It is incongruous to find players from India and England standing eyeball-to-eyeball within a month of the expressed bonhomie of their board along with Cricket Australia in joining hands to rule World cricket.
It is difficult to believe that the managements of the Indian and English cricket teams arraigned each other without getting the nod from their respective boards. The flare-up between India all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja and easily England's best fast bowler James Anderson during the first Test at Nottingham has obvious connotations of blowing into a major controversy.
It is not the first time the players of opposing teams flexed their muscles during a match, nor will it be the last time. In the past the umpires and the team managements sorted out these issues, but now the International Cricket Council (ICC) has stricter laws in place to curb untoward happenings both on and off the field to put some fear in the protagonists.
In reality, these disciplinary laws remained mostly on paper, except when it came to punishing the captains for slow over rates. In the present case at least the Indian team management seems to have forced its board's hands by insisting on taking on Anderson.
The very fact that the Indians pressed Level 3 charge against Anderson makes it clear that it is not a case of simple unpalatable banter. It is a serious violation of the Code of Conduct and the Indians do not want to wink at it invoking the spirit of the game and the good cricketing relations between the two boards.
What could be more serious than a racial slur or a player wanting to seriously question the parentage of the other? As an afterthought and in retaliation the England team also charged Jadeja, citing a Level 2 offence.
There had been any number of incidents where the players rolled their sleeves up right in the middle of the pitch, but they mostly remained a comic relief for the action-starved spectators, and invited a rap on the knuckles of the offending players.
Gone or the days when the Indian players meekly played obeisance to the skin and status of a player. Thanks to Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the Indians have learnt to stand up to anyone or everyone in cricket world by taking the field as equals.
Sunil Gavaskar was riled by an offensive remark by an Australian cricketer after he was given leg-before Down Under and almost forfeited the match by asking his partner Chetan Chauhan to leave the field along with him. But a quick-thinking Indian manager, Wing. Cmdr. Shahid Durrani, saved the situation by ordering the dogged opener to go back and resume play.
On the 1989-90 tour of New Zealand, Manoj Prabhakar almost had Martin Crowe by the scruff of his neck in a one-dayer at Dunedin when the Kiwi uttered an unpardonable racial slur seeing a ball searing across his head as the ball slipped out of the Indian all-rounder's hand and ended up a beamer. The two were severely reprimanded and left it at that.
Such incidents in good old days were seen as aberrations in a gentlemen's sport. No longer with so much of money flowing around, now some of the incidents are part of a carefully thought out and choreographed to perfection as part of mind games or sheer gamesmanship.
Some of these well orchestrated ploys are invariably a prelude to the tour and the players from both sides try to raise tempo and temper.
In the Anderson case, the Indians are serious about pressing the charge, knowing full well that the Englishman will miss a minimum of two matches if found guilty.
If he misses the fourth and fifth Tests, English attack will be rendered impotent, whereas the charge against Jadeja is just a trick for a compromise formula. India can afford to miss out Jadeja, but England just can't think of going into a Test without Anderson.
The intriguing part is that the fracas took place on the second day of the first Test as Jadeja and Dhoni walked back to the pavilion at lunch but there was no inkling of it during the entire match. The ICC apparently did not make it public till its lawyers tried in vain to get the two parties to withdraw the charges.
The Indians were in no mood to let Anderson off hook like they did on the field of play to be involved in a world record last-wicket partnership at Nottingham.
The issue more or less falls in the category of Harbhajan Singh's spat with Andrew Symonds in Australia six years ago.
Bhajji was saved by Sachin Tendulkar's testimony and the diplomacy of former Indian board president Inderjit Singh Bindra, who was sent to sort things out. The 'Monkey Gate' fell flat with the Indian cleverly dropping 'on' from the word and introducing suitable letters to sound it like a routine Punjabi buzzword!
In Jadeja's corner is his own captain and Dhoni's testimony might save him as otherwise it's the Saurashtra player's word against that of Anderson. It is said that there were two witnesses to the alleged pushing and abusing of the Indian all-rounder.
On the last day of the second Test at Lord's, the ICC-appointed judicial commissioner will swing into action collecting evidence for the next 14 days and we can look forward to exciting leaks.
It is a test case for the new ICC chairman Narayanswamy Srinivasan. Can he effectively intervene and side with his new-found friends by asking his own captain to withdraw a serious charge. In law it would amount to perjury, but then the law is on the side of the high and mighty.
Ps: India has won every battle it has taken to the ICC in the last two decades!
(Veturi Srivatsa is the IANS Sports Editor. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])
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