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May 31, 1999

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Dear Steve Waugh...

I presume that after your exertions against the West Indies on May 30 -- 73 balls faced to score 19, while your partner Michael Bevan, the 'best one day batsman in the world and the game's greatest finisher, was marginally quicker in getting to 20 off 69 -- you must have been sleeping through the day today. And therefore, could have missed watching a rather inconsequential match at Edinburgh, when New Zealand took on Scotland.

I'm afraid the result of that game has upset your little applecart though, Steve -- the Kiwis, you see, actually bowled with fire and batted with wit, played the run rate game to perfection, and have edged the West Indies out of the competition. More to the point, they have ensured that you and your side get into the Super Six with no points to your name.

I can think of several hundred people who will be celebrating today -- namely, the spectators who came to Manchester yesterday and, in freezing cold, endured that display of 'professionalism' on your part that saw you and your partner in crime, Michael Bevan, take 13 overs to score 19 runs.

Having paid to see good cricket, those poor spectators were frozen in both mind and body yesterday -- the news that all your scheming has gone to naught has probably helped them thaw out a bit, though.

This morning, Stephen Fleming was asked what he thought of your tactics (antics?) of yesterday. With a wry grin, Fleming said, "Well, I guess some captains will do whatever they feel they have to do, you can't worry about that. For our part, we will go out there and do what we have to do."

And did they ever! Beating Scotland wasn't enough -- they had to do keep an eye on more equations than it takes to fire off a nuclear bomb. It was in fact quite amusing in a way to see Fleming pull out a paper from his pocket every now and again, consulting what obviously was a checklist of permutations and combinations provided to him while planning his bowling changes.

Fleming obviously was looking to bowl Scotland out for as low a total as possible. And this he did by attacking from the outset, through Geoff Allott and Dion Nash who have been his best bowlers by far. He did have a bit of a setback when Chris Cairns and Bulfin, brought in ahead of Gavin Larsen in a bid to bowl the other team out rather than contain them, proved a touch wayward, but Fleming kept pulling it back by bringing on Allott for quick, wicket-taking bursts, then using Harris as his secret weapon. And all this with a tight, attacking field, slips always in place, fielders inside the circle to prevent even the thought of quick singles...

It was great captaincy, Steve, you'd have loved watching it. And who knows, you might even have learnt a thing or two from it -- not about professionalism because you are, sans doubt, the ultimate professional, but at the least about cricket.

And when it came their turn to bat, the Kiwis went in there knowing they needed to get 122 off 21.3 overs -- and they just blasted their way through the attack, getting there with overs to spare.

New Zealand ended with a net run rate of +0.58. You will recall that the West Indies, with a lot of help from you, had finished on +0.50. So the news is that the Kiwis edged the West Indies by a margin of 0.08. Maybe if you had defended for another two, three overs yesterday?

I was impressed by the way you defended your actions. "We played by the rules," you said.

Reputation says that you are a traditionalist, with a clear grasp of the history of the game, the traditions. I wonder if it ever occured to you that cricket is the one game where the unwritten rules are equally, if not more, important than the written ones?

There really is nothing in the rule book, for instance, to stop you from walking out with an aluminium bat. Or to keep you from bowling underarm, as your illustrious predecessor once instructed his brother to do. There is nothing in the rules to stop Bob Woolmer from wiring up his entire team and whispering instructions to them through the course of their stint in the middle.

The rules are unclear about a lot of things. There is, for instance, nothing in there to keep you from sledging. From waiting till the bowler is on the verge of delivering the ball, and then telling the batsman, from slip, "Hey, Sunny, guess who is stuffing your missus this afternoon?", as your predecessors have done, more than once, to Sunny Gavaskar.

While on that subject, we once asked Sunny what he thought of this whole sledging thing. The Australians, we reminded him, say that it is simply playing the game hard, that they don't mean any harm and are ready to share a drink with their opponents later in the evening.

Gavaskar's reply was interesting. "Why the hell should I have a drink with a man who insults me? When someone talks of my wife and my family in that way, if I have any self-respect in me, why should I even talk to him, let alone share a drink?"

Interesting thought, that. But to get back to the point, you have said that there was nothing wrong in what you did, that you acted perfectly in accordance with the rules.

Maybe so. What you did yesterday may be professional, smart, clever; it may be brilliant strategy. But was it cricket, in the real sense of that word?

A lot of us don't think so. We think that when you go out to play, your duty is to play to the best of your ability at all times. And more importantly, we believe you have a duty to the spectators who come out to watch you. We believe that when a man pays his hard earned money and endures conditions of extreme cold to watch you play, he is entitled to a game -- not a farce.

'You are pointing your fingers at the wrong team,' you told the media yesterday. That kind of puzzled me a bit -- which team are we supposed to point our finger at? Huh? Duh?

What I found more amusing, though, was your statement that one reason for doing what you did was to draw attention to the anomaly in rules.

Actually, you are half right there, there is something silly about a points system where the second placed team (in both groups, actually) have no points, while the third placed teams are better placed.

A bit idiotic, that -- but surely, an easier way to have drawn attention to it would have been to write a polite letter to the organisers, rather than subject us to that ridiculous farce in the name of professional cricket?

Ah well, it's all history now. Your team is into the Super Sixes with zero points. Coincidentally, so is India. So, as the draw has it, India and Australia should meet on June 4 in the first game of the Super Six.

May the better team win. Meanwhile, you do have four days -- if you were to spend it reassessing your attitudes to cricket, that time may not be an entire waste, wouldn't you say?

Prem Panicker


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