At the ground of many controversies, India take a step forward to create their happiest story

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At the ground of many controversies, India take a step forward to create their happiest story

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Bastab K Parida

01/03/2019

Celebrity-hood is a huge thing. While the respect and love that come with it can never be understated, it is worth noting that it comes at a price. Virat Kohli can’t go outside to have ice-cream in India, nor can MS Dhoni ride his favourite bike on the roads of Ranchi without crowds following them.

Indian cricketers truly get liberation whenever they are away from the hustle and bustle of the cricket mad country that we call home. They make themselves vulnerable, without the pressure of giving tons. So when a Virat Kohli goes around on the Moore Park Road in Sydney with his wife Anushka Sharma, they can be themselves and not the celebrity couple that they are. It is a joy that they always ask for, all the time, literally and figuratively. However, with the freedom also comes the responsibility of winning, and of achieving something monumental for the team and for the fans back home. And when it happens to be the first Test series win in Australia, well the pressure is immense. 

Because, in the modern-day cricket, the No. 1 ranking is not a holy grail anymore and has a little context attached to it. Even the normal fans have understood that a home Test victory doesn’t account for anything if you go to South Africa and England and lose there continuously. One-off victories here and there and then a string of losses? Well, the fans had clearly become tired of it. It had to stop somewhere, sometime. 

And they chose MCG for it. After losing the second Test in Perth, the series was squared at 1-1, India came to a venue, which was lifeless and was touted as the “best batting track of the series”. With Australia losing two of their best players and Indian pacers firing all cylinders, history though took a backseat for a while. People conveniently forgot that it was the venue where Sir Don Bradman had smashed the Indians twice in a month in 1948, and the visitors had lost five Tests in a row from 1991 to 2011, before drawing on a lifeless pitch in 2014 while trailing 2-0.

Ishant Sharma dismissed Nathan Lyon on the fifth day morning to bring the curtains down on the Test and helped India take a 2-1 series lead, ensuring the Border-Gavaskar Trophy stay with them, celebrations reached a crescendo. The three fast bowlers posed with souvenir stumps for being the best pace troika in a calendar year, and players put a group picture showing their unity. It was awaited, and now they are just a step away from winning the series 3-1. Over to Sydney.

SCG. Utter the word and the mind immediately flashes back to January 6, 2008. While the racial slur took the narrative of the Test to a completely different level, the on-field drama related to cricket was no less severe. On a melodramatic final day of the Test cricket, with just nine minutes of the last hour remaining, Ricky Ponting handed the ball to Michael Clarke and packed close-in fielders around Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble to push for the last minute victory. Kumble showed why he was considered as a titan of the game by producing one of his finest innings that would make any classical Test batsman proud. Throughout his unbeaten knock of 45 runs, spectators prayed before each and every ball and cheered for every single run. The gutsy prevailed for quite a long time…. but it suddenly ended when Michael Hussey got hold of Harbhajan Singh’s edge at first slip. Sudden pandemonium ensured and local boy Clarke took three wickets in five balls, helping his side equal the world record of 16 consecutive Test victories which they had themselves set in 2001. 

The game saw as many as 12 umpiring blunders by Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, and after India’s complaint at the ICC, Bucknor was taken off duty from the Perth Test and was replaced by Billy Bowden. Two incidents involving Michael Clarke made Indians angrier and Clarke a hated character among all the fans. The New South Wales man refused to walk away when caught at slip in the second innings and then claimed a low slip catch himself on the final day with Sourav Ganguly stating that the ball did not carry. Benson, however, gave Ganguly out without consulting Bucknor at square leg as the pre-series pact between the captains had that the fielder's word would be taken for granted, which was subsequently jettisoned.

On the back of it, Australia accused Harbhajan of using the racially abusive word “MONKEY” against Andrew Symonds. Kumble and manager Chetan Chauhan, after hearing the allegation, arranged an immediate meeting in which he asked Harbhajan to explain his side of the story in front of the team. Harbhajan confessed to using “m** k*”, a curse word, and not a racist slur. Indian presented the version in front of referee Mike Procter and then Chauhan produced an album of “princes and princesses in the regal dress but with monkey heads” to make Proctor understand why it was absurd for an Indian to use “monkey” in a racist sense. However, Proctor was not satisfied with that and decided to suspend Harbhajan for three Tests, which riled up the Indian team, and they even threatened to call off the tour if their appeal was unsuccessful. The lift eventually happened, however, not before marking that SCG Test as one of the most forgettable and controversial Test matches of all-time. 

Apart from that Test, SCG was the birthplace of another controversy that still finds its roots in the modern-day cricket. In a tour match against an Australian XI in 1948 - a match that was also remembered thanks to Bradman’s famous 100th First-Class hundred - Bill Brown took off for a single even before Vinoo Mankad bowled the ball. The Indian all-rounder warned Brown in the first instance, but the batsman didn’t pay heed to it and committed the same mistake once again. Mankad had enough of it as he dislodged the bails and appealed for a wicket. The Australian stood surprised and had to return back to the pavilion after umpire George Borwick raised his finger. 

The act polarised the opinions as many raised the spirit of cricket rule, but the Indian found support in the form of Bill O’Reilly, who commented, “There is nothing in the laws of the game to say that the bowler shall even warn the batsman of his unfair play. Mankad subscribed to the ethical rule … Brown was at fault.” 

But Brown’s act must have ended by then right? You are wrong if you think so. Brown committed the same mistake in Brisbane in another tour match, Mankad warned him but didn’t run him out. As the Jamboree moved to Sydney for the second Test of the series, Brown did that again, yes again, but this time, Mankad didn’t waste a second to whip off the bails, without warning, and making himself the father of “Mankading”. Although Cricket historian Abhishek Mukherjee wrote, “Lord Harris had pulled this act off about six decades before Mankad in a Varsity match”, Mankad remained as the first significant beneficiary of the controversial law and the incident storms back to the discussion each time Mankading happens. 

****

Controversies may have prevailed in multiple occasions when two teams have squared off at the venue, but cricket has never taken the backseat in Sydney, for whom cricket is the way of life. With the first day going against the hosts as India dominated it with a classical Cheteshwar Pujara century, SCG crowd won’t stop rushing into the venue though and support their team at the time of turmoil. India, on the other hand, will sleep peacefully tonight, knowing that their happiest story in Australia is going to be told in sometime this week.

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