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Saturday thoughts on a Sunday afternoon

By Prem Panicker
March 02, 2003 15:55 IST
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WHAT is arrogance, but fear wearing a fright-mask?

Throughout this tournament, we have seen two types of bowlers: one kind spends the day or days before a key match telling anyone who will listen exactly what they plan to do to various members of the opposition; the other kind just goes out on the day and does it.

(There is a third class, that talks before the game and then goes out and walks that talk -- but there is only one bowler in that group, a certain Glenn McGrath, so let's leave him aside as an aberration).

Shoaib AkhtarStep forward Andrew Caddick, Shoaib Akhtar and other members of the "whistling as we walk past the graveyard" brigade -- the pre-match comments were interesting, pity the on-field performances didn't walk that talk.

You listen to these blokes, who huff and puff and blow their own house down, and you keep thinking back to the truly great fast bowlers -- the West Indies battery of blindingly brilliant pace-men, all the way down to Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and Jason Gillespie today, and you realize that none of them ever talked up a storm.

Or needed to.

Which is not to say bowlers don't target batsmen -- they do, and have, throughout time. In his book Whispering Death, Michael Holding talks of the West Indies strategy of targeting the captain and/or best batsman in the opposing side.

(It is a policy Australia is credited with inventing, but it is Lloyd's West Indians who deserve the credit; the Aussies have borrowed that principle and honed it into a fine art, adding the media weapon to the 'mental disintegration' arsenal).

That policy resulted in seven ducks for Aussie master batsman Greg Chappell in the 1981-'82 series -- including two first ball ducks off the bowling of Holding himself. But neither Holding nor his partners in crime felt the need to make this big hoo-haa about it.

It's getting boring, really. And against the really great batsmen, it is futile. It's a point that was proved -- at the expense of Caddick, Akhtar, and suchlike members of the 'whistling past the graveyard' brigade -- in this tournament.

Both could have benefited from reading Holding's book, where he says inter alia that the policy of targeting the opposing captain never worked against Ian Chappell.

Chappelli, Holding points out, was mentally strong, not the right subject for intimidation. "The best batsman I ever bowled to," is Holding's take.

Sachin TendulkarTHAT makes you wonder what Akhtar would say, today, of Sachin Tendulkar.

"Simply the best batsman I ever threw at"?

I mean, this is getting ridiculous -- what we saw yesterday was the most cynical exhibition of throwing in recent history; there was no pretense, even, of trying to bowl the ball.

(In fact, it reminded you of Michael Holding's classic comment, from the television box, in a game where Rajesh Chauhan was bowling: "Maan, I've been watching this guy all day, and he ain't bowled a single ball).

When Jagmohan Dalmiya, as ICC president, torpedoed that body's throwing committee when Akhtar was first called, he did cricket an enormous disservice -- and opened the floodgates for the chuckers, both pace and spin, who are increasingly subverting this game and the way it is supposed to be played.

The respective home associations, the new rule reads, will now be responsible for ensuring that a bowler doesn't chuck. Right. And the fox will henceforth be given a uniform and appointed night watchman of the hencoop.

When a good shot is played, you hear commentators going "Any young boys watching, that is the way to play the XYZ shot". Well, any young boys watching, this is the way to become a world-class bowler: First, see a good doctor; get from him a certificate stating that you have a genetic defect that permits you to subvert the laws of the game.

Tuck a laminated copy of that certificate into your hip pocket, make sure you give a copy to your home board, and go out there and make a name for yourself, my boy.

I'd think Dennis Lillee missed a bet, that time he went out to play with an aluminium bat -- when the umpires said no, he should have told the umpire he had some kind of rare genetic problem that meant he couldn't grasp wood; he needed aluminium in his hand or he would have a stroke or something.

It is simple, really -- cricket commandments include a line to the effect that thou shalt not chuck. So, if you have a physical problem that prevents you from adhering to that rule, well, then, thou shalt not bowl.

But then, the ICC only enforces those rules that have to do with money -- like for instance, ejecting a family that happens to be drinking Coke at a tournament sponsored by Pepsi.

THE telephone rang, late last night. It was a friend from the US -- and distance did not take anything away from the agitation in his voice.

"How come," he demanded, even before I could protest that it was three bloody am here in Mumbai and that I could use the sleep, "you didn't even mention in your match report anything about Rameez Raja's comments on television during the game?"

The simple answer is that I was doing audio commentary at the time, and so didn't hear anything that was being said on television.

Thanks to that friend, and about half a dozen emails this morning, I now have some sort of clue what it is all about. Apparently, Rameez Raja said on air that if Pakistan couldn't get Tendulkar out, they should look at injuring him; that it was in order to deny him a runner if he asked for one; that cricket is a hard game.

What's to say? Raja appears to have done all the saying necessary -- and in the process, given a rather clear indication of the kind of material he is molded of.

In cricket, it is perfectly in order to target any weakness. If for instance a batsman has a hamstring problem, you bowl the good length more often, to constantly bring him forward, and put pressure on the injury; if his mobility is impaired, you ensure that your fielders push him harder, constantly throw to the end he is running at.

Since I didn't get to hear what Raja actually said, I'll take the charitable view of it -- maybe this is what he was talking of; maybe it was just unfortunate phrasing.

But it is interesting that he talked of the possibility of denying Tendulkar the runner; the suggestion proves how short memory can be.

Remember Saeed Anwar -- the batsman who scored a good century yesterday at SuperSport Park, and was so exhausted at the end of it that he never came out to field? Throw your mind back to May 21, 1997 -- the Independence Cup game between India and Pakistan, at the M A Chidambaram stadium in Chennai.

On that occasion, too, Pakistan won the toss -- and batted first. Anwar was just about into double figures when he began cramping; clearly, not an injury suffered in course of play.

He asked for a runner, and got one. Anwar then went on to add some 170 runs to his total, in five-star fashion -- hit the shot, let the other bloke do the hard yards while you rest before the next shot.

The Indian captain who permitted the use of the runner, on that occasion, and who was subsequently slammed for it in the media, was one Sachin Tendulkar. And the Pakistan captain was Rameez Raja.

Sportsmanship is like that -- you either have it, or you don't.

WHICH brings up the subject -- again, raised in a few emails - of Tendulkar, and what he said while accepting the man of the match award for yesterday's incredible batting effort.

"We have now beaten them four times in World Cups, that should prove the point," was what Tendulkar said.

Why kick a team when it is down, is what a few people ask, in more or less those words, in emails.

Flip the question on its head -- why abuse, why sledge? Why spout venom, why use the filthiest of language to those who are after all merely competing with you as sportsmen on a sporting field?

The likes of Younis and Akram are above that, always have been; you cannot say the same for the younger guys in the Pakistan outfit. I didn't have the television volume on when the game was on -- but we do have Faisal Shariff and Ashish Magotra there; besides, you could see on television quite a bit of what was going on.

In one instance, Sourav Ganguly's instinctive reaction as he walked back after being out first ball was indicative; he paused and turned around, visibly angry at something that was said. Mohammad Kaif once reacted angrily; Tendulkar time and again threw hot glances at the Pakistani fielders nearby and when he was finally dismissed and walked back after a superlative innings, what you saw -- and this showed up very clearly on television -- was not the instinctive applause sportsmen would accord a sporting feat with few parallels, but a volley of abuse.

Why wouldn't Tendulkar, normally the mildest and most diplomatic of men in front of a mike, not react?

AND that brings me to the final thought on a Sunday afternoon, while watching Australia do what it usually does to England.

Alright, India has defeated -- decimated? -- Pakistan's full team in competition on a world stage. So can we please cut the crap that has been going around, about how India is not playing Pakistan because it is afraid of failing? And can we put the onus where it belongs -- on terrorism?

And while flushing out the crap, let's start with that old chestnut that politics and sports should be kept separate -- each time you hear it, in context of a World Cup that has seen as much unsavory politics as cricket, you find your teeth on edge. (Did anyone ask England to keep politics from sport when it boycotted Zimbabwe for purely political reasons?)

This Cup has seen two boycotts. So how many Englishmen have died at the hands of Zimbabweans? None.

How many Kiwis have been killed by Kenyans? None.

How many Indians have died at the hands of sponsored terrorism? A small matter of 60-something thousand.

That, and only that, is the reason India has not played Pakistan in bilateral competition in three years, no matter what General Pervez Musharraf thinks or says; that is the reason why India will not play Pakistan in bilateral competition in the near future, no matter how Musharraf pleads or blusters.

Pakistan is, today, a rogue state -- George W Bush's fervent testimonials notwithstanding.

Item: The Bali bombing; the arrested are Pakistani nationals.

Item: North Korea's nuclear arsenal, far more dangerous than anything Saddam Hussein ever had -- courtesy Pakistan.

Item: Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, holder of a Pakistan passport, arrested by the CIA in Pakistan, on charges of having masterminded various acts of international terrorism on behalf of Al Qaeda including the 9/11 strikes on the US.

(Why would such a terrorist be in Pakistan, that "frontline ally of the US in the war on terrorism"? Could it be because Pakistan is, today, haven for mass killers of all persuasions -- including for Al Qaeda's top management?)

Item: The "outlawed" Lashkar-e-Tayiba, headquartered of course in Islamabad - the seat of Pakistan's government and of terrorist outfits -- threatens the prime minister of India. Pakistan newspaper The Friday Times quotes Lashkar chief Mohammad Sayeed as saying, in a taped speech played at, of all places, a mosque in Rawalpindi, as saying, "Listen, O Vajpayee, we are about to unleash a spate of suicide attacks. I have ordered my warriors to undertake this duty."

Hullo? A speech threatening terrorism, by a supposedly outlawed outfit operating from Pakistan, played in a mosque in Pakistan, and not a yip out of that arch opponent of terrorism, Mr Musharraf?

Item: Two killed following riots in Ahmedabad after a peaceful game of cricket. So much for the healing power of sport.

Some of the stuff I read over my morning coffee in newspapers both national and international this morning was enough to make me upchuck. Wah, went the bleeding-heart brigade, look at the color, the noise, the festivity when India plays Pakistan; look at the excitement, the electricity, the energy, the enthusiasm.

The hell with that -- look at the blood, mostly of innocents. Look at Kashmir, where today there are more gravestones than milestones.

The Indian government got it right when it decided to ban all cricket ties between the two countries, Dalmiya and the BCCI notwithstanding. If at all the GoI erred, it lay in banning only cricket -- a complete freeze on all diplomatic and sporting relations would best underline the message.

As for the cricket, heck, we can wait till the next World Cup.

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Prem Panicker