Monday, August 28, 2006

Waqar and the curious incident of the scuffed up ball

Waqar Younis is one of my favourite cricketers, a practitioner of a rare skill, and yet unbridled in his aggression with the ball in his hands. Unlike the archetypal demon fast bowler, Waqar didn't get bagfuls with wicked bouncers. It was all about swing, and then some reverse swing to top it off. Indeed, the reverse swing was a key weapon that helped unlock more than a handful of internationals. But I have an easy feeling about the whole thing. Why is that Waqar has been involved once too often in ball tampering incidents? He was actually officially penalised - at least once - for such means in the later stages of his career. He is the Pakistan bowling coach now. Does someone have more insights into this? The ICC, unfortunately, is pretty adept at sweeping scandals under the carpet. I propose a novel solution to discourage ball tampering. Players found to have scuffed up the ball will have their testicles similarly damaged. I keed, I keed. But even if I could come up with a radical solution, it wouldn't matter because it seems the game has already accepted this practice as something only insiders know. - NK

What's sport without a little cheating?

Ball tampering is the ugliest skeleton in cricket's closet. It's hardly a scandal to the well trained cynical eye. Yet the game plods on, its honchos paying lip service to the supposed lofty ideals that the game stands for. Ball tampering has happened in the past, several culprits having dissected some of the finer techniques involved in the fine art of reverse swing. To be honest, the thing I hate most about 'reverse swing' is the phrase itself. Because to me, it is no more than a shameless euphemism unless someone can provide conclusive evidence that it can actually be achieved without resorting to underhand means. Anyhow, in the ongoing jamboree between the Pakistan team, ICC and Darrell Hair, the issues at stake are whether Mr.Hair was within his rights to penalise Pakistan for having altered the condition of the ball, and whether the Pakistan team brought the "game into disrepute" (I hate that phrase even more than reverse swing!). Or so we're told. What about ball tampering? Or, to put it more plainly, cheating. I am convinced that ball tampering is one of those instituionalised practices in the game that everyone dismisses with a wink and a nudge. I wouldn't get myself into knots about sledging, but this just disgusts me. It is quite characteristic of the ICC the way it has handled this crisis so far. Regardless of the circusmstances (except when there is physical danger to the players or if they are subjected racial/ethnic slurs), when a team refuses to take the field, they have to be held to account first. Accusations of colonial and/or racist attitudes are conveniently pulled out from the hat much too often these days, as in this case, without any basis. Indeed the Pakistan team, egged on by media and the establishment, went so far as to link the outcome of the incident and the health of relations between the West and Islam. Such lunacy and expediency should be seen for what they are and the bluff called. Instead, the ICC has pussyfooted as always. The throwing debate and the subsequent dilution of the laws was a first step on the slippery slope, it seems. There will be worse to come in the days ahead, something tells me. - NK

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I haven't been tuned in at all into cricket in the last six months or so (or at least after India's debacle at Mumbai against England), but I do browse Cricinfo now and then, and amidst all the Monty Panesar stories, there are a few here and there that make me want to click. This interview of Sandip Patil, for example. The interview is a routine one, but it is so easy to forget people like Sandip Patil. One of my great regrets is not having watched him at his peak, when he famously took on the likes of Len Pascoe and Bob Willis. Like most Indians who grew up in the eighties, I have watched clips of the 1983 World Cup semis and finals over and over again, and Patil remains a dashing, enigmatic hero, a Jim Morrison kind of figure. Watching that disdainful hoick off Bob Willis that sails over deep square leg gives me the goosebumps everytime. But it is Patil's role as a mentor and coach in the wilderness of Madhya Pradesh is what impressed me most about the man. That MP reached the Ranji Trophy finals (was it in '93?) was in large part due to Patil's inspirational presence. That they did with some help from the dreaded quotient rule (if I remember right) and Prashant Dwivedi's ultra-dour batting is another matter. There are examples of other cricketers having lifted their team's fortunes with their skills, as with Lalchand Rajput with Assam, Arun Lal, Ashok Malhotra and Srikant Kalyani with Bengal, VB Chandrasekhar with Goa (the ones I remember), but Patil towers above the rest quite easily. Add to that his work as a coach of various India youth sides, and it is hard to think of another India cricketer in the same league. His short stint as coach of the national side was not quite eventful, and with the board now open to overseas coaches, he may never take on that role again. But he proved his mettle with a plucky Kenyan side in the last World Cup, something for which he did not get enough credit, in my opinion. So Sandy is 50. Steve Waugh has retired. Boris Becker is in the commentary box or on the Laureus foundation panel. In a couple of weeks or so, Andre Agassi will be just another suburban Dad. I feel old. Actually, I feel fucking ancient. - NK

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Haigh at it again

I missed out on reading a couple of his "Odd Men In" columns on Cricinfo, so this gem about Ajit Wadekar makes up for that.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dalmiya the survivor

The politicisation of Indian cricket is hardly news these days, but one can safely say it has reached new a high (or low) with the usually pragmatic Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee jumping into the cesspool. We have already had worthy gentlemen like Sharad Pawar, Manohar Joshi, Kirti Azad (admittedly an ex-cricketer) and of course, Laloo Yadav himself doing the rounds of the corridors of power in the one game that matters to India. Dalmiya, some would say, is one of the biggest and baddest of them all. Where is the game heading? It was alright for the odd politician like Madhava Rao Scindia to be involved with the game, even if it set somewhat of a precedent. At least he seemed to have his heart in the right place as far as the game was concerned. The same couldn't be said of some of the others who have increasingly been threatening to make their presence felt one way or the other. It's not just about hobnobbing with celebrities and the gadflies that they attract any more - it is of course common knowledge that there is a lot of money involved now. The money-power equation then makes it inevitable, given the dynamics of our politics, that sooner or later most of the institutions would be run by those who seek power and pelf. To bemoan this state of affairs is natural, but it would be naive to think it was all hunky dory before. At the state and lower levels, the game has always been 'looked after' by despicable characters whose sole credentials were political or other powerful connections. Monumental neglect of the domestic game by everyone concerned, the public included, served well to hide the skeletons in seeming wastelands like the Orissa Cricket Association (whose current honcho I believe is Ranjib Biswal, a fine cricketer in his day, but more importantly with strong political connections). Selectorial indiscretions, including allegations of bribery and favouritism, may be sensational material for increasingly avaricious media outlets, but these are passe at the grassroots levels. As for financial management, one can only imagine the goings on. With mediocre performances from the national side, one wonders if there is anything to be optimistic about. Sure, there are some fine individual performers around, and the skipper himself is a giant of the game. But in a time of ever more inane controversies and power struggles, the game itself has been somewhat marginalised. But as long as there is enough material for Navjot Sidhu to rant about on the Cricket Controversies show, who cares? The crazy sardar is entertaining, after all. And it's all about entertainment, innit? - NK PS: One final word on the Dalmiya episode - I agree with Jyoti Basu when says Bhattacharjee shouldn't have interfered with the CAB elections, but I do feel queasy about anyone who the venerable Mr.Basu (not to mention Subhash Chakraborty) endorses. The whole thing smacks of irony, I say.