Leading by Personal Example

Anil Kumble is happy that his men have put up a fight, given the World Champion a scare. He concedes that with a little luck, the Indians could have done better. He had skippered the side with dignity in stressful situations, writes S. Dinakar.

January 28: The taxi eases into the Don Bradman Avenue. Welcome to Adelaide. The South Australian capital is a quaint city of churches and calm. It also possess the soul of Australian cricket. They don’t come greater than Bradman. In this serene place, a storm is brewing. Harbhajan Singh’s appeal is coming up next day and just about everyone is aware of the significance of the event. Meanwhile, a dramatic and ill-tempered Test series draws to a close. “I am sorry about the cricket," says a commiserating shop-keeper who believes India deserved to draw the series. In the evening, Anil Kumble appears relaxed and at peace with himself in an Indian restaurant. This genial man has led smartly and by personal example in the Test series. He is happy that his men have put up a fight, given the World Champion a scare. He concedes that with a little luck, the Indians could have done better. He had skippered the side with dignity in stressful situations and travels back a hero. Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad, the fielding and bowling coaches, are around too. They have been silent achievers.

January 29: All roads lead to the Federal Court. It’s sad that cricket has moved from the playing field to a courtroom. The Indian tour hinges on Appeals Commissioner John Hansen’s verdict. The print and electronic media are in full strength and their sheer number leads to curious on-lookers taking vantage points around the place. Such a gathering of cameras, laptops and men is rare in a peaceful city. There are, predictably, speculations doing the rounds. The biggest among the rumours is — Will the BCCI call off the Indian tour? The signs ahead of the hearing suggest otherwise. Sachin Tendulkar, a key Indian witness, is accompanied to the hearing by the Cricket Australia chief Creagh O’Connor. Still, the atmosphere is tense. It’s a warm day and the scribes cool off in a little restaurant adjacent to the court. It’s a long wait and, astonishingly, plenty of news trickles in from India about what the eventual outcome could be. Meanwhile, some of the Aussie scribes are not pleased at the Indian Board chartering an aircraft to fly in the newly arrived ODI cricketers from Melbourne to Adelaide. There are talks of brinkmanship by a cash-rich Board. It is beyond 4 p.m when Harbhajan Singh waves to the media from the third floor. He is happy and it is evident that the three-Test ban for an alleged racist remark has been lifted. Soon the news becomes official — Harbhajan has been fined 50 per cent of his match fee for a level 2.8 offence under the ICC Code of Conduct and there is no ban. The Indian camp is pleased with the verdict. Kumble hails the decision and thanks both Boards. The Indian media manager M. V. Sridhar has handled the crisis well too. Here is someone who is prompt and professional. The tour had survived.

January 30: The Indians travel to Melbourne for the one-off Twenty20 game. There are concerns over Yuvraj Singh’s knee. The Australia media responds angrily to Harbhajan being let off with a token fine. Some former Aussie players are unhappy. The complete Hansen report is made public in the evening and more questions follow. Why was Justice Hansen not given complete details of Harbhajan’s previous breaches of the Code of Conduct? But then, the omission the honoured Justice refers to is from another controversy-ridden match, in 2001, when Match Referee Mike Denness handed out severe sentences to six Indian cricketers during the Port Elizabeth Test. The furore over those verdicts in India forced the final Test to be played as an unofficial one. Justice Hansen also asks questions about Symonds’ attitude towards opposing players.

January 31: It’s raining in Melbourne. The elegant city that is a blend of the old and the modern continues to amaze. It’s a buzzing place but one steeped in tradition. Bistros dot the city, so do malls. The action shifts to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the hallowed arena, that is rich in history, would host a Twenty20 international. The MCG is a stunning venue, huge and aesthetically pleasing. It, rightly, celebrates the past performances and the legends from the days gone by. The images of Bradman, Ponsford, Lillee, are a reminder of a proud country’s rich cricketing heritage. Meanwhile, rain gives way to bright sunshine and the Australian practice session gets underway. Adam Gilchrist is soaked in sweat. The Australian legend is in the last stretch of an incredible journey but his commitment remains undiminished. Andrew Symonds is composed and focussed. His captain, Ponting, reveals the Aussie anguish over the Harbhajan verdict. However, the ‘Punter’ is pleased that the issue is finally behind the teams. “The last four weeks have been hard. I want to put this stuff behind and enjoy my cricket.”

February 1: Ponting misses the Twenty20 international due to a strained back but the Aussies do enjoy their cricket before a huge — just over 84000 — but not a record breaking crowd. The Indians are routed and Michael Clarke dazzles under the lights. M. S. Dhoni promises that the Indians will hit back in the 50-over games. The summer could be hotting up again.