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June 27, 2000


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Lead, kindly light

Harsha Bhogle

As the dark clouds take a firmer grip over cricket, formally in South Africa and in a curiously chaotic way in India, I wonder if we should be looking at the dawn that inevitably follows a dark night. For underneath the dirt and the sleaze, and there is little doubt in my mind that there is more on the way, there are a couple of lights that are already shining.

The challenge facing cricket today is a largely moral one, and as it grows murkier it will start separating the gold from the grime; the honest from the criminal. Once it reaches its end, so critical for the sustenance of the game, I have no doubt that the honest will be left standing. All those stories that your grandmother told you, about the honest and the upright vanquishing the corrupt and the wicked, have a new and contemporary relevance. It might seem a foolish and romantic vision at the moment, but by the time it is over, there will be a very strong popular appeal for those that did not bend.

Having said that, I must admit to being extremely jealous of what is happening in South Africa; an open enquiry, people making honest confessions and a judge who has a man in the dock but who speaks to him with dignity and respect. Somehow, in the midst of all this, I get the feeling that back home, we are more concerned with being in the media than in proving what is right. And so we have a former income-tax commissioner breathing fire in the media rather than privately to the CBI, people within the law enforcement agencies speaking under cover of anonymity and making allegations all around, we even have a minister who comes from a tribe where people hang on to power asking people to step down without giving a time frame for their trial.

Thank god, India don't play cricket till September.

I think though, that there is some merit in what Hansie Cronje said in his original testimony. The pressures on young men who play cricket, especially on the sub-continent (and let us stop being self-righteous and admit this is true), are enormous. These are young men who haven't yet fought the battles of life. Remember, these are young men, largely from families of moderate incomes, with stars in their eyes. They dream of playing for India and of making a lot of money and while they might even be mature players of a turning ball they are still immature in the ways of the world.

We can of course leave them alone to swim in these contemporary waters; or as the guardians of the game, the BCCI can warn them of the pitfalls on their path. This is a very real responsibility and is part of managing the modern game. Twentyfive years ago money, with its good and evil shades, was not part of the game. Today, it is an integral, even an overwhelming part of it, and young men who represent the country need to be told how to handle it.

Most caring organisations do it and I would have thought that in this climate, this would be more relevant than ever before. That is why the BCCI has always come out looking so totally inadequate, but that is an inevitable consequence of having part-time administrators with no accountability. And, in any case, after what they did with the Chandrachud enquiry the BCCI is struggling with its own credibility.

Maybe the National Cricket Academy is the place to do it and Hanumant Singh is probably the right man for it. The youngsters there are being groomed to play for India and apart from getting experience of different conditions, I believe they need a course in ethics, in the culture of the game and in the responsibility they carry as custodians of people's hopes and as representatives of India. For at the bottom of the problems facing cricket is greed, one of the oldest vices known to man.

Take care of the runs, all the old masters have said, and the dollars take care of themselves. There is a postscript to it. Chase the dollar instead and the run vanishes; so do a lot of other things!

There is one other reason why I believe some good will come out of this. Cricket in India had attracted a lot of money but in doing so, it had acquired an air of arrogance. Too much money was chasing too little and a correction was desperately needed. Cricket needed to compete with other sports to provide the service for the investment it was attracting; its stars needed some competition at the top. Now cricket is under attack, its loyal followers are feeling cheated and stars are being knocked off the pedestal they occupied. Corporations will now start to rethink their investments in cricket, they might choose to put it elsewhere, and hopefully cricket will need to bow a little, to grow a little more humble to attract the money it did.

And yet, there is still much to cheer about in cricket. The spirit of achievement it stood for is alive in other lands, in other hands. Wasim Akram might have been part of the Qayyum Commission but that cannot stop us from admiring his skills as a cricketer. It might have something to do with the Pakistan Cricket Board treating the subject of match-fixing as closed, but the Akram that we saw in the West Indies, in Dhaka and now in Sri Lanka is as fresh as a nineteen year old. Curious as this must seem, if you are disillusioned with what is happening, watch Wasim Akram play to realise that the skills of an amazing cricketer can still get your heart beating.

And watch Courtney Walsh, quiet, dignified and lethal. He is thirty seven now and looks thirty seven in his movements. Sometimes he seems to struggle to accelerate but he keeps going; playing without the fire of youth but with the cunning of the old. There is no snarling, no unnecessary talk; his bowling and nothing else, speaks for him. I watched a lot of him in the first Test against England. I needed to because I was looking, strangely, for reassurance.

I found it. And that is why, amidst all this, I am hopeful. I always was one, but now I am an even bigger fan of Courtney Walsh

Harsha Bhogle

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