BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 11 January 2008, 16:07 GMT
'Bullying' casts shadow over cricket
Rohit Brijnath
By Rohit Brijnath

Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds
'It's offensive to downplay how vile the term monkey is'

It is interesting that despite losing two successive Tests the Indian cricket captain is still respected, and after winning 16 Tests in a row there are calls in his own country for the Australian captain to be sacked.

A lesson is to be found here: how a team plays sport is important, but so is how it conducts itself. India's XI can barely field a ball competently, yet have become worthy of support simply because in the midst of madness they performed with dignity in Sydney.

No one ran, as Ricky Ponting is wont to, to remonstrate with the umpire when Australian batsmen were not given out when clearly they were; no one created a scene when Indian batsmen were given out when clearly they weren't. When Kumble spoke about "spirit", he spoke with the authority of a man who demanded it from his team.

This has become a sport about bullying, on the field constantly by the Australians, off the field often by the Indians

Yet only recently in India during the one-dayers against Australia in October 2007, team manager Lalchand Rajput spoke immaturely about giving it back to the visitors, and S Sreesanth and Harbhajan behaved in intemperate fashion. Then, India's "fearless, young" players were cheered widely for "fighting fire with fire", yet there was nothing fearless or smart about their behaviour.

Fine manners

Had India behaved like that on this tour in Australia, certainly they could not have spoken of cricketing spirit nor even attempted to ascend any moral high ground (which anyway is a dangerous place for any sports team). You cannot accuse a rival team of being uncouth if you are not couth yourself. What India should have learnt in the past decade from Kumble, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid, men of fine manners, is that decency can never be overrated. And in Sydney it was evident.

Australian team
'The Australians are also guilty of using abusive language'

But that was as much pleasant news as there was to be found in cricket this week - most of the rest has been disturbing. This has become a sport about bullying, on the field constantly by the Australians, off the field often by the Indians.

There has arguably been no more unpleasant champion team in sport in recent times than Australia's cricket team. No cricket team in the world is like this. No sporting team in Australia (a land of fine, laconic sportsfolk with a fierce work ethic and a famous resolve) is like this.

Ricky Ponting's team is possibly where it wants to be: one of an arrogant kind. It says something sad about this gifted Australian team, and something wondrous about the sporting Australian people, that an Indian player is told on the streets of Sydney, "we're behind you, mate".

Teams often leave Australia's shore in a foul mood; mostly because their cricketing skills have been ruthlessly exposed as mediocre by the brilliant, disciplined, intense Australians; but partially because Ponting's men believe the way they play cricket is the right way, and the only way. C'mon mate, play hard, mock the opposition, be constantly righteous, sledge like hell, turn ugly when the heat is on, then swallow pies. But some men prefer puris.


There is a sense that Ponting, and even Adam Gilchrist, do not even comprehend why Kumble said "only one team was playing with the spirit of the game" after the fractious Sydney Test. They seem bewildered, as if to say: hey fellows, we were just doing what we always do.

The Indian team - who are fortunate their own ineptness (in four innings, they have twice been under 200, once 210 and once over 500) has been overshadowed - are livid for they see the Australians as being conveniently precious. For instance, the Australians appealed on the fifth day as if they had ferrets in their trousers, yet most teams are as culpable. Except that the Australians complain when other teams do it.

Indian captain Anil Kumble
'Kumble is a man of fine manners'

Australia's cricket needs to address these double standards, this sense of superiority, which apparently percolates down to a condescending Australian media official. Not every opposing team's complaints can be passed of as whining.

For example, it seems silly to carp about India's celebrations after the Twenty20 World Cup victory being excessive (and they were), yet prance wildly in Sydney and gesticulate "take that" to their critics like petulant schoolboys. No one even arrived to shake Kumble's hand at the game's end.

Similarly, while no one walks in cricket, it seems silly to insist you are protectors of the game's traditions yet not upbraid Michael Clarke for staying cemented to the crease when caught clearly, and cleanly, at slip. This has troubled the Indians. Ponting wants us to take their word on catches, they wonder, yet can we take the word of men like Clarke?


Language is a more complicated matter. Of course, racist language, which Harbhajan Singh is accused of, is unacceptable, and the effort of some Indian observers to downplay how vile the term "monkey" is to a black man is offensive.

Yet it is not only racist language that is repugnant, but Ponting's team has yet to grasp this, and continues to use words that are not necessarily part of the banter in Asia. "Monkey" is wrong, but so is stuff about body parts and dubious parentage. Yet at the same time for the Indians to wail about "bastard" suggests their vocabulary is priestly pure.

Ricky Ponting
There have been calls that Ponting be sacked

No doubt Mike Procter's decision was absent of fairness, and the umpiring incompetent (though all teams will rightfully now cry for umpiring changes mid-tour), but predictably there is overreaction in India, where cricket is rapidly being infected with jingoism.

One television channel argued whether the Sydney Test should be annulled, others considered a cricket referee's decision as some bruise on the national honour (this, in a time of farmer suicides) and called for the team to return. In sport, you don't sulk and take the ball home, you play on like men.

It is a sad time for cricket. But always in sport, redemption is at hand. Ponting's team needs to grow up. Kumble's team needs to remember how to bat.

Following is a selection of your comments on this article.

It is a fair and balanced article.Ponting and his team is too arrogant.Even after such a public outcry in their own country, they have not regretted their action and expressed their apologies.While I appreciate their superior cricketing skills, their abrasive and unsportsmanlike behavious is intolerable.this has been going for a long time. The more one see the replay of Simonds caught behind - he has started walking and then stopped after the umpire turned down the appeal, the more one feels aggrieved.He instigated Harbajan and he has gone scot free.Australian team should be punished severely to make them behave properly on the cricket field in future. Definitely Indian should improve its performance by leaps and bounds to make the remaining two tests competitive.
S Rajagopalan, Chennai, India

Hi Mr. Rohith, At last a balanced article without any bias to the two sides. The best thing we can do now is forget about what happened after the Sydney test and as you have mentioned in the last piece of the article the Indians need to remember to bat and personally i feel that is not going to happen at the WACA.
S A Raja, Bangalore - India

Does Rohit Brijnath really believe that India's ineptness was exposed or is he again pandering to a western audience craving for a "balanced" view? So much is being made of 3 wkts in 5 balls - what about having Australia on the mat at 130 for 6 and then being having the advantage blatantly and rudely snatched away? What about having 2 of your batsmen ruled out in probably two of the worst umpiring decisions in the history of the game - and this was clearly the worst officiated game in at least the last 10 yrs of cricket if not more. India outbowled and outbatted the Australians through the match and would have won if this one was called fairly.
Gaurav, Bangalore, India

Going forward all players should have a microphone with them and all converation recorded. This recording should be available to only Match referee and used only when there is a dispute. Question of privacy will not araise as this recording is not for public or media or even team management. Its only for the match referee to make conclusive decission based on hard evidence. Will this be implemented..? Joe
Joe, USA

The oh-so-sanctimonious Rohit Brijnath is up to it again conveniently forgetting dubious umpiring when quoting indian totals of each innings. Can he honestly claim that 'monkey' is a racial epithet in India - or that we take 'bastard' in the same spirit as 'monkey' - however profane our colloquial language. And he thinks that Indian rage is concocted - how about the anger in Australia at their own team ? I wonder if he really believes his own concocted politically correct claptrap. That said one finds much to admire in the general Australian populace - and thier essential decency - qualities sorely missing in thier present cricket team. That would be one reason to stay back and play on - not some vague article of faith in a sport that has ceased to become one.
Rajiv, Tokyo, Japan

Hi! Whenever cricketers from my motherland, Sri Lanka played in Australia against Aussies, rude and racist words, swear words were always expresed by the Australian team. But our players would simply disregard these and put it down to ignorance and our team did not make a song and dance about it. But among us cricket fans - specially in Sri Lanka - it's widely known that Australians have always treated us badly during games. What more can I say ?
nilu, wembley,London

Can I just remark that to a large extent, the behaviour of the Australian team and the expected reaction from the Australian cricketing establishment are symptomatic of current Australian mores. This is to do whatever it takes to win; to be bloody minded about issues (since graciousness is seen as a weakness); and to close ranks if criticised. Some major changes will have to occur if this mentality is to change. Isn't it strange that no senior member of the Australian cricketing bureaucracy has yet called Ponting and company and given them a good dressing down!
Bala Chettur, Canberra, Australia

Another predictably biased article on cricket by an India. What about the negative bowling line, the slow over rate and the ultra-defensive field placings by India on the last day. And what about the off-the-field bullying by the Indian cricket board to get Bucknor removed
Vimal, Bangalore, India

Yes, its time for both sides to show some diplomacy and move on. BUT, sledging NEEDS TO END! Let's get back to the gentlemanly game of cricket. Australia needs to show more sportsmanship. India NEEDS TO BAT and BOWL BETTER! (you cannot loose three wickets in 5 bowls). and Technology needs to be introduced in umpiring! technology helps in making the right decisions, and needs to be introduced. Even David Shepard, one of the greatest umpires, is in favor of it.
ravi, USA

All I can say about this unfortunate business is that Ponting and his men have behaved abominably over several years. I am an Australian, but I never ever support the Australian cricket team, even against the English. It all goes back to Ponting, "You can take the boy out of Hobart but you can't take Hobart out of the boy". All his cricketing skills, lack of diplomacy, ungraciousness were acquired from his roots, he came from the wrong side of Hobart town.
Roy Clogstoun, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Aussie cricketers are known for bullying. Remember the Muralitharan episode?...when he was accused of chucking (while Aussie batsmen fell like ninepins)...Fortunately India and BCCI have enough financial clout to call a bluff when they see one...there is no room for inept umpiring or poor sportsmanship...I believe the Aussie cricketers are liars...definitely not good players...and the Aussie public knows and acknowledges it. Congratulations to the Aussie public and the Indian team!

Sledging seems to be an integral part of each and every cricket team, though the Australians have "pioneered" it in concept. It has definitely brought to the sport a lot of negativity, and every team which partakes in it is equally responsible. But I hope that the Aussies and Indians embrace each other in the park at Perth and bring some joy to the viewers.
Kartik, Washington DC

Spot on! I am aghast as to why our team doesn't get it. Hard and fair - without sense is offensive.
SonPal, Sydney, Australia

Fine article except that the end should perhaps be "Kumble's team meeds to remember how to bat and more importantly bowl."
S. K. Seal, Knoxville, USA

This is all a bit of hyperbole on your part, but let's stay with the facts - are you really saying that the Indians behaved so well - you clearly forget about Yurav Singh - it's worth remembering that India's history of behaving badly isn't all that sound (the test this decade which India threatened to quit, Sunil threatening to quite because of a poor LBW decision, limited LBW decisions in favour of visting teams in India etc) - there's a saying about 'people in glass houses'... - also, let's not forget in the row about Singh, that whether or not he said 'monkey' in the SCG test, it is widely accepted that he did back in India - gee, such upstanding behaviour - I agree that Aussies need to improve their onfield behaviour, but let's keep a rounded perspective here
Kevin, australia

I don't think it's shameful to win the way they did, unlike some people who have been calling this a shameful win...they are not responsible for the insanely incompetent umpiring...but yeah...i do think aussies struggle to come to terms with the fact that India can give them tough competition and is probably the only team that can beat them...and it showed in Ponting's reactions...pretty lame...i do think that if Ricky Ponting and team escape this time around without any reprimand (which they probably will), then this is bound to happen fact with all other teams too...and too frequently for the good of cricket!! I have lost all my respect for the Aussies...dunno about you guys...
Amit, India

So whats your point, finally??? You think India is right and wrong. Australia is right and wrong. Ponting is the devil and he is the god. Michael Clarke is a great player and a bigger cheat. What would you do in Kumble's position or Malcolm Speed's position?? I would love to read some convictions and opinions than reading a philosophical diction about the game and what it has come down to... Please, spare the vocabulary lessons. Get down to reality and start taking sides.. right or wrong, than carping about the grey.
Cricfan, Bangalore

Well said, Mr. Brijnath. Sanity and decency need to prevail at all times, and especially in times like this. The best Indian answer to the Australian cricket team, is to play them and beat them. There are issues that come out of the Sydney Test such as umpiring, Aussie arrogance, Indian batting, match referee adjudication, sledging, that must be addressed if Cricket is to regain it's reputation as a game of substance. In the meantime, let's play Cricket as we all know it should be played.
M.Harvie, London, Ontario, Canada.

If the Indian team wants to make a point about how Australia's behavior is bad for the game, they are only shooting themselves in the foot with threats of tour suspensions. It just takes the focus off both the poor umpiring and the questionable conduct of the opposition. At the same time, the Indian crowds at home should take their cue from Indian players, and show respect to visiting teams when they come to India. Repeatedly shouting abuses to opponents from the field is not only unsportsmanlike but disgraceful and embarassing, and security ought to be responsible for removing such ill behaved spectators.
Ashwin Sethi, Westport,USA

A more balanced article than some I've read, but I couldn't let this slide: "no one created a scene when Indian batsmen were given out when clearly they weren't". You're joking, aren't you? Yuvraj Singh was dead lucky to get away without a dissent charge in the first innings - in fact the ICC were open in their disapproval of the referee for letting it slide. There were issues with the Australians' sportsmanship in the match - but Kumble would have been more correct to say that neither team was playing in the correct spirit!
Gene, Hobart, Australia

Legend has it that D. Jardine was questioned about his parentage during the bodyline series and went to the Australian dressing room to remonstrate with the Australian captain - who promptly turned to his players and demanded, "Righto, which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?" Even if not true, it's a famous cricket legend which most if not all Indian Test players would probably know about. Different league from calling someone a 'monkey' when that made the papers only a year ago.
Peter, London UK



Kaushik Basu India's economy: Looking ahead
Economist Kaushik Basu on the future of Indian economy


Ahmed Rashid Tough challenges
What lies in store for Barack Obama in South Asia


Rohit Brijnath Cricket in blender
Reflections on the joys and pitfalls of money-spinnng IPL



Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific