Perhaps, it’s the hangover of the IPL and shared dressing-rooms. Perhaps, it’s do with the coronavirus-ravaged times we live in when. Or perhaps, it’s do with the financial bailout India’s tour of Australia has facilitated.
Whatever the reason, this current face-off between two teams with a history of not just close matches but intense needle has been characterised by rare bonhomie, smiles and giggles, banter and good-natured leg-pulling.
Ironically, the first flashpoint of the tour didn’t entail a flare-up between rival players. On the face of it, Australia seem to have turned against one of their own, match referee David Boon, for allowing Yuzvendra Chahal to take the field as India’s first concussion substitute, following a blow to the head sustained in the last over of India’s innings by Ravindra Jadeja in the first Twenty20 International on Friday.
UPDATE: Ravindra Jadeja was hit on the helmet in the final over of the first innings of the first T20I.
— BCCI (@BCCI) December 4, 2020
There are multiple layers to the Canberra conundrum, which has the potential for temporary angst but carries the threat of puncturing the prevalent bubble of camaraderie.
First, the facts.
Fact one: India’s batting hero for a second game running, Jadeja, was pinged on his helmet via the inside-edge by Mitchell Starc off the second ball of the final over of India’s innings. The impact was fierce enough for the ball to ricochet over point, but insufficient to stop Jadeja hammering two of the last three deliveries for resounding fours.
Fact two: Long before being hit, Jadeja received extensive treatment for a hamstring strain/tear (subject to scans), jeopardising his prospects of taking the field and potentially taking one of Virat Kohli’s bowling options away.
Fact three: Contrary to concussion protocols, no member of India’s medical team – the doctor travelling with the side, or the physio – rushed to check on Jadeja’s condition in the immediacy of the impact injury. Nor was a replacement helmet sent out, as is the convention in such instances following the tragic demise of Phil Hughes after being struck under his ear in late 2014.
Fact four: The first official enquiry by the medical team on Jadeja’s state only came in the dressing-room at the end of the innings, when the all-rounder is reported to have complained of dizziness.
Fact five: The Indian team management approached Boon, seeking Chahal as a like-for-like replacement as allowed by the playing conditions of the International Cricket Council. In normal course, Boon would not be the referee for a match involving the country of his birth, but with travel restrictions in place the world over, the ICC has waived mandatory third-country officials until further notice.
Now, this is where things get a little tricky. Television pictures clearly showed an angry Justin Langer, the Australian coach, remonstrating with Boon during the break between innings. Langer made no bones of his displeasure though over what, one wasn’t sure. Was he suggesting that India had conveniently worked around the playing conditions to ‘sneak’ Chahal in as a concussion sub, thereby tiding over the loss of Jadeja’s four overs on a surface that was offering assistance to the spinners? Apparently not.
Cricket Australia is the reason why at the international level, concussion substitutes were introduced in the first place. Having lobbied the ICC for this eventuality, CA endorsed the concept in domestic cricket for two years, finally prevailing on the governing body to approve its extension to country-versus-country battles. Furthermore, it was through this addition that they unearthed batting gem Marnus Labuschagne, who turned up mid-match to replace Steve Smith (hit on his head by Jofra Archer in the Ashes last year).
As such, we are being led to believe now, Langer and the Australian side didn’t have too many issues with India seeking a concussion substitute for Jadeja based on what happened on the field. Even if they harboured suspicions with regard to the circumstances under which Chahal, inexplicably overlooked in the first place, took the field, they weren’t voicing their apprehensions openly. “They let us know their doctor had ruled Jadeja out with concussion, and you aren’t challenging a medical expert in that regard,” skipper Aaron Finch said at the post-match presentation.
It would seem that the root cause for Langer’s obvious displeasure lay in Boon approving Chahal as Jadeja’s replacement. “Like for like, from my point of view, it would definitely be one’s an all-rounder and a gun fielder, and the other one is an out-and-out bowler who bats (at No.) 11,” Moises Henriques, the all-rounder, said after the game, unequivocally echoing the sentiment of the larger Australian group. “That’s the only thing from my point of view. I’d like to look into if that’s a like-for-like decision.”
Perhaps, a more than slightly cursory glance at the playing conditions might allay Aussie skepticism. The relevant clauses state, “In assessing whether the nominated concussion replacement should be considered a like-for-like player, the ICC Match Referee should consider the likely role the concussed player would have played during the remainder of the match, and the normal role that would be performed by the nominated concussion replacement.”
Henriques is spot-on in espousing the virtues of the two spinners in the rival camp, but the operative part of the aforementioned paragraph pertains to what could have been expected of the concussed player during the ‘remainder of the match’, and the usual role of his replacement. Jadeja and Chahal are like-for-like in that both are spinners, even if one is a left-arm finger spinner and the other a right-arm wrist spinner. Would Jadeja likely have bowled four overs during the chase? Almost certainly. Is that Chahal’s normal role? Without a shadow of doubt. Case closed, really.
Australia’s mood wouldn’t have improved on seeing Chahal become the first concussion sub to win the man-of-the-match award for his three-wicket burst. But when they shed emotion and look at the whole issue clinically, they might change their point of view. And maybe even start wondering about India’s intentions, even though the visitors have since withdrawn the concussed Jadeja from the rest of the T20I series.