Forgive and forget

BEFORE THE AMLA INCIDENT, Dean Jones was looked upon as a sporting ambassador with friends and fans all ver the cricket world. Here Jones is with Virender Sehwag.-PTI

No doubt Dean Jones' comment on Hashim Amla was silly and unprofessional. But is it FAIR to judge him by that one silly act? asks VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

To forgive and forget? It will be a difficult decision to make for the cricket administrators and television bosses after Dean Jones, in an unguarded moment, called South African cricketer Hashim Amla a "terrorist". With this silly and unprofessional comment in Colombo, the former Australian Test batsman, now a television commentator, wrote a bleak future for himself.

We all know Jones did not mean it. Not one whit. For a cricketer who loves to visit the sub-continent, it must be heartbreaking. He would not be hired to commentate again, and certainly not by the United Arab Emirates-based Ten Sports, the company he was contracted to. Jones' contract, worth US $2000 per day (tax-free), was terminated with immediate effect by the world's biggest television producer of cricket.

The remark that has created such a furore worldwide showed Jones in a very poor light. But did he deserve to be banished even after having apologised sincerely and promptly?

Jones had referred to a catch by Hashim Amla as "another wicket for the terrorist", a comment he assumed was off-air because of an advertisement break, but had actually been heard by South African viewers. And unfortunately for this jovial Australian, he was caught off-guard.

Jones, who figured in 52 Tests, was known to be a friendly character in the commentary box. The only time he had seen Amla face-to-face was a day before the first Test during the series in Sri Lanka when he visited the `nets' to acquaint himself with the players of the two teams.

"I have already apologised to him and I am so grateful that he has accepted that.

"I made an awful error, but he has accepted my apologies. I made that remark without even knowing him, which was so wrong. Now I would love to meet him, sit down and have a chat and even help him with his career," Jones told a South African newspaper as he reflected on his darkest moment as a cricketer-turned-commentator.

The man who played his cricket hard and fair was genuinely repenting. "I feel for the man and I cannot imagine what pain I may have put him through.

"But one day I'd like to meet with him. I could learn something from him about life — he has no doubt shown just what he is made of by so graciously accepting my apology without any strings attached. That tells you a lot about the man, his quality as a person, his humility and the way he thinks about life.

"I'd like to get to know him and he may instil in me a new sense of what life is all about. How stupid could I have been?"

Jones was honestly keen on atoning for his mistake. His statement also shows how Jones views his silly act. "I can't think what made me do so. How could I have put him into such an extreme situation? I deserved everything that has happened to me. I'm to blame," he told the South African newspaper while giving an insight into the turmoil that has shattered his career.

What if Jones' remark had not been heard? There are many who make flippant remarks in private, obviously not meaning to be serious. Though his comment on Amla was foolish, Jones' statement before he left Colombo in disgrace should have settled the issue. He had said: "It was a silly and completely insensitive thing to say and, obviously, it was never supposed to be heard over the air. I am truly sorry to have caused offence to anybody and the last thing I intended was to be offensive.

"Everyone needs to get away from perpetuating the myth, publicly and privately, that beards associated with the Muslim faith are somehow suspicious, and I intend to do exactly that. The irony is that I am great friends with most of the Pakistan team and they are all Muslims. I have no end of respect for the Muslim faith — that's why I'm so sorry at making such a stupid comment. It does not represent who I am, how I think or what I believe."

Now Jones is not the first cricket commentator to have got into trouble for on- or off-air remarks. But this is perhaps the harshest punishment meted out to a commentator.

Ian Chappell was once caught swearing during a match. Tony Greig came close to losing his job in 1999 when he blurted, "Do you think she has been flown in?" when cameras panned a wedding reception behind North Sydney Oval that involved a Caucasian man and an Asian woman. Both Chappell and Greig were handed mild punishments. As was the case with K. Srikkanth and N. S. Sidhu, who also got into problems for their belligerent comments. Today, Srikkanth and Sidhu continue with their media work, but Jones would certainly struggle to win back the confidence of television producers, at least in the sub-continent.

However, there is hope for Jones as Melbourne radio station 3AW, with whom he is contracted as a full-time commentator, is reported to have assured him that he would not be removed from his job.

The Melbourne radio station has followed the right course. They have shown compassion to a man who has apologised for his mistake, which was unintended and not at all premeditated; he is down and out for the moment.

Jones certainly does not deserve to be kicked any further. And rightly, his former captain Allan Border has stood up for him and appealed to the people to give friendly Jones a break.

All commentators would agree that Jones was aware of what he was supposed to say and what he was not supposed to say on air. But that is not to discount the fact that the comment was not intended for the viewers at all.

We have known cases where commentators have offended an individual or an entire team by their choice of words on air, and in certain instances may have even hurt the concerned player more than what Jones' remark did to Amla. It's only that these commentators have got away because their cases have not come to light.

One needs to look at the Jones incident in the right perspective. Does the intensity of the punishment match the nature of the crime committed? Or is it an over-reaction?

Knowing the man, let us remember that Jones has never been involved in anything to do with racism in the game. He was the very critical of fellow-Australian Darren Lehmann, who was banned for five matches following a racist remark against a Sri Lankan cricketer.

Jones has suffered enough for his faux pas. Until his comments on Amla he was seen as a sporting ambassador with friends and fans in every cricketing corner of the world. Let us not judge him by that one silly act. Let the cricket world, keeping in mind his clean past, give him another chance.

It is time to forgive and forget.