Friday 22 February 2008

Who is this imposter in cricket’s garbs?

It was one of those days when you regret working in the sports desk. Calculator was out and eyes glued to television as cricketers, in an unprecedented move, went under the hammer and their high-profile, deep-pocket bidders hammer and tongs.

Mind-boggling figures and strings of never-ending zeroes -- is it the game I claimed to be so familiar with? Or is it actually a garbled annual budget of Mr P Chidambaram, which somehow got leaked? Is not the business desk a better choice to handle the issue?

And finally I found myself confronting the question -- who is this imposter?

Richard Madley, the Dreweatts auctioneer who otherwise specializes in oriental carpet probably did not have an idea of the magnitude of the event. But he can’t be blamed either. See, Ricky Ponting is sulking he went cheap. And the likes of Brendan McCullum can’t stop laughing.

The Indian Premier League auction left me with an awful feeling. Only Paris Hilton could have been more brazen.

When industry is ready to pump in money, resisting the temptation is the actual challenge for the administrators. Succumbing to the lure should not be trumpeted around.

Cricket does need money, to ensure that the Aminis of Papua New Guinea continue to strive for excellence; to help Arjuna Ranatunga at the helm of a cash-strap board to efficiently run the domestic tournaments in Sri Lanka; to make sure that youngsters see a career in cricket.

But if cricket needs money, it needs its aura as well. When a kid picks up the bat or holds the ball fort the first time in his palm, career is a word he would probably misspell and to him, money’s only perceived worth is it can be bartered for a lozenge. More than money, he needs heroes. Heroes who would make grand appearance in his innocent dreams, inspire him to rise above himself and tell him to live his dreams.

Sadly, those who offer their soul under the hammer do not fit into this hero’s role.

Blinded by his Twenty20 vision, Lalit Modi understandably fails to see it but cricket actually got pauper on February 20.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Three possible reasons why Dhoni sends Pathan at No. 3

Doosra carried out a probe into Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s mind-numbing, logic-defying and self-destructive insistence at having Irfan Pathan batting at number three. While the decision has amused the Australians, bemused the Indians and confused even Pathan, here go three possible reasons behind this outrageously outrageous ploy:

  1. Dhoni the thinking captain reckons the more a bowler bats, the better he understands a batsman’s mindset. Hence the decision to send Pathan at number three. If grapevine is to go by, Ishant Sharma will be asked to open from the next match, while S Sreesanth, because of his impeccable temperament, has been asked to watch Rahul Dravid’s video and transform himself in the same sheet-anchor’s mould.
  1. Long ago, in his pre-endorsement days, Dhoni borrowed money fro Pathan and defaulted. With Greg Chappell igniting the ambition of becoming a complete all-rounder in him, an unscrupulous Pathan made Dhoni sign an agreement in which the captain had to permanently allot him the number three slot.
  1. Disconsolate after losing Deepika Padukone to Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni met an astrologer in Ranchi who told him sending a holy man at number three is the only antidote to losing girl friend to best friend. Being the son of a muezzin, Pathan perfectly fit the bill and hence the decision.
Image: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

Thursday 14 February 2008

Australia to reschedule calendar around IPL

So, BCCI has set the cat among pigeons and cricket boards are scurrying for extra cover.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) is ticking like a hand grenade about to explode after BCCI has removed the safety pin. And cricket is the obvious casualty-in-waiting.

Shane Warne (see previous post) may have earned his stripe as the fastest-finger-on-cell-keyboard but he also owns the copyright of the idea that IPL should be incorporated in the ICC calendar.

And now realising the futility of waging an already lost war against the cash-awash Twenty20 extravaganza, Cricket Australia (CA) is all set to dance to the IPL tune and reschedule its Future Tours Program, outlined till 2012, and fit it around the Indian league.

In a sense, this was inevitable. Whatever they may claim, cricket’s real stars, fortunately, are its practitioners and not the rulers and, cricketers should have the last word.

“There is a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen. What is your price?” when Kerry Packer was asking the question to the Australian cricket board officials back in 1976, he was just stating the obvious -- that money talks, and sings too as people dance to its tune.

Already, Neil Maxwell, who manages Brett Lee and Mike Hussey, has warned that players might ditch their national team to take the IPL plunge if CA does not listen to their demand. That left CA hardly with any second option.

Suddenly, no one is talking about burnout. The same players who felt being flogged by a demanding schedule, are merrily queuing up to sign their IPL contract. Men of honour, who swore by the national colours, stood shoulder-to-shoulder in those spectacular huddles to the refrain of the national anthem and pledged their life for the honour of the country, are suddenly holding their board to ransom.

A nouveau riche and unscrupulous BCCI, high on its stinking riches, has planted a seed of discord that threatens to tear apart the game and cricket could consider itself lucky if it can survive the upheaval.

Old fogies would mutter Bodyline, some would claim World Series Cricket and a couple might say Oval controversy or Bollyline. But if inkling are anything to go by, IPL could well be the biggest crisis in the history, geography and everything else of the game.

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Warne wants IPL to be part of ICC calendar

Shane Warne has a simple solution to rescue players from the moral dilemma of deciding between the Indian Premier League (IPL) and national commitments, if they coincide.

Make IPL part of international schedule, says the retired leggie.

Let's make it part of the international schedule and the ICC and the boards can create a new future tours program.

In his column for The Daily Telegraph, Warne also dismissed Cricket Australia’s objection that IPL might lead to a conflict of interests among the sponsors of the Australian team and those of the IPL.

… here in Australia, each state has cricket sponsors that differ from our national ones, so I don't buy that argument. This issue can be overcome

Warne simply can’t wait to get started and gushed

Imagine how good it would be seeing Glenn McGrath bowling to Adam Gilchrist, and M.S. Dhoni behind the stumps? Exciting, I reckon.

And he urges all to welcome the Twenty20 venture, instead of fighting it.

We should all be embracing the IPL rather than trying to fight it.

Image: Peter Nicholson (The Australian)

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Simon Taufel, next IPL casualty!

If my previous post-- on how the Indian Premier League (IPL) has hit Australian cricket and poses a serious threat to the game at large-- seemed far-fetched, sample this.

Simon Taufel, who never missed the ICC Umpire of the Year award since its 2004 inception, is not keen to renew his contract which expires on March 31.

Talking to The Daily Telegraph, Taufel says

After that I am on the open market.

While he tried to convince the world that he wants to spend more time with family and hence the decision, Taufel hinted he was game for the IPL plunge.

That's possible but I don't know what the parameters are yet.

Now, if officiating in 59 Twenty20 matches of the cash-awash IPL spread over 44 days fill your coffers, who wants to stand under the scorching sun and intermittent shower for days at stretch throughout the year to earn his bread?

This would be a terrible blow for the ICC, which is already grappling with umpiring blunders that blighted the Sydney Test.

Of the 10 umpires on the ICC panel, finger-happy Steve Bucknor and the Oval-faced Darrell Hair are cooling their heels on the sidelines. South African Rudi Koertzen has no clue about what happened at the striker’s end and 22 yards seems too much for his eyeshot.

By April, when the IPL is thrust on us, prepare for more crises.

Image: Getty Images

Monday 11 February 2008

Australia may ban top plays from playing in IPL!

House divided.

That’s Australian cricket beneath the veneer. The Indian Premier League (IPL) moolah has done the seemingly impossible and Australian cricket is grappling with a crisis that threatens to leave the game in tatters Down Under.

The situation became so grave that Cricket Australia, struggling to maintain its authority, warned it might ban top players from playing in the IPL.

It has been an exasperating time for the Australia fans. The cash-rich IPL, BCCI’s ambitious money-milking project, has hit Australian cricket like a hurricane and the result is before us to see.

Andrew Symonds, as if he had not problems enough, now faces disciplinary action for his remarks in an unpublished column. Symonds believes he has a right to earn fast buck and complaints how Cricket Australia was coming in the way.

Ricky Ponting too admits the IPL has become a distraction enough to influence of the team’s performance.

The team looks divided, even though Ponting claimed that his teammates, with the lone exception of Adam Gilchrist, were not concern about IPL.

Ponting’s assertion notwithstanding, the lure of the moolah is too tempting and Ponting himself knows it better. Deep inside, every Australian cricket is craving for the money, which puts Cricket Australia on a tricky wicket.

But the Board does not deserve sympathy, because their predicament is their own making. They have been the partner-in-crime of the Indian cricket board in a venture which treats the game as a mere commodity, its practitioners’ slaves and the followers a bunch of sadists who derive perverse pleasure from a slogathon.

In the coming days, the crisis would only deepen. If Australia has been hit today, tomorrow it might be South Africa’s turn. And some other country the day after.

BCCI has become a monster that is not only usurping ICC’s authority but also scrambling after money, whatever be the cost. Cricket has never looked in more trouble.

Saturday 9 February 2008

Shah Rukh asks Ganguly to sign up Gilchrist for Kolkata outfit

Cricket Australia is yet to give its green signal to Adam Gilchrist but the retiring Australian stumper-bat already looks a hot property with Bollywood czar Shah Rukh Khan, proud owner of the Kolkata franchise of the Indian Premier League, chasing his signature.

According to reports, Shah Rukh has asked Sourav Ganguly, the Prince of Kolkata, to rope in Gilchrist for the Twenty20 extravaganza starting on April 18.

IPL Governing Council chairman Lalit Modi, meanwhile, has claimed that CA has cleared Gilly for the event.

Modi said
Gilchrist will play. He has already got a no objection certificate from the Australian board.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Cracked Bat Rushed Gilchrist’s Retirement?

Did Adam Gilchrist rush his retirement after his lucky bat cracked?

Probably not. But Gilly is a sad man these days after his Wonder Bat cracked during the Twenty20 tie against India.

Gilly is yet to throw away the broken willow, a Puma Ballistic, and is in fact doing everything to repair it. Considering the loads of runs he scored with it – including that 104-ball 149 in the World Cup final -- he definitely has reasons to cherish it.

The retiring hero reportedly carries just three bats in his kit – a practice bat, a spare one and this one.

It’s not that Gilchrist did not score before laying his hands on it but it definitely is a special piece of wood for him.

Image: Getty Images

Ernie Els a Tendulkar Fan!

Sweet swinging Ernie Els is a Sachin Tendulkar fan!

Els is here in Delhi for the Indian Masters, first European Tour event in the country. After the customary press conference, I managed a one-on-one with ‘The Big Easy’ on condition of mentioning the name of a particular watch, of which Els is the global brand ambassador, in my story.

So I got the chance to get an ‘exclusive’ and half of my questions were, as you might guess, on cricket. Make no mistake, the world number four played cricket, tennis, rugby and golf with the same vigour in his childhood before he decided to swap everything for the club.

Here is what he has to say on Indian cricket:

India is definitely a good cricketing side. I think they are the number two team in the world, right after Australia. They are quite a competitive side and most of their batsmen are quite aggressive.

On Tendulkar:

He is an unbelievable player, one of greatest players ever. I love watching him.

On other players:

Your (One-day) captain Mr Dhoni is also a good striker of the ball. I also like Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid. You have a good (Test) captain in Anil Kumble as well.

On his cricketing days:

I was an all-rounder and bowled medium pace.

Well, cricket’s loss turned out to be golf’s gain. This guy is working on a three-year plan to oust Tiger Woods from the world number one spot.

At 6’4”, Ernie is truly a giant of the game and as was the case, I was looking up to him literally. And when it was over and we shook hands, my small hand was lost in his huge paw. But the guy is a genius and incredibly humble with an air of serenity about him. And he has been a perfect ambassador of the game, traveling to different parts of the globe, even if that meant ruffling the feather of the PGA Tour authority.

When he is not playing, Ernie is into wine making business and he is looking for marketing his labels in India. He also plans to design golf course here at some point of time.

Image: Getty Images

Wednesday 6 February 2008

IPL-bound Warne sees business opportunity in India

Trust Shane Warne to be explicit in whatever he does. All set to play to the gallery again at the Indian Premier League (IPL), Warne says he sees it as an opportunity to get in touch with the right people in India to find greener business pasture.

In his column for ‘The Times’, the man with the fastest – and dirtiest, claim detractors – fingers on keypad - says

Who knows what other opportunities in business may crop up through contact with people behind the franchises? For example, I would like to help to take Advanced Hair Studios into India and this may be a way in.

In the column, Warnie says both IPL and the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) would do a world of good to the game and the players.

He also rubbished reports that he preferred playing poker than playing for Hampshire.

In the same column, Warne finds it “ridiculous” that Shane Bond’s contract was terminated after he aligned with ICL.

Warne revealed he called up Sachin Tendulkar before his century at Adelaide and reminisced their meeting with Don Bradman.

Sachin has been a great ambassador and he deserved to leave on a strong personal note.

(Image: Illustration by Sydney Morning Herald artist John Shakespeare)

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Christchurch Cricketer Suspended for Monkey Taunt

Harbhajan Singh probably got away with it but Ben McCord could not. The Lancaster Park-Woolston (a Christchurch club) all-rounder was handed a four-match ban after he called Marist batsman Niranjan Nagelswaran a "f****** monkey".

The incident actually occurred in a premier grade match in January, McCord was hit for a boundary by the young Sri Lankan.

Unlike the Harbhajan-Andrew Symonds saga, umpire Phil Agent heard the abuse in this case and reported the player.

Sunday 3 February 2008

The Lesson from Brisbane

One swallow possibly does not make a summer. But then it’s only the dolts who ignore the inklings and miss the obvious.

Agreed, the pathetic batting display in Brisbane in the tri-series opener should not prompt India to reach out for the panic button. But the manner should cost the selectors-- assuming they are a passionate and scrupulous bunch who see their role beyond just penning down 16 names -- their sleep.

Promoting youngsters sound irresistibly sweet, probably too sweet to cloud your commonsense. And investing in youth is a policy that requires certain amount of restraint that has eluded the selectors when they sat to pick India's ODI squad.

Apparently, Dilip Vengsarkar and his colleagues in the selection committee were driven by the doomed idea that packing the team with fresh legs would be a sure-shot formula for success, besides giving the team a refreshing young look. But a cricket match is not won by a team's average age or its look. Skill continues to have the last say and it would remain same in the future too.

So if Sourav Ganguly is a sulking misanthrope at his Behala residence, fair dinkum. But the selectors can be hold responsible for another cricketing felony -- bungling with their handling of the youth.

At a time when the youngsters needed to be guided to the pool, they were simply thrown at the deep end, with a swarm of hungry Australian sharks around to boot.

While Ganguly can consider himself unlucky—even Ricky Ponting was baffled by the southpaw’s exclusion -- the selectors have done a huge disservice to the youngsters as well. It would not be surprising if the likes of Manoj Tiwary returns from Australia with a complex, believing he is just not worth stepping into the bigger shoes of the departing stalwarts like Ganguly.

The Getafix in the selectors have clearly goofed up while concocting the magic potion. They simply forgot to add that vital mix of experience.

Image: AFP