It’s just not quite cricket

first_imgI hate it. Match-fixing, chucking, drugs bans, Zimbabwe, The Oval snafu, last year’s abysmal World Cup, and now, racism. What next? Anything, it seems, to overshadow the cricket. I’m sick of these controversies – I’ve had enough storms in my teacups, bees in my bonnet, thittlis in my turban (thittlis = butterflies in Hindi) to be sick of the bullshit that comes with the game. Cricket today, it seems, cannot seem to escape from controversy. Much of it is of the game’s own doing, and the blame must fall squarely on the shoulders of the ICC – they might need reminding the I is not meant to stand for Incompetent – for the way they have screwed over the game and all those who have a stake in it. I suppose we have to go through the monkey business that caused the hullabaloo Down Under. Andrew Symonds squares up to Harbhajan Singh and they exchange pleasantries, perhaps making plans for dinner later that day. Who knows what they were talking about? Not us, not the stump cams, not Mike Proctor. It can’t be said for sure that Harbhajan called Symonds a monkey. The BCCI, for all its money, didn’t have the tuppence worth of common sense required to send a lawyer to the hearing. Any lawyer worth his salt could have cleared Harbhajan’s name – there was not a sliver of proof available, and a man’s word is as valuable as a baboon’s bollocks in a hearing. Balance of probabilities, anyone? Reasonable doubt? These are concepts seemingly foreign to the ICC, because Harbhajan was found guilty of calling Symonds a monkey. On the word of the Australians. Ludicrous. The most plausible explanation was, of course, that Harbhajan called Symonds a ‘maa-ki’, which translates from Singh’s native Punjabi as ‘Your Mother’. It sounds similar, and is a common term of abuse. End of story, really. It is only incompetent handling by the monkeys in the ICC that made a mountain out of what was a molehill. Oh, so it was abuse then, and that’s fine? Yes. This is professional sport, not a palace garden party; they can abuse each other all they want. Sledging is part of cricket, always has been and always will be. While it is not accepted practice in say, tennis, cricketers sledge – it is part and parcel of the game. Indeed, I think it is part of cricket’s charm. ‘Bollyline’, as this affair has been branded, was very much like a Bollywood film – big on action and drama with lots of singing, dancing and shouting, but little in the way of substance. The ICC could have handled it so much better. All this while, there was an enthralling series being played out. Make no mistake about it, this was a series between the two best cricketing nations in the world. The only team to have consistently challenged Australia since the turn of the century is India, and they have done so both at home and in Australia. England got hammered in Australia, lending further weight to the school of thought that 2005 was a oneoff, just like ’81. South Africa flatter to deceive, and though Sri Lanka are ever-improving, they are over-reliant on Muralitharan and got rinsed just before India went down under. India, on the other hand, beat Australia in that series in 2001, before losing a closely fought series 2-1 in the next home series, which included a washout on the last day in Chennai with India assured of victory. In between, they did well on a tour down under, and were in fact unlucky not to win that series, emerging with a 1-1 draw. The boys in blue were confident, then, going into this tour. As expected, however, they were blown away in Melbourne – failing to reach 200 in either innings – because the batsmen had had no chance to acclimatise. The BCCI continues to ignore the weight of history and make the same mistakes. Regardless of scheduling demands, teams on tour must be given at least a couple of practice matches to attune themselves to the local pitches and conditions. It was thus no surprise that India lost in Melbourne, having shot themselves in the foot so lamentably. Sydney brought a new year, and a different story. Australia on the brink of matching the record for most consecutive wins, India determined to fight. This was a great test match – it had everything. Australia teetering at 134-6 on the first day, before, typically relentless, they amassed 463. India, in reply, surpassed that – Laxman and Tendulkar played some scintillating shots – one wristy drive through midwicket, from a ball bowled widish outside off stump, was Very Very Special indeed and will abide in the memory. In full flow, Laxman is a batsman inimitably classic, and a joy to watch. The key to competing with Australia is no secret – it is to compete for 3 sessions a day, 5 days at a time. There is no other way, because the killer instincts of the Aussies mean they trample all over opponents at first glimpse of weakness. India showed just such weakness on the last day, perhaps haunted by the ghosts of pathetic past attempts at batting out last days overseas, and it proved fatal – all out six minutes before close. The umpiring in this match was abject, and this was not an exception in a series of horrendous umpiring decisions, including probably the first case of a mistake by the television umpire. Over and above the shocking umpiring, the Indians were irked by the Australians’ breach of the ‘spirit of cricket’, captain Anil Kumble said. It is nothing new – faced with a team that is not intimidated by them and is willing to compete, the Australians are quick to go bananas and get their panties in a bunch. They can dish it out, but cannot stand the taste of their own medicine. The behaviour in this match, claiming catches, charging at umpires, was unacceptable. There is no doubt that all teams are guilty of it, but Australia preaches about it, which makes their behaviour and their hypocrisy harder to stomach than a barbie with rotten meat on. After a deserved victory at Perth, Australia’s traditional stronghold, where India’s young bowlers did well on a helpful track that gave them a chance of taking 20 wickets, the cricketing carnival came to a close in Adelaide, on a batting track made for Virender Sehwag. The daring Delhi destroyer did not disappoint, cracking an attacking 151 that was a reminder to the selectors of what they had missed – Sehwag is a class batsman, and should have played every match – he looks to have calmed down at the crease, has improved his solidity in defence, and has always had the shots to take apart any attack. India couldn’t bowl out Australia twice to win, but a draw was a credible result. Australia are the best team in the world, and have an all-conquering record at home. Once again, India stood up to them and matched them, blow for blow. It was an epic contest, a hard-fought series that was a joy to watch. Above all, this series delivered a fillip the game needed – it was a credit to Test cricket, for reasons on the Ajay Ahluwalialast_img