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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 18, Dated May 10, 2008

Slap And Tickle Match

Both Harbhajan and Sreesanth have a history of abuse and both could be in deep trouble, says SHANTANU GUHA RAY

IMMEDIATELY AFTER slapping Sreesanth after a match on April 25, which led to his being booted out of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Harbhajan Singh asked teammates: “For how long did the channel show the footage?” On being told the total duration of the footage — a shaken, weeping Sreesanth being consoled by members of Punjab Kings XI — was approximately 32 seconds, he turned to team manager Lalchand Rajput and asked him to speak to the crew of Transworld International (TWI) that had been covering the match with 25 cameras and a band of experts.

“He wanted the audio recording of the pitch and was told, the audio at the batsman’s end is always on a high and on the other side on a low,” a top TWI producer told TEHELKA. Singh’s chances of picking up what many claim were rank filthy abuses hurled by Sreesanth were drowned.

“We saw Sreesanth saying something to Harbhajan during the post-match handshake and then the slapping incident happened, but there was no chance the recorders would pick that up because the pitch recorders were off once the match was over,” the producer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

The hotheaded cricketer — fined six times by the International Cricket Council for conduct violations and once described by cricket columnist Peter Roebuck as an intemperate Sikh warrior — was banned for 11 IPL matches and fined over Rs 2.16 crore. He has lost another Rs 1 crore in endorsements. This incident comes just months after his skirmish with Andrew Symonds in the Sydney Test, where he escaped a racism charge due to lack of evidence.

At this point, no one is siding with the temperamental Sikh. His team’s management has removed Mumbai Indians posters featuring him, fearing a public backlash. Harbhajan’s name has also been removed from the team list in the franchise squad’s website, www.themumbaiindians. com. This is the second time Singh’s images are being removed from publicity posters; the first time was when he drew flak from the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee for featuring in a liquor ad, minus his turban, two years ago.

However, this does not signal the end of the journey for Singh. “We will abide by the BCCI (Board for Control of Cricket in India) decision but we expect a lot more news to come out when the final hearing takes place,” says Mumbai Indians top manager and cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle. Advocate Sudhir Nanavati, appointed commissioner by the BCCI for a preliminary inquiry into the slapping incident, is expected to wrap up the proceedings within two weeks.

Expectedly, backroom deliberations are in full swing. Mumbai Indians’ skipper Tendulkar, who missed the first four matches because of a groin injury, had two rounds of discussion with Singh who explained what provoked the slap. Initial guesswork — even Lalchand Rajput is not aware of Sreesanth’s remarks — revolves around a cryptic comment about being a loser at home. Insiders and witnesses close to the boundary line at Mohali agreed that Sreesanth excessively used the Hindi word for a******e.

Sources said Sachin Tendulkar witnessed the diatribe and was upset but chose not to press charges. “If Tendulkar had pressed charges, the scenario would’ve been different. We have been losing badly, match after match, and just didn’t have the right frame of mind to raise the issue with the match referee. We should’ve done so,” said a top official of Reliance Industries, which backs the team.

Top sources in the BCCI told TEHELKA that Yusuf Pathan of the Rajasthan Royals could press charges against Sreesanth for abuse in an earlier match. Musavir Khote, the last Mumbai Indian bowled out by Sreesanth, is being told by his team management to testify. Umpires Amiesh Saheba and Aleem Dar, who’ve made their displeasure about Sreesanth’s sledging clear, could also testify. Mohammed Kaif could also be called to testify since Sreesanth had made faces at him in a match. Interestingly, the only match in which Sreesanth kept his cool was the one against Chennai Super Kings. Was it because it had Team India captain MS Dhoni?

No one has the answer. But it is clear that both temperamental cricketers are in deep trouble. “Both are abusive. I’ve seen Sreesanth — he was once a crybaby — abuse AB de Villiers for almost a minute,” quipped South African coach Mickey Arthur. He also recalled an incident at Kanpur where Harbhajan abused Ashwell Prince. “Match referee Roshan Mahanama held a hearing and Harbhajan had to apologise to Prince.”

ESPN-Star Sports commentator Gautam Bhimani agrees: “Sledging is commonplace in cricket but hitting out is incomprehensible. Singh had no business getting into this mess.”

ESPN-Star Sports staffers recall how Sreesanth once tossed the ball to the camera and said, “Watch it, man, I will play for India.” They also remember how Singh kicked chairs after he was detected with a hairline facture in his middle finger (a fact he’d hidden from the team management) and was told to pack his bags and leave for India. That was in the past, but the present seems to be no different for Indian cricket’s two loose cannons.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 18, Dated May 10, 2008
Related Stories

Slap And Tickle Match
Both Harbhajan and Sreesanth have a history of abuse and both could be in deep trouble, says SHANTANU GUHA RAY
Learning To Fly Off His Handle
Impulsive, aggressive, fiercely competitive. Harbhajan Singh’s friends tell TUSHA MITTAL that he’s always been a bit of a hothead

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