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February 10, 2000


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Notes from a cricket-lover's diary

Prem Panicker

WE got this one in mail from Sujata Prakash, regular reader and longtime Rediff friend:

You know something? I think I'm getting confused as to who our cricket captain is. I'm starting to think it's Wasim Akram. His opinions and comments are readily available on Indian sites, whereas Sachin seems to have none. Moreover, Wasim's views are enjoyable and ring true. He also knows quite a bit about what's happening in our team and country and writes with an easy familiarity which is what is leading me to confuse his nationality. I like him. Pity we can't borrow him for a while and give them Dighe in return."

Beneath the flip tone, this email makes a valid point.

For a while now, we have been talking of the shifting power centre in world cricket. We have been saying that increasingly, the Asian subcontinent rules - if not on the cricket field, then certainly in the corridors of power. Simply because this is where the sponsors are, where the money is - and in cricket as in life, money calls the tune.

Isn't it strange, then, that Indian cricket has nothing to say for itself?

The captain has nothing to say. About himself. About his team. About his goals for the future. About his vision for Indian cricket. Is it because the BCCI does not permit players to talk? I'm not so sure - his predecessor, Mohammad Azharuddin, wrote a regular column in a leading sports magazine.

Does it then mean that Tendulkar himself has nothing to say?

If that is the case, it does not augur well for his reign. Worse, it presents an unfavourable picture of Indian cricket, in the eyes of the world.

The Indian coach has plenty to say. About how he is being a big brother to his boys. About how he is teaching them to laugh, to develop a sense of humour. About how shocked he was to find that Azharuddin was unpopular in the dressing room.

But the coach doesn't have anything to say that is apropos. Why did the Indian team perform so disastrously on its Australian tour? 'I am not in the mood right now to discuss these things'. Why did our bowlers - who had supposedly been advised by the coach about the right line to bowl, and the right length - pitch so short, and so wide, so consistently? He ain't telling. Why were the batsmen such abject failures? If he knows, he is the only one who knows.

The president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India has nothing to say. Requests for interviews remain unresponded to. There are no press statements, no policy briefings, no stated goals, no vision for the future. There is just silence.

The secretary of the BCCI has a lot to say. But there is no point - what is said today is denied tomorrow.

The chairman of the ICC has a lot to say. About the bowling action of Shoaib Akthar. But nothing about Indian cricket, which he de facto controls. 'I am not supposed to interfere in Indian cricket, as ICC chairman I am expected to remain impartial'. Yeah, right - now tell us the other one.

Indian cricket is shrouded in silence. Indian cricket is speechless - and that tells us that Indian cricket administration is clueless, visionless, directionless, headless.

How much longer can the game afford a captain, a coach, an administration that collectively emulates the ostrich, buries its head in the sand, and hopes the problems will go away?

Is it just me - or do you see Indian cricket going the way of Indian hockey, for much the same reasons?

THE other day, I read this news report. Where Inzamam ul Haq had apologised to the fans in Pakistan for his personal failure in Australia (97 runs in 9 innings), and for the failure of the team.

"I will fight for my place and will do justice to my talent,'' Inzamam vowed.

If anything, the Indian team lost more heavily than Pakistan did. If anything, most Indian batsmen had less on the board than Inzamam did.

So did any of you guys come across any statements by the Indian players, accepting their responsibility? A word of apology to those fans who stayed up all hours of the day and night to follow their fortunes? A word, any word, that told us that the team, individually and collectively, was aware of the enormous let-down it had inflicted on its millions of aficionados?

What does a player, a team, play for?

Money? Sponsorships? Endorsement contracts?

In a recent interview on a television channel, Reliance bossman Anil Ambani said: "Money is a necessity to the poor, because it gives them the wherewithal to eat three square meals a day, to put a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs. But once you have money for the basic necessities, that is it. Beyond that point, money is merely a by-product. It is not, cannot be, a goal, an ambition in itself."

So what does a player, a team, play for?

It plays for pride. For glory. And above all, for the entertainment of its fans, of the spectators who put warm bodies in the seats, and whose presence brings in the sponsors.

Check out what's happening elsewhere. In England, long time sponsors Prudential have ended their association with the England team. And the ECB is struggling for funds. And as a result, plans for development, for betterment, such as the mooted move to place English cricketers on contract with the board, await implementation for lack of funds.

In the West Indies, supporters are deserting their non-performing team. Young kids are taking to other sporting pastures. The funds are drying up - have dried up. And there is no leaf left in the cheque book, to fund development programmes, to put a dying game back on its feet again.

The situation prompts a Brian Lara to make a fervent bid for the government(s) to pitch in, with money and backing, to help revive cricket in the West Indies. "You see the Australians," he said, "they have won nearly everything in 1999, and it has to do with the support they are getting from their government, their sporting bodies…"

No Indian captain has needed to make such a plea. To beg for government support. For why? Because the fans continue to support the team, the game. They continue to fill the stadia, enduring hours of misery perched on concrete blocks, in stadia devoid of even the most basic of amenities. it. And that in turn brings in the money, which pays the cricketers their high wages. The presence of the fans attract the sponsors, and give the cricketers their sponsorships, their endorsement contracts.

But that little fact appears to have been forgotten by those who represent the country today. Some months back, there was this pyjama tournament happening. And India won. Sachin Tendulkar, with two successive centuries, was named man of the final and man of the series. And in the presentation ceremony, he talked of how good it felt to be able to help India win. And then thanked WorldTel for its support.

Huh? How about the fans, Sachin?

It would have been nice to have heard, from the captain, the coach, the players, anyone at all, one word. Of apology. A word, to the effect that the team is aware of how badly it has let its supporters down. A word, to the effect that there is, within that band of 15, 16 individuals chosen to represent a nation's cricketing aspirations, an awareness of its responsibility, a determination to reverse the trend, to do better.

'I am sorry'. Perhaps no three words in the language means as much, when you are hurting. As Indian cricket fans are hurting, today.

It is a shame that not one member of the squad that went to Australia had the grace, the heart, to say those three little words.

SOME years back, an off-spinner made it to the Indian team. And did well in his first few outings. Then his form, and confidence, began to deteriorate. A well-wisher and former national player went up to him and suggested that he talk to EAS Prasanna, spend some time with the master.

'Who is Prasanna?', the off-spinner shot back. 'Why should I waste my time with him?'

Some three years ago, this Indian team was engaged in a pre-season coaching camp in Chennai. Sitting in the pavilion was one of the most venerable names of Indian cricket reporting - a man who was ranked among the top practitioners of the craft, during his writing days. A man who more recently won a nationally-instituted award for excellence in his field. A man who, if you are fortunate enough to be able to spend time with him, comes across as a cricket academy in himself.

This man took one of the senior players aside, and gave him some well meaning advise about conditions he was likely to encounter on tour. The advice came backed by the experience of having toured that country several times, with various Indian teams.

Barely a minute passed, before the player shot back: 'Excuse me, how many Tests have you played?'

By way of aside, that off-spinner played for a few more months. But his form slump proved irreversible. And he lost his place in the side, never to regain it. And the cricketer in the more recent example today finds himself out in the cold.

Indian cricketers (some would extend this, and say, most Indians) have no sense of history. Of heritage.

Contrast this with arguably the world's best cricketing nation today. Check out how the Australian establishment, and its captain, goes out of the way to inculcate that sense of history, of heritage, in the players.

When a new player is capped, the entire team gathers on the ground before start of play, and the captain formally awards the cap to the player. Further, the captain insists that at the start of each morning session, the entire team takes the field wearing the baggy green. The idea being to reaffirm in each player an awareness that the cap he is wearing is more, much more, than just a piece of headgear.

Indian caps are bargained for in the backrooms of selection committees. They are not earned. They are not presented with pomp, nor worn with pride.

In Australia, the board goes out of its way to harness the services of its past greats. Thus, an Ian Chappell is asked to visit the cricket academy at regular intervals, to lecture on captaincy. A Dennis Lillee is contracted to spend x number of months in a year touring the country looking for raw bowling talent, and a further number of months honing that talent at the academy. And so on.

In India recently, when a coaching camp was on in Chennai, a certain Sunil Gavaskar wrote to the board, volunteering his services. Offering to go down to Chennai, at his own expense if need be, and spend time with the players, helping to hone their skills.

No one in the board - not the president, not the secretary, not even a lowly functionary - even bothered to respond to the offer.

We know what Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Richie Benaud, Terry Jenner, Rodney Marsh, Wayne Phillips, Ian Healy, Allan Border, Bobby Simpson et al are doing, now that they are no longer playing at the highest level. We see the impact of their activities in the hyper-achieving team of today.

Ever wondered what Sunil Gavaskar, Errapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravishankar Shastri, Bishen Singh Bedi, Syed Kirmani, Gundappa Vishwanath, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Eknath Solkar, Dilip Sardesai, S Venkatraghavan, VV Kumar, Dilip Doshi et cetera et cetera are doing?

Ever wondered if the board knows who they are? If the board is aware of what they could, properly harnessed, contribute to this Indian side?

The other day, in Sydney, a luncheon was organised by the New South Wales cricket establishment. On the dais, Arthur Morris, Bob Simpson, Neil Harvey, Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson, Brian Taber, Glenn McGrath, Norman O'Neill.

Missing, but present in spirit, Sir Donald Bradman. And Keith Miller.

It was a function got up to recognise, to honour, the greatest talents NSW has produced.

Sir Don Bradman sent a message. "Although circumstances made it necessary for me to end my playing days in South Australia, I was always grateful for the education I received in Sydney and I permanently hold a soft spot in my heart for my home State. Today's players must never forget that they are torchbearers to light the path for future generations for a great game which means so much to the nation."

Today's Australian players seem in no danger of forgetting that. Because the establishment constantly goes out of its way to remind them of those who have gone before. Of the heritage they inherit. Of the history that it is their job to carry on, to keep unblemished, to pass on to generation next.

Is there a lesson in there for us? Yes.

Is it a lesson we are likely to learn? No.

"Cricket is already played in over 100 countries around the world. From Test-playing giants to tiny specks of islands in the Pacific, millions enjoy the game. We will be promoting awareness of the game throughout the world."

Who said that? Why, our very own Jagmohan Dalmiya.

What's he talking about?

'Cricket week' -- his brainchild. Funnily enough (by way of aside), everyone in the ICC is quick to point out that 'cricket week' is Dalmiya's brainchild. David Richards says so, pretty much every ICC functionary says so. Now why do I get the feeling that this is not about giving credit where due, but more a case of fixing responsibility?

Anyways. We are told that in order to popularise the game -- presumably among those 100 countries, including that flyspeck island in the Pacific -- a day-night match will be played between an Asian XI and the Rest of the World.


But errrr... where is it going to be held?

In Bangladesh.

We've already had two mini-World Cups there, with the nine Test playing nations participating in an ODI series. Now this. All in the name of promoting cricket globally.

Since when did Bangaldesh equal the world? How come, under the guise of promoting cricket globally, Dalmiya has managed to schedule one high profile event or the other, during every year of his stewardship, in Bangladesh?

What gives?

Prem Panicker

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