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The sounds of bias

TWO days into the second Australia-India Test we were presented with a familiar syndrome again. A decision that should have gone in favour of the fielding side went the other way. Adam Gilchrist is the beneficiary and he is still there as I write this with Australia at a safe total of 332 for five. The incident happened at 197. A second occurred after the score had reached 300.

India did not hold up well under these provocations. We had the ugly spectacle of Venkatesh Prasad behaving in a manner which only befits a dervish after he dismissed Slater; the batsman must be applauded for his mature reaction. Had Prasad been on a soccer picth he would have been red-carded and sent back to the pavilion for the entire game. It is a pity that red cards do not exist in cricket. But then again if they did, we may well end up with just a couple of players on the field of play.

Back to those iffy decisions. Gilchrist hit the ball back to Anil Kumble who took what looked like a clean catch. The third umpire did not think so (when has the third umpire ever thought otherwise this summer?) and Gilchrist stayed put. He also had a close call against Prasad when a close decision for caught behind (he had actually started walking when he realised that the appeal had been turned down, and that says a lot) went in his favour.

This is not whingeing (that's a favourite Australian word. Apparently in Australia, one is supposed to put up with all the rubbish that is dished out and then go home and complain; complaining in public would mar the public image of folk who show their molars politely and wish each other a good weekend when they are hoping deep down inside that the bloke would go home and fall on a sharp knife) but merely stating the obvious.

If the batsman gets the benefit of the doubt in every close decision, I would have no complaint. But when Australia gets the benefit of the doubt in every close decision, then we are very close to denying that something called a law of averages exists. Indeed, it would appear that the laws are written differently for different teams: Glenn McGrath mouths off time and again and is rarely pulled up. Ganguly looks up at a TV replay of a doubtful decision (something that Shane Warne often does even when ball is nowhere pad or bat, all the while shaking his head in apparent disbelief) and was cited by Hair. Why?

Such statements would not sit well with a great many people, particularly one cricket fan who has chosen to air his opinions in this forum. Some people cannot see other opinions without colour or nationality coming into the picture. His classification of people into sub-continental and other categories sits well with Australia's reputation as a nation with a worse race record than apartheid South Africa but that is just the beginning.

He does not clearly argue against any incident cited in my earlier piece; the way Langer and Gilchrist had umpiring decisions go in their favour against Pakistan and the fact that Sachin Tendulkar was twice robbed of his wicket. It is easy to put it all down to fanatical fans. It is also easy to close one's eyes to reality Down Under; I should know as I've lived in Australia long enough.

India's losses have nothing to do with criticism of bad decisions. Is one then saying that Tendulkar cannot win a game on his own? Who hit the West Indies to two amazing wins in the Caribbean earlier this year? The whole team? Or a certain little fellow named B.C. Lara? Is Tendulkar any less? I think Sir Donald Bradman would be able to answer that one easily! The only gripe I have against third-rate umpiring is that it tends to spoil the game. Especially when one side starts getting the benefit of the doubt all the time. Makes it one-sided and let's remember that the Australian captain Steve Waugh is on record as saying that the third Test against the West Indies, which his team lost by a whisker, was the best Test in which he had played. Not even players like it that much when things are too easy. Much less the fans.

I am used to abusive mail from Australian supporters landing in my mailbox whenever I write something anything that bestows anything but accolades on the team. And these are fans who are characterised as treating the game as just a game! Give me a break! Perhaps people can think of returning to the sensible and enjoyable sounds of summer when the raucous sound of bias is removed from the umpiring spectrum. Till then, it might be good to remove the blinkers and have a close look at reality. One may not like what one sees.