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August 13, 1999


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A stitch in time...

Prem Panicker

Death -- untimely, senseless death -- always leaves in its wake a feeling of helplessness. And Ramnath Parkar's death is no exception to this rule.

But sometimes, death also leaves in its wake a host of questions. And again, Parkar's passing leaves in its wake more than a fair share of those as well.

The primary question is, does the board care enough for the players?

Ask a Dungarpur, a Lele, and the immediate answer will be, yes, but of course, didn't we have a charity match for Parkar, didn't we give his children a cheque for Rs two million?

Yes, they did. This story -- With a view to a Cup casts some light on what was done, and how.

But the essential point is, Parkar was injured -- paralysed, mind -- a little over three years ago. If help -- medical, financial -- was coming his way, it should have been then. Not as an afterthought, an adjunct to a sponsored tamasha.

It's a bit like justice -- help delayed is help denied.

When you ask them about the need to render help in time, the inevitable response is, "The players have a busy schedule, it is hard to find the time to fit in benefit matches."

Fair enough. Yet, the solution is obvious. All that the board really has to do is to set apart a certain percentage of the profits from every single international match being played in India, towards a fund which will be employed to bring relief to those in need, when they need it.

Why is this not being done? Because forward-thinking, policy-making and such are not part of the board's mindset. The Indian cricket establishment is essentially reactive, not proactive. And that's a hell of a way to be, for what is probably the richest sports body in existence.

THE other day, at the Sony Entertainment Television bash to announce its entry into the highly competitive world of cricket broadcasting, I got to chat with Anil Kalaver -- who, for the uninitiated, is secretary of the Singapore Cricket Association.

And he had a most interesting tale to tell, of how the game is struggling to find, to re-establish, a footing in his country.

The way Kalaver tells it, cricket's existence in Singapore was threatened when, in the late 1970s, it was taken off the school curriculum. What this means is that the game does not get the coveted ECA (extra curricular activity) status.

This tag, of being an officially recognised ECA, is apparently vital to the welfare of any sport in that country. ECA status means you get points for playing the game, and those points in turn impact on your school results.

"Once we lost ECA status, the kids stopped playing the game, and when kids stop playing a game, that game is dead," Kalaver explained.

Three years ago, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka played the Singer Cup in that country -- and that signalled a fresh lease of life for the game. "After that, we got back the ECA status, because the authorities figured there was an interest, a following, for the game. And since then, things have been improving dramatically," the SCA frontman explained.

The big push, for the Singapore cricket authorities, was towards getting the largest ethnic component of the population -- namely, the Chinese -- hooked on the game. "And that has been happening -- now, we have 7,000 Chinese children playing cricket, three years ago there were none," says Kalaver.

The improved situation has fuelled a quiet optimism, and some realisic goal setting. "We want to have an annual cricket event where the big ICC nations come," Kalaver explains. "This year, it is India, West Indies, Zimbabwe. Hopefully, every year, we will get some big teams -- and our best-case scenario is for India to come here every year, your team has a huge fan following in these parts.

"As for our own team, our goals are realistic -- by the year 2010, we hope to be good enough to figure in the top four ICC associate nations, and have a realistic shot at the ICC Trophy."

All of which comes as news, for the sceptical among us who look on India's tours to the far-flung outposts of the cricket empire as nothing more or less than paid, sponsored shopping expeditions.

But surely we could do more? For starters, the board could -- should -- seriously consider putting together an 'A' team on a permanent basis, and have this team, under a good coach, tour such fringe nations.

The benefits are obvious. Such tours whip up interest in the host nation, and this in turn gets more people into the game. Meanwhile, it gives us a bunch of cricketers, all just one rung below the top, who are maintained in match-fit condition, and who, through the process of touring and playing in different conditions, prepare themselves for duty at the highest level. In other words, it builds up a battle-ready bench.

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