Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The kamikaze boys

(Also on
How often have you joked with your friends about different facets of Pakistan cricket? The fact that not one of them has their correct age on record. That at any given point of time, they have five to eight current and former captains in their side. That most of them have wonky actions. That you can always count on them to self-destruct – a match is never lost even from the unlikeliest of positions if you’re playing Pakistan. And vice-versa of course.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Pakistan cricket. I love the country – especially Peshawar and the chapli kebabs there. And I have some awesome friends there.
But yes, Pakistan cricket and Pakistani cricketers are an enigma. Impossibly and inscrutably so. It baffles more often than it doesn’t.
Why else would you have a Parliamentarian come out and allege that the team’s captain had fixed a match in the Champions Trophy and then backtrack thrice to eventually say he had only wanted a probe to ensure no one thinks Pakistan had fixed any matches?
Why else would you have an obviously choreographed ‘courtroom’ drama in the senate of the nation where Younis Khan walks in with his resignation letter, which is not accepted but pocketed by his boss Ejaz Butt, followed by reports that Younis is happy to take back his resignation only if he is made captain till 2011?
So here’s a story that started with the T20 world champions losing in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy and being accused of match-fixing, and ending (temporarily) with the accused (Younis) demanding perks to take back his resignation! And being granted it.
And the intrigue all around is equally fascinating. Apparently, Shahid Afridi has been meeting Butt to try and become the ODI captain now. Afridi denies this. Butt denies this. But everyone thinks it’s true. So Younis is being sidelined? Possibly. Except that he is also on a strong enough wicket to demand the perks that he has.
But Pakistan cricket has always been like this. I mentioned earlier about the number of captains at any given time in the team. Add to that murmurs that at any given time, there are at least three factions in that team as well. One led by the current captain. The other two by people who are captaincy aspirants. Is this true? No one can say for sure, but ever since the days of Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad, and later Wasim Akram, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis, people have whispered about this.
And the worst part of this story is that Pakistan cricket is on an upturn right now. That fabled factory has just given us Mohammad Aamer. The latest great spinner is out in the form of Saeed Ajmal. The team has just won the T20 World Championships. The team also looks fairly relaxed under Younis Khan, who has endeared himself to the media across the world with his innocence and earnestness.
But then, this is Pakistan cricket we are talking about…

Friday, October 02, 2009

The curious case of Sourav Ganguly

(Also on
Isn’t it time we stopped big cricketers from treating the Ranji Trophy like it’s their personal fiefdom?
Yes, it’s true that (a) the Ranji Trophy isn’t as important as it used to be, (b) it’s not even the benchmark for domestic excellence, with the IPL a more reliable make-the-grade-for-national-selection tournament now, and (c) smaller, less starry teams are happy to get their grubby hands on as many stars as they can.
But, let’s take the case of Sourav Ganguly. He (a) is not an international cricketer anymore, (b) spends more time trying to become a Cricket Association of Bengal administrator, (c) spends the rest of his time hosting game shows, and (d) is trying to end his career with one last splash in the third season of the IPL. And, frankly, he doesn’t give a fig about the Bengal Ranji team.
Despite all that, to the people of Bengal and the Bengal cricket team, he is the one-man selling point – the biggest name the cricket-crazy state has ever produced. If you could read Bengali, you’d know that the press there hasn’t covered the Indian team for the past decade-plus, they have covered their Dada; a Tendulkar century is usually relegated to second place when Dada makes a double-digit score. Which is why, he can avoid playing in the Ranji Trophy for years, but find a place at his preferred batting slot when Greg Chappell chucks him out of the team and he wants to make a comeback. Or now, when he is clearly not in any kind of shape or match practice, he is able to get into the team to prepare himself for the IPL.
I don’t mean to single out Ganguly here; he is just a case in point. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan – all of them are in on the Ranji game too. Their state teams are mere net practice options.
Their one-point excuse: they never have time to play with their state teams when representing India. Alright, but why not practice with the boys the rest of the time? At least, then you are, at some level, a part of the set-up.
Is that what state-level cricket is about? Shouldn’t there be some sort of selection criterion even for big stars when it comes to the Ranji Trophy?
So let’s assume that a senior cricketer who has just been dropped from the Indian team or been left out because of injury is good enough for the state team. That’s fine. But let’s return to Ganguly. On form, he shouldn’t be part of any of the IPL teams. He is not a ‘player’ anymore and has probably not hit the nets in ages now (it shows around his mid-section too). He retired from international cricket because he was spent. At this stage, what makes him good enough to play for Bengal?
And worse, what makes him good enough to come out and say “I’ll play the Ranji Trophy to get in shape for the IPL” without the Bengal selectors even having a think about the option?
Fiefdoms, anyone?

Not the ‘Test’ case scenario

(also on
Must senior Indian cricketers lie every time they are asked about their preferred format of the game? Ask Harbhajan Singh or Sachin Tendulkar or Robin Uthappa or Yuvraj Singh and chances are that you’ll get a glib “Test cricket is the real thing” answer. Did I say ‘chances are’? Do a quick Google; it is the answer.
But that’s a lie, isn’t it? And what makes the lie worse is that it’s needless.
What stops a Man in Blue from admitting that Twenty20 cricket is the flavour of the season and possibly the flavour of the future too? It is, isn’t it? It is, and as long as the BCCI remains in charge of world cricket, it’s not about to change. Is that a bad thing? That’s hard to tell, and in this context, it doesn’t matter.
I’ll make my biases clear. I’d take a good, hard Test match played in England or Australia than anything else. But even I’d say that no one actually watch entire Test matches anymore. Heck, we don’t even watch international cricket unless India is playing and doing well. (Happily, I have to – to stay on top of my job.) We watch Twenty20 cricket with more enthusiasm; and the IPL has been a complete blockbuster.
Now tell me; if Test cricket and the whole ‘purity’ thing is what keeps these cricketers going, then what’s stopping them from approaching the BCCI and telling them “look boss, we’re happy to play T20s and earn you money, but we want to play more Test cricket – let us”. You think that if a Tendulkar or a Harbhajan or a Yuvraj seriously wanted to plead the ‘Test case’, they wouldn’t have? Truth is, they are happy to play three hours of cricket and earn many times more money. They don’t want to put their worn-out bodies through 30 hours of cricket.
And here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with it. Cricketers are out there to earn a living for themselves. They don’t have to pretend to be good chips off the old block. They can come out and say openly “scrap Tests, we’re not interested”. The BCCI will be happy to oblige. Spectators – the majority of them at least – will be thrilled. Cricketers have short careers as compared to the ‘retire at 60’ gigs we have; no one grudges them the money they earn.
So why can’t they come clean? Like a Kiwi or Aussie or Caribbean cricketer can?
Public image? Possibly. The image marketing chappie can’t do it all by himself.