the most remarkable Test match to have been played in recent times. For reasons both good and bad. But it will also come to be marked as a watershed in the history of cricket.
Firstly the cricket. Truly a most amazing Test match which saw fortunes dwindling between the 3 hypothetically possible results in Test cricket throughout the 5 days, and they kept dwindling till the very end. Memorable performances by Hayden, Symonds, Sachin, Laxman, Ganguly with the bat and Kumble, Lee, Symonds (again) with the ball.
But that is hardly what the world will remember this Test match for. This was arguably one of the most controversial Test matches ever played. The competitive spirit which the players showed on the field was negated by the rank incompetence of the umpires involved. Not that this has happened for the first time in cricket, but the fact that the match ultimately ended up being so close, right down to the wire, coupled with the fact that India lost, resulted in the extreme reaction to the umpiring decisions.
On hindsight, if India had lost the match in a hurry after Dravid’s wicket fell, things would have been different and maybe there wouldn’t have been this much hype and controversy. Also, if India had somehow managed to save the match, I don’t think the Indian team would have shied away from giving umpire Bucknor another chance. As things stand now, Bucknor is on his way home after being removed from the Perth Test by the ICC. A decision which has attracted widespread criticism of the ICC for “bowing down” to the BCCI. But I would call ICC’s decision wise… atleast they have shown more wisdom in this case than Harbhajan and Symonds had shown in the game. Though it is open to debate whether they could have been wiser by letting Bucknor retire after World Cup 2007.
The second point is about the so-called “spirit-of-the-game” debate. Again, I think, if India would have managed to save the game, Kumble wouldn’t have come up with those damning comments about the Aussies not playing in the spirit of the game at the post-match press conference. Well, to tell the truth, umpires tend to favour the Aussies in 50-50 decisions, and especially in Australia. Aussies know it, and hence they tend to appeal vociferously. But the disturbing thing is that it used to happen only in case of LBW decisions. In this Test, particularly on the final day, Aussies were going for victory, and so appealed in situations even where the batsman was obviously not out, as in Dravid’s case. And I’m not ready to buy Gilchrist’s “you’re not sure, so you got to ask” comment. The point simply doesn’t hold in Dravid’s case.
I think the Aussies have gotten into such a habit of winning that when a team comes to the point of denying them that, they just go all-out. Also significant is the fact that this was a record-equalling win of 16, and the Perth Test is supposedly a foregone conclusion, so the Aussies knew that if they get 16, they’ll get 17 too. That probably explains their attitude.
The Harbhajan-Symonds fiasco is one which the teams could have done without. After the so-called “ugly series” of one-dayers in India, something of this nature was bound to happen. The surprising thing is that Ponting actually reported the matter to the referee. Whether Harbhajan actually called Symonds a ‘monkey’ or not maybe an entirely different matter. But I think this will turn out to be ‘hit-the-axe-on-you-own-foot’ scenario for Australia, who themselves are renowned for on-field abuse. The Indian board has threatened to pull out of the series in case his name is not cleared. It may be viewed as an extreme reaction but IF Harbhajan ACTUALLY didn’t say the word, or was misunderstood by Symonds, it will crash the team’s morale if he’s finally convicted. So returning home would be a better scenario for them. As things stand, it may not happen before atleast the Test series ends.
Coming to the ramifications, I think from now on, there will be a distinct change in the way the game is played. Talk is already around about the “appeals” system to challenge umpire’s decisions. I can’t believe people saying that “technology is not upto the mark” to introduce officially in the game. I think I saw hawk-eye being used in tennis games for line-ball decisions. If it can be a part of tennis, why not cricket?
This could also mark the end of Australia’s dominence in cricket. Or maybe the ‘beginning’ of the ‘end’. Teams now know how to counter Australia’s “hard-and-fair” brand of cricket. And all those talking on the field will be seriously looked into.
This should also be an eye-opener to the Indian fan. Don’t take cricket too seriously. Its just a game. And certainly nowhere near the best game in the world.