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March 30, 1998


The Ganguly fiasco

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Prem Panicker

Saurav Ganguly Ganguly's act and its consequence raises an important question -- does cricket, like India (as per the Bharatiya Janata Party) need a uniform civil code?

Those who have been following the Test series on television will perhaps recall an incident from day five of the fifth Test. Venkatapathy Raju pitched one on leg stump turning in to middle, Ponting tried to work it through leg, missed, the ball thudded into the back pad and umpire Sharp raised the finger.

Ponting stood there, looked at his bat like he had edged it (the ball went very close to bat, but a succession of replays showed absolutely no edge), then walked down the track to the umpire and audibly asked: "How was I out?". "LBW", came the response from Sharp.

A while earlier, Paul Reiffel on being dismissed indicated disagreement with the verdict. And a while after Ponting, it was Steve Waugh's turn. Neither Reiffel nor Waugh were, however, quite as blatant as Ponting.

Raises the question: was this dissent? Yes, if you apply the provisions of the Code of Conduct. No, if you ask match referee Peter Van Der Merve. Ponting, says that worthy, was expressing disagreement, not dissent.

I checked the dictionary that day. Dissent, as per the Oxford English Dictionary, means: think differently, disagree; express disagreeement".

So what does Van Der Merve mean when he says Mongia, in that first Test (the keeper-batsman was reprimanded, and fined, and placed on the ICC 'black list', in that game) and Ganguly, in Bangalore, expressed dissent, whereas Reiffel, Ponting and Steve Waugh in that game, Blewett and Mark Waugh elsewhere, merely 'disagreed'?

"The dividing line is admittedly fine," says the match referee. "It is a matter of judgement."

True. Just like the LBW law. You get a gesture, you have to make up your mind whether it expresses natural chagrin at getting out, or disagreement with the umpire. Matter of judgement -- with match referee as judge.

Question being, what is the basis for judgement, wherein similar offences get such wildly opposite reactions from the man in the chair?

What makes a Van Der Merve come out to the middle, when the Indian team is at nets in Bangalore, with hundreds of fans watching from the galleries, and ostensibly examine, and measure, the bats of Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar? Or rather, why are only those three players, of the home side, singled out for that attention? Mark Waugh, to cite one instance, presented a bat as broad as any the Indians wielded against the Australian bowlers -- without arousing Van Der Merve's suspicions.

Cricket fans, between Madras and Bangalore, have furiously argued a case for labelling Peter Van Der Merve's conduct as blatant racism. I don't know. I don't presume to get inside the mind of that official and, at first hand, inspect its workings, examine whether the colour of a player's skin determines the treatment meted out to said player. And not knowing, I cannot label it, one way or the other.

There is, however, one way to know. And that is for the BCCI to lodge an official protest, to the ICC, at the treatment meted out to Ganguly. To present videotapes of the Ganguly incident, the Mongia incident, and the ones involving the Waughs, Reiffel, Blewett and, most importantly, Ponting. And to seek, through the ICC, an explanation.

After all, the players deserve one -- if only to know what they can, and what they cannot, do out there. Can they make faces, then march up to the umpire and demand an explanation, without a murmur? Can they not hold the bat up in indication that they have possibly nicked it?

They need to know, if only to avoid similar reprimands.

The coach cannot demand that explanation. Nor can the captain. Because the code of conduct expressly forbids either worthy from breathing a word about decisions made by the umpires, or the match referee -- ask Sunil Dev who, during his stint as manager of the Indian team to South Africa, mildly suggested in response to a question on television, that perhaps close catches should be referred to the third umpire, and received a public reprimand for his pains.

It is, thus, only the BCCI that can demand an explanation, which is surely owing.

Will the BCCI do it? If precedent is any indication, it will not. Again, vide the Indian tour of South Africa. Former Australian Test player Barry Jarman was the match referee on that occasion. Two Indian players -- Saurav Ganguly, who seems particularly susceptible to such incidents, being one among them -- were fined for 'excessive appealing'. One South African player -- Hansie Cronje, to give him a name -- was not even questioned when he (and here again, the incident is easily verifiable through the tapes of the televising body) deliberately pushed Srinath. Another South African player -- namely, Alan Donald -- was seen and, thanks to the stump mike, clearly heard -- yelling at Rahul Dravid, thus: "Don't f*** with me, man!" And a second mouthful, on identical lines, one ball later.

Was yelling an audible obscenity, twice on the trot, indictable under the "bringing the game into disrepute" clause that is a keystone of the code of conduct?

No, says Jarman. When manager Sunil Dev pointed it out to the official, Jarman's response was that Donald had merely mouthed something harmless.

Dev, on return, wrote up the incident as part of his tour report, and in his official capacity as manager, requested that the BCCI take action. The BCCI not only did not raise a murmur, it did not -- has not, to this date -- even reverted to Dev about his report.

No, the BCCI will not demand anything of the ICC. Not even the time of day. For why? BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele put it best when, in a different context (the recent chucking allegations centering around Rajesh Chauhan and three Sri Lankan bowlers), he said, when asked why the Board was not backing the offie as the Sri Lankans had done: "The Sri Lankans have nothing to lose. But the ICC president is our very own Jagmohan Dalmiya, we cannot embarass him."

So there we have it. As long as OUR VERY OWN Dalmiya remains head of the ICC, Indian cricket, and its cricketers, will just have to reconcile to being treated differently from those of other countries not similarly fortunate to boast a Dalmiya among its citizenry.

Someone should tell Saurav Ganguly this, so the poor bloke can at least understand why he is sitting out for the first ODI.

TAILPIECE: To my considerable amazement -- not to mention amusement -- my mailbox in recent times has contained letters suggesting that I was -- and this is a highly diluted version of the language that has actually been used -- a rabid, flag-waving jingoist.

Reading between the lines of the letters concerned -- this being a family site, I consider it advisable not to quote some of the exact language used -- I understand that the charge stems from the fact that I present my cricket reports from 'an unabashedly Indian point of view'.

I have news for that section of readers: I AM an Indian. As were my parents. And grandparents. All the way back to the ape which, if Darwin is to be believed, we must have descended from.

As such, pray tell, whose point of view am I supposed to put forward? That of Timbuctoo?

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