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Hayden escapes, cricket in prison

Australian board winks at unprovoked attack on Bhajji, Ishant as teams head into tense tri-series finals, writes Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Feb 28, 2008 09:42 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Hindustan Times

Depending on how you look at it, the latest farce in India’s Australian summer appears either blatantly unfair or plain ridiculous. In a tinderbox atmosphere that has gone to within an inch of the tour getting called off, Matthew Hayden — 36-year-old veteran of 94 Tests played over 14 years — launches an outrageous, offensive, and completely unprovoked attack on Harbhajan Singh, calling him “an obnoxious weed” on a radio show.

Cricket Australia promises the BCCI that it will take up the matter strongly. And after a pointless, three-hour hearing, lets Hayden off with a mere reprimand — not even a token fine.

<b1>A little after 11 pm local time in Melbourne, CA spokesman Philip Pope said, “The charge was laid by CA CEO James Sutherland, and Code of Conduct Commissioner Ron Beazley found Hayden guilty. He upheld the charge and issued a reprimand.” Section 9 of CA’s Code of Behaviour deals with “detrimental public comment” and prohibits a players and officials from “making any public/media comment which is detrimental to the interests of the game”.

Hayden said he had made a “light comment” in a “jocular” interview. “I maintain my innocence. My intention was not to denigrate cricket or anyone. But in the spirit of cricket, I respect and accept the decision.” There was no mention of an apology to Harbhajan.

There was also no mention, from either Hayden or CA, of the big batsman poking fun at Ishant Sharma’s youth, mimicking his accent, and threatening to pull him into a (boxing) ring — apparently to teach him a lesson — on the same show. “I am playing for my country,” Hayden said in a mocking, ostensibly Indian, accent, mimicking Ishant.

But CA did not think this could be seen as amounting to a racist slur. Asked whether this, which amounts to a racial slur given the background of controversy and acrimony between the teams, had been taken up, CA said the angle (his imitating Ishant) was neither probed nor considered. “The hearing was on a violation of Rule 9 which talks about detrimental public comment and there was no other charge against him. So nothing else came up,” said Pope.

According to CA rules, a first breach of this rule results in a fine of A$5,750, but in Hayden’s case, this fine was not applied. This, coming just after Ishant was fined 15 per cent of his match fees for reacting to provocation from Andrew Symonds, seems rather unfair.

The other man in the muddle meanwhile, Harbhajan, spent this morning fending off Australian TV journalists who chased him into Hobart airport while he was getting ready to leave for Sydney. He refused to say anything more than “I’m fine and will speak to you if I have something to say”, while the Indian team decided against lodging an official complaint. “We’ve already made our stand clear in our letter to match referee Jeff Crowe,” said team manager BR Soni. “We are concentrating on the finals. Let the Aussies say whatever they want to.”

But, Harbhajan told HT, “They (Australians) are a bunch of bad boys, the world knows it. They resort to such things when the going gets tough.”

He said never before in his career had he seen any other team take matters so far so often. “There is a little bit of banter in every game but we and all other teams leave it at the ground instead of going on and on about it. The worst part is that they (Aussies) start everything and when you give it back, they start complaining.”