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Ishant Sharma’s outburst against Zaheer Khan was disgraceful

Ishant Sharma hurled expletives while going back to his mark and was quite audible on the stump microphone © Getty Images
Ishant Sharma hurled expletives while going back to his mark and was quite audible on the stump microphone © Getty Images

Brendon McCullum turned Ishant Sharma to the deep square leg and ran three as a sluggish Zaheer Khan retrieved the ball and sent in his return. This resulted in a violent outpour of obscenities from Ishant which was captured to perfection by the stump microphone. Arunabha Sengupta discusses the mindlessness of the vulgar abuse and why such acts cannot be tolerated.

One can perhaps blame it on the long toil.

After all, the sixth wicket partnership was already beginning to take on monstrous proportions. Brendon McCullum had already gone past his century, and was looking good for many more. Probably frustration was creeping in. After all, McCullum should have been back in the pavilion long ago if he had not been put down twice before reaching 40.If the chances had been held, the game would have been over by then.

Instead, the New Zealand captain had batted on. Ishant Sharma had already bowled 25 overs without adding to his first innings haul of six wickets. It looked increasingly likely that the hosts would pull off a miracle.

But were the circumstances extenuating enough for Ishant to launch into that torrent of uncouth expletives? To resort to language that surely sent hands scurrying for the mute button in drawing rooms of respectable families?

Let us look at what took place with clinical detachment.

It was just the fifth over of the morning, by no means the end of an infuriating day. Granted, the Indians had struggled to claim the sixth wicket on the previous afternoon, but the new day needs to be considered as such — with new opportunities to be created, the mind and body refreshed, reenergised.

Ishant had indeed put India in the driver’s seat on the first day with his six wickets. But by no means was his job over. Neither had he sufficient reason to feel frustrated. It was not as if he had created chances and the others had let him down. McCullum had been dropped off his bowling, but he himself had been the culprit — fumbling a rather straightforward return catch. The Kiwi skipper had been on 36 then. At the present moment he was on 125.

And it was not as if the ball that he sent down did not merit runs taken off it. Ishant had fired a full delivery on the legs which any batsman with a century under his belt would gladly put away for runs. Zaheer Khan had been bowling from the other end. At 35, he is not really the fastest in the field. His chase, pickup and throw from deep square-leg were understandably tardy. But, Ishant should have been the last person to complain. Ten years younger, he is no livewire himself.

The verbal barrage that followed from the bowler was simply disgraceful.Ostensibly delivered out of Zaheer’s earshot, but it really did not help matters. Ishant muttered the expletives to himself, audibly enough to be picked up by the stump microphone. Hence it reached the entire world — and is now preserved for posterity, to be viewed and heard over and over on Youtube.

Ishant is no spring chicken. He still refuses to shoulder the responsibility of leading the bowling attack leaving Zaheer to act as the spearhead although well past his prime. But, the younger man has been playing for the country for almost seven years. This is his 141st match for India across formats. He has just managed to go past 150 Test wickets — with extremely rare back to back five wicket hauls his number of scalps stands at 164. Till that moment in question, he had sent down more than 1819 overs in Test cricket.

That’s a huge number of deliveries. It not only demonstrates that for a pace bowler his strike rate is dreadful — currently at 67 — it also tells us that he has run up to the wicket and hurled balls down often enough to be aware of the settings, the environment and the technology that accompanies the modern game. He may not have hit the stumps as expected from a pace bowler of a premier cricketing nation, but by now should be fully aware of the workings of the wires that are built into the stumps.

In this context, to give voice to his chagrin was the stupidest thing to do. One can perhaps give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not really want to record his feelings for good. It is somewhat more difficult to be as lenient and believe that his flood of slang words was not actually directed at Zaheer — although he will perhaps claim that he was being critical of himself.

That he was not aware that his voice would get captured, even after passing the stumps more than 10,000 times in Test matches, paints a very poor picture of his thinking abilities. Actually it lends credence to the popular impression that Ishant runs in to bowl while his brains are left inside the dressing room for safekeeping.

Cricket stars are idolised in the country — by the hundreds of young people who faithfully rise in the wee hours of the morning to follow their exploits in lands across diverse time-zones. They represent the country amidst glamour, importance and fanfare. Whether they like it or not, they are considered to be the ambassadors of the nation. One such person caught on world-wide television resorting to vulgar monologue of the basest kind is not really the best advertisement of the game, the team or the nation. The cricketers do have a responsibility towards the millions who hang on to each and every act of theirs with passion and excitement.

And given that cricket on television continues to be considered family entertainment, the act can be honestly classified as abominable. The television channels have not yet started using PG rating for cricket telecasts even after the advent of Indian Premier League (IPL) and its associated cheerleaders. And it will be preferable to keep it that way.

We have seen earlier instances of Gautam Gambhir getting into slanging matches with the opposition. We have watched Virat Kohli giving the finger to the Australian crowd and celebrating milestones with profanities galore. There have also been instances of Rohit Sharma and Praveen Kumar indulging in altercations with fans during net practice. None of these images are edifying, especially when aired in public and shared ad infinitum across social media.

However, the act of abusing one’s own team member, a much respected senior pro at that, takes it to a new low. Not only is the behaviour inexcusable, it also creates a very negative impression about the players and the spirit within the team.

Hopefully the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will see enough reason to come down heavily on the Indian paceman. Apart from the ethical demands on a cricketer and the social responsibility of the game’s governing body that make such occurrences unpardonable, there are other reasons. Much of BCCI’s profits stem from television channels airing the matches in the guise of wholesome family entertainment. They would be wise to keep it that way.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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