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March 14, 2000


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Unhappy again

Armchair Expert

So what if we're back to winning at home, there's enough reason to be unhappy. And the chief cause of this unhappiness being a certain Mr. Srrikkanth. Speaking of whom, where is Mr. K. Srikkanth? I have a few questions for him. Questions like, would he be so kind as to tell me why the wickets in the ongoing series between South Africa and India been...well, the way they have been? What happened to all the space that was utilized to tell anyone who would care to listen that the series to follow would see better wickets?

Didn't Mr. Srikanth say we'd have more wickets with true bounce? (Some bounce. Any bounce.) Didn't he say he'd give us wickets conducive to stroke-play? Didn't he promise us sporting wickets?

But then, everybody does say "It will be a sporting wicket."

Hello! Mr. Srikkanth? Anybody there?

Oh sorry. Didn't mean to disturb you in the middle of your show. Didn't realize you were too busy doing this horrible TV show to care. No, not the one that comes on one of the regional channels. This one is worse. It's, I can't tell you that. That would be a form of advertising. All I can say is, the inveterate TV junkie I am, I feel compelled to subject myself to even to Srikkanth's and Jimmy's post-session analyses/pantomime on DD. (Oops, I let the ad out of the bag. Anyway, ad or otherwise, nothing's going to save that TV show.)

But, back to Mr. Srikkanth, the wickets and the men responsible for them. Listen up somebody and listen up real carefully, we're still playing on 'grass' when the need of the hour is for 'astro-turf.'

"Excuse me?"

Allow me to explain. Remember what happened to India in hockey? Good.

To cut a long and sordid story short, a combination of complacency, administrative apathy and short sightedness finds us languishing as one of the also-rans in world hockey today. We kept nurturing our players on grass. We ignored the fact that the world had moved on to astro-turf. We continued to lay emphasis on individual skill. And we got left so far behind that by the time we woke up, it was too late. It had everything to do with our continued refusal to learn from our mistakes. And, like it threatens to become in Indian cricket, the administrators not being held accountable for anything. (The parallels are there for all to see.)

We have always talked about the need to change the nature of our wickets. But youngsters continue to learn whatever little they can, batting and bowling on featherbeds and fielding on the surface of the moon. (Craters and all.) Not surprisingly, debutantes come in with skills of little use in other parts of the world.

Like the ability to turn the ball on a minefield. (Or as my boss in advertising used to say "any idiot can write a great ad. It takes a really good one to do it in less than a day." Never mind. The point is, it's not much use having a guy who knows to bowl only on Indian wickets.) Or a batter who plays exquisite flicks and drives off the front foot and little else. (Because one rarely feels the need to play off the back-foot on Indian wickets.) Or someone with the ability to score off penalty-corners on grass. (Err, I think I mixed the two games up. But then, we do seem to be making the same mistakes.)

Just tune into any of the TV shows about cricket. Listen to some of the so-called Indian experts, coaches and the big names that run the game in the country. You'll hear them speak with the sincerity of seasoned politicians on what needs to be done to improve the state of the game/wickets in the country. Like politicians, they seem to do little else. Unearth some tapes/interviews/views from the years gone by on the nature of wickets in India. And you'll know why the administrators must be given a heave-ho. (Like they've always done with the players.)

Nothing has changed. We still make the same noises about what should be done to set things right. And we only make noises on what should be done to set things right. No one cares enough to accept responsibility for our horrendous overseas record. No, just captains and players cannot blamed for close to 20 years of failure. Our post-mortems, every one of them, point to the fact that our problems lie in the fact that our young players either never play on grass or mostly on grass! Depending on which game you're talking about. (Isn't that strange?)

So, what are the committees doing? Why are our domestic matches still being played on unrealistic surfaces? And if we've all agreed on the problem, about a million years back, why aren't we doing a thing about it? Like now.

Consider the strip at Jamshedpur. What was that? That was no wicket. That was a rolled patch of loose soil. An idiot might have mistaken it for the surface of the moon. It had holes! Is this what the pitches' committee is responsible for? Or is the pitches committee responsible for nothing. (Just like the rotund gentlemen in high places, culpable for the farce that went on between here and Down Under.) Suffice to say, the faster we do something about the nurseries of Indian cricket the better. And we know it's not the players that are mostly to blame.

As if the state of the pitches, and the seemingly non-existent committee wasn't bad enough, I read something that got me even more steamed up. Two insidious little lines tucked away in an overlong sports report in a respected publication. (No names, please.) Something about the Indian team being forced to travel by train to Jamshedpur and thus having a ready excuse for a bad performance in the match. Now, that is brutal. No, that's below the belt. (Both, having to travel by train and that little 'jibe.')

It's bad enough to have to play in summer, compete against one of the fittest teams in world cricket, listen to garbage from spectators, dodge garbage from spectators and be expected to win, to not have to take this kind of crap of from the media and administrators. (Come to think of it, fatigue would well have made a very good reason for a poor performance.) And speaking of train journeys, what on earth was all that about? Why was one team flown down to Jamshedpur while the other made to suffer in second-class?

Did someone say something about a home advantage? Where? Certainly not when it comes to the people running the show and making the noises.

Also, can someone tell me why we still don't play enough matches under lights? Are we sadists? Do we enjoy seeing players on the verge of death by dehydration? (Okay that was a bit over-the-top, but get close to being dehydrated and you'll know what I mean.) Isn't player comfort directly proportionate to performance? (Of course, it is.) Who is doing the planning here? Is anyone doing the planning? And why does Kapil always make his noises only after looking at and signing off on the itinerary? (Makes you wonder what's discussed inside the rooms where these decisions are taken.)

Sure, am happy India's winning. But it's not much fun watching people huff and puff their way through the almost the entire game. And no, the players are not to blame. They're only human, you know. Even if they happen to be machines. (Under such conditions even the South Africans look human.)

Quite frankly, no team looks happy playing in India when it's hot. (Not even the India.) Except maybe, the team of jokers allotting the dates and venues from the comfort of their air-conditioned rooms. That's who.

You see, what I'd like to see more of, is cricket the way it is played in Australia. More quick singles. More passion. More enjoyment. More action. More smiles. More entertainment. More good cricket. And less breaks. I refuse to take a tough line on the numerous breaks, it's downright killing playing out there at the hottest time of the day. And neither will I buy into the argument that we don't have enough money to equip our stadia with lights? I want...wait a minute. Who am I talking to? What am I getting all angsty about? This is the BCCI. Nothing is going to change. Nothing ever changes. (Remember Raju Bharatan's article on Umrigar/Sachin?) These guys are in it for the money. Money that's regularly wasted on 'godknowswhat'. (Instead of being spent on useful things like better lights, pitches and other facilities for cricket around the country. And when I say around the country, I mean around the country. Not just in the local area of on of the regional satraps of the BCCI. (Satraps? This must be politics.)

But, who cares about minor things like conditions conducive to better cricket, improving the quality of umpires, providing more entertainment and engendering a culture of cricketainment. At the end of the day, this too is just another spare crib. Sigh, the armchair expert is back to being unhappy.

Armchair Expert

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