A rule is a rule for anybody

AUSTRALIA may be the best team in the world but I sometimes think they give themselves a bigger crown than being the best entitles them to wear.

HARSHA BHOGLE

AUSTRALIA may be the best team in the world but I sometimes think they give themselves a bigger crown than being the best entitles them to wear. They have an opinion on most things in the game, which is good because they are a progressive nation, but that opinion sometimes seems to stop short of their own door. What is a rule for one should be a rule for another.

You first saw that when New Zealand bent the rules that Australia had created to force them out of the one-day series there last year. Australia had something similar during a World Cup match against the West Indies in 1999, when they tried to get the net run rate of their opponents up to enable them to qualify at the expense of another team.

Then they tried to usurp the moral platform of accepting a player's word on a disputed catch. Michael Vaughan got the advantage of an indecisive replay just as a lot of batsmen, including Australian batsmen, had before. It became a big issue but the catches they picked up on the bounce didn't seem to enter the debate.

Justin Langer, a soft spoken, intelligent man, then attacked the Barmy Army for the manner in which they kept shouting "no-ball'' everytime Brett Lee bowled. He was quite scathing about it, and extraordinarily silent when the Australian crowd went after Muralitharan. For some reason Murali has brought out the worst in the Aussies and it must have been a moment of shame for them when the crowd laughed as he left the field due to an injury. But none of the Australians, usually so vocal about most cricketing matters, seemed to suggest that it was poor hospitality to ridicule a visitor when he was hurt. Winning can do that to people. It can make them wear the coat of self-importance a little too often; it can close their eyes to what they are doing even as it causes them to open their mouth to what others are doing. That is why they will be, and need to be, embarrassed over what Darren Lehmann did. Cultural differences make societies richer and hard as parts of Australia try to project themselves as multi-racial, multi-cultural societies, it is very difficult to erase perceptions among individuals.

And yet we need to be careful about understanding what Lehmann's actual crime was? Was it what he said or was it the fact that he was heard saying what he did? I have no doubt that the brown nations, to use a socially unacceptable but accurate description, direct similar feelings, in similar words, towards the white nations. Are we then going to put microphones in dressing rooms, and use interpreters, to find out what else is happening? If an Indian, or a Pakistani, player uses the word "gora'', can he be docked five matches as well? There is much to think about.

Indeed, there is much to think about in India as well where the business of contracts is now far more important than the business of playing cricket. I remember, many years ago, the then chairman of selectors Raj Singh Dungarpur asking Azharuddin, a potential India captain, "Contract ki baat karoge ya cricket ki?'' Sadly, the BCCI is now guilty of that as well and increasingly I ask myself whether the BCCI wants a solution or whether it is happiest not finding one. I believe that if two parties want a solution, it often appears fairly quickly. If one of them doesn't, as it now appears, it only adds to the confusion.

I think the only questions that need to be asked, and answered, are whether or not India signed the contract that commits them to accepting the ICC regulations; and whether or not they protested about the clauses at the same time. If the BCCI did not like the clauses they should not have signed the contract in the first place. That is where the display of strength should have taken place. To do so after a contract is signed is to be petulant and to accuse Indian sponsors of being "anti-national'' is about as far as things should go.

India's sponsors are running a business and some of them are running it far better than the BCCI is running its own. They are in a competitive situation and are asking for the rights that were bestowed on them to be protected. You cannot sell someone a car with seats and having taken the money, threaten to take the seats away. There is no honour in that, in fact there is little honour in anything we have read over the last two months. Part of the problem is that the BCCI has always operated in great secrecy; wary and insecure of the truth coming to light. That is what places on them the cloak of suspicion in the minds of many. If indeed, the contract with the ICC was signed subject to the removal of certain clauses, if indeed there was a letter to that effect, why can't that letter be produced so that everyone knows what the facts are? Are we then, missing something? If the BCCI came clean on the issue, we would be able to appreciate their stand. By not doing so, they are laying the finger of suspicion on themselves. I actually think they lost a great opportunity to show that the ICC sought to control the players by refusing to sign the contract. By doing so, they diluted the platform they are trying so hard, and so pitifully, to stand on.

If all the elements of Indian cricket came together they would represent an unstoppable force. But if the sponsors don't trust the BCCI, if the players don't trust the administration and if the BCCI regards the making of money rather than the playing of cricket as its primary objective, we will get much more of the same.