Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Wanted: Fit NRIs, holidaying Indians to join Men in Blue

These days, it’s not really safe for an NRI in the United Kingdom. Laid low by cold bug, Team India is struggling to put 11 fit men in the park and any holidaying Indian or NRI run the risk of being kidnapped and transported to Ireland to prop up Rahul Dravid, bowling his running nose, and his ailing team play South Africa.

S Sreesanth, MS Dhoni, Ramesh Powar, RP Singh and Ajit Agarkar have been worst hit by the bug, while Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer – count Robin Singh too – are also not keeping well.

Rakesh Patel and Arjun Yadav simply could not believe their luck when they got SOS from the Indian team to join the ailment-hit squad. For a breakthrough, you have to be at the right place at the right time, and UK is surely the place for paceman Patel and all-rounder Yadav, son of former offie Shivlal Yadav.

Patel was playing for St Helens Club in Liverpool and Yadav was closer to the Team India base at Eglinton, Ireland. It’s a life-time chance for the duo and their best chance to make an impact at this level.

It was learnt that Monty Panesar was being persuaded to join the squad, after all it's the country of his origin. In case Monty declines, his brother Isher is a certainty. BCCI, however, assures it can also pencil in Samit Dravid and Arjun Tendulkar, if needed.

Back home, pace duo of Ishant Sharma (Delhi) and Ranadeb Bose (Bengal) were also handed over their plane tickets for Ireland.

The dressing room resembles a medical ward and Dravid seemed to be reading out a medical bulletin in his pre-match press conference. It’s an awkward situation for Team India and obviously Jacques Kallis is not perturbed.


Saturday, 23 June 2007

Geyser pays price for World Cup malfunction

(Barbados Bungle artists: Billy Bowden, Steve Bucknor)

Justice delayed is justice denied, alright. But in an imperfect world, two months is not a big deal. Hence, ICC's decision to suspend the disgraced quintet behind the Barbados Bungle deserves kudos.

Steve Bucknor comes across as an affable Jamaican. Aleem Dar looks unruffled under pressure. Rudy Koertzen probably deserved a Chevalier de Légion d'honneur for refusing to be bribed before the Coca-Cola Cup final. On his part, Billy Bowden is cricket's answer to Jim Carey.

But does that mean they would go scot-free after spoiling the summit clash of cricket's greatest extravaganza?

Make no mistake, Australia deserved to win and win in broad day-light. Semi-darkness suits pilferers and cat burglars, not world champions. Bucknor & Co clearly lost the marbles they were supposed to count in Barbados.

Now whether it was Koertzen, who sowed the seed of doubt or not, that’s irrelevant. Mired in controversy, murder theory, upsets, low turn-outs and mediocre displays, the World Cup desperately needed a final to salvage some of its reputation in the spiritual home of the game. And Australia-Sri Lanka showdown meant two best teams had reached the summit clash. But the ill-fated event concluded in the shoddiest manner.

"The umpire at cricket is like the geyser in the bathroom; we cannot do without it, yet we notice it only when it is out of order." So said Neville Cardus. Fair enough. But then it was not just another Tom-Dick-Harry memorial tournament after all.

Image: BBC

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Return of the Rogue

Poor Shoaib Malik must be a tense man. His blue print for a revival in Pakistan’s fortune has been jolted with the selectors bringing back the rogue called Shoaib Akhtar. Malik can’t be blamed if he files an affidavit tomorrow, seeking a rechristening. After all, the Shoaibs are, to borrow the cliché, poles apart.

Under Malik, Pakistan cricket seemed ready to shrug off the baggage of its past and the nightmare of a World Cup, in which they lost personal and collective reputations, apart from their coach.

Akhtar’s return is enough to upset any plan whatsoever. With him in the ranks, no total is enough to defend and in ODIs, he means swelling extras and the risk of slow over-rate, thanks to his spectacular run up. As batsman and fielder, Shoaib means the think-tank would have the additional work to hide him in the batting order or out there in the field.

Akhtar has been an incredibly selfish player, who never hesitated to put his personal goal before team’s interest. Seduced by the speedgun, he refuses to shorten his almost never-ending run-up, throwing team interest out of the window. He is there only to put up a show and throw his varied tantrums. He is like a corn that pains Pakistan cricket in every step and hampers its progress.

A rogue with scant respect for others, Shoaib is not the cricketer any coach would want his wards to idolize. He is so enamoured by the show that he forgot substance. Everything he laid his fingers on, turned a huge mess. His presence is often disturbing and he has, time and again, vitiated dressing room atmosphere.

If Malik’s appointment was a step in the right direction, Pakistani selectors undid the good work the moment they thought about Akhtar’s comeback. Malik has seen his tantrums from close quarter and deep inside, he must have abhorred the idea of sharing the dressing room with a teammate with the mindset of a street urchin.

Even his staunch critic can’t accuse Shoaib of being disciplined and the “Rawalpindi Express” always considered himself larger than team, and occasionally, than the game itself.

Cricket in general and Pakistani cricket in particular will be well off without pretenders like Akhtar. Malik is expected to do a Hercules and clear the Augean’ stable called Pakistan cricket. Going by his potentials and temperament, the youngster would surely give it a best shot. But the mere presence of Akhtar is enough to scuttle any such bid. High time Pakistani selectors realized that Akhtar is not worth his tantrums.

Image: AFP

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Team India coach: Much ado about nothing

When Shane Warne said the only coach he needed was the vehicle that took the team from hotel to ground, he was not just taking a swipe at John Buchanan. It was actually an Ian Chappell chesnut and the brouhaha over Team India's new coach has again irked Chappelli.

Chappell warns India should not simply crush the new coach with the burden of expectations. A reneissance can come only via "proud and spirited players" led by a "strong coach", he asserts.

Sanjay Manjrekar, one of the rare sane voice in the mad melee, harps on the same issue. Coach has a very limited role to play and it's the players who would have to go out and actually play.

I think Greg Chappell's tenure proved the point beyond doubt. Chappell exceeded brief and encouraged by the coy captain in Rahul Dravid, he became larger than the coach. And it clearly backfired.

Chappell was calling the shots in each and every aspect and Dravid's diminishing stature, especially among the senior teammates, undermined his authority. Chappell did tried some new ideas but his growing stature came in the way of its fruition.

Chappell succeeded in convincing Irfan Pathan that he could bat. And every time Irfan scored, Chappell got unfair share of the kudos. By that time, the coach had outgrown the players, and it was never going to augur well for Team India.

Ian Chappell cries hoars to convince us that coach's can be instrumental behind a revival of fortune but they can't be the instrument. He cited the best example of John Buchanan.

Buchanan's exit did not make Australia a weaker side but if Ricky Ponting is not able to skipper the side, it would well create a problem, he said.

BCCI roped in Chandu Borde to prolong the stop-gap arrangement first made for the Bangladesh tour. Hoping the septuagenarian to free Team India of all its ills would be unfair and brickbats or bouquets -- depending on how the side fare in England -- should be addressed to Dravid and Co. only.

Image: PTI

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Chaos, Confusion rule supreme in BCCI meeting

I was among the hordes or heard – depending how you perceive the mediamen – journalists who were stationed in a Delhi hotel to cover Tuesday’s BCCI Working Committee meeting.

You some times can’t help but be sadistic. Graham Ford, have no doubt, proved a chicken-heart. One of the sources informed Ford was given 20 per cent more than what he demanded, was happy with one-year contract and the terms and conditions.

“He then said he needs to consult his current employer, Kent. We asked whether it was a matter of ‘if’ or ‘when’ he can join and Ford said ‘when’. BCCI Treasurer N Srinivasan later told in the press conference.

But what scared away Ford is something a gobsmacked BCCI could not fathom.

BCCI thrives in a world that is chaos and the creation never follows. There was no scheduled time for a press briefing and when they eventually opened the door for the briefing, it was mad rash and a lady journalist almost got trampled in the near-stampede.

After waiting for more than five hours, the questions were naturally tinged with extra dose of hostility and aggression. The lady scribe was determined to make Srinivasan admit Ford’s snub was a slap across BCCI’s face. Srinivasan eventually snapped at one point and retorted “I’m not on a trial here Ma’m.”

The provocation, however, came from Raj Singh Dungarpur, who ensured his share of limelight with an impromptu just outside the toilet.

“Indian cricketer never had a greater embarrassment,” he said, and said he even tried to persuade John Wright for a second stint, which the affable Kiwi politely declined.

Every foreigner in the eyeshot became a possible coach and at some point, one journalist hopped into the hotel elevator with a slightly limping foreigner to find out if he had anything to do with cricket. The foreigner turned out India’s soccer coach Bob Houghton! He inquired what was going on and told that BCCI was headhunting for a coach, he said, “Cricket is a craze in the country. No wonder, half the country seems here.”


Monday, 11 June 2007

Why Graham Ford should do a better job than Chappell

So the drama is over and Graham Ford has just landed the most exciting and demanding job one can think of in the sports world. Though not exactly chest-thumping, but still, this was exactly what had been predicted in the previous post in this blog.

Hoping Kent would relieve Ford of his duties, I have this gut feeling that though it’s never possible to satiate the Men in Blue’s Blue Billion fans, Ford would prove a better coach than the person he succeeded, Greg Chappell.

A self-effacing, low-key coach, who loves to work in the backstage, Ford resembles a John Wright walking out of a barber’s shop after a haircut. The deep, intense eyes and furrowed forehead again reminds you of Wright.

Chappell was a disaster of a coach and had no experience of coaching any national team before he took over the Team India reins. But the case is not so with Ford. As Natal coach, Ford, along with senior pros like Malcolm Marshall and Clive Rice, guided an exciting talent pool that included Shaun Pollock, Jonty Rhodes and Lance Klusener.

He joined Bob Woolmer as his deputy in 1999 and eventually succeeded the deceased Englishman. Before the Hansiegate scandal hit South Africa cricket like a catastrophe, South Africa, under Ford, won eight of the 11 series.

Ford raises hopes because unlike Chappell, a typical Australian larrikin, he is not a loud mouth. He is not the one who would thunder “My way, or the highway.” It is easy to criticize Wright for being ‘soft’. But the fact remains that it was because of the affable Kiwi’s sacrifice that Team India at least had some results to show.

Wright tried asserting himself but soon realized it was not going to work. Sourav Ganguly’s imposing clout with Jagmohan Dalmiya’s backing and a flawed zonal representation in selection committee did not amuse him but once he realized he could not overhaul the system and has to work in it, Wright adopted quickly.

Knowing a system inside out is a pre-requisite if you want to re-create it. And you have to have that authority. But Chappell was in tremendous hurry and he thought he was not the Team India coach but the Board CEO. He completely exceeded the brief. With a few senior officials -- who were probably enamoured by Chappell the batsman, rather than Chappell the coach -- pampering his tantrums, Chappell had something to say about each and everything that has anything to do with Indian cricket. He even felt that MPs are paid to say whatever they want.

Despite his vast knowledge of the game, and I don’t doubt that, Chappell had a skin deep idea about the culture of India. Unlike Wright, Chappell never looked someone who is passionate about India and the cricket team. If passion marked Team India’s Wright’s era, it was indifference under Chappell.

Ford should be a welcome successor to Chappell, the media manipulator. Chappell’s Goebbels-ian use of the media tool, abetted by some senior, cynic journalists -- including one who heads a disputed cricket association – ensured that alongside the Chappell-Ganguly broadshow, there was sideshows like Chappell-Sehwag, Chappell-Harbhajan, Chappell-Yuvraj, Chappell-Tendulkar, Chappell-Zaheer.

Make no mistake, Ford will find it a crown of thorns. To their credit, the highly inflammable Blue Billion doesn’t discriminate. Ford would be hailed with every success and hanged with every defeat.

Image: BBC

Friday, 8 June 2007

Is Ford’s appointment a Pawar-ploy to grab ICC top job?

Graham Ford is all set to take over as the new Team India coach and he is way ahead of John Emburey as far as coaching credential is concerned. And to sceptic eyes, Ford’s appointment won’t be the end of the ongoing high-voltage drama, but just part of a bigger plot.

The growing notion that Ford would be chosen because BCCI President Sharad Pawar desperately seeks South Africa’s vote to become the ICC President. The megalomaniac in Pawar has never tried to hide his unabashed love for power and these days, he’s doing everything to please the Protea cricket board for reasons too obvious.

After Percy Sonn’s death, Pawar could have assumed the ICC top job but he hinted that he was not game for a stop-gap role. Instead, he suggested a South Africa should get the job. Ray Mali, the Cricket South Africa chief, eventually succeeded Sonn.

"The point that weighs in Ford's favour was that Pawar requires South Africa's vote to become the next International Cricket Council president (ICC)," a BCCI source was quoted as saying in a media report.

Now, this is one can only expect in India. Team India’s reputation, the emotion of its umpteen die-hard fans, everything is hit for a six just to ensure that a power-hungry official gets the post he craves for.

Ford has an impressive credential, no doubt about that. But Dav Whatmore’s was even better. We still don’t know why BCCI dangled the carrot before ditching him at the eleventh hour. Things are not looking bright with Indian cricket and it’s really tough not to be a cynic.

Image: The Hindu

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Chappell lands part-time job at Australian academy

As board officials across the cricketing globe indulge in frantic coach shopping, does anyone remember that troubled soul called Greg Chappell? Well, the Australian, after his rollercoaster Team India stint, has been roped as one of the consultant coaches at Cricket Australia’s Centre of Excellence in Brisbane.

Apart from Chappell, John Wright and Australia’s original beanpole pacer Bruce Reid have agreed to work part-time in the academy.

Interestingly, like Wright and Chappell, Reid too worked with Team India as its bowling coach when the side toured Australia in 2003.

Cricket Australia actually wanted Wright to head the academy -- a post vacated after Tim Nielsen replaced John Buchanan in the Australian think-tank – but the affable Kiwi was not ready to relocate. Describing himself as “between jobs”, Wright said he wanted to spend more time with his kids even though he did not rule out a role with New Zealand Cricket.

Image: BBC

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

No Guru Dav, BCCI opens up two-horse race

Trust BCCI to pull off surprise, stunning enough to stun the dead. So far, Team India coach’s job looked a one-horse race, or so said a miffed Madan Lal. But see, Dav Whatmore – resembled more a mustachioed polar beer than a strapping horse – has been pushed outside the lane.

BCCI announced it’s now a two-horse race and one of the stallions is a phantom! Board Treasurer N Srinivasan – apt that the person who would dole out the money addressed reporters – said apart from South African Graham Ford, another “"foreigner whose availability could not be ascertained" are in the fray.

As for Dav Whatmore, who was clearly counting his chickens before they were hatched, Srinivasan said "You can say by implication that yes, he has been ruled out".

Guru Dav seemed almost certain to step into Guru Greg’s shoes and Whatmore did not leave any stone unturned in his thorough PR. He met Rahul Dravid, Ravi Shastri, Niranjan Shah and reportedly sought appointment with the BCCI janitor at Wankhede Stadium to present his case. Poor Whatmore even refused an extension of his contract with the Bangla Tigers and also turned down offer from Pakistan hope for the India job.

BCCI dangled the carrots – Shah insisted the Australian was the front-runner – and Whatmore could no resist the temptation. It’s an awkward situation for the burly coach, who was last spotted scanning JOB OPPORTUNITY pages and applying to a coaching job in Timbuktu.

Photo: AFP