“Harbhajan the Racist!!” This tag that the Australians were trying to label Bhajji with, reflects now, more desperation than conviction, considering the high moral ground that they took in pursuing the matter in the first place.
Racism, in itself, is a very serious charge, but to use it, as most Indians and some Australians now believe (Surprise! Surprise!), to unnerve and even get rid of Harbhajan (Australia’s chief tormentor) is so repugnant that it has spawned a lot of outrage.
We accept that different words, phrases and sentences may have different connotations in different places and to different people, thus making subtle or drastic changes in the way that they are interpreted by them. So, when Symonds accuses Harbhajan of calling him a monkey, we can make a case, however reluctantly, of indicting Harbhajan. Once again, however, when we consider that there is no audio/visual proof of any abuse, nor have the umpires heard anything, it comes down to the word of one against the other. Messieurs Symonds and Ponting duly convince Mike Proctor of Harbhajan’s guilt, despite Sachin’s testimony to the contrary, and all of us are left a bit miffed (to be mild). By the way, His Highness Proctor, while defending his decision, did let us know (and very astutely, I must say) that he himself is a South African who has lived in the times of apartheid and hence (he concludes) knows what racism is all about. Despite all the tension that it created between two nations, the people who really had to suffer were Harbhajan (naturally) and none other than the present Captain of the Indian cricket team Kumble (I fear we are coming to the point I’m trying to make).The poor bloke not only had to deal with the slipping away of an excellent opportunity to claim the last frontier (I believe the umpires played a big role in this), but also had to endure the disappointment of misplacing his faith in the opposing captain to ensure that the game was played in the right spirit. The man leads a team under threat of losing one of its best players, and being shamed by the label of being racist. The natural reaction was to retaliate and so the Indian Cricket management did, by officially accusing a Mr. Brad Hogg (heard of him?) of abusing Kumble. I think that by now, acute as your sense of injustice might be, you must have figured out the “tit for tat” policy being used here. This naturally put Mr. Hogg under considerable pressure for it seemed the only head to roll for the massive exercise of shame carried out by the Aussies would be his. Not a very desirable position to be in. And then came the masterstroke. For a man who has been at pains to state that cricket itself is larger than any individual or institution, Kumble, did just that through his actions. He spearheaded the withdrawal of charges against Hogg, thus not only earning the respect and gratitude of the player in question and his team in general, but decisively gaining the upper hand in claiming the moral ground. The man has very magnificently portrayed the image of being the benevolent forgiver, like an elder brother who is big enough to ignore the follies of an oft erring sibling. But to put it in perspective, he has not at all deviated from being a gentleman that he has strived to be for his 18 years as a cricketer. We are not surprised by it and certainly expect the very same from a cricketer of his stature. What he has very cleverly done is to provide just that much incentive to possibly free Bhajji of all charges, especially in the backdrop of him taking initiative to create the “cricket is greater than the individual” environment. By dropping charges against Hogg, Kumble has made the Australian’s complaint look like an unnecessary fuss, an immature reaction. So cheers to a gentleman, a deserving captain, and a diplomat….. And hopefully the man who’ll help India square the series…. Rishabh Agnihotri