CRICKET NEEDS TO GROW UP

The West is overreaching. The East is overreacting. Every white umpire who disciplines a subcontinental player does not wear a pointy white hat and hood at home. Every critical view of the subcontinent is NOT RACISM, writes ROHIT BRIJNATH.

For a sport played by a five-and-three-quarter nations, or thereabouts, cricket makes an awful and constant racket. Maybe this is it, cricket's exclusivity, its ingrained snobbery, which makes everyone take it so seriously. From tour itineraries, to availability of net bowlers, to the food they are fed in a foreign country, cricket hasn't met a subject it won't make a scene about. Lately, God forbid, even the Americans have been laughing at us. Hair vs Inzy after all was a farce.

Having just recovered from Sri Lankan sneering at South African masculinity after they refused to hang around after the bomb blast and one author suggesting another (i.e. John Wright) should "hang" for writing what he did (Hang? For the contents of a sports book? Only in cricket), then came Darrell the Dubious.

Faster than the leak of an email, the change of a cricket ball caused indignation across the length and breadth of ... five-and-three-quarter nations. Short of going on a fast (on this Inzy and Darrell agree, it would be a self-defeating tactic), we have had most everything. Sit-down. Tick. Effigy burning. Tick. Subcontinental whine about racism. Tick. Mention of Bloody Pakis? Tick. Politicians seamlessly involving themselves. Tick. Australian insistence that Dutiful Darrell is just a blue-bordered sari short of being on moral par with Mother Teresa. Tick. Embarrassing turnaround. Tick.

Not that animosity could ever halt at Pakistan and Hair. The umpire is Australian and so, in they weighed. Pakistan is from the subcontinent and you know us fellows. Always ready to break away from the ICC and form our own little cricket world, or so insisted yet another Western observer. Is it a fear with them, or a hope? Of course, a Pakistani politician, with an eye more on votes than common sense, said the same silly thing.

India, it was also mentioned in passing, is part of the problem. India has all the money, see. And thus power. And throws its weight around. And will get Darrell Damned. Apparently we don't exercise our power responsibly. This is occasionally true. Apparently Australia and England, who threw their weight around for 100 years, always did — Indeed.

Suddenly, all the posturing in Darrell's defence (a man of unbreakable principle, we were huffily told) was punctured by the revelation that the umpire had offered to resign for a hefty sum of money.

This was hilarious, and embarrassing, and sad. Pakistan's tour manager Zaheer Abbas was reportedly jubilant, though he needed reminding that his team's refusal to play on was still indefensible. Hair will no longer umpire, you suspect. Neither should Inzy captain or his team management keep their jobs. They took a long time to make a bad decision.

Cricket is adept at showing off its worst. First came the incident. Then the cultural slanging match. On Australian radio it was said respecting cricket umpires is not part of our subcontinental culture. To which a friend, an Indian professor, fumed, does Australian sledging suggest a culture of disrespect for opponents. Not much cultural bridge-building was going on here.

The West is overreaching. The East is overreacting. Every white umpire who disciplines a subcontinental player does not wear a pointy white hat and hood at home. Every critical view of the subcontinent is not racism; sure it's still here, festering in cricket's underbelly, but to reflexively cry "racism" all the time undermines a hideous slur when it really occurs.

That said, Dictatorial Darrell hasn't met a subcontinental team he can't talk down to. One suspects Heroic Hair saw himself as the last, stubborn protector of cricket's scared laws, and there is a hint of arrogance to a man who puts himself up on such a pedestal. Now he has fallen.

Of course, if Darrell needed a manners implant, what about us? Penalise a subcontinental team and it pouts. And threatens dharnas and cries conspiracy. We're holy, you see. And that match-fixing stuff, it never happened.

It's fascinating that football is played by over 200 nations, where a handshake pre-match between captains is often the only civil gesture their nations have exchanged for years. Still, not much squabbling at this volume, and vehemence, goes on. Cricket's length is clearly to blame. Too many people sitting around for too long, collecting dark thoughts and stewing over perceived slights.

Cristiano Ronaldo got Rooney sent off at the World Cup and winked at his Portuguese bench. In cricket, this would be unforgiveable, demanding at least four inquiries, two sessions of parliament and a six-month sulk. Yet Rooney and Ronaldo are now setting up goals for each other and hugging. Yikes. If a Pakistani did it to an Australian there would be hell to pay. Gilchrist might even decide not to walk.

Still, as stories go, this has an unlikely result. Truth is, cricket has made some powerful strides, all those million tours have bred some understanding. Brett Lee has been to India enough times he can probably swear for a minute non-stop in Hindi. Last fortnight, the English media, almost diving overboard, ruined stereotypes forever: they sympathized with the Pakistanis, said "there, there" to Inzy, even recommended changing the ball-tampering law. Twenty years ago all this would easily be worth 10 years in the Tower.

Cricket needs a change of attitude. And England is showing us the way!