India has been dudded. No-one with the slightest enthusiasm for cricket will take the least satisfaction from the victory secured by the local team in an SCG Test match that entertained spectators at the ground, provided some excellent batting but left a sour taste in the mouth. It was match that will have been relished only by rabid nationalists and others for whom victory and vengeance are the sole reasons for playing sport. Truth to tell the last day was as bad as the first. It was a rotten contest that singularly failed to elevate the spirit.
Until another shocking decision was made by a 61 year of umpire, reliable in his time but past his prime, the fifth day of this unattractive contest was offering plenty of tension to put alongside the memorable hundreds contributed by capable batsmen on both sides. Thereafter they might as well have drawn stumps as far as your correspondent was concerned as all interest had been removed. Once justice and fair play have been ejected there is no point in playing the game.
Whilst Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were at the crease it seemed entirely possible that India might escape with a draw. Had the umpiring been even remotely acceptable on the opening days, or had replays been used to give embattled umpires a chance, they might perchance have won the contest but that will forever remain in the land of conjecture. Australia had regrouped, Ricky Ponting had set a stiff target and a badly chosen Indian batting order had faltered. Thereafter it was a matter of trying to save the match.
India's former captains stayed together till tea and afterwards continued their attempt to negotiate the 46 overs that still remained as a result of the lamentable over rates indulged in by both sides, and especially the visitors. By now Ponting had thrown the ball to his spinners and asked them to land the ball in the rough. Ponting's street fighter instincts have emerged in this contest, and it has not always been a pretty sight. By now the Australians were starting to press the umpires with appeals, dirty looks and questions. Cricketers know that umpires are vulnerable on the fifth afternoon when even the most seasoned white coat can succumb to pressure created by weariness and the frenzy of eager fieldsmen clustered around the bat.
Dravid found himself facing Symonds. Beyond argument Dravid's was the crucial wicket. Already he had been dropped once at first slip off a snorter from Mitchell Johnson. But he had looked better balanced at the crease and more upright in his strokes. From a distance it seemed that the worst was over. Although not exactly an immovable object, he looked solid enough to save his side.
Then came the moment that compromised all subsequent events, rendering meaningless the continuation of Australia's run of victories. Dravid thrust his pad forwards at a wide delivery and wisely took the precaution of tucking his bat out of harms' way. The ball brushed the front pad and was taken by the local glovemen, a man with a high reputation for sportsmanship. Adam Gilchrist and his comrades around the bat immediately roared a raucous appeal. Gilchrist was especially animated. To think, there was a time when team-mates chided him for holding back.
Doubtless the fieldsmen heard a noise but canvass and wood make different sounds, a fact known to every cricketer. That the bat was hidden away behind the body was surely more obvious from behind. Doubtless the Australians will argue that excesses of this sort are commonplace elsewhere. But they were stoking the fires of an angry contest.
If the appeal was bad, the decision was worse. A mild natured and intelligent man, Dravid departed shaking his head slowly as the Australians celebrated. Instead they should have been fearing the damage done to their reputations. Already scorned by the English, they may find themselves under the cosh in a country where they have been feted. Despite the amiability of many players, Ponting's team is developing an unwanted reputation for being headtsrong and precious. Matthew Hayden's belittling of Anil Kumble's bowling at the MCG was a case in point.
Nor was that all. Ganguly's departure was also debated. An edge flew low to Michael Clarke at slip and the catch was claimed. Replays were inconclusive and the batsman stood his ground. Doubtless he remembered that the catcher waiting to be given out after being taken at slip. In these circumstances the umpires in the field have been urged to make the decision. But that was not enough for an agitated Australian captain. Just to help the umpire make up his mind, Ponting held up a finger to indicate the catch had been taken. Having recalled an opponent prepared to take his word in the first innings the Tasmanian clearly expected to be believed. Unfortunately Australia had long since left the high ground.
Certainly the match gripped the crowd till its last moments. Ultimately Australia secured a 16th consecutive victory as Michael Clarke, belatedly introduced, struck. Anil Kumble trooped forlornly from the field and reached the boundary before any Australian thought to shake his hand. Others may be caught up in the euphoria. It is to be earnestly hoped that at least a vestige of sportsmanship is observed when the teams next meet in Perth. What happens in the middle has a nasty habit of spreading further afield.