Sachin plays it his way
Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘Playing It My Way’ has broken many records of pre-order sales. No other autobiography has created such a sensation across the...
Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘Playing It My Way’ has broken many records of pre-order sales. No other autobiography has created such a sensation across the world in the recent past. Just as no other Indian cricketer was as much celebrated or ridiculed and never has a cricketer been burdened with so many expectations. Sachin gives a candid account of several events of his life and career including the ball-tampering episode and the Harbhajan and Symonds tiff during a Test match in Australia
We managed a better batting performance in the Port Elizabeth Test, which started on 16 November 2001. Rahul Dravid and Deep Dasgupta, our wicketkeeper, played resolutely on the last day, and we saved the match comfortably in the end. However, what hit the headlines from that match were the allegations made against me by the match referee Mike Denness, who also charged five other Indian players.
The incident occurred on the third day, when I bowled a four-over spell, taking the wicket of Herschelle Gibbs. I was bowling seam—up and was getting the ball to swing both ways. During this spell I used my thumb to clean off the grass that was stuck on the seam.
Soon after the end of the day‘s play we were informed that the match referee had called six Indian players for a hearing and that I had been accused of ball tampering. I was shocked, because I had always played cricket with integrity and honesty and would never do such a thing.
When I met the match referee I informed him that I was merely trying to clean the seam of the ball. My mistake, which I have no hesitation in owning up to, was that I should have informed the on-field umpires under Law 42.3 when I was cleaning the seam, but I’m afraid it did not enter my mind in the intensity of the moment. I asked Mike Denness to consult the on-field umpires, because they had checked the ball every two or three overs and were in the best position to tell if the ball had been tampered with. Denness said that there was no need to consult the umpires, presumably because I had admitted altering the ball by cleaning the seam.
I found this strange, because there was no way Denness could gauge what was going on in the middle when he was sitting eighty yards away from the pitch. None of the umpires had lodged a formal complaint against me and it was humiliating to be labelled a cheat. I wasn’t prepared to let it pass. I informed Mike Denness that I would complain about the allegation to the BCCI and would not keep quiet about it.
Apart from charging me with ball tampering, Mike Denness handed captain Sourav Ganguly a one-match suspended ban for failing to control the players and banned Virender Sehwag for one match on a charge of over-appealing. Deep Dasgupta, Harbhajan Singh and Shiv Sunder Das, the opening batsman, were all handed a one-Test suspended ban and fined 75 per cent of their match fee for the same offence. The team considered these punishments harsh, especially when none of the South Africans had been pulled up despite, we felt, appealing just as aggressively. It is a hard game and sometimes things get heated in the middle. But we didn’t think we deserved the punishments we had been handed.
We informed the BCCI that the allegations were unsubstantiated and unfair. We were delighted when the BCCI, led by Jagmohan Dalmiya, stood steadfastly behind us and informed the ICC that the team had lost faith in the match referee. We also received support in the media; the Indian journalistic fraternity, at home and on tour, was united behind the team. We were prepared to abandon the tour if need be, but we weren’t ready to be labelled cheats. It was about honour and there was no way we would allow a match referee to cast aspersions on our credibility.
The situation came to a head twenty-four hours before the start of the third Test match, when it was finally decided by the Indian and South African boards, rather than by the ICC, that Mike Denness should not officiate in the match.
Second Test, Sydney, January 2008
Bhajji had gone past 50 when it all started. For a number of overs he had been telling me that Andrew Symonds was trying to get him riled. I asked Bhajji not to rise to it but to continue batting the way he was. I knew only too well that by retaliating he would just play into the Australians’ hands. The best thing to do is to ignore such provocation. That’s easy enough to say, but of course it’s not always so easy to keep your cool at moments of intense pressure.
Bhajji was doing his best and was actually trying to be civil with some of the Australian players, including Brett Lee, when all hell broke loose. Bhajji had playfully tapped Lee on the back after completing a run and Symonds at mid off took exception to this. He apparently did not want an opposition player meddling with Lee and once again hurled abuse at Bhajji. Bhajji is an impulsive and passionate individual and it was only a matter of time before he would retaliate, which he soon did. That was the start of the controversy that almost caused the tour to be called off.
I want to state very clearly that the incident arose because Andrew Symonds had been continually trying to provoke Bhajji and it was inevitable that the two would have an altercation at some point. While walking up to Bhajji to try to calm things down, I heard him say ‘Teri maa ki’ (Your mother . . .) to Symonds. It is an expression we often use in north India to vent our anger and to me it was all part of the game. In fact, I was surprised to see umpire Mark Benson go up to Bhajji and speak to him. While the umpire was talking to Bhajji, some of the Australian players started to warn him of the dire consequences of his words, presumably to rattle him and disturb his concentration. The ploy paid off when a few overs later Bhajji was out for 63.
I thought the matter had ended with Bhajji’s dismissal and later I was surprised when I was told that the Australians had lodged a formal complaint at the end of that day’s play, apparently alleging that Bhajji had called Symonds a ‘monkey’, which was being treated as a racial insult. What surprised me most was the haste with which the Australians had lodged their complaint. I was later informed that it had apparently been agreed between the Australian and Indian boards during their tour of India in October 2007, following an incident in Mumbai, that the respective captains were to report to the match referee any incident with a racial element. Even so, I still believe that the matter would not have been blown so out of proportion if Ponting had discussed it with the captain Anil Kumble, Harbhajan and the Indian team management before reporting the incident to Mike Procter, the match referee. In turn, Mike Procter could also have handled the matter with a little more sensitivity.
Soon after the end of play on the third day we were informed by Mike Procter that there would be a formal hearing on the incident at the end of the fourth day, which was later changed to the end of the match. It did not leave us in the best frame of mind in the middle of an intense contest. While it was distressing to hear that Symonds felt he had been racially abused, it was equally distressing to observe what Bhajji was going through. As far as we were concerned, he had retaliated in the face of provocation, which was par for the course in an Australia—India cricket match. But he did not racially abuse another cricketer.
With the controversy overshadowing everything, the Test match assumed a completely different character. By the fifth day we were batting to save the game. Mind you, there is little doubt in my mind that we would have drawn had it not been for what seemed to us to be mistakes by the umpires and some rather unsportsmanlike conduct by a few of the Australian players.
Rahul Dravid was given out caught behind off Symonds for 38 by umpire Bucknor when his bat seemed to be a fair distance away from the ball. The wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist was standing up to the stumps at the time and was in the best position to see if the ball had touched Rahul’s bat. Yet he who prided himself on walking off if he nicked the ball appealed for the caught-behind and to our disbelief we saw the umpire raise the finger.
It was a shocking decision. Some of us actually wondered if Rahul had been given out lbw.
A few overs later, Sourav was given out by umpire Benson after Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting decided to appeal for what we thought was a grassed catch at slip. Finally, umpire Bucknor gave Dhoni out leg-before when to us the ball would clearly have missed the stumps. It seemed that every decision that could go against us had done so.
After the Test had ended with an Australian victory in the dying minutes of the fifth day, the Indian team were instructed to stay behind at the ground for the Bhajji hearing. Despite this, however, I was the first person to go out and congratulate the Australians, regardless of all the controversy and disappointment. In those circumstances, to have to hang around in order to testify on an important incident like that wasn’t ideal, to say the least.
The hearing was conducted rather strangely, it seemed to me, with the Australians and Indians asked to testify separately, without the other side being present in the room. This certainly didn’t improve the trust between the Indian and Australian players. I was the principal witness because I was batting at the other end from Bhajji and I recounted the incident to the match referee in detail. Apart from Bhajji himself, Chetan Chauhan, our manager on this tour, MV Sridhar, the media manager, and Anil Kumble, the captain, were also called.
Mike Procter did not look very convinced by our version of events and we found it surprising that he asked us to wait in our dressing room till well past midnight. In fact, it was not until 2 a.m. that we were allowed to return to our hotel.
We were preparing to travel to Canberra the day after the Sydney Test to play a first class fixture when we heard that Bhajji had been banned for three matches. We had had enough. It was just not acceptable and we decided it was time to take a stand against the judgment. We did not agree with what the referee had done and felt that the hearing at Sydney had been something of a farce. We informed the BCCI of the players’ feelings and held a team meeting to decide what to do about it.
Anil Kumble and l took the lead and it was unanimously decided that we would boycott the tour if Bhajji’s ban was upheld. Anil is one of the politest cricketers I have known but he is also very strong minded. I have great admiration for the role he played as captain during this controversy. We decided to lodge an appeal against the ban and, in a gesture of protest, we also decided not to travel to Canberra - even though we had already loaded all our cricket gear into the bus. It was time for stern words and strong action.
The BCCI was behind us all the way and duly lodged a formal appeal contesting the ban. Mr VR Manohar, one of ‘India’s legal Luminaries, was handling our case. We had regular conversations with him and provided him with all the relevant details.
I must reiterate that we were very serious about the boycott. If Bhajji’s ban was upheld. It would mean an acceptance of guilt and imply that Bhajji had racially abused Symonds, which he most certainly had not. We were fully prepared to accept the consequences of walking out of a tour, knowing that such an action might have resulted in the ICC banning the Indian team. The issue was now bigger than just Bhajji. Indians all over the world felt slighted and we felt it was our responsibility to stand up for our cause.
Having made our decision, we needed to find some way of reducing the tension. In the end we went to Bondi Beach and played a game of volleyball. It had a magical effect. It served as at fantastic team-bonding session and helped give us the determination to carry on. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the media followed us wherever we went, particularly Bhajji. On a lighter note, I remember saying to him that he must be the second most popular man in the world after Michael Jackson, with so many cameras following him. In fact, I called him MJ for some time during and after the controversy.