The BCCI’s quick decision to put “slapgate” to rest by issuing Harbhajan Singh a five ODI ban was as lame as it gets. It has been clearly established for the record that Harbhajan Singh slapped Sreesanth. Moreover, Harbhajan was captaining the Mumbai Indians when this happened! Without a doubt it was an awful on the field act for a sportsman. This is all the more a serious issue because cricket mania in India is at its peak. The game is flush with cash. On the field antics by players (particularly from India) is at an all time high. Yelling, screaming, making faces, using curse words and abusing the opposition seems to be the order of the day. The general perception these days is that if you don’t do any of these on the field you simply aren’t aggressive enough for the sport anymore. Unfortunately, these players are de facto role models that young aspiring sportsmen strive to emulate. Considering these aspects, the punishment meted out to Harbhajan comes across as a complete a joke. It was a perfect opportunity for the BCCI to send the message to all and sundry that such acts will not be taken lightly. A minimum of a one-year ban was in calling to say the least.
There also appears to be evidence to show that Sreesanth instigated the slap by abusing and taunting Harbhajan’s team mates despite a warning from him. It is shameful that Sreesanth got away with a mere warning letter! Both these players are notorious for their on the field behavior and the least the BCCI could do (armed with ample evidence) was to rein them in with a strong punishment. This would have sent a message not only to sports fans and cricketers in India but also to other cricketing bodies around the world that the BCCI is tough and firm when it comes to discipline. Instead the BCCI has chosen to use some meaningless “legalese” to quickly get past this shameful act.
Sudhir Nanavati, the BCCI’s probe commissioner on the incident, explained that though Harbhajan was guilty of a Level 4 offence under ICC rules, the punishment for physical assault prescribed in the Indian board’s rule book fell under a particular clause – 3.2.1, in this case. “It’s still a Level 4 offence, but the prescribed punishment is under this particular clause,” Nanavati told Cricinfo.
The whole point of a punishment is to deter future acts of a similar nature. It remains to be seen what effect this has on Bhajji and Sreesanth’s behavior in the future. It is highly unlikely however that this punishment will do anything at all to deter other hot heads of Indian cricket from staying within the bounds of acceptable on the field behavior.