10 January 2008

Although the Australia versus India test series holds centre stage at the other end of the world...


...it has thrown up some dangerous precedents that threaten the integrity of the game and our local administrators would do well to watch them with interest.

There is obviously no love lost between the two teams but then the same could be said for any match that involves Australia these days, given their ruthless pursuit of success at virtually any cost. But what amazes most people, including some Australian fans, is why the ultimate professionals in gamesmanship should cry foul when a discretion comes from the opposition.

The Aussies have undoubtedly raised the bar to high standards in the past decade, but in doing so they have created the monster of invincibility and there's no place for defeat in their psycho. They are the masters of sledging and while most people will admire their focus and ability, they certainly sail close to the wind when it comes to playing in the spirit of the game.

The controversial events of the second test in Sydney and how they were handled, have sent warning signs to cricketers all over the word, and highlighted the frailty of human error when faced with technology. Mistakes by the two umpires were cruelly exposed, players cheated, and some harsh words were exchanged between both teams. To add insult to injury, the match referee Mike Proctor made a huge decision on hearsay and India threw their toys out of the pram by threatening to pull out of the tour and refusing to accept an appointed umpire for the next test. There couldn't have been a bigger calamity of errors but what can be learned from this embarrassing charade and who are the real culprits?

Umpires Bucknor and Benson certainly made mistakes, but then so does every umpire in the course of a match. India might feel more aggrieved as the key decisions went against them and contributed to their demise, if not their defeat. Let's face it, their poor batting and application in the final session lost them this game, not the umpiring.

Harbhajan's alleged 'monkey' remark and Hogg's alleged abusive language had to be dealt with but in the absence of evidence how can you ban a player for three matches? Proctor and his ICC back-up team took the word of Symonds and Pointing at the expense of Harbhajan and Tendulkar and in essence called the Indians liars. Harbhajan claimed he didn't use the word, Symonds said he did, and Proctor sided with the Australian. Someone is lying for sure!

Symonds went on to blast an undefeated 162 but his biggest blast was in front of the cricketing media when he unashamedly admitted to the world that he had edged the ball that was controversially ruled not out by the beleaguered Bucknor. What an insult to a distinguished and experienced umpire, and for what reason? In effect Symonds admitted he was a cheat and if he's guilty of one indiscretion then who's to say he's not guilty of another?

The ICC defused the issue by standing Bucknor down for the 3rd. test but while his reputation was tarnished by a few high profile mistakes during the game, his integrity was cruelly exposed by the public gloating of Symonds.

His 162 'not out' may remain on the books forever, but it will always be tarnished by that decision. Good fortune perhaps, or an opportune moment to embarrass a distinguished colleague for personal gain?

Incidents of this nature happen day in day out throughout the Ulster cricket season but in most instances they are quickly forgotten in the aftermath of a game. Maybe there's less at stake at club level, but perhaps it's because club cricketers still respect each other and the men in the white coats, because without them, the game is not a sport.

Players make more mistakes than umpires in the course of a game and 'industrial language' is often used in the heat of battle. But when all's said and done, it's still only a game.

Or does all that change when millions of dollars ride on the result?

Clarence Hiles

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