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March 2, 2000


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Is some idiot listening?

Armchair Expert

Do former players make better coaches?
Do former players make better commentators?

No. No. No. Former players do not make better commentators. Anyone who tells me former players make better commentators will be forced to sit through hours of pomposity from the likes of Maninder Singh, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar and Yashpal Sharma. All good former players, but very, very far-from-good commentators.

Good is David Gower and his understated humor. Good is the sincerity and friendliness of a Mark Taylor from Channel 9. Good is our very own, always smiling and always warm Harsha Bhogle. And very, very good is my very own favourite, the eccentric Sir Geoffrey.

Excuse me, but most of the better commentators you've mentioned also happen to be former players.

Yes, but that's only incidental.

Oh, I see the fact that only one of your preferred names happens not to be an ex-player is only incidental? And I suppose the fact that the one name recognized as the standard for great commentary, Richie Benaud, also happens to be an ex-player is also only incidental?


Am sure you've got a very good explanation for that.

As a matter of fact, I do.

You don't have to be an ex-player to be a good commentator. You have to first be a communicator. And you have to be a good listener. (Most useful when you take the time off to listen to yourself and realise how silly some of the things you say sound.) Of course, it helps if you've played the game. But that cannot be used as a yardstick to judge one's abilities as a commentator. (The Doordarshan commentary team being living proof of that.) Or for that matter as a coach.

Wait a second. Coach? Surely, you can't be serious. You can't have a coach who's never played the game at the top level.

Well, that depends on how you define the role of a coach.

If the coach's role is to go through the motions with the boys, then it helps to be a still-fit ex-player.

If the coach's role is restricted to helping players out with technical aspects of the game, then it helps being an ex-player. But a coach today is not just that. And sometimes an ex-player just can't deliver on some of the things that define cricket today.

Supposedly cerebral stuff like using technology to improve performance. Psycho-analytical techniques. Media management. Understanding what drives individuals. Innovative training routines. You get the drift. If this is part of the modern coach's job, a former player may not necessarily be the man for the job. But the less said about this the better. Because to some in the Indian cricket establishment, it's like trespassing on their territory. Which probably means we'll never know the answer to who's better than who? Just like the many other answers we'll never know.

Do Indians lack killer instinct?
Do we need a sports psychologist?

Vishwanath Anand playing Kasparov in the most important match of his life. The World Championship final. The number one spot is for the taking. He had drawn first blood by stunning the world champion with a brilliant win. The time seemed right to move in for the kill. Anand was never allowed to come back into the game. And Anand is today still the number two player in the world.

Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes came from nowhere. They took on all comers. They played with the passion few are used to seeing from Indian sportsmen. Bit by bit they worked their way to the top of the ladder. So much resilience. So much fortitude. So much team-work. So much hunger to win. And then, they got full.

Two examples that illustrate why we have it in us to make it to the top but seem to lose our way once we get there. Or, more often, when we get close.

Even in hockey, it's no surprise that finishing is the one area that has always been our Achilles Heel. And metaphorically speaking, it can be applied to our performances in all sport.

Obviously, we lack killer instinct. (Among other things.) But the problem, primarily, lies in the mind. In the minds of our sportsmen and the apathetic ones that run sport in this country. Minds willing to look a little deeper for the solutions. And realise that it's a question of mindsets. Which can be changed. (Even if you happen to be typically Indian.) But I guess the powers-that-be would rather busy themselves with just the questions.

When was the last time India won abroad?
When will India win abroad?

I can't remember. It's as simple as that. And when things reach such a pass, it's time to make a noise. A very big noise. Loud enough and with sustaining the power to shake the pack-o-jokers out of their comfortable slumber.

There's nothing worse than expecting your regularly failing idols to bring home the gold from their tours abroad. No, there is one thing worse. It's when you stop expecting anything from them. (Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how bitter a cricket fan you are, things have still not reached such a pass.)

I still think India will win every time she goes abroad. I was one of the millions who thought we'd come back with some pride from Oz. (No, I promise not to take a swipe at Mr. Lele and his 'alleged' predictions.) But if someone were to ask me when was the last time India won abroad? I'd have to make a face that's a combination of forgetful, ashamed and very sad.

It's not nice worshipping a game that has come to such a pass. Where the minds that we turn to for advise (like Ajit Wadekar, Ashok Mankad and a few others on a recent TV show) don't seem to realise the magnitude of the problem on hand. Where few seem too concerned about 'ours' being the only team in even not-so-recent-times to enjoy such a dubious record.

The longer we encourage the malaise of using home series' to assuage the pain of failures abroad, the more we will be forced to keep asking ourselves when will we win abroad? And, if the fast improving performances of visitors are anything to go by, will India win anything, anywhere?

Any answers? Thought so.

After Sachin, who?
After Saurav, who?

Literally speaking, we know who. And we wish him luck. (God knows, he's going to need it.) This is more in the…how should I put it…yes, the figurative manner of speaking. More like, who's next? (Said with a ring of a selectorial flippancy to it.)

The question really is why is it that the men who have very little to do with what's happening on the field get to decide everything off the field? Is this normal? Do we see it in all walks of life? Are decisions that affect millions made by people who are absolutely 'unaccountable' for their actions? No, we don't. Then why do we see it happening time and again in cricket?

Most of the men making most of the important decisions in Indian cricket today are men with little intellectual value or stake in the sport. (In the pure sense of the word and not in the mercenary way that it is run today.) Men who regularly make blooper after blooper after blooper in front of and behind closed doors. Men who mess with the careers, minds and lives of young, talented players. And men who don't think twice about hiring and firing people from the one thing that perhaps makes the most difference to these men's lives. Cricket.

They spend hours deliberating over selectorial meetings only to arrive at decisions that have already been decided privately. They play musical chairs with some of the greatest players the game of cricket has seen. They exchange favours and cement deals. They make a mockery of one of the few sports that India actually has some world-class representation in. Ever wondered how/why this has been going on for so long? Guess, you can add that to our list of unanswered questions.

Why did Sachin give up the captaincy?
Why did Sachin give up the captaincy?

Those who want the version Sachin wants the world to see, can follow this link and read the carefully worded press statement that he issued on the day he announced his resignation. Those who'd rather go by the grapevine may like to believe that Sachin's resignation had a bit to do with Azhar's and Mongia's inclusion in the team. And those who'd like to know what Sachin is really thinking, can forget about it. The gentleman that he is, he's not likely to tell.

It mustn't have been easy dealing with failure. And that too, for the second time. Even more so for a player like Sachin who has rarely had to deal with such monumental failure. This, plus all the sniping that was taking place around him, couldn't have been something he enjoyed. Accusations of politicking and favoritism must have hurt the fiercely patriotic Sachin a great deal. (The one thing you can't say is Sachin doesn't have the interests of Indian cricket at heart.) Enough grounds, one would think to want to give up the captaincy. And enjoy what he's always taken an almost childlike joy in, his batting.

Still, there is the grapevine that says Sachin couldn't deal with having to lead a team that included members who's team spirit had been called into question. (Since no-one has cared to clarify this thread of thought that seems to have emerged out of the murky goings-on l'affaire Mongia et Azhar, this is the theory we will stick with. See what I mean about lack of clear communication?) Which, if true, is a damn good reason to step down.

So why did Sachin really step down? Of course, we'll never know. Just like we'll never know why a class player like Azhar has so much baggage surrounding his entry back into the Indian side.

Which is the worst Test team in the world?
Where do we go from here?

Not Zimbabawe. (We lost to them the last time we toured that country.) Not Bangladesh. (Sorry, they have still not been granted Test status.) Not Sri Lanka. (They beat Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, Pakistan in Pakistan…should I go on?) Not West Indies. (We lost to them, as usual, on our last tour to the Carribbean.) Not New Zealand. (They've pretty much discovered the winning habit. Something we're still very far away from even getting a sniff of.) Not Pakistan. (They've beaten us even at home.) Which leaves one with England, Australia and South Africa. Only a fool would say we're better than South Africa and Australia. And England, well, it's not much being better than England. (That is, presuming we are better than England.)

Finally! A question that has a conclusive answer. In fact, straight answers for two questions. One, we are indeed the worst Test playing nation in the world. And two, the only way to go from here is up. But then, any idiot could have told you that. The question is, is some idiot listening?

Still more questions. Still no answers.

Back: 20 questions. No answers

Armchair Expert

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