Monkey Business

Oh, the excitement. The crowd, the tension, the atmosphere. It’s all happening, on the field and off it. Perhaps it’s time for everyone to take a few deep breaths and down some chill pills. What should have been a famous and celebrated test match, with a stunning climax is clouded with ignominy, gnashing of teeth and infamy.

While Anil Kumble, Ricky Ponting, Harbhajan Singh, Tony Greig, Sunny Gavaskar, Peter Roebuck and all of the other drama queens are counting to ten and doing whatever it takes to calm down, let me help by separating the issues.

Firstly, Michael Clarke’s final over was as exciting and incredible a finish to match the could have imagined. Very few people imagined Australia could take the remaining three wickets in just two overs. Clarke needed just five balls. To suggest that the Australian victory – a record equalling 16th straight – is invalidated an meaningless because of other incidents, would seem overly dramatic.

What were the other incidents? As everyone knows, Australia got by far the better of some very bad umpiring decisions. Ponting, Symonds and Hussey received generous reprieves, all at times when Australia’s situation was precarious. On the other hand, Dravid was sent on his way on the final afternoon without any just cause. It has to be said that those decisions did some gloss of the win but that can happen in sport. Australia can hardly be blamed for bad umpiring decisions, can they? I would like to say that I think it was very unfortunate that Roy, candid as ever, still mid innings, chose to admit that he was out (i.e. that he did hit the ball and should have been given out, caught). It did somewhat smack of gloating. Perhaps thanking ones lucky stars and shutting up would be a better approach than candour.

The other major incident was of course the matter of Harbhajan Singh calling Andrew Symonds a “monkey”, being charged with misconduct on racial grounds and subsequently being suspended for three Tests. I have to admit that I was puzzled as to what was so bad about being called a monkey. And for what matter, what race are monkeys? When I call my cheeky six year old “a little monkey”, I intend no racial slur. It all seemed a bit rich with the kings of insults and sledging, complaining about a few nasty comments back. However, I’ve done some research and talked to some learned colleagues, and there are other contexts. Symonds was born in England and grew up in Queensland but is of West Indian origins. As you would know, West Indians trace to African Negro roots and there was a time when Negroes (and many coloured peoples) were disgracefully regarded as sub-human – apes even. To call someone a monkey in that context is indeed a racial slur. You should also be reminded that Symonds was subjected to (but did not complain about) such comments on the recent tour of India and before this tour, players were specifically warned to stay away from precisely such comments. Is it Australia’s fault that Harbhajan acted foolishly and is being punished? Perhaps what sticks in the craw is a recollection of Australian’s saying things like “What is said on the field, stays on the field.”.

Any suggestion that India will pull out of the tour would seem to be an over-reaction. It’s not going to happen. It reminds me of a time when a certain opening batsman marched his partner off the ground, threatening to forfeit a match, because he was so distressed at being given out lbw. And Anil Kumble’s comment that “Only one team is playing cricket” belongs in Bollywood. As most would know, that quote is borrowed from Australian captain, Bill Woodfull (not one for dramatics), at the height of bodyline in 1933 – truly one of cricket’s greatest crises.

It must also be acknowledged that Ponting is not Mr Charm, grace and poise under pressure. It’s rather easy to be Mr Nice when everything is going well and according to plan. Make no mistake – Ponting wants to win even more than Steve Waugh did, he likes getting his own way and is not gracious under pressure or when denied. Remember a certain run out and 12th man in 2005? Ponting’s indignation at having his integrity questioned (about a claimed catch) is rather precious. “If you’re actually questioning my integrity in the game, then you shouldn’t be standing there,” were his actual words. Oh pulleeze. For one, when was Ponting’s integrity beyond dispute? People whose integrity is beyond dispute usually don’t need to defend themselves so vigorously. And secondly, wake up and smell the coffee Ricky – while journalists are not required to have any integrity, it is actually a legitimate part of their jobs to examine that of others. It is a statesman’s job to field such pressure with a bit more dignity. What would Sir Donald have said? Bill Woodfull, Warwick Armstrong or Monty Noble? Lindsay Hassett, Richie Benaud or Bobby Simpson? Mark Taylor or even Allan Border – Captain Grumpy? I’d be surprised if all of those men would not have reacted more calmly.

If everyone can calm down, lighten up, take their medicine, stop dobbing to the teacher and move along to Perth happily, the rest of the series and the tour can progress successfully. Except for Brad Hogg, that is. His series must be over – make way for the Tait Train.

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