It is such a shame, all this. I had an interesting chat just now with the newsagent, Indian-born, who has been following the whole drama on Indian satellite TV as well as in the media here. He and I agreed that it is highly likely Harbhajan did call Symonds a “monkey”, though the inquiry into the incident has followed rules of evidence that are very questionable: “hearsay” rather than actual. It is also highly likely Hogg called Harbhajan a “bastard”. What we then encounter in part is a case of intercultural communication breakdown. In India the term “monkey” is not as loaded as Australians might think; oddly it is possibly analogous with the status of the word “bastard” in Australian English, where that term is not normally deeply offensive, depending on tone and context. However, here the term “monkey” applied to a black man really is racial vilification, on the ground that the message in the word is that the black man is lower down the evolutionary tree than the user of the word. That is why we hear the word applied to Symonds as “racist”. He may as well, from our point of view, have called Symonds a f*cking nigger. That is what we hear when Symonds is called a monkey. I can accept that Indian speakers/listeners may be giving and receiving a different message. Similarly, an Australian calling Harbhajan a “bastard” is not questioning the man’s parentage, though if the word is used in anger it is obviously not complimentary. On the other hand, we Australians call each other “bastards” all the time: you really are a soft bastard, but I like you…
I can quite understand the point the Indians are making about the process and subsequent verdict against Harbhajan.
I can also understand them questioning the way that match was (at times) umpired, as Ottayan (a cricket blog that Thomas reads) says:
Speed defends Bucknor, Benson:
“It’s a difficult job made more difficult by technology and improvements in technology. I think we have the best umpires available.
It is as clear as day that the technology was not the problem; it is the umpire’s ill-judgments which are the cause for concern. Moreover going by Bucknor’s recent record it is high time ICC put him to pasture. Benson came across as inexperienced and naïve. One other thing which stood out was the reluctance exhibited by both the umpires to refer quite a few doubtful decisions to the third umpire. Is it their ego which stopped them?
All said and done Speed’s statement is only going to enrage an already irate cricket follower. What do you say?
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Roebuck could not be more forthright than he is this morning, and this is one of the best cricket writers in Australia.
Arrogant Ponting must be fired
The Australian captain’s disrespect for his opponents has embarrassed his country, writes Peter Roebuck.
RICKY PONTING must be sacked as captain of the Australian cricket team. If Cricket Australia cares a fig for the tattered reputation of our national team in our national sport, it will not for a moment longer tolerate the sort of arrogant and abrasive conduct seen from the captain and his senior players over the past few days. Beyond comparison it was the ugliest performance put up by an Australian side for 20 years. The only surprising part of it is that the Indians have not packed their bags and gone home. There is no justice for them in this country, nor any manners.
That the senior players in the Australian team are oblivious to the fury they raised among many followers of the game in this country and beyond merely confirms their own narrow and self-obsessed viewpoint. Doubtless they were not exposed to the messages that poured in from distressed enthusiasts aghast to see the scenes of bad sportsmanship and triumphalism presented at the SCG during and after the Test. Pained past players rang to express their disgust. It was a wretched and ill-mannered display and not to be endured from any side, let alone an international outfit representing a proud sporting nation.
Make no mistake, it is not only the reputation of these cricketers that has suffered. Australia itself has been embarrassed. The notion that Ponting can hereafter take the Australian team to India is preposterous. He has shown not the slightest interest in the well-being of the game, not the slightest sign of diplomatic skills, not a single mark of respect for his accomplished and widely admired opponents…
Read it all.
And yet I really did enjoy that second test. A shame all this has happened/is happening.
Caught up with the Daily Telegraph: Gideon Haigh, another fine cricket writer:
…the incident attests to the power of sport to make people lose perspective, proportion and all rationality.
Racism is serious. Racism is about the denial of another person’s essential humanity on the basis of their skin and their culture. Racism is about embedded prejudices, institutionalised discrimination, real economic and social deprivation.
Racism is South Africa under apartheid – on which, say it softly, Australia was the last cricket country to lower the boom. Racism is Robert Mugabe – against whose country the Australian cricket team would seemingly have been happy to play had it not been for the federal government.
To say, then, that one cricketer calling another a monkey on a cricket field is racism is to define the idea frivolously. Was Symonds belittled? Was he hurt? Was he disadvantaged?
Curiously, when a few score Indians made monkey noises directed at Symonds at Vadodara last October, he went out of his way to state that he had not made any complaint, and affected not to care.
“I’m not the most deadly serious bloke,” he said. “Life goes on.”
Yet somehow Harbhajan’s emission is now the gravest of offences and befitting of the severest sanction. Regrettably, the Australian complaint smacks of cricketers who in the process of scaling great heights of excellence have sealed themselves off from reality.
It also smacks of Australian players just a bit peeved about always being seen as the bad guys, who want the world to know that they, poor things, get taunted too. There is a sort of wounded self-righteousness to captain Ricky Ponting’s comments in the aftermath of the Sydney Test that recalls those mealy-mouthed defences of Australian sledging of the recent past: other teams do it but they don’t get criticised because we’re more honest and they play the beastly trick of doing it in Hindi and Urdu…
Sad that the bottom line by all reports is that Symonds does not seem to have been deeply wounded himself, even if I don’t agree 100% with To say, then, that one cricketer calling another a monkey on a cricket field is racism is to define the idea frivolously. That depends. Whether it was more than frivolous in this case and whether the outcome has been worth it anyway are up for discussion. I am inclined to say “no” to both of those.
Perhaps Harsha Bhogle has the right answer: Ban ALL sledging now. It is one of the least admirable features of the modern game. (Having actually met the man who umpired during the Bodyline series and heard his views at the time of the birth of modern Cricket, I feel slightly qualified, despite my notorious incompetence in the game, to endorse such a viewpoint… 😉 He deplored, as many of that generation did, what was happening to the game, but of course in retrospect it hasn’t all been bad. As a matter of interest old George was a mate of Harold Larwood, who retired to Sydney, as maybe you knew, and prompted the famous remark Kumble reprised the other day.)
There is no doubt a sour grapes element in this, but it really is more than that. There are problems about the game — the pressure, the fact it is spectacle rather than sport quite often, the concept of sportsmanship — which I happily would apply to women and damned if I’ll try “sportspersonship” — and the vexed question of how the game is umpired and whether technology should become even more significant. In George Borwick’s day the umpire was God, but TV, video and computers have put paid to that. Should they though?
See A Wide Angle View of India by Nita J. Kulkarni, a freelance journalist and writer. This is currently a top post on WordPress.