Can there have been a more hollow win in Australian sport? From day one to day five, the second Test match at the SCG was rotten to the core, tainted by appalling umpiring, bad sportsmanship, sledging and, finally, a suspension for racism.
The chain of events that led to Australia’s ‘’triumph’’ over India, starting with the howlers afforded Australian captain Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds on the first day, was so embarrassing, it was cringe-making.
Indeed, the Australian victory was so fortunate that it, and the team’s much-trumpeted 16-match winning streak, should forever carry a giant asterisk alongside it in the record books: (*achieved with the help of incompetent umpires and the Australian players’ own double-standards.)
Our reputation for sportsmanship and fair play has taken a battering in the process. Around the world, we are seen as overbearing bullies who happily dish it out on the field but squeal when other teams, such as India, find the gumption to give it back.
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If you think that’s an exaggeration, take a look at international cricket websites, such as Cricket365.com and cricinfo.com, and gauge the reaction of the world cricket community to the Australian win. There will be one or two Indian supporters among that lot, to be sure, but just dip your toe in the water there and get a feeling for how the Australian team is viewed out there in the real world, beyond the Channel 9 commentary box, beyond the Cricket Australia offices and beyond the Fanatics’ watermelon helmets.
Even, I suspect, a significant measure of the Australian sporting public will be sitting back today and thinking: fair crack of the whip, did those Indians cop the rough end of the pineapple yesterday or what?
For Anil Kumble and his men, the injustices kept piling higher. Consider a few of them:
– Ricky Ponting stood his ground after gloving a catch down the legside in the first innings. Thirty or so runs later, he had the temerity to glare at the umpire and mutter under his breath when he was on the wrong end of an equally incompetent decision. Sorry, Ricky, old mate, but you can’t have it both ways. Cop it sweet and p-ss off back to the pavilion.
– Andrew Symonds was gifted 131 runs after being given a reprieve by Steve Bucknor’s well-documented shocker in the first innings. Bucknor added to his Aussie run tally in the second innings when a Kumble skidder thudded into Mike Hussey’s pad, just above the ankle while the left-hander was trapped on the crease, and replays clearly showed the ball would have hit leg stump, and probably middle and leg. Mr Cricket went on to add another 120 or more to his tally. Ponting’s first innings bonus included, that’s close to 300 runs gifted the Australians.
– Wonderboy, and future Australian captain, Michael Clarke cuts his first ball in the second innings straight to slip off Anil Kumble and stood his ground, the peroxide-blond punk challenging the umpire to raise his finger – which, thankfully, he did. This enraged Kumble, the Indian skipper, who in complaining after the match about the Australians’ poor sportsmanship, said: “That said it all.’’ Then, at a crucial moment on the last day, Clarke claims a catch at third slip off India’s Sourav Ganguly. Ganguly, mindful of the Australians’ very rubbery morals at times like this, rightly stays in his crease. Umpire Mark Benson does not appear to consult his square-leg colleague, the embattled Bucknor, but accepts the word of Clarke and Ponting, who helpfully indicates with a raised finger his verdict. Benson gives Ganguly out, although TV replays are inconclusive. How the hell are Clarke and Ponting to be trusted in such circumstances? Another nail in the Indian coffin.
– Then, when things get really tense in the middle session, the Australians went up as one in appealing for a caught-behind decision against Rahul Dravid, India’s most obdurate batsman, even though his bat was tucked behind his front leg and the ball clearly flicked his pad. Even goody two-shoes Adam Gilchrist gets caught up in the moment and leads the appeal from behind the stumps. Bucknor raises his finger and the Indians are once more dealt a blow, this one mortal.
So the sense of injustice in the visitors’ dressing room was acute, and understandably so.
Most Australian players believe luck evens itself out over a career, but that philosophy is not shared by all visiting teams. Every summer, the complaint is the same. The touring team leaves these shores feeling dudded – from the English last season to South Africa the year before to Pakistan three summers ago when their coach, the late Bob Woolmer, reckoned Australia received almost six times more line-ball decisions than Pakistan during the 2004-05 series.
Yes, the Australians have got their 16 straight wins, and congratulations to them for that. But who can really take any joy from what transpired at the SCG over the past five days?