If a random trawl of the blogosphere is any indication, Indian players travelling to Australia this winter should expect to cop more than a bit of heat in retaliation for the repeated barracking of Andrew Symonds by Indian crowds.
There is talk of “paying the effing Indians back in the same coin” and “getting one back for Symmo”. And a group of (apparently) young Aussies in one forum are discussing ways to heckle the Indians without getting thrown out of the MCG during the Boxing Day Test. India will be in Australia on an 86-day tour from mid-December through February, playing four Tests and a three-nation ODI series that will also feature Sri Lanka.
<b1>Crowds at the fifth and seventh one-dayers in Vadodara and Mumbai taunted Symonds — Australia’s best performer by far and player of the series — with repeated cries and gestures seen as being racist by the Aussie players and media.
Indian authorities have refused to directly acknowledge the racist angle. Cricket board president Sharad Pawar has been quoted as saying it is a “misunderstanding” and a “language issue”, and the Vadodara police chief has reportedly brushed off the offensive monkey-chants from the crowd as an invocation to Lord Hanuman.
But on the Internet, the controversy has taken on massively ugly proportions, and is already a race row — with Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans, all wading in.
A couple of Lankans have expressed worries they will be among the first to feel the backlash when Sri Lanka travel to Australia this month for a two-Test tour. According to media reports, Cricket Australia (CA) does not intend to take any chances in an already volatile situation that will see the return of Muttiah Muralitharan in a Test in Australia.
On Thursday, Australian papers splashed a picture of a section of the Mumbai crowd at the Wankehde, making ape-like gestures. News of the allrounder being subjected to racist chants and booing as he went to receive the Man of the Series award was reported, along with commentary, in strong language.
The picture, shot by an Australian photographer, no doubt made for ugly viewing, and Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting condemned it in no uncertain terms. Symonds, he said, was "hurt" that it had happened again (in Mumbai after Vadodara).
"Some of the other stuff that went on was totally unnecessary," Ponting said after the game. "I just hope that it does not happen again at another cricket venue that I play in because it leaves a bad taste in everybody's mouth."
CA spokesperson Peter Young told HT on Thursday they had not lodged a formal protest, but had spoken to the International Cricket Council again on Wednesday evening about the incidents. "The ICC assured us last evening that they had already started investigating the issue and we're confident that between them and the BCCI, they will manage matters," Young said.
Late on Thursday, the ICC issued a statement iterating its zero tolerance policy. Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Speed said: "Traditionally racism has not been a significant issue for cricket. It is a sport that we are proud to say is well known for respect, tolerance, diversity and fair play, and we are keen to ensure it stays that way. To make sure that happens I would urge our members to enact the terms of the ICC Anti-Racism Code as firmly as possible. If people are seen or heard behaving in a racist way then our message to the authorities and host boards is clear: find the culprits, throw them out and keep them out because racism has no place in our sport.
"It is pleasing to hear that some offenders in Mumbai were ejected and that is the type of zero tolerance we want in relation to this despicable behaviour," Speed added.
Young added that CA had not spoken to Prof Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI's chief administrative officer, who has been roundly criticised in the Australian media for allegedly denying a major issue. "The chairman (Creagh O' Connor) did speak to Mr Pawar (about the remarks) and was assured that they have a common view on the issue. That racism in sport was a global issue, not restricted to any country or region and was a global challenge that had to be tackled together."
Asked if the visibly upset Symonds was being counselled, Young said CA chief executive James Sutherland had spoken with him, and was "full of admiration for the way he had handled himself." "He said that he (Symonds) has behaved with grace in what has been a tough situation," Young said. "At no stage has Andrew made a formal complaint and has carried himself with dignity." Young refused to get into whether CA would lodge a complaint if there were more abuse at Saturday's T20 game in Mumbai.
"That is a hypothetical situation," he said. "Part of India's appeal is in its noisy, boisterous, passionate crowd, and I hope the crowd is like that for the Twenty20 game. But I also hope that no one steps over a line," he added. The T20 game might see extra security in the stands. Ponting indicated that the behaviour of a section of the crowd shouldn't be generalised. "I am sure there will be a lot of embarrassed people around this country to know that this stuff has happened again at one of their venues… It is done now, hopefully in the Twenty20 match on Saturday it does not happen."