The Sydney Test and after

Australia are a magnificent cricket team, amongst the finest ever, but as the best they have a duty to be role models for all cricketers at every level of the game in every part of the world.

It was a well-deserved victory for India in the Perth Test. My readers would be aware that I have been recommending a return to swing bowling, and Perth exposed Australia’s vulnerability to it. No country plays swing well and I hope coaches and administrators will now take note of this.

It was a wonderful performance by the Indian bowlers and I was delighted that the swingers are all so young. Hopefully they will inspire new ball apprentices all around the world to practise this old and almost forgotten skill.

I have to admit that I did not see the Sydney Test as my wife and I were on a cruise at the time. But then, it was not that I was unaware of what was going on as I was pestered by the Australian journalists seeking my quotes on the issue. As I hadn’t seen the match I obviously wasn’t going to offer them any quotes.

Since arriving home, just a day or two after the match, I caught up with the Sydney incidents with the help of my mates in the television network. I must admit I have been appalled, even amazed by some of the vitriol hurled at the Aussies, particularly by some ex-cricketers who should know better.

Let me state very clearly that I am not trying to defend the behaviour of the Australian team, for I feel that they have become far too arrogant and cocky in recent times. Yes, they are a magnificent cricket team, amongst the finest ever, but as the best they have a duty to be role models for all cricketers at every level of the game in every part of the world. This is not only a responsibility of the Australian team but every cricket team, association, player and official.

Unfortunately, for many years this responsibility hasn’t been accepted and the good name and reputation of cricket has suffered through the poor behaviour of players, associations and officials.

My heart goes out to Steve Bucknor, for he has been the real victim of the Sydney incidents. Steve is a fine gentleman, a strong inspirational umpire who emphasised all that was good in our wonderful game. Yes, he didn’t have a good game, but he didn’t deserve to be removed from the rest of the India-Australia series.

The BCCI’s threat to pull out of the tour was appalling and set a poor example for all cricket associations throughout the world. Unfortunately, this bullying is now becoming too common in cricket. Pakistan made a similar threat when umpire Darryll Hair performed his duties correctly at the Oval when the team toured England in 2006. The ICC, consequently, bowed to Pakistan’s wishes and Hair, one of the finest umpires ever, hasn’t stood in a Test match since.

Sri Lanka also issued threats to call of their tour of Australia when Muttiah Muralitharan was called for an illegal bowling action for the second time on his second visit down under. Fortunately, common sense prevailed, the ICC weren’t called in and the tour progressed.

While the umpiring hasn’t been good for some time at the elite level, I can assure you that it is a lot better than what it was years ago when the host association provided the officials.

The umpires of the Elite Panel, however, have taken away the suspicion associated with the local umpires that they were biased. Therefore, this should have led to a happier environment in the middle, but unfortunately it hasn’t.

While India played better and deserved to win in Perth, they also had the better of the umpiring decisions. That is the ebb and flow of cricket, and Australia, as they should have, got on with the game.

The other issue that has taken a hammering in the press is whether the players should walk or not. This is an old chest nut, and I thought it had been done with.

During one of the controversial times in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I took a decision to walk if I nicked a ball and was caught. I did this faithfully until after the 1964 tour of England. By this time, I had visited a lot of countries, twice to England, the supposed home of walkers, and had many chats with umpires in all the countries I visited. After evaluating all that I had seen and heard during this time, I reverted to allowing the umpire to make a decision. And I decided, irrespective of what I thought of the decision, I would leave the crease without showing any unhappiness.

The two main reasons for that were: 1) Most of the major controversies of that time were caused by the so-called walkers turning their backs on umpires and trying to bluff their way through an appeal despite being out. They relied on their reputation as walkers to get away with it. One very well-known English batsman was a past master at this. On one memorable occasion in Adelaide, when he didn’t look at the umpire, Australian wicketkeeper Wally Grout politely informed him that he should turn around so that he could look at the umpire and notice his finger was up and walk to the pavilion.

2) A number of umpires felt that the batsmen walk after an obvious snick when they had a good score, but stay put even after making a fine contact with the ball when they only had a few runs on the board.

I may be a cynic, but I doubt if I have ever seen a true walker.

The coverage of the Sydney Test incidents has been huge and amazing. Even the Sydney Morning Herald, supposedly Australia’s most mature broadsheet, got into the act in a different way, suggesting that the behaviour of the Australian team and the fallout of the second Test was the most discussed issue in our history.

They even suggested that Peter Roebuck’s provocative column, calling for Ricky Ponting’s dismissal as Australia’s skipper, was one of the most read sporting columns of all time. In all, the newspaper spent 51 lines in a double column story promoting their own coverage of the incident.

I have also been worried for some time about players and officials writing regular columns, for this could involve a conflict of interest. When I became the coach of the Australian team, I gave up my lucrative jobs in television, radio and newspapers as I felt I won’t be able to fulfil my obligation. The only media job I retained was writing for Sportstar as its management was happy with me writing “think” pieces.