Malcolm Conn, the journalist who on Tuesday slammed the move to bestow the Order of Australia on Sachin Tendulkar, commands huge respect Down Under. But I don’t agree with his latest stand.
Conn reckons Tendulkar doesn’t deserve the honour because he provided different versions on the Monkeygate scandal, which broke out after Harbhajan Singh allegedly racially abused Andrew Symonds in the Sydney Test of the 2007-08 series.
While the Australian media continue to call the feisty Harbhajan Singh a serial offender and accuse him of dishing out racial abuse to Symonds, the Monkeygate scandal took place through a misunderstanding. As Brett Lee exchanged some friendly words with Harbhajan on Day Four of that Sydney Test, Symonds thought the offie was giving Lee some ugly lip service. It was not so and what followed was Harbhajan’s real lip service.
“While no one was surprised by Harbhajan’s appalling behaviour, Tendulkar lost enormous respect on and off the field for changing his story from the original hearing to the appeal,” Conn wrote in the Daily Telegraph. Even if this was the case, is it good reason to prevent the people in deciding positions not to honour Tendulkar? Likewise, should Tendulkar’s decision to stay away from the media on the last tour of Australia (2011-12) be a cause to deny him an honour?
The Aussie media’s angst at Tendulkar not speaking to them on his last Test tour is understandable. But there is an unwritten policy that only performers of the day land up at press conferences where India is concerned. And unfortunately (fortunately for the Australian team), Tendulkar didn’t experience those days. Now, whether the media manager ought to have urged Tendulkar to speak to the press before the high-profile Test series, the answer is yes. Poor public relations continue to dog Indian cricket and good media managers seem as hard to find as fast bowlers in this country.
Back to the Order of Australia honour. Though he didn’t hit the high notes on his last tour Down Under, Tendulkar has provided the cricket-loving Australian public unadulterated joy on his four previous trips, and for that he deserves every honour Australia decides to bestow on him.
No teenaged overseas Test cricketer captured the imagination of fans there before and since 1991-92 when Tendulkar made his first international tour to Australia which he decorated with two sizzling Test centuries. His hundred in the Sydney Test impressed doyen of commentators Richie Benaud (“it was just something else,” said Benaud) more than the one in Perth where the Australian fielders were heard saying ‘Jeesuss’ in appreciation and awe of the young man’s guts while batting on a pitch full of cracks.
Tendulkar’s Australian critics seem to forget the great Bradman connection. The country has produced some splendid strokeplayers, but no one caused Bradman to speak about them in such glowing terms. When Bradman died on the morning of 25th February 2001, the most sought-after reaction for Australia’s Channel Nine was Tendulkar’s and he was quick to oblige them at the Taj lobby.
All the same, I admire Malcolm Conn as a journalist. He thoroughly deserved the Walkley Award in Australia for his story on Mark Waugh and Shane Warne being fined by the Australian Cricket Board in 1995 for passing on information to a bookie. And I am sure he admires Tendulkar too. For a book that I edited recently, Conn penned these lines: “The most remarkable aspect of Sachin Tendulkar’s remarkable career is the gentle human qualities he portrays for such a brutal batsman. Tendulkar was and is a welcome, complex contrast to the brash sports star. A soulful character who thinks deeply and speaks quietly. It is not just his unmatched achievements, which have made Tendulkar so admired, but the humble way he strode across the cricket world. He is an example for the ages.”
Wonder how Conn’s views will be accepted by his readers, but all said and done, Tendulkar has inspired a generation of players all over the globe. And that includes that lovely land of Australia.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor