Cricket Find/Feedback/Site Index
June 7, 2000


send this story to a friend

Luck of the devil

Prem Panicker

I couldn't help feeling a certain wry amusement, when I read the news that England will consider opting out of the series against Pakistan unless that Quayyum-tainted cricketer, Wasim Akram, is dropped from the side.

For me, the ECB's activist stance is merely another instance of how a global problem is increasingly sought to be given a racial, us versus them, colouring.

I can't help being curious -- will England similarly refuse to play the next Ashes series, unless Mark Waugh and Shane Warne are dropped from the Australian side? After all, those two players have confessed to taking money from bookmakers -- a clear-cut violation of the ICC code of conduct. There is no evidence that they have done more than provide information about the pitch and the weather -- but by the same token, Justice Quayyum, whose report is being used as the ECB's bludgeon, has in that same report said there is no proof that Akram was involved in match-fixing, either.

It is not my intention to hold a brief for Akram -- my intention is merely to wonder whether the ECB is being entirely even-handed in this matter. And the ECB's stance does matter, because it is headed by Lord McLaurin -- the official who increasingly has been taking the moral high ground on the issue of match-fixing, the official who reportedly stalled ongoing negotiations towards the sale of World Cup telecast rights because he was not confident of the bona fides of one of the bidders.

Lord McLaurin, I seem to recall, was the man who more than a month ago tut-tutted over David Richards. My, my, McLaurin went, if Richards deliberately lied to the media and the public about Dalmiya's involvement in television negotiations, that is unpardonable. He has, he said, asked for the entire report and documents from India. And once he studies them, and is convinced of the case against Richards, he will see that action is taken.

The documents were couriered to him ages ago. So presumably, he is in receipt of the facts. But after that tough-talking initially, there hasn't been a yip out of him on the subject of Richards.

McLaurin is also the gent who gave a clean chit to England cricket -- but refused then, and refuses even now, to publicise the deposition of Chris Lewis. Makes you wonder why, doesn't it? More so because it was McLaurin who first said that unless Pakistan publicises the Quayyum report, that country should not be allowed to play international cricket?

McLaurin is the gent who sounded off about how offshore venues like Sharjah and Toronto, and the masala matches played there which, he suggested, had institutionalised corruption. And then turned around and suggested that India and Pakistan should play a series of head to head one dayers in England -- in order that the empty ECB treasury could be replenished in a hurry.

For me, the real tragedy of the times is that the issue of match-fixing is not, any more, a real concern for anyone -- instead, it has become a means of settling scores, of pursuing private agendas, of creating platforms for themselves.

Meanwhile, Bob Woolmer -- who for his own sake should, I think, be restrained from making public pronouncements on the match-fixing scandal -- in his latest column talks of the "culture of betting and match-fixing in the sub-continent", while arguing that Hansie Cronje should be given another chance.

Talk of flip flops -- Woolmer's initial reaction when the news first broke was that he has known Cronje for years, and that he is not the kind to indulge in fixing, that the Indian cops and media were framing that poor long-suffering Christian soul. Then -- with aparent disregard to the contrariness of his stance -- came columns talking of how he knew that Cronje had received offers in 1996, that the team had actively discussed fixing a game, and so on, and of how his faith in Cronje had been completely shattered, and he felt betrayed as a result. Now, it is back to basics -- give Cronje a chance, it is not his fault (right, the devil made him do it), he should be allowed to play again.

Fair enough, Woolmer is, I guess, entitled to change his mind as often as he likes -- who said it was an exclusively feminine prerogative? What irks, though, is his gratuitous, and stinging, commentary on sub-continental culture. How about being equally scathing, say, on the Australian culture of taking money to talk to bookies? Or the South African culture of accepting money to fix games?

The point I am driving at is simply this -- unless all concerned realise that the game is under serious threat here, there will be no concerted attempt at a clean up. This, one would think, is not the time for finger-pointing, for increasing the racial divide (speaking of which, Jagmohan Dalmiya and company seem ready to get out their spades and dig that particular divide a bit deeper, with the formation of the Asian Cricket Federation, but that is another tale for another day).

Today seems to be a day for disappointments. A major one came from, who else, Kapil Dev Nikanj, coach of the Indian team.

On his return from Dhaka, he appears to have had plenty to say about the action he is going to take against CNN, and Bindra. But not a word about the recent misadventure in Dhaka -- which, incidentally, is his third major disaster since taking over as coach.

No, that is not quite accurate either -- Kapil did have something to say about the Dhaka defeats. 'We were unlucky, the fact that we lost three tosses is the proof'.

Right. Now I know. I always used to wonder about the role of a coach -- now, I know. I can just picture it -- the morning of the game. The coach summoning all his players for a strategy session. Waiting till they have all filed into his room and settled at his feet. And then saying, in tones of befitting seriousness -- okay, boys, this is an important game. We have to win it for the poor jawans in Kargil, and those other poor fools, the cricket fans, who misguidedly repose such faith in us. Saurav, what I want you to do is go out there and win the toss, and take first strike. Okay, boys, that's it, end of strategy session, Bharat Maata ki Jai!.

And after all that effort, if the idiot captain can't even get such a simple thing as winning the toss right, what do you expect the coach to do, huh?

Seriously, is that all the coach of this team can offer by way of post-mortem, after yet another disgraceful defeat? I would have expected him to have some insight into the bowling -- we had two untried bowlers, Kumaran and Bhandari, contribute more than half the Pakistan total. Were they told what line to bowl? Did they fail to follow instructions? Is that failure due to inexperience, or inability? What suggestions does the coach have to correct this failing? How about the batting -- why do we get the feeling, increasingly, that we can interchange the batting lineup, send the bottom half in ahead of the top half, without it making a difference to the outcome? What are the problems? And the solutions? What should the team do now, in the two months and more it has before it returns to active duty?

Answers to these, and other questions, is what I was hoping for. And with those answers, a sign that the person hired amidst much fanfare to stop the rot, to turn around India's cricketing fortunes, was firmly in the driving seat, and knew what he was about.

Instead, we are told that we lost in Dhaka because Ganguly couldn't call right at the toss.

Great! So what does our coach suggest we do now? A two month coaching camp for Ganguly, where he will practise tossing the coin, under the able guidance of experts in the field? Is that all it takes for Indian cricket to start producing results again?

They say that those who never learn from their mistakes are condemned to repeat them. Judging by the evidence of the coach's post-debacle press conference, we are condemned to continue losing, for a long long time to come. For why? Because never mind learning from our mistakes, we aren't even willing, or able, to identify what they are.

This has got to be our biggest problem -- our national obsession with names. During the tenures of Madan Lal and Anshuman Gaikwad, every defeat would bring, on the following morning, shrill calls for the immediate sacking of the coach. Famously, once, the secretary of the BCCI said that if Anshuman didn't deliver results, the board would remove him and appoint Srikkanth (a promise, or threat, that was nullified by the high-profile campaign Kapil ran to get the job). Yet, neither Madan nor Anshuman presided over debacles with the alarming frequency of the current incumbent. So do we see any questions asked? No. Do we hear calls for his sacking? No.


Because Kapil is a name, as Anshuman Gaikwad and Madan Lal were not names. And when it comes to names, our obsession, our reluctance to take off the rose-tinted glasses, knows no bounds.

Prem Panicker

Mail Prem Panicker