Monday 30 April 2007

Sagging umpiring standards, is ICC listening?

ICC CEO Malcolm Speed ruled out blacklisting the erring match officials of the cricket World Cup final.

But what came to the fore is that Rudi Koertzen is the architect of the farce that was 2007 World Cup final, at least Match Referee Jeff Crowe wants us to believe.

According to Crowe, it was Koertzen – who has officiated in more ODIs than any other umpire –who initiated the bungling process which eventually resulted in the chaotic end to the game’s greatest extravaganza.

"Sometimes you get a stronger voice which says 'I know the rules - this is how it works'," was Crowe’s effort to explain the inexplicable.

"Then you get a bit of confusion in the group itself, and no one wants to overrule the other… Rudi was talking about the allowances and talking about the possibility of tomorrow. I don't think it's Rudi's mistake, it's a collective mistake.

This was well nigh a cricketing felony from Koertzen, who had just overtaken David Shepherd's record of 172 matches with the World Cup match between England and West Indies at Barbados.

Crowe, for once, sounds sane when he says on-field umpires Steve Bucknor and Aleem Dar could have overruled Koertzen.

"The fact Rudi might maybe have suggested it early doesn't mean the other umpires couldn't have over-ruled him. The two on-field umpires are the ones who control the match."

For records, Bucknor was standing in his record fifth World Cup final along with Dar, voted second best umpire of the years 2005, 2006.

Both Bucknor and Koertzen are two of the just three umpires from the original elite panel who have maintained their place but an asinine ICC just fails to realize that umpires are not spinners who get better with ages. Cricket would be better off with younger Men in White with better sight and faster reflex.

Bucknor’s on-field antics and endearing smile may have earned him friends but his decision-making has not. At times, he seems giving the verdict for a dismissal that took in the previous match.

I don’t find any fashion statement in Koertzen’s slow-death finger either. It has more to do with old age, probably.

I’ve no problem with human error. It rather makes the game more and more unpredictable and hence, exciting. I’m not the one to believe that they have not read the rule book. Reality is, they have either forgotten it or just could not cope up with the pressure there. Counting marbles in a pressure-cooker scenario, they just lost it.

(Photo: Rudi Koertze, the architect of farce?)

Sunday 29 April 2007

The A-Z of the 2007 World Cup

Now that the World Cup is finally over, here is an AFP copy that tries to encapsulate the entire event in the alphabetical order:

A is for Australians, everywhere. As well as the champion team, there were Australian players in the Ireland and Scotland squads while India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Indies all started with Australian coaches.

B is for biceps, particularly those of Australia all-rounder Andrew Symonds whose participation in the tournament had been put in doubt because of arm surgery.

C is for crying and the tears of Bermuda's 17-year-old seamer Malachi Jones who wept and wept and wept after taking the wicket of India opener Robin Uthappa with his fourth ball. However, he would have blubbed even more when he finished with 1-74 off seven overs.

D is for drinking with a group of England players, and Andrew Flintoff to the fore, exercising their right arms with so much vigour that the all-rounder was dropped for one match while others were fined. South Africe were also at the centre of 'late-night booze shame' tabloid frenzy but, unlike England, they made progress in the tournament.

E is for empty stadiums which became a constant, depressing sight throughout the tournament as locals stayed away in protest at the price of tickets. It got worse when India and Pakistan failed to reach the second round.

F is for four wickets in four balls. The unique feat was achieved by Sri Lanka seamer Lasith Malinga in Guyana although his efforts were not enough to prevent South Africa from securing a one-wicket win. F is also for Ferret, as in the bizarre dance performed by Ireland seamer Dave Langford-Smith every time he took a wicket.

G is for Gibbs. South Africa batsman Herschelle Gibbs made history by becoming the first man to hit sixes in an over in a one-day international, achieving the landmark against hapless Netherlands in St Kitts. G is also for Adam Gilchrist who hit a record 149 in the final to see his team to victory.

H is for Hayden with the Australian opener hitting the fastest ever World Cup 100 in just 66 balls and going on to dominate the scoring charts. H is also for humour as illustrated by Dutch skipper Luke van Troost after seeing his slow bowler Daan van Bunge pulverised by Gibbs' record-setting hitting. "I told him to bowl a slower one," said the captain to his teammate. "'I just did'," was the bemused reply.

I is for Inzamam-ul-Haq. The proud Pakistan skipper saw his team humiliated by Ireland and devastated by the death of coach Bob Woolmer. Inzamam won the hearts of the Kingston crowd and millions watching around the world when he made a tearful exit at Sabina Park after announcing his one-day international retirement.

J is for Johnston. Ireland's Trent Johnston danced as close to an Irish jig as his ageing Aussie bones could manage every time he claimed a wicket. His teammates likened it to a chicken. J is also for Ed Joyce who helped Ireland qualify for the World Cup before switching allegiance to England. His reward? He was promptly dropped when the runs dried up.

K is for kids. In a trademark sign that a tournament is failing to woo the locals, World Cup organisers were reduced to busing in thousands of bemused school pupils to fill acres of empty seats. In Barbados, 4,000 of them added their shrill voices to the proceedings. K is also for South African all-rounder Kallis who, despite his critics, plays the game his way.

L is for Lara. The West Indies batting great, whose career was peppered with a host of records and runs, wept as he bowed out of international cricket unable to stem the decline of a once-feared team. L is also for Dwayne Leverock, the 255-pound (116kg) Bermuda spinner whose ungainliness perfectly illustrated the team's problems on their debut appearance.

M is for Mir. Pervez Mir was the Pakistan team spokesman who was a constant feature on TV screens and in newspapers mounting a dignified response to the Woolmer tragedy. M is also for Malinga, the bleach-blond Sri Lanka seamer with the slingshot action which befuddled South Africa. M is also for McGrath, the veteran Aussie bowler who claimed the all-time World Cup wickets record.

N is for no-hopers. Hang your heads in shame Bermuda, Scotland and Canada who played nine games and failed to muster a point between them.

O is for over-rated. Step forward India, the financial powerhouse of the international game who lost to Bangladesh and beat a hasty retreat home. O is also for over-priced as in tickets, 90 dollars in St Kitts for example where the average weekly wage is 100 dollars, and hotels who thought it fun to triple their rates.

P is for the Pegasus Jamaica which briefly became one of the most famous hotels in the world. It was where the Pakistan team stayed and where Bob Woolmer was murdered on March 18. On a lighter note, P is also for pedalo, Flintoff's transport of choice on his infamous night out.

Q is for quit and plenty of people were doing it at the Caribbean - Lara, Inzamam, Greg Chappell, Dav Whatmore, Duncan Fletcher and Clive Lloyd amongst others.

R is for resting. Sri Lanka caused controversy when they gave Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan a breather for the Super Eights match against Australia. The Aussies said it was something they would never do while Lanka wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara accused critics of double standards.

S is for Shields. Jamaica police's deputy commissioner Mark Shields was the urbane and articulate detective leading the hunt for Woolmer's killers.

T is for teenagers. Bangladesh's young side, which defeated mighty India and South Africa, was packed with fearless talent and made such an impression that they are already being considered as a potential threat when the 2011 World Cup takes place on the sub-continent.

U is for unsung heroes. The pre-tournament hype and publicity revolved around the marquee names but it was the likes of Andrew Hall, Scott Styris and Brad Hogg who were manning the barricades.

V is for Lou Vincent. The New Zealand opener made two noughts and then a century. But just when he thought his World Cup was up and running, he was ruled out with a broken wrist inflicted upon him by teammate Shane Bond in the nets.

W is for Woolmer. Former England Test batsman Bob Woolmer was a well-liked and hugely-respected coach admired for his even-handed relationship with players and for his innovative methods. Deeply depressed by Pakistan's shock loss to Ireland on March 17, he died the following day. His death is being treated as murder and the hunt for the killers is ongoing.

X is for X-factor and X-rated. Bangladesh had both, the former with their stunning wins over India and South Africa, the latter for their tame, lame defeat to Ireland.

Y is for youth. Just 20 years old but fresh-freshed enough to suggest mid-teens, Stuart Broad held his nerve in his first World Cup match to hit the runs which give England a one-wicket win over West Indies. It also sent Brian Lara into retirement on a losing note.

Z is for Zimbabwe. A team in turmoil, they mamanged a tie with Ireland and very little else. Disenchanted on their return home, two of their most promising players, Vusi Sibanda and Anthony Ireland, left to take up lucrative club contracts in Australia and England respectively.


Mandira…FIR Se

(Mandira says sorry after saree kicks up a storm)

So, Mandira Bedi invites an FIR, courtesy her designer saree that places the Indian flag at her feet, well almost.

Mandira’s attire has hardly gone unnoticed. So when she decked out in a Satya Paul saree, a patchwork of the national flags of 16 World Cup nations, the Indian tri-colour was seen at her ankles.

Subsequently, an FIR was lodged against Mandira and designer Punit Nanda for violating the Flag Code and insulting the tri-colour.

After her alarmed husband called her to inform about the row back home, Mandira was to quickly change the saree and apologise for the "inadvertent" lapse.

"I deeply apologise... I didn't mean to disrespect the (Indian) national flag," she said.

Last time it was a tattoo on her back that got the goat of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and Mandira had to tender an unconditional apology to save her skin.

Friday 27 April 2007

Only if it could silence the guns…

(Can they apply balm to the war wounds with a win tomorrow?)

Hours before the final showdown, Ricky Ponting has expectedly initiated the psychological warfare.

“If Barbados has the pace and bounce it had for the last couple of games, it should play into our hands beautifully,” Punter thundered, hinting he would unleash his pace battery on a lively Barbados track to bounce out the Lankans.

Glenn McGrath too joined the skirmish before the war. The Pigeon has scalped Sanath Jayasuriya seven times in his career and he wants him one last time tomorrow.

"In Australia I have always been reasonably successful against him, and I think the bounce has nicked him out quite a few times," Pigeon squeaked. Again, this was expected. McGrath has always been fond of such pre-match banter.

What was not really expected was Sanath Jayasuriya, that Matara Marauder, matching Punter and Pigeon decibel for decibel.

“'It doesn't matter what they bowl to me. I have been around long enough in international cricket to face any sort of bowling-if they bounce me, I can pull and hook as well… It's not as if we haven't played on bouncier pitches," Jayasuriya replied.

But all these rhetoric and saber-rattling seem irrelevant, even vulgar, when Muttiah Muralitharan takes a broad view and says he wants to win the cup to help his strife-torn countrymen forget, even if for a few hours, their troubled times.

"It would be a bigger achievement than all my personal records…It will act as an inspiration for youngsters and we being a team of different nationalities, it could also help tide over the problems our nation faces.

"We are going through a bad situation in our country but this could achieve something different," said Murali, a minority Tamil player. In fact the current squad has a Sinhala Buddhist in Jayasuriya, a Sinhala catholic in Chaminda Vaas, a Muslim in Farveez Maharoof and also a Tamil Catholic in Russel Arnold. Cricket has shown in Sri Lanka what it is capable of and that’s the best part of the game.

For a change, the LTTE Tigers have remote control in their hands not to explode a mine, but just to switch on innocuous TV sets in their hideouts; for once, they would acknowledge Jayasuriya, and not a certain Velupillai Prabhakaran, is the real Master Blaster.

Now if one more World Cup triumph could have silenced all the guns in this teardrop island in the Indian Ocean, I guess even a title-hungry Ponting would not mind losing for once. May the deserving team win tomorrow’s World Cup final.

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Tongue-in-Cheek and Foot-in-Mouth

(Usual suspect: McGrath exchanging pleasantries with Sarwan)

.....You don't want people saying to your kids, 'Your father is a bastard': Glenn McGrath

For some, sanity prevails late, but it does prevail in the end. Anyway, better late than never. Glenn McGrath suddenly woke up to a reality and says he does not want the world to remember him as a sledger.

This is what Pigoen said at the fag end of his career:

"You don't want people saying to your kids, 'Your father is a bastard'. I'm playing cricket because I love it, and if I'm out there getting angry all the time that's not what it's about. The times when I did blow up I used to regret it afterwards …"

Surprisingly, a sickly tribe still insists sledging is more a problem with the sub-continent countries which often fail to realise the culturtal difference and try to blow it out of proportion. Hopefully Pigeon’s admission would help them regain sanity.

Incidentally, McGrath is not the lone Aussie larrikin, Justin Langer too is disturbed by the menace.

"I don't believe in it (sledging) and it is something that has disturbed me over the years, particularly when Glenn McGrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan were involved in an ugly incident in 2003."

Punter, howeber, does not buy Pigeon’s theory. On the contrary, Ricky Ponting in fact ridiculed Langer's No Sledge Pledge.

"There must be two Justin Langers in the world I think. I don't know what's happened there. But I know the little fella was never too far away from it if something was going on."

Anyway, we take this opportunity to recall some of the sideshows that went along the cricket matches. Here goes some choicest expletives…A Perfect 10 for you.

1. Glenn McGrath v Eddo Brandes:

Pigeon was bowling to the Zimbabwe number 11 and Brandes’s bat was nowhere near the ball. A frustrated McGrath yelled "Why are you so fat?" Not to be outdone, Brandes replied,"Because every time I make love to your wife, she gives me a biscuit."

2. Viv Richards vs Greg Thomas:

Thomas, the Glamorgan pacer, thought he had won the battle after beating King Richards’ bat a couple of times. "It's red, round and weighs about five ounces, in case you were wondering," was his words to the batsman. The next ball duely disappeared over the ropes and Richards replied “Greg, you know what it looks like. Now go and find it."

3. Merv Hughes vs Robin Smith:

This one followed the same script. The Big Bad Hughes had beaten Smith a couple of times in the 1989 Lord's Test before giving him a piece of his mind. "You can't f***ing bat, mate."

Smith hit the next one for a four and shared his thought. "Hey Merv, we make a fine pair. I can't f***ing bat and you can't f***ing bowl."

4. Rod Marsh vs Ian Botham:

Beefy had just taken guard in the Ashes match when Iron Gloves greeted him saying: "So how's your wife and my kids?"

5. Daryll Cullinan vs Shane Warne:

Warne was licking lips in anticipation when Cullinan, his bunny, was taking guard. Warnie in fact could not resist but inform the Protea that he had been waiting two years for another chance to humiliate him. Cullinan decided he had to won this war. "Looks like you spent it eating" he retorted.

6. Adam Parore vs Daryll Cullinan (my favourite):

Cullinan – having already earned the reputation as Warne's bunny by then – carefully prodded a Chris Harris delivery in the match against New Zealand when Parore yelled "Bowled Warnie!".

7. James Ormond vs Mark Waugh:

Ormond was not particularly impressed during the Ashes tour when Mark Waugh greeted him with these words... "**** me, look who it is. Mate, what are you doing out here? There's no way you're god enough to play for England". Undaunted, Ormond replied: "Maybe not, but at least I'm the best cricketer in my family".

8. Ravi Shastri vs an Aussie 12th man:

Ah, an Indian at last. Ravi Shastri hit one to the fielder and was looking for a single. "If you leave the crease I'll break your ****ing head", the fielder said. Pat came Shastri’s reply, “If you could bat as well as you can talk you wouldn't be the ****ing 12th man".

9. Malcolm Marshall vs David Boon:

An Australian outsledged! A Marshall in his pomp had Boon in all sort of trouble. Finally the pace legend went forward with a proposal: "Now David, are you going to get out now or am I going to have to bowl around the wicket and kill you?"

10. Glen McGrath vs Ramnaresh Sarwan:

Ok, I don’t want my blog to run into trouble. You find it on the net for yourself. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Lankan Lion has Kiwi in breakfast, Kangaroo for dinner?

(Murali the Magician, again the wrecker-in-chief)

Australia is not the team to step and skid on banana skin. That’s for lesser cricketing mortals, like India or Pakistan. Even South Africa. And thanks God, finally there seems a team with the wherewithal and the guile to upset the Aussie applecart.

Lankan triumph against New Zealand in the first World Cup semifinal conveys the Lankans are here for business. You simply don’t have a better balanced team in the World Cup. Not even Australia – with no slow bowler of worth in their ranks -- can boast of such combination.

The batting order looks a never ending one with each of them having distinction either in the bail-out act or the belting act. And his yesterday’s ton meant Mahela Jayawardene too came to the party and the timing could not have been better.

The bowling is potent enough to bring disorder to any batting order. Australian bats, provided they get past South Africa today, would struggle to see the ball coming off Lasith Malinga’s hands. Vaas may have lost couple of yards but no waning in guile – remember how he and his partner-in-conspiracy Sangakkara stumped Lara? Dilhara Fernando has also developed into an intelligent bowler and he put it on display in that last over against England.

Also, the mere sight of Muralitharan licking his lips and tossing the ball up at the end of his bowling mark is enough to send shivers down the spine. All those innuendoes and cat-calls from the Australian gallery are still fresh in his mind and Murali always loved to sizzle in sizzlers.

Come Saturday, the Lions would be ready to have Kangaroo for dinner.

Monday 23 April 2007

Of players, prostitutes and a Prince

(Photo: AP)

"There is a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen. What is your price?"
Kerry Packer , during negotiation with the then Australian Cricket Board for TV rights.

Packer did not say cricketers but I find they have a lot in common with the prostitutes and I don’t mean to insult either of them in my comparison.

As professions, they can’t be more different but at the end of the day, cricketers, like prostitutes, are actually entertainers and at least Brian Lara, the entertainer par excellence, knows that.

"I just want to be remembered as someone who went out there and tried to entertain - it is a sport where people pay to come through the turnstiles and watch you and it is most important that someone can leave and say they have enjoyed watching Brian Lara play and enjoyed watching West Indies play."

And after we saw him last time against England, an emotion-drenched Lara again asked the choc-a-bloc Kensington Oval, "Did I entertain you? If yes, I'm very, very happy."

It’s rather surprising to see how close cricketers are to the practitioner of world’s oldest business and both know, they are as good as their body. A cricketer tones his torso, strengthens the legs and works on his muscles with the same care that a prostitute would do. For both, body is the temple, and also their bread-and-butter. They are in demand as long as they are in fine shape and they know the worth of their body.

All these talks of winning, losing, records, sportsmanship are pure crap. All that maters and appeals to us is entertainment. Deep at the heart, we always wanted to see a particular player, often an entertainer in gears, to do well. If that meant team’s victory, it was a bonus. Cricket pretends to be a team game but essentially, it’s an individual’s arena. Teammates merely provide the contrast.

Posterity, fortunately, cares little for teams. It’s the individuals we remember. Mind is not a dormitory where you put up squads. It’s a sacrosanct chamber, that square of the temple where you place one, maybe two, cricketers and deify them. And the lone criterion for that place has to be entertainment. Down the years, people won’t care how many matches Lara’s ramshackle West Indies won. What will linger is Lara’s high backlift, the angular trajectory of the bat and his gazelle footwork. For that’s entertainment.

Sunday 22 April 2007

The Prince departs...

First an admission. I belong to that tribe, which would go to their grave, whining Brian Lara did not get the team he deserved. It was more than evident once again in his final ODI yesterday.

First Marlon Samuels committed the heinous crime of getting Lara run out in his last appearance (In hindsight, probably this was only fair because no bowler was good enough to get Lara’s prized wicket). Then their brain-dead bowlers denied a decent farewell to their captain by hemorrhaging runs and failing to defend an imposing total of 300.

Conned into believing in an improbable West Indies win, I was readying to forgive Gayle.

For those who saw him in the ICC Champions Trophy, the Gayle we saw in the World Cup looked like an imposter, a look-alike at best. In Champions Trophy, he seemed capable of batting blindfolded. In World Cup, even blindfolded bowlers could beat his bat.

If well begun is half done, West Indies lost half the battle every time Gayle failed. And Gayle was incredibly consistent at that. He never realised the worth of putting a premium to his wicket, nor did it sink in him that his off-spinners in the Caribbean conditions could prove as stifling as the hanging ropes. But again, I was ready to forgive him as Gayle sought his redemption yesterday.

Gayle's apparently got his timing wrong to show that he still can bat. After all, the semifinal door had been slammed on West Indian faces. More importantly, we wanted to see Lara and see him sizzle in his swansong. So every time Gayle hit a four or a six, the crowd just purred in indignation at the distraction. “Can we have the real action please?”, asked the choc-a-bloc Kensington Oval (when last did you see a full house in a World up match?).

Subsequently Lara came and went in a span of 17 balls. Since he took to the field to his haring up the stairs before vanishing behind the dressing room, the man seemed greater than the game itself.

Samuels' one banality sent moans across the boisterous stadium. He must have prayed there was no ground beneath his feet so that he could hide somewhere. The dismissal will surely haunt the poor guy for some time.

But along with Gayle, I was ready to pardon him as well. For like Gayle -- Smith too -- Samuels also struck a half century to ensure a decent farewell for his captain.

We sincerely prayed for a West Indies win yesterday. Lara did not deserve to go a defeated man, for he has been an out and out success story, throughout. Even when his side lost, he managed to win. Let down by a team of perpetual pretenders and abysmally ill-equipped dressing-roomies, Lara excelled not because of the team but in spite of it. But again his team let him down, for one last time.

It's easy to dub him a loner and dump him but great minds tend to go into a self-created cocoon to protect their genius from mediocrity and we should not have problem with that.

An enigma? a selfish giant? a loner genius? call him what may wish, cricket just got pauper yesterday.

Friday 20 April 2007

PCB sounds out John Wright for coach’s job

Both India and Pakistan had their share of ignominy in the World Cup. But while BCCI decided to go with the flow, its Pakistani counterpart has clearly stole the march with a slew of measures with an eye on the future.

Trust the politically correct BCCI to strike a balance between the star system it maintains and the popular demands. Their quick-fix solution to World Cup disaster was convincing Ravi Shastri to be the makeshift manager, tagging along Venkatesh Prasad (bowling coach) and Robin Singh (fielding coach).

In contrast, Pakistan has appointed the underrated Shoaib Malik as the ODI captain, put a paid selection committee in place and now is in talks with John Wright for the coach’s job.

PCB is impressed with Wright’s excellent record with Team India and Wright is not apparently averse to return to the sub-continent.

"Wright's response was good. The board is also looking at another foreigner, Tim Boon, coach of Leicestershire, as a possible candidate," one PCB source said.

Aaqib Javed, meanwhile, remains the front-runner if PCB goes for a Pakistani for the job.

Wednesday 18 April 2007

He's back! Well, he claims so...

Those who thought we’ve seen the last of Shoaib Akhtar can take a walk. The erratic “Rawalpindi Express” has emerged out of the blue and back is his swagger.

Shoaib, who these days is slugging at Lahore’s National Cricket Academy under NCA chief coach Mudassar Nazar’s watchful eyes, claims he has given himself four months to return. Now, God save Pakistan cricket.

And yes, he insists he was dropped from Pakistan’s World Cup squad because of injury and not because he had failed a privately-conducted dope test in London.

“I was dropped from the team because of my injury. We underwent no private dope tests,” Shoaib said. Did anyone listen, let alone believe?

“I have a great equation with Mudassar who has worked with me before and understands me as a person and bowler,” said Shoaib. We can only pray for Mudassar.

And if you have had not enough, sample this.

“I am learning to be a little more diplomatic and I have grown up,” Shoaib said. We are enlightened.

Tuesday 17 April 2007

Shoaib Malik: The Boy Set To Become the King

So, it’s not overtly religious Joseph John...err…Yousuf Youhana…err…Mohammad Yousuf; nor it is the abysmally untalented but incredibly effective Shahid Afridi. Post-World Cup disaster, Pakistan is about to anoint Shoaib Malik as its new ODI captain.

This is far from the best of times for Pakistan cricket. They have returned pauper from the World Cup in Caribbean, losing their reputations, both personal and collective, and their coach too. Described by Peter Roebuck as “an uneasy combination of rogues and zealots”, the Pakistan side looks like a forlorn ship, sans radar, sailors and logistics and bobbing in troubled water.

It’s no easy to maintain sanity amid the madness that Pakistan cricket finds itself in. But Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), despite all its ills, deserves a pat in the back for picking Shoaib.

I remember meeting the rather reticent Shoaib in Dharamshala in 2005 when Pakistan played its tour opener against an Indian Board President XI. Dharamshala is the most beautiful cricket stadium never likely to see a full match, thanks to the veil of cloud always hovering over the ground and I buttonholed him during one of the rain-interruptions.

Shoaib was going through a bad phase. His elbow had gone under the knife for the second time to correct his action and future looked bleak after twice called for a suspect action.

“So what next? How you plan to keep yourself afloat?” I asked. He said in chaste Hindi, “Koshish Karunga, zarurat ho to wicket-keeping bhi kar lunga. (Will try my best, would don the keeper’s gloves, if needed).” And he had the backing of his coach, a certain Bob Woolmer, who also felt that given his commitment, the youngster had it in him to excel wherever he wanted.

Since then, Shoaib only grew in stature. But same was not the case with the side. Under Inzamam-ul Haq, they prayed more and playing less. Inzy’s men looked more like Tablighi Jamaat than Men in Green, leaving Woolmer exasperated.

In contrast to his captain, Shoaib clearly doesn't believe in overdoing things. he is no atheist but he has got his priority right. Remember, he married an Indian girl, Ayesha Siddiqui, in a ceremony conducted by an Islamic cleric over the telephone from Pakistan.

Clearly one of the most under-rated players of his age, Shoaib has batted in every position and has proved himself as one of the most cerebral batsmen of his era. He does not have Afridi’s brute force or Yousuf’s defence but Pakistan owes many a win to the youngster whose maturity goes far beyond his age. Maybe it's in Shoaib that Pakistan has found the leader it was searching for.

Sunday 15 April 2007

The height of Ponting's fear

(Tendulkar, Lara - the pocket dynamoes)

When he is not talking about things like on-field etiquette, sportsman spirit and how-to-behave-in-a-pub, Ricky Ponting talks sense. At worst, his words can be thought-provoking.

Punter's most recent observation is that hulks like Kevin Pietersen and Matthew Hayden are overshadowing pint-sized bats like him, Sachin Tendulkar and Brain Lara . He fears cricket is all set to become a game of the towering players and players of his stature might feel like dwarf among giants.

Incidentally, Ponting's words apparently vindicate the recent BBC-commissioned survey which attempts to shatter the popular myth that little men are more aggressive, a notion that gained popularity since a 5'6" Napoleon Bonaparte picked a fight with rest of Europe.

Researchers claimed the 'Napoleon complex' or 'Short Man Syndrome' is in fact a myth and now Ponting airs the same view.

Since Don Bradman picked up a bat and the game was graced by such run-machines like Sunil Gavaskar, Javed Miandad, Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting , it never felt -- the bigger, the better. On the contrary, these big little men strode like giants despite their short height.

Interestingly, Thomas T Samaras, a Director and Senior Researcher at Reventropy Associates in San Diego, and his associates have published a number of papers in scientific and medical journals on the positive aspects of shorter height and they claim little men have faster reaction times, greater ability to accelerate body movements, stronger muscles in proportion to body weight, greater endurance, and the ability to rotate the body faster.

Naturally, shorter people excel as gymnasts, divers, skiers, martial artists, rock climbers, figure skaters, rodeo riders, soccer players and long distance runners and within their weight classes, they are excellent wrestlers, boxers, and weight lifters too!

Personally, this "growing" trend does not bother me either. At 5'8", I find enough solace in the facts that shorter people are less likely to break a hip from falling and die in auto crashes! That explains why I prefer to remain so "down-to-earth", at least physically.

Slinga Malinga, the Hair Apparent!

As I said in one of my earlier posts, I still believe hair...err... here you have cricket’s second most outrageous hair ever spotted anywhere near a stadium (for those who came in late, Darrel, the Oz Man in White remains the first in my list). And it's really difficult to say which is weirder, Lasith Malinga's round-arm action or the hairdo he sports.

However I may pooh-pooh it but hairdresser Nishantha Jayasekera reveals it took him two days of painstaking efforts to finally come up with the style of his famous client's liking and hair... you have Malinga.

Jayasekera runs the Le Paris salon in Panadura near Colombo and counts Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chamara Silva, Malinga Bandara and Hashan Tilakaratne among his clients. But when it comes to hairstyle, he has to spare most time with "Slinga Malinga".

"Malinga has his own hair ideas and he is not afraid to try out anything new. It took me two days to get the look," said Jayasekera.

Coach Tom Moody too has lost count how many hair cut Malinga had since he took over.

"He has had many hairstyles over the past 12 months and you never know what it will be tomorrow," Moody added.

Jamaica Police deny treating Inzy's boys like criminals

Jamaican Police, it's deputy commissioner Mark Shields to be precise, have vehemently denied treating Pakistani cricketers like criminals.

Younis Khan had recently alleged that he and his fellow team mates went through a nightmarish stay in the Caribbean where they were knocked out of the World Cup by Ireland and then had to go through humiliations following the murder of coach Bob Woolmer in a Kingston hotel.

"At one stage I got so angry with the way we were being treated I told the Jamaican authorities we are international cricketers not criminals," Younis said

The Pakistani players were grilled, finger-printed and had to give their DNA samples before leaving the Caribbean.

Shields, however, dismissed the allegation, saying ""Nothing could be further than the truth," and added "We had 100 per cent cooperation from the Pakistan team."

The top cop also announced that Police had received the toxicology results in the Bob Woolmer murder case but said they needed time to analyse the reports before reaching a conclusion.

Saturday 14 April 2007

Younis Khan, the wounded Pathan, shies away from captaincy

(Younis heckled at airport on return from Caribbean)

Stung by vitriol from all corners, a livid Younis Khan has rejected Pakistan’s captaincy, saying the humiliation is not worth it. He’s even planning to quit ODI and play only Test matches.

“I told them 'thank you for the offer but I am not interested, especially after the way the team has been treated after the World Cup'," Younis.

One can understand his state of the troubled mind. There world came crashing down in the World Cup. They first lost to Ireland to crash out of the event and then lost their coach Bob Woolmer.

What followed is a long rigmarole of humiliation. They were treated like criminals, were forced to stay back even though their World Cup dream was over. They were grilled, finger-printed and then had swab forced into their mouth to collect DNA samples.

Younis admits at one stage, he yelled at the police authorities, asking them not to treat the players like murderers. “We were treated as criminals, as if we had murdered Woolmer.”
The anger is understandable for Younis was especially fond of the late Woolmer. Younis used to call Woolmer’s wife, Gill, mom and they treated the player as their third son.
Things proved equally bad for Younis when he returned home after the horrendous week in the West Indies.

“Bring a donkey for him and ask him to sit on it and roam him around the city,'” one of the angry fans at Karachi International Airport shouted when Younis had arrived from London. A furious Younis had to be escorted to home by friends and family members.

But they could not keep the player away from harsh jokes and television spoof telecast round the clock.

"Losing and winning is part of the game but when your family is not spared and gets threatening calls and people abuse and insult you on returning to the country, then the captaincy is not worth it," said Younis, Inzamam-ul Haq’s heir apparent for two years.

"It was humiliating to see musicians and actors making fun of us and of our services to Pakistan cricket on television,” said the Pathan.

Friday 13 April 2007

Duck Tales

(Fleming lbw Vaas for zero, fourth time in a row. AFP Photo)

The Lankan Lions finally brought down the high-flying Kiwis in the Super Eight clash yesterday and it snapped New Zealand's record sequence of nine ODI wins.

When Fleming was trapped by Chaminda Vaas for a duck, some interesting statistics came to the fore. This was Fleming's fourth duck in a row against Sri Lanka and it was Vaas who got rid of him on all four occasions! And, hold your breath, on each occasion, Vaas has removed him leg before wicket!

For those who has a special liking for numbers, here are details of Fleming's duck details!

8.1.2006 Fleming lbw Vaas Napier 0
20.10.2006 Fleming lbw Vaas Brabourne St.Bombay 0
6.1.2007 Fleming lbw Vaas Auckland 0
12.4.2007 Fleming lbw Vaas Grenada 0

Overall, we are told, Fleming has been dismissed without scoring six times against Sri Lanka - 17th time overall in ODIs.

Vaas has claimed Fleming's wicket 11 times - the most by any bowler. Brett Lee and Waqar Younis has captured Fleming's wicket seven times each.

Fleming the captain, with 14 ducks against his name, this equals Arjuna Ranatunga and the third in the skipper's duck-list is Sourav Ganguly, who had nine noughts during his captaincy.

Mandira says SORRY after tattoo raises a storm

These days, controversy plagues anyone and everyone who has anything to do with Indian cricket. Mandira Bedi, that czarina of all the fanfare and foofaraw associated with the game, is only the latest in the list.

Sachin Tendulkar’s reported comments against Greg Chappell landed him in trouble inviting a BCCI show cause notice. Ditto with Yuvraj Singh, who is busy these days writing his explanation which is to be submitted to the board soon. Before it could die down, Tendulkar found himself at the centre of another storm with pictures showing him cutting a cake resembling a national flag.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s poor World Cup form saw a mob attacking his under-construction house in Ranchi and then his proposed swimming pool irked his neighbours who lodged a complaint, alleging it would bring down the water level.

For Mandira, it was not tirade against Chappell, or poor form or any swimming pool. The anchor apparently incurred the wrath of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) unconditional public apology from her for displaying the tattoo of Ek Omkar (the Sikh religious symbol) on her back.

Mandira, however, was quick to put a lid on the controversy and said “I have this tattoo because I'm proud to be a Sikh. If this has hurt the religious sentiments of anyone, I'm deeply sorry.” She just hopes that would placate the SGPC.
Incidentally, it's not just her back. Mandira has a Tibetan Om tattoo on her lower waist. " my belly button acts as the chandra bindu (dot) above it,” a proud Mandira said. The Tibetans , however, are yet to file a complaint.

Thursday 12 April 2007

A Captain Is As Good As The Coach He Gets… or… Coaches Win Matches

Now that BCCI is headhunting for a full-time coach, I ponder who fits the bill and wonder how much it hinges on the captain-coach relation.

I often felt that like openers, the captain-coach duo too needs to be perfect foil for each other, at least in Indian scenario. They should be as different as chalk and cheese, acid and alkali, yin and yang. I believe it’s like an average Indian couple. One of them has to make some sacrifice, concede an extra inch, and take the backseat to allow the other to cap the initiative. It may smack of male chauvinism but the reality if you have equal number of hen-pecked hubbies as against docile wives!

I feel the Sourav Ganguly-John Wright marriage yielded the results just because of that. Ganguly’s relation with the former Kiwi captain may have dwindled towards the end but the southpaw should acknowledge that he owes much of his success, and a good drink, to the affable Kiwi.

The Ganguly-Wright pair was just the perfect combination. An assertive, aggressive, hi-adrenalin skipper in perfect contrast to a reticent, introvert coach. Indian cricket owes a lot to Wright. A divorcee, away from his two sons, Wright spent many a lonely new year’s eve in company of candles and his favourite guitar in his hotel room in the adopted homeland.

You can always accuse him of being soft, vulnerable to Ganguly’s tantrums and whims but to his credit, Wright never used media to wash the dirty linen in public. Media is a dangerous weapon, a double-edged blade that hardly serves any purpose other than mudding the water. See how Wright’s successor manipulated media to serve his purpose and left the team in complete shamble.

Wright did raise issues with the men who mattered but Ganguly, with a Godfather in Jagmohan Dalmiya, could not be reined in, the zonal selection system stayed on (till Sharad Pawar’s regime just scrapped it) and other things also ceased to change. Despite all provocations, Wright never disgraced Indian cricket.

Once he quit – on his own, no mean feat in Indian cricket – I always doubted how long the Ganguly-Chappell honeymoon would last. Both are the same side of the coins, headstrong, abrasive, combative, pugnacious.

It was obvious that two men of such strong ego can’t share the dressing room and one had to go. Soon sparks started flying out all over and Chappell won the first round. Enter Rahul Dravid and to be honest, I expected this marriage to last longer and deliver the goods as well.

Dravid is a perfect team man, a reliable cricketer and a captain’s delight. But he is not the one who would assert himself . And I’m not the only one to feel so about a player who has played the second fiddle throughout his life – his epic knocks would always got overshadowed by VVS Laxman’s class, Ganguly’s pyrotechnics or Sachin Tendulkar’s stroke-making.

Dravid needed a coach like Chappell and the combination looked a balanced one. Somehow, despite their mutual admiration, the Dravid-Chappell pair did not produce the results. You can’t really blame Dravid. I believe a captain is as good as his coach. And at times, coaches win matches.

Wednesday 11 April 2007

The Shit Midas!

Historic Test win in West Indies, record number of successful chases in ODIs…still Greg Chappell is not my man with the Midas Touch.

To be honest, I didn’t like him and it’s not so much about cricket, as much as culture. A cultural clash to be precise. And in such clashes, no one is right or wrong. It’s just a matter of liking and disliking. From that point of view, I dislike Greg but that doesn’t mean I’m right and he’s wrong.

Now that he’s no more the Team India coach, I embark on an obit of his first international coaching career.

I think Greg is cursed. An exceptional batsman with a ton in both his debut and swansong Tests, centuries in each innings of his debut as captain and an average of 53.86. The tragedy, however, is that the lone lingering memory of his playing days was when he came forward to advice his younger brother Trevor to bowl under-arm in the third final of the 1981 World Series Cup.

I was watching the tapes again. New Zealand needed six off the last ball to tie, and not win, the match and Greg appeared to order his brother Trevor not just to tell him bowl an under-arm delivery, but also demonstrated it how to do. Rod Marsh was shamed to death behind the stumps and screamed “No! No!”. What followed was one of the darkest chapters in the game’s history.

Even when Greg took over as Team India coach, he brought the same jinx. It was jackpot for someone who had no prior experience of coaching any international side when Greg was selected as Team India coach and it’s well-documented that Sourav Ganguly’s backing made all the difference, even though key panelist Sunil Gavaskar voted against the Australian.

Soon after the honeymoon period was over, what followed was the Greg vs Ganguly saga, which I think is another cultural clash. Gratitude is considered a virtue in Indian society, while the Aussies perceive it as a hindrance to professionalism. A way could have been found to deal the issue but that needed both parties to concede some grounds. And Greg’s media manipulation – so many instances to cite – made things worse.

He would leak things to his selective friends in the media and resorted to all sort of practices unbecoming of a coach.

While the Greg vs Ganguly broadside – it was one-way traffic with Ganguly maintaining deafening silence against Greg’s verbal diarrhea -- dominated the headlines, side-by-side went Greg vs Harbhajan, Greg vs Zaheer, Greg vs Yuvraj, Greg vs Sehwag, Greg vs Tendulkar, almost an unending list.

Even his holiday at Alappuzha landed the houseboat owner in trouble. I mean it was no way Chappell’s fault but the fact remains, wherever he goes, whatever he does, it has always kicked up a row and everything seems in mess.

Sick of clichés, I was trying neologism and that’s the gem I stumbled on, Shit Midas. Whenever Greg laid his fingers on something, it turned shit. You have Team India before you.

Tuesday 10 April 2007

Brett Lee on song!

Batsmen are made to face the music whenever Brett Lee reaches his bowling mark. But the affable bloke proves he’s not about chin music only.

Currently missing World Cup action with an ankle injury, Brett Lee is in India to lay the platform for a successful post-retirement career.

Lee, who penned, sang and appeared in the romantic duet "You're The One For Me" along with Bollywood icon Asha Bhonsle, announced in Delhi that he will cut an album in India by the end of this year.

Lee, along with brother Shane, plays in the band Six & Out and claims he has been offered a few roles in Bollywood movies. Though it’s still cricket which tops his agenda, Lee says, “"Definitely my aim is to star in a Bollywood movie but it has to be in a right time but it definitely will happen.”

Lee knows he can rake in the maximum moolah in India, a completely cricket-crazy country and he left no stone unturned in his preparation. He has a Hindi tutor too and when a large battery of reporters were lining up in a queue for one-to-one, Lee was heard urging them “Jaldi, Jaldi” !

Monday 9 April 2007

BCCI likely to ease endorsement strangulation

We surely have not seen the last of the endorsement row. After Rahul Dravid made a plea on his teammates’ behalf for a healthy dialogue with the board, BCCI responded by saying it’s ready to consider any "fair representation" by the cricketers on the twin contentious issues of contracts and endorsements.

BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah said the board enjoys a healthy relation with the players and "Any fair representation by the players can always be considered by the BCCI."

This would surely encourage the cricketers who were hit where it hurts most after their World Cup debacle.

Earlier, Dravid issued a media release claiming “there is no conflict between the players’ and the BCCI” even on the “irksome issues” of endorsement and contract.

Following is Dravid’s e-mail to the media:

A number of journalists have been calling me to seek the players’ point of view on the contracts and player endorsements. So far we have got all our information from the media only. It is not correct to project this whole issue as a conflict of commercial interests of the players and the BCCI. Let me clarify that there is no conflict between the players’ and the BCCI. The interests of the players’ and the BCCI are inclusive and not exclusive. The BCCI has always been very caring and considerate about the players’ interests and I am sure that the BCCI would discuss the issue with the players at a suitable time. When this opportunity arises then we shall jointly examine the areas of concern and bother and crease out the irksome issues and work out a package that can take care of the collective interests and concerns of the BCCI and the players. I have spoken to Ravi Shastri and a number of the players and they all feel that with a healthy dialogue with the board which there always has been all issues can be sorted out. Meanwhile I would request the media and the fans to please show some restraint .We have had a disappointing World Cup and it is important that we all work together as the various stake holders in the game to help improve and take our cricket forward.


Rahul Dravid

Sobers, Weeks defend Lara

The line of demarcation between good and great is fortunately rather thick and time and again, the greats amaze us by retaining their sanity while madness plagues the good. I'm talking about former players and this is in response to reports that Gary Sobers and Everton Weeks have thrown their weight behind the beleaguered Brian Lara.

You don't need to be a cricket pundit to say that Lara's team is struggling. The fact is you don't bother about helping hands and consoling words when your team is doing well. You need them in the hour of crisis and the trio of Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft took just that opportunity to bay for Lara's blood. Notice the timing, in the middle of the World Cup.

West Indies cricket owes much of its slump to enemy within and the three-pronged attack against Lara only vindicates that.

Fortunately, as against them, we also have the likes of Sir Gary Sobers and Everton Weeks who retains the same sense of timing that has been te hallmark of their batting in its pomp.

“There have always been criticisms about Lara. I don’t know what people expect of him. I don’t know if the people expect him to hold their (the players) hands and to take them away and make them perform," Sobers wondered.

"...I don’t think there is a person who has that same knowledge and that same ability as Brian Lara."

Weeks reminded a captain is as good as the team he has at his disposal.

"All of the great captains had great teams. Lara has not got a great team and I wouldn’t go as far as saying that he should be fired."

Sunday 8 April 2007

The King has been slain, hail the Minnows!

Top dogs beware, the Bangla tigers are out on prowl. Those who believed Bangladesh's win over India was a mere fluke are now busy disowning their statements.

Suddenly the World Cup has come to life with Bangladesh's 67-run win against South Africa,
currently the numero uno ODI side, and you can't take anything away from Habibul Bashar's boys.

Mohammad Ashraful chose the big stage to fire, while their phalanx of left-arm spinners -- Abdur Razzak, Mohammad Rafique and Saqibul Hasan -- proved they are more than handy for any side. And that chirpy stumper Mushfiqur Hasim who must be having a soar throat after cheering relentlessly throughout the South Africa innings.

Even from this distance, I can see Michael Atherton, Michael Holding and Ricky Ponting
with egg all over their face.

Atherton's stonewalling hardly won him any admirer throughout his career and same with his
predictions that the minnows would produce a lot of "rubbish" cricket.

"Is Ireland's participation in the World Cup really going to grow the game there? Are they
really going to benefit from being hammered in front of a global audience?" Atherton had asked.

Microphone Holding, as he is known these days, went one step further and lambasted
organisers for including minnows
which, he felt, would devalue the tournament and throw up
"a whole series of mismatches".

And Ricky Punter Ponting wondered what Scotland, Bermuda and Canada were doing in the
Caribbeans! It must have been for holidaying, he thought.

"There are probably places and times for the minnows to be involved, but this tournament
shouldn't be one of them," Ponting preached.

For Atherton, my suggestion would be instead of peeping at other's bed room, set your own
house in order. Spare a thought fot the poor Poms, who threaten to acquire the minnow's
status in the near future.

In Holding's case, I stick to my view that he put all his common sense on this side of the sill before entering the commentary box.

And Ponting's words are essentially the quintessential larrikin arrogance and you can't expect vision from a person whom success has turned myopic.

McGrath says he has no offer for rebel league in India

Contradicting claims by the organisers, Glenn McGrath said he has not been approached for the rebel Indian Cricket League, with a winner's purse of $1m.

The Pigeon is not keen on joining the ICL either, once he calls it quits after the World Cup.

Presently busy plotting Australia's World Cup hat-trick in the Caribbeans, McGrath was rather irked by the rumour and his agent said,"Glenn can confirm that neither him nor his manager have been approached and his singular focus is on the World Cup."

The story doing the round was that the Essel Group, headed by Subhas Chandra, was on the verge of roping in the Aussie quartet of McGrath, his old partner-in-crime Shane Warne, Justin Langer and Michael Slater for the ICL.

And now Radio Jamaica adds fuel to the speculation fire claiming Brian Lara too is likely to be part of the circus.

Saturday 7 April 2007

And the child goes to...

Thought to share another potshot at Team India following the World Cup debacle. This was the latest spoof on Team India that landed in my inbox.

There was a couple married for quite some time and they had a boy of 5-6 years old. Their relationship was turning sour.
So finally it reached such a stage that they thought it was better for them to be divorced than carry on such a relationship.
So they consulted a lawyer. But the big question was who would have the kid.
In the hearing in the court; it was decided that this choice should be left on the kid.
So the judge asked "Son would you like to stay with your mummy?"
Kid said, "No, mummy beats me."
So the judge asked "Then, would you like to stay with your papa then?

Kid said, "No, papa beats me."

Now the judge was in a dilemma and was not able to decide what to do... after pondering for some time he smiled with the ideas he had in his mind about the child......

And he gave the judgment that the kid would stay with...

...the Indian cricket team...because they never beat anybody, not even Bangladesh. Hooh Haah, India...

Chappell hospitalised in Mumbai

The emotional turmoil seemed to have taken its toll on an otherwise stoic Greg Chappell's health and the Australian has been rushed to Bombay Hospital on Saturday.

His wife, Judy, said Chappell was feeling uneasy since last night and was taken to the hospital due to an anxiety attack.

Chappell and his wife were scheduled to leave on Saturday night for Singapore after having postponed their departure by a day as the former Australian captain became indisposed.

A spokesperson of the hospital, however, said that Chappell had been brought to the hospital 'for a check-up and had not been admitted.

"He was brought to the hospital and has been receiving a checkup at the hospital. He has not been admitted and there is presently no cause for concern. He would leave the hospital after the checkup," he added.

Pool lands Dhoni in deep water!

Stars are simply not in favour for star stumper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. After World Cup flop show and its sequel in the Twenty20 tournament, Mahi’s plan to have a swimming pool in his under-construction house at Ranchi’s Harmu Housing Colony lands him in deep water.

Earlier, a mob had attacked the under-construction building when Team India was knocked out of the World Cup.

Clearly not amused by their famous next-door neighbour’s plan, some people– including a retired IPS officer, an ex-colonel and a former Lieutenant Colonel – have approached the Ranchi Regional Development Authority (RRDA), complaining that the pool would deplete underground water level in the area and deprive them of potable water.

Dhoni is at his wit’s end thinking why these people are out to pour cold water on his pool plan!

Friday 6 April 2007

Ravi Shastri team India's interim coach?

With BCCI taking its sweet time before coming out with its decisions –a press conference is scheduled in Mumbai tomorrow – speculation was rife with a number of questions doing the rounds:

  1. What happens to Greg Chappell?
  2. If he’s removed, who steps into Chappell’s Chappals (that’s slipper in Hindi)?
  3. Can Rahul Dravid retain captaincy?

And the likely answers are:

  1. BCCI gets rid of Chappell and employs him! Simplified, it means he vacates Team India coach’s job and instead would function as Consultant at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), Bangalore.
  2. Ravi Shastri is all set to step forward as India’s interim coach till next month’s Bangladesh tour, provided he gets the green signal from ESPN-STAR.
  3. Dravid retains captaincy but would be interesting to see him lead a bunch of seniors who see him as Chappell’s Man Friday.

So, keep your fingers crossed for a few more hours and trust BCCI to surprise you again.

Thursday 5 April 2007

Whatmore throws hat in fray, wants to coach India

After doing wonders with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the heavily mustachioed Dav Whatmore is now game for a stint with Team India.

"If the opportunity comes along surely any person who is a professional coach and prides himself in doing a good job would be interested in coaching the Indian team. If there is a position and an opportunity there, I will be very interested,” said the burly Colombo-born Australian.

Whatmore, a right hand bat, played just seven Tests besides his lone ODI appearance but then great players often cut sorry figure while trying their hand at coaching. Even the adamant Greg Chappell is likely to vouch for that.

Whatmore’s career as a coach is impressive, to say the least. He masterminded Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup triumph and has instilled a sense of pride among his Bangla wards, who knocked out India in the World Cup.

Unlike Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, India is a cricket crazy nation with everyone having an opinion on the game and the players have to shoulder huge burden of expectations. Whatmore, however, in undaunted by that prospect.

"Firstly any job is a challenge. I have taken up pretty good challenges in the last 10 years and this will be another big challenge. There is huge passion for the game in India. It is a big religion there and there is enormous pressure on the team,” he said.

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Greg Chappell Snaps India Tie

Greg Chappell, undoubtedly the most controversial cricket coach, has just snapped his ties with Team India, citing "family and personal reasons."

Chappell has been at the eye of a storm after he accused senior players of behaving like "mafia" and even an otherwise reticent Sachin Tendulkar opened mouth against the coach.

"I am grateful to the players with whom I have worked in this time for the challenges that they presented me with and which I tried to meet in a professional, methodical and interesting way in the interests of the team and the individual," Chappell said in his letter.

Chappell had taken over from Kiwi John wright in 2005 and his contract expired with India's World Cup disaster.

BCCI Working Committee was to mee in Mumbai on April 6-7 to accept reports from the coach and team manager Sanjay Jagdale and determine Chappell's fate.

Tendulkar says he is hurt by Chappell’s allegations

Indian cricket is in a terrible mess. It’s a house divided, with each and every member of the family looking at each with suspicion. Never ever we got the feeling that a storm was brewing under the apparent calm exterior.

A deeply hurt Sachin Tendulkar finally broke the silence and said he was shattered after what came as the worst phase of his illustrious career.

Dragged in the Greg Chappell vs Team India Seniors battle, the big little champion is stunned by the coach’s allegation that the senior pros in the side behaved like “mafia” and undermined captain Rahul Dravid’s authority. Sourav Ganguly, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh et al are reported to be at the end of Chappell’s ire.

Irked senior players are waiting to meet BCCI top brass to give their version of the story and they claim Chappell shattered their confidence, created a sense of insecurity among them, did not talk to them for 3-4 days and more importantly, often leaked confidential reports to the media.

This seems an unprecedented chaos in Team India and when BCCI meets in Mumbai on April 6-7, they would have to make a choice between Chappell and the Senior players. Indeed, no one could have scripted the horror story better.

Tuesday 3 April 2007

Subhash Chandra does a Kerry Packer, launches Indian Cricket League!

This is surely going to be an interesting case as Subhash Chandra’s Zee Group just launched Indian Cricket League (ICL) with a lucrative $1m purse.

Chandra, however, insists it’s not taking on BCCI and described it as a “complimentary” venture.

Fuelled by a Rs 100 cr corpus, the ICL would have six teams or clubs in its initial year. Within 3 years the number of teams would be increased to 16. Each team in the league would have 4 international players. The league, an annual feature, is expected to take-off around October this year.

I saw Ajay Jadeja on a TV channel and quite liked his view.

“ICC is the lone company marketing cricket and it’s a complete monopoly. It’s too early to comment on whether it would survive or not but consumers surely benefit when there is competition in the market.”

Monday 2 April 2007

What Ails Former Cricketers?

When two defeats have been forced down the throat of your country and a third looks imminent, when the World Cup hopes of your motherland hangs on balance, when a beleaguered batch of cricketers are desperately seeking words of support and encouragement from their idols -- this is clearly not the right time for someone like Michael Holding and Andy Roberts launch into a tirade against Brian Lara. Coming it from the cricket-mad fans is understandable but from past masters like them? INEXCUSABLE.

Roberts lambasted Lara ahead of the crucial tie against Sri Lanka which the hosts duly lost, accusing the captain -- coach Bennette King too -- of dominating selection process. Roberts was particularly irked by Jerome Taylor’s omission against New Zealand. Under-pressure to stay afloat, Lara was quick with his riposte before sanity prevailed and he sought an apology for his outburst against Roberts.

Holding too joined the Lara-lashing brigade even though it didn’t surprise me. So many former greats have lost their marbles in the commentary box and Holding too needs to mouth craps to keep the circus going.

"Lara has to step aside, not necessarily as a player, but as captain. We haven't seen an improvement when he has taken over the captaincy. Everyone knows he's a great batsman but that's not what it takes to lead a team. I can't even say he is a good captain tactically,” he said. When? In the middle of a World Cup!

I don’t have any problem with the text or the tone; it’s just the occasion which pains me.

And that prompts me to think what ails the former cricketers?

At times I wonder how they fall prey to the headline- hungry demon that resides inside them. In their desperation to be relevant in a cruelly contemporary world, which has little time for past heroes, they end up doing silly things. And I’m also convinced that envy, that green-eyed monster, burns bright inside past cricketers. Despite on-field heroics, at the end of the day they are human just like us, all flesh and blood.

The same fame which took them a lifetime to win is now available just for a knock or a spell. The abject poverty, which plagued their early career, throughout for some, is now a thing of the past and the present lot virtually mints money and lives life king-size. Of late, cricket has learnt how to take care of its practitioners, at least in the international level, and that’s probably too much to bear.

So, whenever someone like Roberts, who earns his bread as a curator-cum- selector these days, meets Lara (who resides in a palatial mansion atop a hill in Port of Spain) in a get-together and puts his arm around his neck, you can smell something burns somewhere.

Sense of timing is traditionally the hallmark of great batsmen. No wonder, Holding and Roberts earned their stripes not with the willow but with cherry.

Sunday 1 April 2007

Is This Why India Lost World Cup?

So, Videocon did the unthinkable – withdrawing commercials featuring Team India flops Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. They have not terminated the contract though.

The consumer durable major felt at a time when the cricketers could not protect their personal reputations in the world Cup, expecting them to help sell their wares was just too much.

Meanwhile, check out the link to find out Why India Lost the World Cup.

Team India's Life After World Cup!

And if popular mood is allowed to decide their fate, this is where you would stumble on the Team India players in the future.

Anil Kumble

Zaheer Khan

Ajit Agarkar

Yuvraj Singh

Rahul Dravid

(Sachin Tendulkar)

Virender Sehwag

Sourav Ganguly

Robin Uthappa