India and Mumbai Indians' medium-pacer Munaf Patel had a good outing against Deccan Chargers at Visakhapatnam on Monday night in the ninth match of the ongoing fifth edition of the Indian Premier League.
Munaf bowled an exceptional spell at the start, middle and end of the Chargers' innings to finish with figures of 4 for 20; and he also took a good catch at long-on to give Lasith Malinga his third wicket of the match. But, Munaf spoilt what should have been a memorable night in one moment of petulant outburst when he launched a sustained verbal assault on the umpires after a decision went against him.
In the third ball of his third over and the 13th of the Chargers' innings, Munaf thought he had clean bowled the opposition captain captain Kumar Sangakkara, who had added 36 runs for the fourth wicket with Daniel Christian.
Sangakkara attempted to drive a full delivery, but dragged the ball onto the stumps; however square leg umpire Johan Cloete of South Africa thought the ball had come off wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik's pads. But, then in a startling breach of the spirit of the game, Munaf and his captain Harbhajan Singh got into a prolonged and aggressive argument with Cloete and his colleague AK Chowdhury; and ultimately forced them into asking for a referral, following which Sangakkara had to walk back to the dugout.
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Munaf, Harbhajan and Karthik; who were all visibly furious with the umpires' decision not to refer the decision then held up play for more than five minutes as they engaged in a finger-wagging argument with the on-field officials and ultimately coerced them into asking for the referral. These are scenes that have no place on any sports field and leave a bad taste in the mouth for all concerned, especially young exponents of the game, who are given the impression that arguing with officials and acting out in such an aggressive
manner is an accepted mode of behaviour.
That said, the situation could easily have been avoided had the umpires referred the incident soon after it happened, for that would have been the right thing to do. It's not that umpires are hesitant to ask for referrals even when they know the batsman isn't out; but in a case like this where there was room for doubt, a consultation with the third umpire was called for. But, when they opted not to, the concerned Mumbai Indians players should have taken it on the chin and got on with the game instead of putting on the shameless spectacle that they did for those five minutes.
Munaf and Harbhajan should consider themselves mighty lucky that they have got off extremely lightly as the former has only been fined 25 percent of his match fee and received an official warning and reprimand for breaching the DLF Indian Premier League Code of Conduct; while his skipper also escaped with an official warning and reprimand. This is in stark contrast to the season ban from the league meted out to Harbhajan for slapping Sreesanth in the first season of the IPL; he was also banned for five ODIs by the BCCI disciplinary committee following the incident. Arguing with match officials surely merits much stronger punishment compared to the one handed out to Munaf and Harbhajan following the incident at Visakhapatnam.
At the post-match presentation ceremony, when asked about the incident, Harbhajan said: "I was fielding at the covers… I asked the bowler as well. I could see the bails coming off and the ball hit the stumps. We wanted the on-field umpires to refer the decision to the TV umpire because we were not sure. It would have been nice of the umpires to go up earlier and arrive at the right decision. But in the end, I think we all play a fair game and I am glad that they took the right decision."
The right decision was certainly made belatedly, but the question that not only Harbhajan, but also cricketers around the world need to ask themselves is whether getting in the face of on-field umpires and coercing them is the best way to do so? For their part, umpires also need to be consistent while asking for referrals, but nothing can excuse Munaf and Harbhajan's petulant behaviour in this particular case.