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August 11, 1998


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Equal strength? Or equally weak?

By Prem Panicker

Pakistan will send its strongest team to the Sahara Cup this year, PCB chief executive Majid Khan announced.

This is in contrast to an earlier BCCI announcement that it would send two 'equal strength' teams, one for the Commonwealth Games and the other to Toronto.

Khan pointed out that the Sahara Cup is an event jointly owned by the BCCI, the Pakistan Cricket Board and the International Management Group, which organises the annual tournament.

"We have never been in any doubt but that the best side to represent Pakistan will be playing against India in the Sahara Cup this year," said Khan. "The Sahara Cup gives both countries a chance to field its best players in a competition that has quickly established itself as one of the most important in our cricketing year," he said.

The agreement amongst the three parties provides an absolute commitment from both nations to send their best available players to the Sahara Cup, an IMG media release points out at the same time.

The Indian board's decision to field two "teams of equal strength" owes largely to the confusion first created, then perpetuated by board secretary J Y Lele in a series of nonsensical statements.

To begin with, the BCCI's tours and fixtures committee committed the national team to both tournaments, the Commonwealth Games and the Sahara Cup, despite the clashing dates.

Lele then said that the BCCI would solve the problem by persuading Pakistan, and the organisers, to postpone the Sahara Cup or reschedule the dates. However, this attempt -- during the annual meeting of the ICC in London this year -- failed, though Lele is still to explain why he failed.

Lele then came back and said the board would solve the problem by sending a second string outfit to Kuala Lumpur for the Commonwealth Games, arguing that it was not a tournament recognised by the ICC.

He was promptly hauled up by the KL authorities, who pointed out that cricket in the C'wealth Games had been given full ICC recognition.

Lele then said that irrespective, India would still send a second string to KL, since other nations were also sending similar sub-par teams. However, the Indian Olympic Association stepped in recently, to announce flat out that there would be no question of permitting a second string Indian outfit to be fielded in the Games.

The IOA has the final right to decide what team plays under the national colours at international sporting events -- a fact not previously considered by the BCCI, which has revelled in its own autonomy all these years.

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, the board finally hit upon the idea of sending "teams of equal strength" -- a flawed move that could see the team lose in both Toronto and Kuala Lumpur.

The argument against the "equal strength" sides is simple: how does one put it in place? Do we say that Tendulkar will play in Toronto and Ganguly in KL, Dravid in Toronto and Azhar in KL, Jadeja in Toronto and Robin in KL... and so on, in the manner of school kids picking teams for street-corner matches?

The "strength" of a national side depends on its best players, and best combination, taking the field -- by definition, "two teams of equal strength", while permitting board officials to pat themselves on their own backs and take pride in their clever phraseology, will neither of them represent the best talent and strength that the country can field.

In Toronto, it is shaping into a full-scale contest against the full strength Pakistan side, and India too needs to be at full strength to retain the trophy it won last year.

In KL, India is grouped with Australia, which is sending a full strength team. Only one team in each group qualifies for the next round, which means that a less than full strength Indian XI will take on the full-strength Aussie XI for progress into the last four.

Put simply, the Indian board, by trying to satisfy various masters, appears to have let the national side in for a smirching of its recent outstanding record, on two fronts.

It is amusing -- if you, like me, prefer to laugh that you may not weep -- that only the Indian board appears to have all these problems. England, the nominal head of the Commonwealth, has categorically said it is not sending a squad to the Games. The West Indies, likewise, preferring instead to permit its various member nations to send their own teams.

Pakistan, for its part, has flat out said that it will only send a second string -- and even that, the PCB clarified, will be conditional to an inspection of the recently laid turf wickets in KL.

India, however, cannot take such a firm stand -- because Malaysia is an associate nation, with a vote in the councils of the ICC. And under Jagmohan Dalmiya's invisible stewardship, the guiding rule of the BCCI is -- never, ever, offend any voter.

Should India send its best team to Toronto? Say what do you think, on the Rediff Discussion Group.

Prem Panicker

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