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Sunday, October 2, 2022

Indian batting coach gives clean chit to England over ball tampering charges, betrays sepoy mindset?

Videos and pictures of England players scuffing the surface of the ball on the fourth day of the second Test between Bharat and England had flooded the internet with fans and ex-cricketers accusing the England players of ball-tampering.

The incident happened during the second session on the fourth day as Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane held Bharat’s  innings together. Videos and photos showed the players rolling the ball and one of them stamping on it with his spikes. The matter did not go down well with former Bharatiya cricketers and fans as they alleged that the players were tampering with the ball.

“Yeh kya ho raha hai (What is happening?). Is it ball tampering by Eng ya covid preventive measures,” tweeted former Bharatiya opener Virender Sehwag.

Cricketer-turned-commentator Aakash Chopra also tweeted, “Ball-tampering, eh?”

“They are deliberately making the ball rough from one side,” a fan tweeted

There were some reports that there had been multiple instances of England players stepping on the ball, and not just the one incident where Mark Wood and Rory Burns were involved. Only a full analysis of the footage from that day can clear up the matter.

However, the Bharatiya team management refused to blame England players for ball tampering. Bharat’s team’s batting coach Vikram Rathour said ‘it was not a deliberate attempt to tamper with the ball’.

“We didn’t see the replays initially as we were in the balcony. We saw them later. It didn’t seem deliberate to us and looked accidental,” Rathour said in a reply to a query from IANS during the day-end interaction with the media.

Clearly, the incident is a violation, inadvertent or otherwise, of the ICC ball-tampering rules which do not allow players to scuff the ball with their spikes. So why was the Bharatiya coach so eager to hand a clean chit to his opponents, when he could easily have taken a non-committal line like saying, “We all saw the footage, let ICC decide,” and put the ball back in ICC’s court!

Do Rathour’s comment betray a sepoy mindset, which is deeply instilled into many of Bharat’s middle class and English-speaking elites? And this should not be construed as a personal attack on the coach, but is an attempt to raise questions on attitudes around the game and society in general.

For a mental sepoy, his/her mental framework is built to be deferential towards Westerners, to avoid confrontation as much as possible. In severe cases, sepoys seek validation from the West which they regard as morally and civilizationally superior, while being full of doubt and alienation towards their own culture.

In this case, it can be surmised that Rathour wanted to avoid a confrontational situation and so chose to gloss things over and avoid being seen as ‘unsportsmanlike’. And how is ‘sportsmanship’ defined in cricket? It is defined by the two powerful Anglophone nations who have the deepest history of playing the game – England and Australia.

Another example of Anglo gamesmanship disguised as “gentleman’s spirt” was provided during the 2011 series against Bharat, when batsman Ian Bell was run out during England’s 2nd innings in the 2nd test. During the tea interval, England captain Strauss and coach Andy Flower visited the Bharatiya dressing room to have them withdraw their appeal, and like good sepoys the team obliged to uphold ‘the spirit of cricket’.

What really went down in that run-out was well surmised by ex-England captain Michael Vaughan, who wrote, “Ian Bell knew he had messed up but outwardly gave a very cool impression of not really knowing what all the fuss was about…the lifeline to Bell showed that the crowd’s booing had unnerved the Indian camp….The way they (England) bullied India was reminiscent …they bossed them on the field and even managed to convince India that Ian Bell should be given another chance.”

Vaughan added that if he had been in Dhoni’s place, it would have been a firm no to the rival camp. Bharat went on to lose that series 4-0, but some fans were happy that Dhoni was awarded with ICC ‘Spirit of Cricket’ award for his decision to recall Bell!

In a similar vein, during the 2014 tour to England, fast-bowler James Anderson pushed and abused Ravindra Jadeja while both teams were walking back to the dressing room. When Bharat lodged a complaint, England lodged a counter-complaint and it was Jadeja who was fined 50% of his match fees! And the match referee who made this decision: David Boon, an ex-cricketer from Australia. Luckily, captain Dhoni did not take things lying down this time and spoke out against the bizarre decision, inviting a quick rap on the knuckles from ICC Chief Executive Dave Richardson (another White ex-cricketer, this time from South Africa). Even though Anderson admitted during a judicial hearing that he , pushed Jadeja from behind while calling out, “You f***ing c**t, get inside your dressing room or I will come to your dressing room and break your teeth”, he was let off.

The same foul-mouthed Anderson was at it again during the 2nd test of the current series, getting stuck into Bumrah for bowling some short-pitched deliveries at him, a tactic routinely used against tail-enders of all teams, and which is often cause for mirth in the commentary box when it is meted out to Asian players. After this, when the Bharatiya tail came to bat and was faced with a barrage of short-pitched stuff, they didn’t whine, they gutsed it out. When they received verbals from the English players, they gave it back. But again, the two White umpires were seen asking Shami to ‘zip it’, but no such reproving gesture was made to the English players. Incidentally, Bumrah and Shami are two of the most mild-mannered fast bowlers playing the game!

And colonial consciousness can manifest itself in unique ways, even among people who otherwise come across as self-confident. For eg. Bharat’s captain Virat Kohli is widely regarded as an aggressive cricketer who doesn’t back down and enjoys verbal exchanges. After failing to ‘mentally disintegrate’ him as they attempt to do with all visiting captains, the Australians grudgingly labelled him as ‘almost-Australian like’, a back-handed compliment if ever there was one.

During the 2017 tour to Bharat, Australian captain Steve Smith claimed to suffer a ‘brain-fade’ when he was caught seeking directions from his dressing room on whether to take a DRS or not. That brazen cheating attempt went unpunished by ICC, and Indian media also preferred to downplay it, thus exhibiting their sepoy instincts. In 2018, Steve Smith and the Australian team suffered another ‘brain-fade’, this time being caught sand-papering the ball. South Africa was not as forgiving and made a huge deal of it, thus bursting the Australian bubble that their team played ‘hard but fair’ and knew where to ‘draw the line’.

Smith was banned for one year, and when he returned to international cricket during the ICC World Cup 2019 in England, he knew he would have to cop plenty from the English crowds. During the match with Bharat, when some Bharatiya supporters were booing at Smith, what did our captain Kohli do? He chose to admonish his own supporters, and asked them to applaud Smith instead! And was this ‘generosity’ repaid when Bharat toured Australia next? No. Our players were racially abused as ‘big monkey’, ‘brown dog’ during the Sydney test earlier this year. Being on receiving end of abuses from the Australian crowds is part of the touring package for visiting teams – a test of ‘mental toughness’, or so the sepoys have always told us!

Of course, Kohli earned brownie points with ICC and some good PR from his action of ‘standing up’ for Smith. But it came at the cost of throwing his own supporters under the bus, and all this for a player & team known for ruthlessly exploiting every chink in the opponents’ armor and attacking opponents with pack-like ferocity! Again, the right approach in that case was exhibited by England captain Eoin Morgan who calmly told a press conference that it was not his job to instruct crowds on how to behave with Smith and Warner. In other words, they made their own bed, now they have to lie in it.

There are many more examples of how this colonial or sepoy consciousness manifests itself in the sport – in cricket journalism, scheduling, commentary, attitudes towards spinning tracks versus seaming ones, or even in how a tournament like IPL is run, managed and marketed. More on this in a follow-up article.

Clearly, there is a new confidence and can-do spirit in our sportspersons and younger generation. But we are yet to recover from some of the more insidious effects of colonization. The aspirational desire to be seen as ‘global citizens’ is something we need to guard against – we need to see the world as it actually is, and apply the principle of reciprocity and mutual respect in whatever we do. In the tough world of competitive sport, where you are already fighting an ingrained culture that privileges your opponent, any mental edge that legitimately presents itself must be used unapologetically.

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