Even as the world’s cricketing fraternity is all set to see Sachin Tendulkar take a final bow and bring an end to his glorious career spanning close to a quarter of a century, it is also time to reflect on a handful of unpleasant incidents that appear as imperfections and cannot be overlooked.
Tendulkar did not get into a confrontation with opponents in the field or respond in a hostile manner to an unruly spectator. But he was involved in horrible episodes — directly and indirectly — in South Africa and Australia that did not go down well with the laws of the game and with the Australian team. He may open out and clear matters in the future; he will have to live with this stigma, nonetheless.
The first unsavoury episode took place during the course of the second Test at Port Elizabeth in November 2001. It’s believed that host broadcaster caught Tendulkar scuffing up the ball with his nails and brought it to the notice of the third umpire Rudy Koertzen after which all hell broke loose with the star Indian accused of ball-tampering and infringing the laws of the game.
Match Referee Mike Denness docked Tendulkar a fine of 75 per cent of his match fee and handed a suspended one-Test ban. A defensive line of argument that Tendulkar was only cleaning the ball did not hold water because the playing conditions mandated that cleaning the ball of dirt can be done only under the supervision of the match umpires.
Tendulkar apart, Denness also handed out severe punishments to captain Sourav Ganguly for not being able to uphold the spirit of the game and Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Shiv Sundar Das and Deep Dasgupta for excessive appealing. As an outcome of a strong protest from the BCCI, Denness was replaced by Denis Lindsay as Match Referee by the home board. The ICC did not approve of it and declared the third Test as unofficial.
Seven years later in Australia, Tendulkar’s statement to Justice John Hansen that he did not hear Harbhajan Singh direct the word ‘monkey’ at Andrew Symonds during the Sydney Test saved the Indian off-spinner from being banned for three Tests on charges of racial slur.
Tendulkar regards Australia as a great place to play cricket and compete and the Australians have reciprocated by embracing him for his run-getting ability against their national team and especially after Sir Don Bradman said to his wife of Tendulkar: “What a bonzer of a chap (Tendulkar) playing like me.” Recently the Australian government honoured him with the “Order of Australia” membership.
The members of the Australian cricket team who were at earshot at the SCG then believe that Harbhajan got away because Tendulkar’s words to Justice Hansen as a key witness were contrary to what they heard. The then captain of the team Ricky Ponting and wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist in a way questioned Tendulkar’s integrity on the particular issue.
Match Referee Mike Procter had slapped a three-Test ban on Harbhajan and in his autobiography “At the close of play”
Ponting wonders why Tendulkar did not present his version of the alleged racial abuse of Symonds by Harbhajan (which he told Justice Hansen) to Procter during the hearing at the first place.
His legion of well-wishers would applaud a grand career as the champion batsman says goodbye, but they would still be unconvinced as to what exactly happened at the famous SCG in Australia in 2008.