By recalling umpire Steve Bucknor and deferring the ban on Harbhajan Singh for a while, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has put the ball in Team India’s court. The umpire has been asked to stand down from the Australia-India Test series and Billy Bowden will replace him for the third Test in Perth. It’s inarguable that the white-coated gentlemen are prone to making errors once in a while and more than bowlers’ caps and jumpers weigh them down on the field. But it’s true that umpiring calls for a fair and astute cricketing sense, without which skewed decisions — deliberate or otherwise — become inevitable. From all accounts, this is what happened at Sydney. Unfortunately for Mr Bucknor, he has only himself to blame for bringing this disgrace on himself. Given his history of confrontations with teams, it was only a matter of time before he was asked to stand down. The Indian team will not forget in a hurry how Mr Bucknor, standing in his 100th Test, declared Sachin Tendulkar out at 52 after the bat missed the ball sent down by Abdul Razzaq, and none of the fielders appealed.
The intrigue should serve as a wake-up call for other umpires like Mark Benson (who, incredibly, turned to the Australian captain at Sydney for advice on declaring an Indian batsman out) to be more accountable. Now that Mr Bucknor is no longer around to torment India, the players should continue the tour. The Board of Control for Cricket in India should call off its protest regarding Harbhajan, and agree to abide by the ruling at the appeal that is scheduled for later. This will ensure the flap does no lasting damage to the fair name of cricket that has been sullied by the repeated references to racism. Not that the ‘R’ word is anything new in cricket. If it is more prominent now, it’s probably because of the media coverage.
It’s no longer England captain Tony Greig’s infamous prediction in 1976 that England would make the West Indies “grovel”, or a Viv Richards-led West Indian team furiously reacting to it and ‘Blackwashing’ the series. Some of the racist slurs used by Australians against coloured teams — ostensibly as ‘mental disintegration tactics’ — would put a Marcus Materrazzi to shame. Perhaps the only way to keep the ‘R’ word away is for the ICC to ban sledging on the field. If the Australians disapprove, that’s tough.