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User Name: Noman
Full Name: Noman Zafar
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November 5, 2008

Posted by Suresh Menon 29 minutes ago in Australia in India 2008-09

BCCI's tiresome bullying

Gambhir [right] was handed a one-Test ban for elbowing Shane Watson © AFP

The Indian cricket board's muscle-flexing is getting tiresome. Like the schoolyard bully, it threatens anyone who touches one of its own with or without reason. In the case of Gautam Gambhir, there was good reason for the ICC to take the action it did, banning him for one Test. That Gambhir elbowed Shane Watson cannot be denied - millions saw it on television. That he has done it before, to Pakistan's Shahid Afridi is a matter of record too. He was fined then, he is banned now. Open and shut, as lawyers say.

And yet the BCCI wants to defend the indefensible. It has used its enormous financial clout for the good of the game, spreading it across borders, lifting other boards in need of funds, and generally keeping the sport alive and kicking. It has also misused that power, rushing to defend players who have transgressed, and often behaving as if the ICC is part of the BCCI and not the other way around.

Gambhir is no spring chicken. He turned 27 last month, and has emerged as India's most successful batsman in the current series. He was the star of the IPL tournament, and at the moment is the only certainty in all three forms of the game apart from Mahendra Singh Dhoni and perhaps Virender Sehwag. It is good for players to have the confidence that their Board will support them in a tight situation - skipper Anil Kumble had its backing in Australia during the fracas in Sydney, for example (the Board then went overboard, but that's another story).

But to imagine that the Board will support you even when you are in the wrong is not good for the game. There is an argument for punishing both the one who reacts to a provocation just as much as the provocateur himself. But the law goes by action, not by intent, and by reacting physically in a non-contact sport Gambhir has brought it into disrepute. He is young, and will learn, but only if he is forced to pay the price for crossing the line. If the Board allows him (and others like him who react in the heat of battle) to get away, it would merely be planting a seed for worse to follow.

Gambhir need not look beyond his former skipper Kumble for an example of someone who was tough without getting physical, and gave as good as he got without bringing the game into disrepute. If the example set by men such as Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar has to influence the next generation, it is necessary for the Board to play its role. It exists for the players, but it also serves a higher purpose, to preserve the purity of the game itself.

By reducing every engagement into a battle of egos, by striving desperately to show that whatever happens the BCCI is boss, the governing body appears immature and driven by short-term populism. If the BCCI is genuinely concerned about the Code of Conduct, it should take it up with the ICC at the right forum and not react every time an Indian is hauled up. It hasn't used the race card this time, so that is probably progress of sorts.

Some day the other boards and the ICC will learn that the best way to handle a bully is to stand up to him. If the BCCI gets isolated, it will be the players who suffer, and the game itself - the officials can always go back to their regular office jobs.
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