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September 3, 1997


Cricket CommentaryPrem Panicker


When Pakistan lost to India in the second game of the Wills Challenge, at Karachi, on September 30, I was, quite frankly, expecting the media there to go slightly overboard on the scapegoat-hunt.

After all, Pakistan skipper Saeed Anwar had, before the series began, talked of how his side was like a bunch of "wounded tigers looking for revenge", of how he and his side was determined to inflict a three-nil hiding on India in order to erase memories of Toronto.

The wisdom of making such statements is debatable -- frankly, to my mind (and this is true irrespective of who says it -- Tendulkar, Anwar, or any captain in the world at all), a cricketing contest these days between any two sides is more even than their respective rankings would indicate. It is no longer true that a side, any side, can wake up and tell itself okay, folks, we are going to go out there and win this one -- after all, there are two sides in any encounter, and the second side does have some input into the result as well. So while it is understandable for captains of home sides to talk tough for the benefit of the media and the fans, predicting scorelines before the event could blow back on the prophet's face, leaving it covered with considerable egg.

That happened here -- and therefore, I did anticipate some backlash from the media. After all, the media is true to type everywhere. We in India are no strangers to sections of our own press trotting out the most bizarre excuses after a defeat. England perhaps patented the art -- remember the smog in Calcutta, the prawns in Madras and the Venus in the wrong position at the end of the 3-0 hiding of Gooch and his men?

What, however, has caused a problem here is that this time, the arguments -- or excuses, or what have you -- have come not from just the Pakistan media, but from former players who today occupy responsible positions in the cricketing administration and, therefore, should have known better.

I mean, Saeed Anwar is captain of the Pakistan side. For him to talk of the change of ball -- not at a post-match team meeting, mind you, but out there on the podium during the post-match presentation ceremony, was not quite the done thing. Zaheer Abbas as a national selector exceeded his brief when he criticised the Indian side for "not showing restraint". And Haroon Rashid, the team manager, came up with a shocker when he said that while the Indians claimed that stones had been thrown at them, neither had he personally seen such objects on the ground, nor had the officials confirmed the incident when he asked them about it.

The result has been, frankly, disastrous. Fans everywhere expect a certain amount of license from the media, a certain degree of bias. But with the Pakistan captain and former players of the stature of Abbas and Rashid taking up the cudgels, the result has been a flood of e-mail in my box here, from fans who seem to think that for there to be so much smoke, there has to be a little fire somewhere.

It is this that necessitates this column -- and I am writing this an hour and a half before the third game begins, and wish to reiterate that what is being said here stands, irrespective of the results of the October 2 game in Lahore.

First up, let us look logically at the issue of the ball change -- which Anwar believes is at the root of all his troubles. First up, who asked for the ball to be changed? Why, Anwar and his bowlers -- not the Indian batsmen. True, the batsmen do have the option of asking for a change if the ball loses colour to the extent that it becomes difficult to sight -- as often happens with the white ball rolling over the green turf and picking up, chameleon-like, the colouring of the field. However, here, it was the fielding side that wanted the change of ball, and that is point one to be taken into account.

What happened when the ball was changed? Shahid Afridi was given the bowling, in over number 44. Why? Because Anwar had, in attempting to knock a few Indian wickets over, used up all but one of Younis's overs by that stage and, therefore, had little if any options left. In the event, Afridi went for ten. Saqlain bowled over number 45 and 47, and got hit about rather uncharacteristically.

It is this that has Anwar in a tizzy. The spinner, he argues, could not grip the newer ball, and that was why Pakistan lost the match. Frankly, not only does the comment smack of whining, but it is silly on the face of it. After all, Saqlain Mushtaq was first brought on to bowl in the 11th over of the innings -- and surely, the ball was new and hard then? More, India had got off to a superb start, the batsmen were in the mood to look for runs, the field restrictions were in place so there was lots of space in the outfield to smash the ball into. And yet, what happened? Saqlain's overs number 11, 13 and 15 produced figures of 3-1-4-0. And the 15th over was, in fact, a maiden.

In other words, at that point, with a new ball, Saqlain seemed to have no difficulty gripping it and bowling effectively enough to peg the galloping Indian run-rate back. As, indeed, he does in almost every game -- I mean, throughout the ongoing series, whether in Toronto or here, Saqlain has inevitably been brought on early, while the ball is new and hard and the field restrictions are in place -- and he has always done well. Which is why Anwar's excuse that the off spinner couldn't grip the new ball is silly. Or is Anwar claiming that the replacement ball was newer than a ball just 10 overs old, with which the off spinner bowled that lovely spell?

What underlines the real problem is that Younis, bowling over number 46, did a magnificent job with his inswinging yorkers, time and again cramping Saba Karim and finally bowling him with a beauty. At that stage, with the Indian batsmen looking to hit everything in sight, over number 46 produced just two runs and also a wicket. Which means Younis had no problems with the ball, and in fact put Pakistan back in the game after Saqlain had been ill-treated in the previous over.

So what does Anwar want, one ball for Younis and another for Saqlain?

The fact is that in the slog, even normally reliable bowlers are sometimes hit around by batsmen determined to go for the slog, and playing with nothing to lose -- ask Younis himself, and he will tell you of the nightmarish hammering he took not so long ago at the hands of Ajay Jadeja. In this game, it happened to Saqlain, and that is all there is to it, if you think logically.

Interestingly, Saqlain in the last over tried the ploy of bowling on the leg stump, to try and get Chauhan out sweeping, with short fine leg in place to take the catch. In this case, though, the batsman -- presumably wiser from the Hyderabad experience the other day, when both he and before him, Karim fell into that trap -- opted instead to come down the wicket, cover the angle, take it on the full and swing it over midwicket for the six that took the game away from Pakistan.

Like I said, these things happen -- and not just when Javed Miandad (of the famous last ball six against Chetan Sharma at Sharjah fame is batting. Trying to lay the blame on the ball is bad sportsmanship. Doing it, not once but twice, during the post-match presentation is more -- it is churlish, it is childish, and it is surprising in a player of Anwar's undoubted eminence.

So much for the ball. Now for Messrs Rashid and Abbas.

Rashid says he saw no stones on the ground. Just what did he suppose the Indians handed over to the umpires -- not once, mind you, but four times? Roses? Rashid's statement frankly reminds me of the guy who went to the zoo, saw a camel for the first time and burst out: "Hell, there ain't no such animal!" And to deny the stones when the omniscient television cameras homed in on them on each of the instances is, frankly, shocking coming from the person who is not only a former player -- and as such, should have been the first to condemn any kind of misbehaviour by crowds -- but also an important official of the Pakistan side.

Abbas for his part says the Indians should have shown restraint. And this comment is echoed and amplified on in the Pakistan media. Funny, that -- just what did Abbas and his fellow apologists imagine Tendulkar and the team showed the first three times when, despite stones coming on to the field, they carried on? It was the fourth such incident that led to the walkout, not the first. So just how many more times does Abbas and his ilk suggest the Indian fielders should have set themselves up for target practise anyway?

Besides which, talk of the need for restraint sits rather uncomfortably on the shoulders of the Pakistan media -- I mean, it is less than a month ago that Inzamam ul Haq vaulted into the stands with a bat provided for him by a fellow Pakistan player and tried to brain a spectator. On that occasion, no stones were flung -- no, not even roses. Just some words -- 'potato' if you believe the majority of eyewitnesses, much worse if you believe Inzamam. On that occasion, Inzamam and the Pakistan captain, Rameez Raja, could have complained to the umpires. They did not. Here, Tendulkar and the team did not take matters into their own hands. So who showed restraint here?

Sections of the media have also gone to town on the timing of the walkout. According to them, Tendulkar led his side off because Inzamam and Moin Khan were hitting out at everything. Strange -- if that was the case, then Tendulkar could have walked out in the 42nd over, when the second -- repeat, second -- incident of stone throwing caused a hold up. He could have walked in the 45th over, when the third incident took place. Why wait for over number 47.2?

Again, that same section of the media has complained -- so, too, has former selector Salahuddin Ahmed -- that miscreants throwing stones ended up disturbing the concentration of their own batsmen. True -- in fact, the point was made by us in our match report filed on the day of the game. But just how does this become the fault of the Indian team? And how is it that no one is asking the really relevant question -- which is, just how is it that spectators were allowed to come into the stadium with stones in their pockets? Equally, when the trouble each time occurred from the same stand, just why did it prove so difficult for the organisers to flood that area with security personnel and put a halt to it?

I've been reading, too, about how undiplomatic Tendulkar was, about how he is not going out of his way to mend fences with the Pakistan side and with the people. Strange -- when a spectator got into an imbroglio with Inzamam in Toronto, it was this same Tendulkar, along with senior player Azharuddin and vice-captain Ajay Jadeja, who actually went to the extent of offering to touch the spectator's feet if if he would withdraw the case filed against Inzamam. Meanwhile, when stones were being flung at the Indian fielders, did anyone see any Pakistan players, past or present, going across to the concerned part of the stadium and trying to cool passions down?

And speaking of diplomacy -- what is the example of it that the Indians are expected to follow? Was it the Saeed Anwar example -- when he trashed his umpires right in the middle of the presentation ceremony? Was it that of Abbas, who publicly says the visiting team should have continued to play despite having stones flung at them? Was it that of Rashid, who denied the evidence of the television cameras, of the umpires and the match referee, and quoted unnamed officials as saying that no such incident had taken place?

When the media makes asinine comments -- as sections of the media are prone to do, at times -- it can be ignored. But when players past and present get into the act, it is, frankly, time to cry shame!

Pakistan is undoubtedly a great team. But true greatness lies not merely in winning games but, in the words of the poet, in meeting victory and defeat and treating those two impostors just the same. In being magnanimous in victory, and gracious in defeat.

Greatness does not lie in claiming that a bowler who bowled magnificently with a ball ten overs old suddenly found himself unable to grip a replacement ball that was definitely that old, if not older. "The Indian batsmen handled Saqlain well at the end, we will now go flat out at Lahore," would have been a gracious remark to make in the aftermath of defeat. "Saqlain couldn't grip the ball which the umpires gave us" is not only childish in the extreme, but does in fact reflect badly on the abilities of easily the best off spinner of contemporary times.

In passing, just a thought -- given the reams that have been written about how the Indians walked off and thereby prevented Pakistan from putting up a better total, about how the ball was changed and so on, why is it that not one Pakistan player, past or even present, had the grace to acknowledge that Shahid Afridi, when on 57, was so clearly out that he himself began walking back to the pavilion, and that he was given a fresh lease of life courtesy the third umpire who, with benefit of so many action replays, really should have known better?

If the Indians had lost the game, that fact would, I am pretty sure, have been blown up in the media here, and puffed up as the reason for the defeat.

I am as certain, though, that neither Tendulkar nor any member of the side would have referred to it -- or to the overall standards of umpiring in this game which, frankly, was pathetic -- as the reason for their defeat.

And that is a lesson Pakistan's captain and indeed some of their former greats could, with all due respect, learn.

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