Sunday, 29 June 2008

Whither Zimbabwe?

The wound has been festering long enough and chucking Zimbabwe out of the Full Members league looks a fait accompli as ICC goes into a huddle in Dubai.

I don't doubt the reasons either. Probably Mugabe stands for all the vices of the world and the money meant for the players are finding their way to Peter Chingoka's account too. So ICC should not be worried about any backlash even if they slam the door on Zimbabwe.

But what about the players?

Will it force Brendon Taylor come Brendon the tailor? Hamilton Masakadza once put his career on hold to pursue a university degree. Will the decision mean complete abandoning of his craft? Can anyone guarantee that Mluleki Nkala, Kadoma's poster boy, would not return to his Ndebele tribe? Maybe 'Psych', who scalped Tendulkar with only his second ball in international cricket, would be spending the rest of his life washing toilets at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport to feed his 13 siblings.

In all probability, it would be end of all roads for Chamu Chibhabha and his sister Julia, captain of their women's team, as well. Probably their worried parents would tell them to stop dreaming pie in the sky and do something more pragmatic.

I fear, Prosper Utseya would remain an embarrassing misnomer. I won't be surprised either if Blessing Mahwire goes haywire. Having once remodelled his action, he may now need to remodel his career altogether. Tatenda Taibu, understandably, would be frugal with the USD 125,000 he generated from the IPL auction, while Henry Olonga would continue to oblige the British media from his base in exile.

Does anyone see the road ahead? Is there one at all?

Image: BBC

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Doosra goes AWOL!

As you sulk and shout throughout the year, rave and rant till you froth at the mouth with relentless rage at an increasingly imperfect world, the keyboard caper, in its vulnerable moments, craves for a pause.

It’s almost a Quixotic exercise of tilting at windmills as passionate bloggers, armed with their lone weapon -- keyboard -- wage a crusade against all the perceived ills and take the cudgel on their shoulders to right the wrong.

But others would vouch for me -- it can be draining at times, especially when you are juggling it with a demanding profession, which is almost equally necessary to keep the oven/microwave burning.

So I’m off till June 26th and the week-long sabbatical should have me renascent and rejuvenated enough to make up for the pause with unbridled verbal diarrhea.

So, inscrutable friends, Romans and countrymen (I think I have run the whole gamut!) who for some inexplicable reason visit my blog, heave a sigh of relief but not for long as I hope to hit back with vengeance. Cheers!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

5 wonders that await Asif on his release

As Mohammad Asif packs his bag, hugs his new-found friends at the Dubai detention centre and heads for Pakistan, you cannot really rule out a Rip Van Winkle syndrome.

Cricket is no more the game it was when Asif was nabbed in Dubai and here are the five wonders that are bound to make him as hallucinated as he was at the time of his interception.

  1. Kevin Pietersen switching on and off;
  2. Brett Lee’s alternate profession as owner-cum-model for downmarket underwear;
  3. Collingwood brandishing Trion-Z magic bracelets to counter Vettori’s smart-pant voodoo;
  4. Appellate Tribunal decreeing that Shoaib Akhtar would be legally entitled to crack his bat on Asif's thigh in September 2009 and not in a distant 2013;
  5. Sreesanth finally settling into a life without Harbhajan Singh and picking up a fight with hotel staff in Bangalore.
Image: AP

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

On is off, off is on, right or wrong

So here comes the official confirmation -- on his off, off is on, right or wrong.

As Pietersen the peacock goes swaggering around after MCC announces that the touch of madness is actually a stroke of genius, my cynicism hits nadir. Replacing leather-flingers -- already at the receiving end of cricket’s own state-sponsored pogrom -- with bowling machine seems the natural culmination of the process custodian and executives of the game have undertaken.

How else you explain MCC’s willingness to alter LBW and Wide Ball rules just to accommodate one of the most vulgar shots you can come across?

The only plausible logic put forward by the MCC eggheads was that it adds to entertainment. So does recreational drugs and I've Mohd Asif to vouch for that. So?

My sneaking suspicion is MCC’s decision to pander to the hoi polloi stems from its fear of redundancy. After all, cricket’s toothless watchdog is as relevant to the game as UN is to America’s foreign policy.

Consider the bowlers’ plight. Already pushed to the brink, he recalls the batsman’s chink in the armour, sets him up, makes minor field adjustment and then ambles in to bowl that delivery but lo and behold! Every bit of his plan is hit for a six because he did not come prepared to see mirror batting at the other end.

I don’t have problem with Pietersen’s wholesome hatred for tradition. But I don’t either think switch-hitting would make 'The Ego' any better a bat than what he is now. But of course it helps him remain the Prince of Foofaraw, whose coiffeur and cricket would continue to assume equal importance.

My problem is not with the shot, or any shot for that matter. I’m appalled by the sheer readiness of the MCC and ICC to play to the gallery and the absolute marginalization of the other, equally important, protagonist of the bat-ball drama. Beneath the haze, cricket is essentially an exercise where bowler initiates the action and the batsman merely reacts. But unfortunately, those who run the game are hell bent to make it a complete mismatch pitting the author-backed batsman against a no-hoper bowler.

This is surely not cricket!

Image: BBC

Monday, 16 June 2008

What endears the Windies?

The halcyon days are long behind them. The imposters have swapped their place and triumph raises eyebrows these days, just like disaster – like the 1983 World Cup final -- did in their pomp. They had their day in the sun and the prince is now a pathetic pauper. But still, what is it that endears the Windies like no other team?

We belong to a fairly uni-polar cricket world with no end in sight for the Australian hegemony. Of course India humbled them here and there, but still they have been pretty much the USA of cricket. Not surprisingly, coup-seeking souls copied the Australian system and tried to mould their teams accordingly, though with precious little success.

But why is it so that we admire Australia but adore the Windies at the same time?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is the spiritual home of the game, just like Brazil is to football, or India to field hockey. Or the fact that a handful of island nations joined hands to overcome their laggard economy and difficult co-existence to find a unique solace in the bat-and-ball game. Or maybe it’s their exotic brand of cricket -- free, fair and flair – which made them subject of such a global romanticism.

Though the islanders grapple with a golden past, turbulent present and an uncertain future, why is it that we are so unabashedly in love with them? Why nationality takes a back seat as every heart harbours the dream of a Windies renaissance?

Cynism grows as the Windies contrive one after another way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory but how come they still maintain perhaps the largest fan following?

As Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo wage a grim battle against Australia at Kensington Oval, the outcome is not hard to imagine. The hosts would probably once again find a way to defeat. But ironically, while Australia wins everything but heart, Windies would win hearts again, despite winning hardly anything else.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Jest gone wrong?

You are often compelled to nod your head in affirmation when Frank Tyger says there is no evidence that the tongue is connected to the brain.

Enter Geoff Lawson after his tongue-in-cheek turned foot and mouth, I mean foot in mouth.

Lawson prophesied Pakistan would spank India in the tri-series by 150 runs. Not really amused, Dhoni & Co fell 10-run short as they mauled Malik’s team. Since then, Lawson has been going to town, explaining it was a comment made in jest.

Flash back, Champions League semifinals. Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez took the most inopportune of time to share his opinion that Didier Drogba is a professional ‘diver’. Not surprisingly, the talismanic Ivory Cost hit-man replied with a brace before breaking into wild celebration on Benitez’s chubby face.

And once upon a time, India had an Australian ringmaster – and it was not Steve Irwin -- as its coach, who made the world know his view that West Indies had forgotten how to win. The slighted hosts eventually walked away with the ODI series and captain Brian Lara in his Thank-You message said, Greg Chappell’s sly remark inspired them to the triumph.

Chappell ended with so much of eggs on his face that he never asked for omelets in his breakfast again.

And before another Australian braggart bites the dust for a similar folly, pause for a moment and think, do you really need to needle your opponents and give them a reason to regroup and even rise above their limitations, as was the case with Lara’s lads?

Coaches around the world would tell you in their vulnerable moments how difficult it is to motivate their wards play game after game and in places obvious and obscure. Why hurt opponents in a way that would only unite and inspire them? That’s rival coach’s job silly!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Who killed the golden goose?

Shahid Afridi can be heedless but he surely is not headless. The Mad Max of Pakistan cricket says he’s sick and tired of too many Indo-Pak encounters which, he feels, is killing the charm.

Indeed, a bilateral series involving two separated-at-birth nations had all the ingredients to outshine the biennial dull, drab Anglo-Australian mismatch called Ashes. It would have been the blockbuster, and Ashes the bagatelle… Oscar and the Manikchand Gutkha.

But unfortunately, someone, somewhere forgot to use discretion.

After the sluice gates were flung open in 2004, greedy administrators could not wait to split open the stomach of the golden goose and suddenly India were playing Pakistan in Mohali, Multan and Mombasa.

No wonder, mandarins at the ECB and Cricket Australia are sporting a smug smile as Ashes’ stature as the most celebrated rivalry remains unaltered.

Personally, I loath this pointless Australian ego-massaging exercise and feel the Gordon Brown government should immediately ban the farce for the next one decade if they don’t want to see Britain’s next generation crippled by an inferiority complex.

But at least they got the scheduling right.

Here, money-minting BCCI and crumb-seeking PCB just did not leave enough space for any build-up. There was simply no room for the action-thirsty fans to wait and yearn as one after another series was shoved down their throat.

No wonder, after gorging on it every other day, the Biryani does not excite your taste buds anymore.

Monday, 9 June 2008

IPL, the holy shrine

Rejoice, for cricket has finally chanced upon its version of the Church of the Nativity, Golden Temple, Al-Masjid al-Harām and Tirupati. I can see future, all roads leading to India as devotees from across the globe flocking for that annual pilgrimage that would culminate in the holiest of holy shrines, the Indian Premier League.

Before you brand me insane, consider how many-- and more importantly how -- fringe players got back to their national sides, courtesy IPL. If fulfilling wishes is what draws the devotees in droves, IPL to fringe players is what Bethlehem is to a true blue Christian.

Ask Brad Hodge, Shane Watson, Luke Ronchi and Manpreet Gony and the baptized souls would vouch that without IPL, they had as much chance of getting into national side as China has of conceding Tibet.

Consider Hodge's fortune. Hodgey came, saw and though could not conquer IPL, managed to find his way to the Australian Test squad in the Caribbeans in the most extraordinary of circumstances. He was recalled as cover for the cupid-struck Michael Clarke who refused to board the West Indies-bound flight and stood by the bedside of his fiancée’s ailing father.

The last time Hodgey was seen with a baggy green was when Australia had a different Prime Minister; Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife went by the name Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz and not Carla Bruni; and Barack Obama was yet to discover his ambition to be the most hated person on earth.

Watson’s case is no less freak either. Of all people, Matthew Hayden, cricket’s own Arnold Schwarzenegger – not the senator but the terminator – fell to a heel injury sustained, where else but in IPL! So Watson is back in Australia’s ODI scheme of things. The cricketing world rubbed eyes in disbelief as the erstwhile doctors’ delight rose to the pink of his health, while an exasperated Hayden was cooling his healing heel!

Ronchi too has reasons to give thumbs-up to IPL. It required nothing less than a divine intervention to clear the passage for a salacious sounding surname and accordingly, Brad Haddin had to break his ring finger and twiddle his thumb in the sideline as Ronchi flew in.

Back home, Manpreet Gony could not believe his slice of luck either. Sreesanth survived a mighty Rs 3 crore slap from a feisty Sikh but was rendered hors de combat with a fishy side strain and Gony was shoehorned into the side for the Bangladesh tri-series!

I owe the bottom line to Paulo Coelho and it is -- if a Test/ODI cap is your dream, come to IPL and the world would conspire to help you achieve it.


Friday, 6 June 2008

From toast of the nation to pariah

India doesn’t know how to treat her heroes – Arjuna Ranatunga.

Alas, only the context changes and Ranatunga remains as relevant as ever.

If you’ve followed BCCI moves over the past some months, you tend to believe:

i. it was the forefather of one of the Board mandarins who smote Eddie Hemmings for four sixes in a row to avoid follow-on in that 1990 Lord’s Test;

ii. Anil Kumble is the first Indian to take 400 Test wickets;

iii. India got 175 runs extras in that crucial 1983 World Cup tie against Zimbabwe; and

iv. India won the 1983 World Cup without a helmsman and with a 10-man squad.

Indeed, affluenza-stricken Sharad Pawar and his fellow partners-in-crime in the cash-awash Board have not left any stone unturned in their effort to establish that Kapil Dev simply didn’t exist!

Since aligning with the ICL, Kapil has been ousted from the NCA – a decision yet to be conveyed to him, lost his pension (maybe because he was donating the amount to an NGO dealing with children), plans were dropped to rename the Mohali stadium after him, his mural was removed from the stadium and BCCI grudgingly agreed to felicitate him along with the rest of the 1983 World Cup winning team.

Make no mistake, not that I’m a great admirer of the man. For sure, Kapil keeps dubious company and he may froth at the mouth but all his promoting-cricket blah-blah is complete crap and it was Subhas Chandra’s moolah that led him to ICL.

But how on earth can you deny the fact that he led us to the Holy Grail in 1983 and, apologies to innumerable imposters and perpetual pretenders hovering around, is the only genuine all-rounder produced by India?

The board has treated him like a pariah. He has been dealt as if a stigma, not only a persona non grata but also He Who Should Not Be Seen With.

But what the BCCI pooh-bahs forgot is that cricketers necessitate administrators, and not the other way round. Umpteen Pawars and Modis have come and history has dumped them in the bottomless pit of oblivion. But legends live on.

That magical knock against Zimbabwe, the stunning catch of King Richards running backward…Kapil presided over that unforgettable Triumph of the Underdogs, the biggest upset in the world since David slew Goliath.

You can remove a mural alright. But fortunately, they are yet to discover a way to erase what is etched in the collective memory of the umpteen cricket fans.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Warne, take a bow!

Another Shane Warne folk lore! Einstein won’t mind if I borrow a line and say cricket generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

I’m dying to know what Warne had told Rajasthan Royal teammates in his first address before the IPL started. It must be cricket’s equivalent of Winston Churchill’s “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat” speech.

Though I’m not privy to that address, I reckon it went something like this:


Get a few things right. Firstly, I know it can get heady to see someone like Graeme Smith descend from dreams to dressing room. But awe is awful, keep that aside. Believe me, prima donnas are brittle as bone china. Guys you have set on pedestals have feet of clay. Come and topple them.

Remember, every dog has its day and more so when you are the underdog. You have nothing to lose and a whole new world to gain, pardon me if I sound like Karl Marx or Groucho.

Everyone has a role to play and it exceeds far beyond the boundary of a cricket field. It’s a way of life. A movie is not only about the hero alone. You need the director, producer, script-writer, composer, lyricist, actors…right down to spot boys. The oddjobber may not look glamorous but he is indispensable! It’s called team work, silly.

Look mate, I'm not interested in your past but in your future, which is in your hands. Let's keep it simple. See the ball and the bat, not the reputation behind. Hit the ball and beat the bat, it's as simple as that. Don't listen to what laptop-totting morons like Buchanan say. They would make it look like rocket science. Hell with him and his laptop. We made him great, and it's not other way round. I've always maintained that at this level, the only coach you need is that vehicle that takes you from hotel to ground and ground to hotel.

Cricket matches are not won on laptop, but on greentop and shirtfronts and everything in between. Had laptops guaranteed success, Bill Gates would have been the most successful coach around. I still believe coaches should wear concrete boots and be chucked into Sydney Harbour, provided it's deep enough

Allow obscurity be your strength. Let them underestimate you before you hit like a bolt from the blue. Many a complacent Goliath has been slain by the unsuspecting David and cricket is full of such lores. You have 44 days to pen your own rags-to-riches story. Make a name and win a fortune, else hobble into oblivion. The choice is yours.

Image © 2008 IPL