Indian Cricketers: Victims of Racism? - by Neeru Bhatia, Dnyanesh Jathar Back   Home  
A match referee's decision against half the Indian team highlights discrimination in world cricket
Mike Denness has done the impossible. Almost overnight, he has replaced Osama bin Laden as the most talked about—and hated—man in India. The International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee accused cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar of ball tampering and punished nearly half the Indian team—Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Shiv Sunder Das, Deep Dasgupta and Virendra Sehwag—for showing dissent and attempting to intimidate the umpire during the second Test against South Africa at Port Elizabeth.

The decision triggered an emotional outburst in India—among politicians in Parliament to protesters on the streets of Kolkata, Bhopal and beyond. They fumed that the punishment meted out to the cricketers was far in excess of their misdemeanours on the field. And they were sure that the burra sahibs in the ICC were teaming up with the white cricket-playing nations to show the browns their place. A snap opinion poll conducted by The Week-Sofres Mode (see page 40), in fact, revealed that 56 per cent of the respondents felt there was a racial motive behind Denness' decision. Some of them, like the rustic Indians in Aamir Khan's hit film Lagaan, also believed that a fightback was due. They wanted the Indians to drag Denness to court. Meanwhile, MPs joined fans to call for the return of the Indians from the tour. "The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should recall the team if the ICC does not comply with its demands," said Kirti Azad, former Test player and MP.

"The match referee's decision is totally biased and reeks of racial discrimination," said J.Y. Lele, former secretary of the BCCI. "It is racial discrimination," agreed Prof. V.K Malhotra, BJP spokesperson and vice-president of Indian Olympic Association.

"I am glad (BCCI president) Jagmohan Dalmiya has taken such a strong stand against racial discrimination," added K.P.S. Gill, president of the Indian Hockey Federation. "In all sports, there is somebody like Denness who behaves in such a shameful manner."

The outburst and the anguish are not misplaced. A peep into recent history reveals a number of biased decisions against subcontinent teams. Indian team manager Sunil Dev remembers that when India last toured South Africa in 1996-97, skipper Hansie Cronje deliberately ran into Javagal Srinath during the first Test in Durban. "We made repeated requests to match referee Barry Jarman of Australia to see the tape, so that we could judge the incident, but he did not oblige," said Dev. Again, when Jarman fined Ganguly 25 per cent of his match fee for excessive appealing during that tour, he did not show the recording to Dev, saying the video machine was out of order!

In the same series, speedster Allan Donald loudly abused Rahul Dravid when the Indian batsman hit him for several boundaries. "I immediately went over to the third umpire's room and protested against Donald's behaviour to Jarman but, to my astonishment, he was the only man in the stadium who was not convinced it was foul play," wrote Sunil in his tour report. "It was clear that the match referee was biased."

There are numerous such instances. Australian batsman Michael Slater hurled the 'F' word at Dravid during the Mumbai Test against Australia earlier this year and showed dissent against umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan when doubts arose about the catch he had taken of the Indian batsman. The minimum penalty was cutting a percentage of the match fee but match referee Cammie Smith allowed Slater to go scot-free.

Players of other countries have also experienced the scourge of racism. In his autobiography, Retired Hurt, Sri Lankan Roshan Mahanama mentioned that during a one-dayer in Sydney in 1995-96, Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath called Sanath Jayasuriya a "black monkey".

During the 1996 series, Australian umpire Darrell Hair called Lankan off-spinner Muthiah Muralitharan seven times for 'throwing' during a three-over spell in the second Test. Skipper Arjuna Ranatunga had a verbal duel with Hair and it ended with the Lankan team walking off. The Lankans argued that since most of the 'white' players could not fathom Muralitharan's bowling, the 'white establishment' wanted to rein in the Lankan. Muralitharan was subsequently cleared by the ICC after three Australian specialists viewed films of 24 deliveries from six angles shot at 200 frames a second.

During Pakistan's 1992 tour of England, apart from bowling greats Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram being accused of ball tampering, their countrymen were branded "Paki cheats".

Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has been called for throwing no less than five times by different umpires, most recently in a one-day tournament in Sharjah. While the ICC dithers over chucking laws, the Rawalpindi Express keeps wondering what the umpires have against him.

It is not only players, umpires and administrators who show a racist bias. During the 1995 West Indies tour of England, fast bowlers Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh were described as "muggers" by a British correspondent. The Independent newspaper said that during the Lord's Test, "for once, the England bowling attack did not look like a United Nations strike force." What the paper was trying to say indirectly was that all the bowlers were white.

A good number of writers have their bias. Robert Henderson in an article, 'Is it in the blood?' in the July 1995 issue of the Wisden Cricket Monthly, said that black and Asian cricketers, even those who were born and raised in England, could never show the same loyalty to the flag. He suggested that blacks should never be chosen to play for England.

With such an attitude, black cricketers playing for England have not had an easy time. During the 1995 tour of South Africa, Ray Illingworth, the England manager, referred to bowler Devon Malcolm as 'nignog'.

One reason for the growing racism in cricket is that white countries sense a shift in the power base. Cricket is a 'minor' game in England now. The popularity and money are much more in the subcontinent now. White cricket administrators have greeted this change with resentment and an underlying grudge, which has resulted in biased decisions against players from the subcontinent.

Their anguish increased when Dalmiya became ICC president in 1997. It was no secret that officials from England, Australia and South Africa were less than happy that an Indian had become chief of the august body. "They tried to malign him during his tenure, but he knew how to fight them," said a BCCI official close to Dalmiya. This dislike was also seen in the media when the Mirror published a story with the headline: "Let's stop this Indian take away!"

It is also well known that England and Wales Cricket Board Chairman Lord MacLaurin shares a mutual dislike of his Indian counterpart. So was Denness doing a favour to MacLaurin by penalising Tendulkar and the others?

"The punishment is an act of mental harassment," said Rajesh Chauhan, the off-spinner who lost a couple of years of international cricket after being called for chucking. "Denness was trying to destroy our morale before the series against England." That is a view shared by 66 per cent of respondents in The Week-Sofres Mode poll.

The accusation of ball tampering by Tendulkar was difficult to digest for Indians. "If Tendulkar had been tampering the ball, it would have been easy to spot it as the seam would have looked scuffed," said Abbas Ali Baig, former Test cricketer and team manager. "Tampering is done in hiding," pointed out former Test batsman Sanjay Manjrekar. "Tendulkar was not hiding it."

According to former Indian captain Ajit Wadekar, "It is a clear case of double standards being applied to a team from the subcontinent. None of the umpires and the South African players lodged a complaint. But, out of the blue, Denness came out with the ball tampering charge."

What has drawn smiles is BCCI's decision to fight. Officially, the board is not calling it a case of racial discrimination. Instead, Niranjan Shah, secretary of BCCI, said, "The two words that we will mention in our report (to Union Sports Minister Uma Bharti) are 'bias' and 'inconsistent' decisions by the match referee."

So where does India go from here? "I am not in favour of a walkout," Manjrekar said. "India should play the third Test and win it. That will be the perfect answer."

"Denness is an incompetent man," said former captain Bishen Bedi. "But the tour should go on."

Even though Denness has been asked to step down, the fight will continue between the 'whites' and the 'coloured' in the ICC headquarters at Lords. The public has a short memory and will move on to other distractions, but Sachin Tendulkar knows there is now a terrible stain on his great career.
Published in the magazine Week. Racism or not, it is a sad thing for Cricket.