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August 27, 1998


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Keep the bathwater, chuck out the baby

Prem Panicker

Logic was an optional subject, when I was in college.

True to my guiding principle that I wouldn't learn anything unless someone was holding heavy calibre weaponry to my head, I gave that one a miss.

Now, I wish I hadn't - maybe if I had studied logic, I wouldn't be quite so perplexed, today, by the doings of some of our cricket administrators.

Take, for instance, the recent imbroglio surrounding the stump mike. For those who came in late, England's skipper Alec Stewart - that true British paragon of good manners and deportment - was, justifiably of course, incensed by the fact that Sri Lanka were batting themselves towards victory in the final of the recent tri-series that also involved South Africa.

For a camel, it is that one last straw; for Stewart it was that one stolen single too many. "Let's get this a***hole out of here, then," said the skipper, while giving Hashan Tillekeratne, the batsman occupying the crease at the time, a playful little shove.

Pure boyish high spirits, of course, not by any stretch of the imagination a violation of the ICC code of conduct. (Speaking of which, did you notice how quick both the match referee, and the British cricket authorities, were off the mark to proclaim that no action, but naturally, would be taken against the England skipper.)

But mark the sequel. The ICC, not to mention English cricket's governing body, are now calling for a review of having stump mikes, and suggesting that they be abolished.

Why? Because such polite asides as indulged in by the likes of Stewart could, when relayed live on TV, spoil the glorious image of the game!

Give me two, here, while I have a hearty laugh to myself. I mean, I've heard of throwing the baby out with the bathwater - here we have a case of throwing the baby out, but retaining the dirty bathwater!

What is it that spoils the image of the game? The likes of Stewart and, equally infamously, Allan Donald who, with Rahul Dravid in Durban and with Michael Atherton in Trent Bridge, spouted unprintable venom when thwarted? Or the stump mike that lets the world know what those two upholders of cricket's glorious image are actually up to, out there?

And leading from that, what is the more logical course, if the ICC is keen to uphold cricket's image? I would have thought that had the ICC, in the person of the match referee, cracked down hard on say Donald when he went "Don't f*** with me, man!" and then followed up with a few more choice unprintables that day in Durban, given him a stiff fine and made him sit out a game or two, then he would not have repeated the offense at Trent Bridge. And again, making an example out of Alec Stewart for his little aside would ensure that the English skipper kept his lip zipped from here on.

Further, had the ICC taken firm action against the Donalds and Stewarts when warranted, it would have served as a warning to other players, as well, that no player is above the governing body's code of conduct.

But no. The peculiar logic that guides the actions of the ICC dictates that while the offender is allowed to go scot free, the instrument that revealed his offence is sought to be abolished. Like I said, chuck out the baby, keep the dirty bathwater.

Okay, so logically, where do we go next? I recall Michael Atherton - then England's skipper - holding his fingers in the classic V sign as he walked off after being given out during England's tour of the Windies earlier in the year - only, I don't think Atherton's sign was a celebration of the victory of the bowler.

That sign - in all its implications - was captured by the TV cameras, and relayed to us all. So shall we, now, ban cameras from cricket matches for showing us these less than reputable gestures?

But then there are the spectators, who see these things and later, talk about them - so shall we ban them, too? And finally, in an empty stadium, let the Stewarts, Athertons and Donalds and others of their ilk bring glory to the game of cricket in their own unique way?

Of a piece with talk of abolishing the stump mike is ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya's recent assertion that the global body now plans to review the role of television commentators. "Some of their comments are unfair," says Dalmiya.

Are they, indeed!! I've been following televised cricket for a long while now, and very closely for the last three years, and I don't remember any occasion when a commentator was "unfair". (Let's remember, here, that Dalmiya is referring in particular to comments made about the organisation, and about umpires in particular).

Critical, yes. Acerbic, certainly. Outspoken, but of course.

But "unfair"? When a ball pitches outside leg, hits the batsman's front pad above the knee roll on the climb, and still the umpire gives the LBW decision - as happened more than once during the recent England-South Africa Tests -- and the commentator at the time says that the official needs his eyes examined, that comment is critical, outspoken, acerbic, but how is it "unfair", Mr Dalmiya?

Is it okay to make mistakes, but not for someone to point them out, is that what the ICC president is saying here?

Okay, so be it - and what precisely does the ICC hope to do about it? Muzzle the commentators? Have a code of conduct for them, as well? Say that you can go "Ball pitched outside off, moving in, batsman plays to cover..." till your eyes bubble, but one breath of criticism of batsman, bowler, official or even your neighbourhood dhobi, who didn't iron your shirt properly, and you will be docked a percentage of your fee, plus suspended from the box for the next game?

Whatever next? With the commentators well and truly on the leash, will Dalmiya then turn his attention to the print medium? Will the ICC issue a diktat that it is okay for us to talk of the superb six that Tendulkar hit, but not to even mention, by way of aside, that his innings was terminated by an umpiring error (remember his dismissal in the last league game at Sharjah against Australia earlier this year, and then again in the final?)

Where does this sanitisation stop, Mr Dalmiya? And while we are about it, what is your favourite bedside reading, the Collected Works of Goebbels?

I can't help but think that if you punish a cricketer for talking out of turn and using language he shouldn't be using, then you wouldn't need to fear the stump mike. And if you ensure that only the best umpires stand, and that they are given every technological aid available to help them in their work, then you would automatically cut down on errors and, in the process, give the commentators much less to be "unfair" about.

But then, who am I, anyway? Just a guy who skipped the logic course, in college....

Tailpiece: Jagmohan Dalmiya would make a wonderful Minister for Information and Broadcasting, don't you think?

Or, conversely, wouldn't Sushma Swaraj be an adornment to the chair of ICC president?

I mean, consider this. You know those party lines, where for the price of a long-distance call, you get some obese housewife, looking to supplement the household income, breathing throatily to you about how she is sixteen and seductive and telling you all the things she would like to do to you?

Ms Swaraj is now hell bent on banning those. Why? Because apparently, when the usage of government phones was audited recently, a great number of calls to such numbers were revealed.

Meaning that some at least of our law makers, and bureaucrats, are in the habit of whiling away an idle hour by picking up the phone and listening to those throaty whispers.

That is blatant misuse of the government-provided instrument - the use of which, it needs adding, is being subsidised by the taxpayer.

The obvious solution would be to penalise such malpractise. For starters, make the offenders shell out for their calls, and simultaneously, hold them up to ridicule by publishing their names in the media.

But then, Ms Swaraj being herself a politician, she can't crack down too hard on birds of her own feather, can she now?

So what she does is cracks down on the party lines - under the guise of 'safeguarding public morals'.

Keep the bathwater, chuck out the baby!!

See what I meant when I said Ms Swaraj would make a good ICC official?

Prem Panicker

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