Darren Lehmann is lucky

If you go back into Aussie cricket history, Ian Chappell was a great sledger apart from being a combative cricketer and it was during his tenure as captain in the early 70s, that sledging entered the Aussie cricket scene in a big way. Chappell made his name as an attacking skipper, but he must take his share of the blame for bringing into cricket, something it could have done without.

K. SRIKKANTH

SLEDGING has been a part of cricket for long. However, there is that line which no player should cross. Darren Lehmann did just that, and for his racist comments, the punishment should have been much more severe than a five-match ban. The Aussie has been lucky. Aggression on a cricket field has been an inbuilt quality in the Aussies. They play the game hard, and hate losing on the cricket field. They are not good losers either.

During my playing days I distinctly remember fast bowler Craig McDermott and middle-order batsman Greg Ritchie saying things to me during the Indian tour of Australia in the mid-1980s. They were at the early stages of their careers then, I was a lot more experienced, still that did not prevent them from having a go at me.

Then, in that famous tied Test in Madras, left-arm spinner Ray Bright kept provoking me with nasty remarks. When it reached a point where I couldn't tolerate any more, I walked up to the Australian captain Allan Border and told him that this kind of verbal barrage was simply not acceptable.

Border's reply was surprising. He told me that there was not much he could do about it. It was then that I decided to tackle the issue myself. I said to Bright "Don't forget you are playing in Madras, this is my city.''

The Australians are wonderful cricketers, especially the current crop, but there is a dark side to their cricket, which does not present them in very good light. There is that desire to win at all cost, through all means.

If you go back into Aussie cricket history, Ian Chappell was a great sledger apart from being a combative cricketer and it was during his tenure as captain in the early 70s, that sledging entered the Aussie cricket scene in a big way. Chappell made his name as an attacking skipper, but he must take his share of the blame for bringing into cricket, something it could have done without.

Even the great Dennis Lillee, probably the most complete fast bowler of all time, often gave the batsmen a mouthful, which given the quality of his bowling, was uncalled for. The venomous nature of his bowling itself left many batsmen intimidated.

It must be clearly understood here that saying things either to disturb the concentration of the batsmen or during moments of frustration is part of the Aussie cricket culture. But Lehmann crossed that line.

Words of racism on a cricket field are simply not acceptable, for it hurts the sentiments of the people, and goes much beyond cricket. Remarks on the colour of the skin of a person are extremely sensitive in nature and they have no place in sports. In the past too, there have been such accusations against the Aussies. Former Sri Lankan opener Roshan Mahanama did mention in his book that paceman Glenn McGrath abused Sanath Jayasuriya, calling him a black monkey.

The relation between Australia and Sri Lanka has been stormy in the past, and it really was surprising that the Lankans response was very forgiving towards Lehmann on this occasion. They could have made him pay a much heavier price.

Racism in cricket is the result of a colonial hangover. Some teams and cricketers assume they can get away with anything, unless they come across an extremely strong and powerful personality like Vivian Richards.

Former England captain Tony Greig's remark that "he would make the West Indians grovel'' infuriated Richards so much that he let his bat do the talking, batting with a vengeance during the mid-70s series in England.

We also had the incident in Sharjah during the 80s, when New Zealand wicket-keeper Ian Smith made some racist comments when India's Mohinder Amarnath, who is a mild-natured man, was at the crease. Smith hardly received any punishment.

In countries like India, we do have a tendency to bow down to the white skin, something that has been carried forward from the days of the Raj. In India, the white man does get special treatment. I still remember how badly Richard Ellison, the outswing bowler from England, misbehaved with a lady at a discotheque in Calcutta, during England's tour of the country in 1984-85, but he got away scot-free.

In sharp contrast was the treatment meted out to Sudhir Naik, who was accused of shoplifting something as trivial as a pair of socks. The incident received huge media coverage and the issue was blown out of proportion. The indications were that the poor Sudhir Naik, for all the adverse publicity he received, might have been a victim of his ignorance about the methods of paying the bill in a departmental store.

The white-skinned man can never get into trouble, at least in India. There was a period when Henry Blofeld's commentary was absolutely ridiculous, he spoke more about earrings than cricket, but it was accepted because he was an Englishman. In India, we receive secondary treatment. Not long ago Raj Singh Dungarpur of the Cricket Club of India invited Bob Taylor to conduct courses for the young wicket-keepers in Mumbai. We had our own Syed Kirmani, a much superior wicket-keeper available. And Bangalore is definitely closer to Mumbai than London.

It was the same case with Harbhajan Singh. When his action came under a cloud, he was sent to London for getting it corrected by former England off-spinner Fred Titmus. But there are great bowlers of the same tribe, like Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan, available in India.

There is so much money for the game in India. India is the economic superpower in cricket and generates mind-boggling funds through television. Though the plans and the ideas may come from the Indians, it is the white man who is given the powers of control. He has the final say.

At least there is some resistance in India, but the countries like the West Indies and Sri Lanka, that are economically poor, are entirely dependent on the white man.

Tourism is a major source of their income, and it leaves them with little choice. The time has come for all of us to get over this `White skin' hangover. Let's make a new beginning, before it gets too late.