Sunday 15 July 2007

Take a bow, Murali

Few cricketers polarise cricket world like Muttiah Muralitharan does and now voices would break all decibel barriers as the Lankan maverick joined the 700 Test wicket club, founded by a certain Shane Warne.

The case with Murali has been either you love him or you hate him. There simply is no in between. Bishan Singh Bedi felt Murali is a javelin thrower, a bandit in flannels. Martin Crowe believes Murali should be chucked out of the game. Another commentator opined Murali should figure in dart competitions and not in cricket field.

But there is another school of thought as well. Many a friendship would be strained in debates on whether his freak action is result of an elbow bent at birth or a wicked effort to exploit ICC's ambiguity on the subject. But the fact remains that Murali has curved a niche for himself and is here to make an indelible mark in the game's history.

Isn’t it incredible that in a trouble-torn Sri Lanka, divided deep along ethnic and religious lines finds a unifying factor in Murali?

Murali is set to overtake Shane Warne later this year, right at the leggie's backyard, perhaps amid jeers and cat calls. Lesser mortals could have succumbed to the series of setbacks Murali withstood in a rollercoaster career. Hostility has often brought out the best in Murali. So when he eventually eclipses Warne in Australia, the boos and barracking would only confirm Murali's status as perhaps the best off-spinner the game has ever seen.


P.S. I take this occasion to share my experience of meeting Murali. I have been to Colombo to cover that ill-fated Unitech Cup last year. Chicken-hearted South Africa had just pulled out following a blast, which meant SAF Games, and not cricket, was my purpose of staying put in the picturesque Lanka capital.

There is a lovely, lively food court at the basement of the Cinnamon Arcade in Colombo and you would be treated to food of every possible kind while local bands belt out old numbers. Born, bred and spoiled by sweet-biased Bengali diet, I found food too hot. I was clueless as I moved from one counter to another.

I had reached the Lankan food stall when I realised that virtually the entire Lankan squad was out there with their family. The guy in the counter asked me what I would love to have and I explained him my problem, also maintaining an eye on the gentleman on my left, with a baby in his arms.

"You should go for plain rice and pulse, that should not be a problem with you," the advice came from the most unexpected corner. Muralitharan had his son in his arms and he too was glancing through the dishes on display.

I thanked him profusely and ordered the one he suggested. "Did you take your son to your in-law's place in Chennai?" I asked.

"No, he has not. But we will soon visit Chennai ," he replied.

As I returned to my table, I could not help but compare Sri Lankan cricketers with their Indian counterpart. Have no illusion, the Lankans love their game as passionately as Indians do. But there is a clear line of demarcation between passion and madness there.

Murali, Vaas, Sangakkarra were not mobbed in the food court and there was not a single security person to shove you aside to make way for them.

As I gulped down the rice with generous amount of soft drinks, I watched Murali, a perfect family man, taking care of his baby and chatting with his wife, just like an ordinary man, after a day's hard work in the office, was out to dine with his family. Stardom often strips you off humility, but again, Murali has often been an exception.

Image: Getty Images

Thursday 12 July 2007

You can't take us for a ride, Kapil!

As BCCI and ICL put on the gloves, now it’s turn of Kapil Dev, a pawn in the war, to take the gullible follower of the game for a massive ride.

Caught in the crossfire between BCCI and ICL, Kapil has made it clear that he would head wherever moolah takes him, which is fair enough. If he decides to swap the chairman's chair at National Cricket Academy (NCA) with the more lucrative one at ICL's Executive Board, BCCI has no business to poke its bloody nose.

It's no secret that BCCI does not like competition and any possible threat to its vice-like monopoly has been nipped in the bud. It was hardly surprising that the Board refused permission to the Essel-group backed ICL and is now up to every dirty trick to deny the rebel league a venue. Former players and state associations have been told in clear terms to steer clear of ICL. Kiran More has already spurned Baroda Cricket Association secretary's post to join Kapil at ICL Board and now the former all-rounder is about to follow suit.

Have no illusion, ICL is Zee's deep pocket chief Subhash Chandra's sly, ambitious project to gain a toehold in organizing of cricket before he can take on BCCI and its misfit chief in their own game. BCCI, always quick on the uptake on issues other than cricket, is quick to sniff the hidden agenda and the first spanner it threw was to allot a one dayer to Chandigarh's Sector 16 Stadium -- last ODI there was held some 14 years back -- to pre-empt any ICL move to host the circus there.

Kapil, being the son of the soil, was entrusted to get the stadium for ICL and he must have thought it was just a matter of approaching the authorities before he can book the stadium. But the officials there told him that they simply can't afford to antagonise BCCI and that’s it.

UT Sports Director IS Sandhu said

Kapil brought up the topic (of having ICL matches at the Stadium) and we informed him of our intent; the Stadium has got an ODI after 14 years (the India-Australia match on October 8), and we don’t want to go against the BCCI. We will only be corresponding with the BCCI on cricketing matters.

As he remains defiant to BCCI diktat that you can’t be with BCCI and ICL at the same time, Kapil’s version as to why he is siding with ICL is naive to the point of being hilarious.

Kapil insists he wants to serve the game and the nation and that’s why he is with ICL. One understands his fascination with words like "the game of cricket" or "serving the nation" but sadly, Kapil is no more the same simpleton he was. Fame and fortune have transformed him into a 'show-me-the-money' guy, who can go any extent to milk his playing day reputation for money-mileage, which is again, I fear, fair enough. But what is grossly unfair is the trash about serving the game and the country. Nobody, even if you are country’s lone World Cup winning captain.


Sunday 1 July 2007

Sadistic ICC free-hits bowlers for a six

A bloodbath is on the cards. ICC’s glib-tongued megalomaniacs in pin-stripe suits, aided by a handful of former players craving for the crumbs, have done enough damage to cricket and the latest decision to allow free-hit is yet another step that is abysmally sad, and sadistic as well.

Cricket has been reduced to something as unfair as a Spanish bull-fighting with ICC playing the picador’s role. Bowlers are the bulls, weakened by lances the Picador has thrust into its back and neck muscles. Constant bleeding leads to a dizziness and comes the banderilleros to stab the banderillas and run the poor creature in a few more rounds, until the bull stops chasing.

Then enters the matador to finish it off and walk away with the plaudits, leaving the bull, sword buried deep into its flesh.

ICC’s sadism can match only the Franco regime, which had hailed bullfighting as the fiesta nacional. Ill-advised by its Cricket Committee -- two former Caribbean pacers are a minority in the body -- the ICC declared after its recent Annual General meeting in London that if a bowler bowls a front foot no-ball in a one dayer, the following delivery will be deemed a free hit and the batsman cannot be dismissed by the bowler from that delivery.

ICC’s blatant batsman-bias is not baffling though. The sight of flogging the bowlers has been a constant source of joy for the sadistic ICC, which cocked up changes after changes with the sole ambition of making a monumentally mismatch between the willow and the leather. One day cricket has been the ideal platform where bowlers have been reduced to second class citizen and their role has been limited to play the canon-fodder.

Dennis Lillee fears, ICC would next ban Yorker, banish out-swingers and prohibit slower ball. ICC is a blindfolded donkey, which heads to wherever the radish in moolah leads it. In their next meeting in Dubai, they might altogether come up with the decision that bowlers simply have no business in the game of cricket. Instead, bowling machine would be installed at the bowlers’ end. No chucking controversy, no need for a flexion rule, no overstepping…ICC can keep pampering its spoilt child, the batsman.