Key Points:

Douglas Jardine, the English captain so reviled for his infamous Bodyline tactics, must have wished he never had the temerity to complain about being called a bastard during that explosive summer of cricket in 1932.

Jardine's whinge was fielded at the Australian dressing room door by Bill Woodfull's vice-captain Vic Richardson, the combative yet droll grandfather of future captains Ian and Greg Chappell.

Richardson simply turned to his teammates and said: "OK, which of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?"

The tale, long part of cricket folklore, resonates anew during the current row which has threatened to bring India's tour to a premature halt.

Once again a foe of the Australian 11 has complained about being called a bastard, though in a vastly different context.

Aussies might argue that truth is a defence - Jardine was a bastard.

Anil Kumble, by contrast, is an acknowledged gentleman and scholar of the game.

When he remarked pointedly after his team's dramatic second test defeat in Sydney that only one team was playing in the spirit of the game, he knew his comment would be seen in the context of a similar historic statement by Bill Woodfull.

"There are two teams out there; one is trying to play cricket and the other is not," Woodfull said famously 75 years ago.

This week's "bastard" allegation illustrates the sort of cultural misunderstandings that often lie at the heart of a fracas like the one between Australia and India.

The term "bastard" is deeply offensive in India, and throughout Asia, a fact that may not be fully appreciated by people who use it lightly in many different contexts.

Australians, for example, can be good old bastards as well as bad bastards, as Vic Richardson's witty riposte made clear.

As a white, upper-class Englishman, it's unlikely Jardine felt racially slurred.

It's more likely he felt slighted by an ungentlemanly insult from colonial upstarts, notwithstanding his own far more ungentlemanly action in separating the spirit of cricket farther from the game's literal rules than anyone had imagined possible.

Now it's the Australians who stand accused of playing outside the spirit of the game, not just by the Indians but by many Australian fans and heavyweights from other Australian sports.

And this is where it's important to separate some of the issues.

This is called a race row, and so it is, to some extent.

But it has been deepened and confused by two other simultaneously running sores - diabolically bad umpiring and, to say the least, typically aggressive behaviour by the Australians.

It might be abusive to call someone a bastard, but surely it is not racially abusive.

Australian spinner Brad Hogg, for instance, is not alleged to have called Kumble a black bastard.

Unlike his predecessor Darren Lehmann, who became the first cricketer suspended for racist comments in Brisbane four years ago over an outburst in which he called his Sri Lankan opponents "black c...s".

The Lehmann episode led to a concerted effort to stamp out racism in the world of the baggy green cap.

By all accounts it has met with a good deal of success, similar to the far-reaching AFL reforms sparked in 1993 by St Kilda's Nicky Winmar, who reacted to overt racism from Collingwood fans by lifting his jersey and pointing proudly to his black skin.

Winmar's simple gesture proved one of the most potent and uplifting in Australian sport.

It's a pity, many cricket fans feel, that a similar campaign has not been waged against the boorish, arrogant attitudes that pervade many of the minds under those baggy green caps.

Even Matthew Hayden copped some flak this week when a commentator questioned why the devout Christian crossed himself only after scoring a century for Australia and not for Queensland.

That's easily explained - no-one watches state cricket, not even God.

Anil Kumble's Indians seem to feel incensed that a nation which created the gold standard for sledging should have complained that spinner Harbhajan Singh called Andrew Symonds, the only black member of the Australian team, a "monkey".

They also feel outraged that ICC match referee Mike Procter of South Africa should take the word of three Australians against two Indians.

The difficulty here, in the absence of any open ICC hearings, would appear to be an evidentiary one.

The Aussies can say they heard the remark, and Singh can say he did not make it, but Sachin Tendulkar surely can assert only that he did not hear it, rather than that it was never made.

Sporting politics has further inflamed this week's events, with India's BCCI, the most powerful board in world cricket, threatening what would appear to be a form of blackmail - to halt the tour unless Singh's three-match ban is overturned.

The ICC's most urgent priority was to take some heat out of the highly charged atmosphere.

If the ICC takes a decent enough time to hear India's appeal, it will clear the way for Singh to play in the final two tests anyway.

The world body also removed Jamaican umpire Steve Bucknor, a move few criticised.

It was relatively easy for the ICC to say the Bucknor stops here, but the impression remained that he was being axed more to pacify India than because of his multitude of mistakes.

Australia, meanwhile, may still have some work to do to overturn the impression that racism remains too prevalent in its sport.

But much has happened in the 12 years since goalkeeper Mark Bosnich was fined A3;1000 ($2573) pounds and censured by the FA for upsetting Jewish fans at Tottenham with a Nazi salute.

Much has changed in the seven years since Lleyton Hewitt embarrassed his country, if not himself, by raising questions about a black linesman in a match against James Blake at the US tennis Open.

When rugby league star Bryan Fletcher made a racial slur against Parramatta's Dean Widders in 2005, South Sydney not only stripped him of the captaincy but suspended him, fined him $10,000 and ordered him to help Widders work with Aboriginal children.

Australian cricket has been accused of many unsavoury things this week, but racism is not one of them.

- AAP