21 January 2008

...moral justice in Australia


It's a well-worn cliché that 'what goes round comes around' but there was more than a touch of irony in India's victory over Australia in Perth and the amazing circumstances that surrounded it.

This was certainly straight from the movies stuff with the huffing and puffing Indians threatening to pull out of the tour following a three-match ban on their ace spinner Harbhajan Singh for an alleged racist remark, and refusing to accept the appointment of veteran umpire Steve Bucknor for the third test, even although they signed a pre-tour agreement that they would have no say in umpire appointments. The normally stoic Ricky Ponting also appeared shaken by the reaction from within Australia to his arrogant team and their ruthless pursuit of victory at any cost. Yes, the Aussies want to win, but the overwhelming majority of Australian cricket fans want to do it with some dignity and within the spirit of the game.

The 'villains' of the piece like non-walker Andrew Symonds and alleged 'foul-mouthed' Brad Hogg could only stay out of the limelight and wait to see how this sordid drama unfolded.

The mighty ICC was first into the fray and despite the regulations in place, Malcolm Speed fired Bucknor and brought Kiwi Billy Bowden on board for the Wacca match. Then old Pointing and Kumble has a kiss-and-make-up media tete-de-tete and everything was OK again. Conveniently the Harbhajan appeal was put back until after the Wacca test, the citing of Hogg was withdrawn and World War Three was averted. Was it politically expedient or tactics that later saw Harbhajan excluded from the team? Who knows, but one thing is certain, moral justice was seen to be done with that Indian victory, a victory that was widely lauded by the Australian press and the Australian cricket community in general.

But the irony didn't stop there.

Ace villain of the Sydney test Symonds was incorrectly adjudged out LBW at a key point in the game when he clearly edged the ball in television replays, and who gave the decision? None other than the great Billy Bowden who had replaced Bucknor. Even if Bucknor was not vindicated by Bowden's error, it does highlight the fallibility of every official. But perhaps of greater significance in the bigger picture, what message does Bowden's appearance at the Wacca send to his colleagues given that he could be the next scapegoat to player power? If the umpires are not prepared to make a collective stand in their own defence then surely a precedent has been set for similar challenges to authority in the future.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the ICC pay their wages?

We live in an era when cheating is an integral part of sport but everything has a habit of rectifying itself given time. In cricket the walkers will always walk, the non walkers will not walk, and as was seen with Symonds, these decisions have a habit of coming back to haunt you.

Golfers often bitch about their bad luck when they get a bad lie or bounce, but they fail to appreciate their good luck when they get a good break. Last year in Formula 1 McLaren was found guilty of serious 'cheating' and fined a record US$50 million, thrown out of the construction championship and suffered the ultimate ignominy of seeing the driver's world championship snatched from their grasp in the last race by Ferrari.

Was this not moral justice?

In the same vein athletics finally caught up with one of its most celebrated cheats two weeks ago when USA sprinter Marion Jones was stripped of her Olympic gold medals for drug taking and jailed for giving false information to a USA investigating commission. Time finally caught up with Marion but in her defence she accepted the punishment with regret and deference. Simmons had his day in Sydney and so did Australia, but they eventually paid the price in the next game, and one feels in the long term, there will be a huge loss of self esteem and respect.

The moral is there for every sports player to consider.

Clarence Hiles


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