I am no fan of cricket. I think both the game and its players, especially Indian players, are over-hyped and do not deserve such national recognition, coverage and importance that they are so used to getting. I was terrible at cricket myself - still am - when I was a child. I always used to get picked up last when teams were formed and although my captains (by compulsion, not choice) were never rude or something, I couldn't help but notice that they were going through a WTF moment when I used to be 'inducted'. I do not understand the difference between a square-leg and a fine-leg or a deep square leg, mid-off or even slips. Even today, I do not know how to play - and what to do to win - a Test match, except that both the sides do or can come to the pitch to play their respective innings twice. I used to be a ball dropper and could hardly catch a catch. My teammates, as a child, used to frown upon me when I used to act like a goofy on the cricket field. I think that's partly responsible for my hatred toward the game, but I am not sure. Anyways, naughty minds reading this would do well to note that all the puns are strictly unintended.
But when it comes to sportsmanship and respecting the spirit of game, any game, I feel certain things must be said. So when the Indian Premier League (IPL) started , I was least bothered and was like this is yet another opportunity for players to make more money at the expense of other sports. But keeping my feelings aside, I have come around to appreciate the spirit of IPL. Not that I follow voraciously who's won and who's lost, but I quite like the idea of players of different nationalities and otherwise opponents, all jumbled up and then randomly bundled into a set of 6-7 teams. Who would have thought that Andrew Symonds, after all those controversies about monkey-chanting and his run-ins with Harbajan Singh when he accused the latter of racially abusing him, would fetch a whopping USD 1.35 million - the most-expensive foreign player and second only to Dhoni (USD 1.5 million). It also speaks volumes on professionalism that many of the foreign players were auctioned for far higher amounts that many Indian players.
Now coming to the point.
1) I think the 11-match ban on Harbajan Singh is not adequate. Cricket is and has always been and will always remain a gentleman's sport. It's a no-contact sport where there is no scope and place for physical aggravation. In a society where violence is increasing with every passing day, sport remains one of the few areas where violence has no place (except perhaps some heavy-duty ones like boxing, rugby, etc) and the term sport itself encourages fair play and healthy competition that unites teams and countries across the globe. I am given to understand that a physical assault on a fellow player constitutes to be a Level 4 offence that calls for a maximum punishment of a life ban or a minimum of five Tests or 10 ODIs. Singh was punished with only 11 ODIs, a negligible hike from the minimal level. Whether BCCI punishes him further still remains to be seen. However, a more stricter ban - considering that his temper is well-known in the Indian cricketing circles if certain news reports are to be believed - would have set a perfect example for the fraternity. Also, sticking to the bare minimal level of punishment terms prescribed under the laws, somehow, reduces the credibility of the concerned authorities.
2) Not many news reports have covered this, but i find the punishment on Lalchand Rajput - Mumbai Indian's coach to be a good step. We can debate on the punishment terms, but the fact that he was pulled up speaks well of the officials. It seems the slap happened right in front of him, but he didn't restrain Singh or reprimanded him immediately or at least comforted Sreesanth as a goodwill gesture. As a coach he has certain responsibilities and to reign his players is his duty; which he didn't do as he should have.
3) Umpire Amiesh Saheba, who umpired that match, was banned for two matches. The IPL did nto want this incident to escalate and so pulled up Saheba for telling the media that Sreesanth was constantly sledging throughout the game and indicated that that might have provoked Singh. I completely agree with him and I will get to this later. However, I do not agree with the punishment. Even though he was contracted not to say anything to the media, he should have been reprimanded, not suspended. A bit too harsh for an umpire who has just spoken out the truth. But if rules are rules, then so be it.
4) Last, but not the least. Sreesanth must be punished. He is no saint. He is the most notorious slegder on the Indian side. Even though nothing justifies a slap, he must have done something that provoked Singh, going by his dubious track record. The BCCI should make an inquiry and if found guilty, should punish Sreesanth. His crying face on TV after being slapped may have moved the nation, but make no mistake, Sreesanth is no saint. On numerous occasions he has been caught on camera (more than willingly) being rude and unnecessarily intimidating. It's high time he is reigned and taught to behave on a cricket field. After all, he is nowhere among the top 10 bowlers of the world.
And though Singh and Sree 'made up' later by calling each other small brother-big brother, I think they should just keep this small brother big brother emotional Hindi filmi nonsense in their bedrooms. Sledging and assault is just that. It should be stopped and punished. Ditto for those who abate it, either by provocation or sweeping under the carpet.