Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I hate the derby, I love the derby!

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
On one side, you have Abhra Mondal and Soumik De – maybe a couple of others. That’s the ‘Bengal’ part of East Bengal. Sangram Mukherjee and a handful of others in Mohun Bagan. That’s the sum total of the Bengal presence in the Great Calcutta Derby today. Even in the sidelines, one team is coached by a Moroccan and the other by a Belgian. And that’s the match we are so excited about.

Forgive me, I am not a good Bengali. A Bengali from Calcutta, as I am, should be obsessed about the derby. I am not. Yes, I do want East Bengal to win, as I always have, being a true-blooded Barishal Bangal. But come off it. There is nothing remotely romantic about this encounter.

There was a time in the 1980s when an East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan encounter was important. Krishanu Dey, Bikash Panji,Tarun Dey, Swarup Das, Prashanta Banerjee, Shishir Ghosh, Sudip Chatterjee, Krishnendu Roy, Aloke Mukherjee...and of course, the two mascots – Manoranjan Bhattacharya and Subroto Bhattacharya. And the goalkeepers: Shibaji Banerjee, Debashish Mukherjee, Tanumoy Bose, Atanu Bhattacharya...and East Bengal’s favourite goalkeeper – Bhaskar Ganguly, brilliant for East Bengal and under the crossbar for Mohun Bagan when East Bengal pumped in those Famous Five.

Yes, there was the odd African and Iranian. Yes, a few players from other parts of the country were also coming to Calcutta. But the matches were strictly between Bengalis. That was when Bengal was still the number one centre of excellence for football in India. Kerala, Punjab, Goa and Maharashtra were threatening, but Bengal was still number one. And the best club football was also played in Bengal. In Calcutta.

Of course, I understand that foreigners and non-Bengalis will come in. That is the essence of club football. And yes, in England or Spain or Italy or in Latin America, die-hard fans still fight for the crumbs when ‘their’ team plays. Even if there isn’t a single kid from their part of the country playing for their team. I understand that. But I can’t do it myself.

I can’t get obsessed about a match where the goalscorers’ list is likely to have the names of a Sikkimese, a Nigerian, a Ghanaian, a Manipuri, a Goan, and so on. Why should I be bothered?

Now then – all this is true only because I suspect Mohun Bagan is a better team than East Bengal and have an edge. Everything I have said so far is essentially my defence in case East Bengal fail to go past Mohun Bagan into the Fed Cup final. If East Bengal win, as I will be praying they do, who cares if there isn’t a single Bangal in the side? Who cares if a Ghanaian is the best striker in the team? Who cares about anything at all? It’s the best possible end to the year – East Bengal is better than Mohun Bagan. End of the discussion.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ground realities about the BCCI

(Also in
Exhibit One: The Eden Gardens
One of the greatest cricket grounds in the world; it has to wait close to three years before getting a one-day match. In the interim, grounds in Mohali, Mumbai, Kanpur, Jaipur and many others have been allotted match after match.

Exhibit Two: The Ferozeshah Kotla
In the dock at the moment, after preparing a pitch that schoolkids wouldn’t rent for a match. Now staring at sanctions from the ICC.

The first instance tells you what’s wrong with the BCCI.

The second instance also tells you what’s wrong with the BCCI – not because it should defend the Kotla or the DDCA, but because of the reasons why it won’t defend the Kotla or the DDCA.
Cricket fans come last in the BCCI’s list of priorities, and that’s why the Eden Gardens has been ignored as a one-day venue for the longest time. Only because the Cricket Association of Bengal is led by Jagmohan Dalmiya, a man known to be against the Sharad Pawar regime. That’s the only reason.

Dalmiya is also known to be close to Bharatiya Janata Party. Pawar is not.

Ditto for Arun Jaitley, chief of the DDCA. And the DDCA is not one of the associations that support the Pawar regime at the helm of affairs in the BCCI. And that’s the reason the BCCI will not support the DDCA. Not for any other reason.

And here’s the thing: the BCCI should go against the DDCA. But not for the same reasons. The BCCI has always defended Indian cricketers and cricket associations whenever the ICC has gone against them; often without a proper defence, but only because it is more powerful than the ICC. So the BCCI can force the ICC to avoid banning the Kotla if it wants to. But it won’t. Only because it doesn’t want to, not because it is the right thing to do.

I can also put it down in black-and-white that if a similar situation had cropped up around an association that is a supporter of the Pawar regime, the BCCI’s reaction would have been vastly different.

Shame on the BCCI for ostracising Eden

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
So finally the BCCI had to slot a one-day match at the Eden Gardens!

After choosing to ignore the greatest cricket stadium in the world for almost three years and denying the people of Kolkata their favourite source of joy. After proving that more than anything else, the only thing that the BCCI really cares for is money and power. Cricket doesn’t matter. And cricket fans matter even less.

This attitude of the BCCI was very much in evidence in the run-up to the recent Rajasthan Cricket Association elections. Lalit Modi’s biggest poll plank was ‘matches for Jaipur’. It was simple. Modi told people that if he was voted to power, the BCCI would allot matches to Jaipur. Modi wasn’t even trying to hide the truth.

This means that only associations that vote for the Sharad Pawar-N Srinivasan-Shashank Manohar regime will get big international matches. If Jagmohan Dalmiya is the boss of the Cricket Association of Bengal, the Eden Gardens will fall off the map. How much more brazen can you get!

This, in fact, is completely symptomatic of the present BCCI regime. In every sense. They have converted the BCCI into their own little playground. Like kids. The para bully, who picks on the weaklings.

Thankfully, we did finally get a one-dayer in Kolkata. Interestingly, between the same teams that played the last game I saw at the Eden Gardens as a fan. From the time that I was eight, I saw every single international game at the Eden Gardens. As well as a number of domestic matches. I saw every single day of every single Test match, starting from the West Indies tour Test in 1983; all the way to the 1996 World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka.

That match left such a horrid taste in the mouth for me that I refused to go to the Eden Gardens after that – except to report on the 2001 India-Australia Test match; a match that again reaffirmed my belief in the Eden Gardens; a match that told me that the best cricket is always played at the Eden. Like the Hero Cup semi-final and final. Like all the brilliant centuries Mohammad Azharuddin scored – I was there for each of them. Like when Saleem Malik smashed the Indians for 72 from 36 balls to win the one-dayer in 1987.

Nothing beats the experience of a top-class competition at the Eden Gardens. My favourite ground. The favourite ground for everyone who has been part of the experience. An experience that is being denied to the current generation by the dastardly BCCI top brass.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Don’t cry for Tiger Woods

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
I am no fan of golf. I am a great fan of champions though. And that’s why Tiger Woods is so important to me. It’s heartening to note that 142 sports editors in the United States have still found it in them to name Woods the greatest athlete of the decade gone by.

And that’s exactly how it should be.

No sportsperson, anywhere in the world, has impacted his or her sport the way Tiger Woods has. Ever. Not Don Bradman. Not Pele. Not Roger Federer. Not Lance Armstrong. Not Steffi Graf. Not Jesse Owens. Not even Muhammad Ali.

Tiger Woods. Coloured. Polite. Educated. Erudite. Good-looking. And absolutely brilliant. So brilliant, that top tier pro Colin Mongomerie has celebrated Tiger’s sabbatical by saying, “now we have a chance to win too”. That’s how important Tiger Woods is. Not like Ali. None of his opponents ever wished he wasn’t there. They wanted to beat him. When it comes to Tiger, his opponents know it’s practically impossible to beat him.

And that’s what makes the present situation so terribly sad. Tiger Woods has actually done what most heterosexual men do, or want to do. If he is a sex-maniac, as he has been called, it has no bearing on his game. It’s not like drug addiction. Or, like in George Best’s case, alcoholism.

But then, having said that, it’s not too dissimilar either. Because Tiger Woods is not just about his game. He is also a lot about his persona. His image. Tiger Woods is the richest sportsperson in the world not only because he is the best golfer ever. It’s also because his public persona is such that most big brands want to associate with him. They want him to be their face. A clean image. Much like someone in India wanting to associate with Viswanathan Anand. Or Anil Kumble.

Each time I have had this discussion with friends and colleagues, I have faced the retort that Tiger Woods has never cheated at his game. But isn’t that a lie too? Tiger has earned millions from corporate like Accenture and Gillette and General Motors for his image. But that image was a lie!

So even if Tiger hasn’t cheated on the golf course, he has cheated corporates of their millions by lying to them. Isn’t that worth anything?

Recently, when Andre Agassi confessed to drug abuse in his autobiography, many tennis players including Boris Becker implored him to return his Grand Slam trophies. Maybe the world of golf will not read this article, but if they could, I would ask them to force Tiger Woods to return money to his sponsors. That would be fair.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Premier Goal Rush

(Also in the Talk section of the December issue of Man's World)
For the first time in the 18 years of the English Premier League in its present format, there were no drawn games on the opening day. No drawn games! In the land of hard tackles and defensive coaches obsessed about avoiding losses.

But what was a bit of trivia on Day One has now escalated into a fascinating debate. One that has football pundits scratching their heads. That of the cash-rich and star-studded but boring Premiership suddenly becoming more exciting than the Serie A in Italy or the Spanish La Liga –in terms of goalscoring.

It’s true, and to help put things in perspective, chew on these figures: The EPL is seeing 3.03 goals being scored per game after well over a hundred games being played, whereas La Liga tocks in at 2.72 and the Serie A 2.52.

And that’s not all, the EPL itself saw goals scored at 2.48, 2.64 and 2.45 in the last three seasons and has now jumped up to 3.03 for the ongoing season. In fact, it’s stayed at over the three-mark all through the season.

Soccernet confirms that striker accuracy has gone up by 3.04 per cent and conversion rates have gone up by 1.59 per cent over last season.

More statistics (or trivia, if you like): this is the first time in 11 years that the EPL has seen goals scored at over three per match (after at least 50 games). And finally, this is the first time since 1968-’69 that England has seen more goals scored than in Spain or Italy.

Why though? Is it because the gulf between the big clubs and the small clubs have widened so much that the Big Four are walloping the minnows? Or have all the clubs suddenly bought themselves brand new scoring shoes?

Well, the truth is actually somewhere in the middle. Look at the big wins so far. On August 15, Arsenal beat Everton 6-1. A week later, Manchester United beat Wigan Athletic 5-0. Liverpool beat Hull City 6-1 on September 26. On that day, Tottenham Hotspur too beat Burnley 5-0. Arsenal beat Burnley 6-2 in an eight-goal thriller on October 4, while Blackburn Rovers had no clue where they were against Chelsea on October 24, losing 5-0. Away from the limelight, West Ham United beat Burnley 5-3 on November 28. And very recently Spurs again underlined the changing times with a 9-1 hammering of Wigan. Five of those goals came from one man — Jermain Defoe. Expected results from United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool then, but nine goals from Spurs?!
Expected results from United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool then, but five goals from Spurs?!

Or Manchester City, who are, surprisingly, in the Top Five at the moment; the same club that lost 1-8 to now-nowhere Middlesbrough in May 2008. As are Spurs. As well as Aston Villa. In fact, so unique is the Top Four that you’d think you are following a different League altogether.

So, from a four-horse race, the Premiership has suddenly become a seven-horse race. And it’s not just that. Wigan Athletic have beaten Chelsea 3-1. United have lost to Burnley 0-1.

The question, though, is: why?

Well, there are five evident reasons: (a) poor defending, (b) the new Total 90 Ascente balls, widely described as a ‘keeper’s nightmare’, (c) the realisation that floating around within the EPL doesn’t bring in money, (d) refereeing in favour of forwards, and (e) the rising stature of the smaller clubs, which has been discussed already, and of which City is the greatest example.

Everton manager David Moyes clearly blames club owners for investing in goalscorers, when he says, “all clubs big and small are guilty of playing with patchwork defences”. While Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce only says, “Poor defending”, when quizzed.

Case in point: the seven-goal Manchester derby, where City scored two of their three goals from defensive lapses, and United scored three of their four when no defenders were anywhere near the scorers; they missed a dozen more from similar situations. The guilty included Rio Ferdinand.

Let’s discuss the monetary angle now: former British footballer and coach Bill Adams, now in Delhi as Director of Super Soccer Academy, explains: “TV means the rewards for finishing in the top six are substantial. Getting into Europe gets you 23 million pounds. Merchandising for a top club will get between 20 and 40 million quid, and good gate receipts will get you half a million a week. On top of this, England is a tax free haven for multi-billionaires.”

So the billionaires (mostly Middle-Eastern) have come in, bought some of the less-privileged clubs, pumped in money and bought big-ticket stars – mainly strikers.

But is it only for the moment? Is this is a temporary high or will the bubble last – especially when it comes to Spurs and City and Villa? Adams shakes his head on this one: “In the short term, it’ll work. But both have tactical and strategic weaknesses. City is unbalanced and need two or three more defensive players, and Spurs do not have the sophistication of the other top four clubs. Villa will always be there and thereabouts.”

But at the same time, in the long term, there is no reason why there should not be more than four big clubs. Consistently getting into Europe is the key and all teams know that now. And most importantly, the billionaire bosses of the ‘smaller’ clubs know that. For years now, the bulk of EPL clubs have done just enough to stay in the top flight. Finish anywhere above 17th on the table and your salary for next year is guaranteed. Most clubs never believed they could do better. Most clubs didn’t even try to do better. Except the one time in 1994-95 when Blackburn won the title – the only time in 18 years that the title has gone to a club outside of, you guessed it, the Top Four. And blame that on Alan Shearer, who played for Blackburn then and scored 34 goals.

That’s changing. Fast.

Even Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill appears to agree: “City might not be favourites right now, but they should be soon. They have as good a chance as anybody of winning it.” Adams agrees, saying, “This year is a bit too soon for City to win, though they can be in the Top Four. Spurs will take longer. But City can be a contender next season if they strengthen their defence.”

The new, improved Premiership, it appears, is here to stay. No more dreary draws. No more long clearances that are aimed at nothing in particular. Goals are in. Goals are hot. And goals are happening.

And, here’s one other bit of trivia to wrap things up: six of the top 10 goalscorers (6 and above) at the moment are not from United or Chelsea or Arsenal or Liverpool. Hurrah!

Champion player, champion coach

(Also in the Gamechangers of 2009 section of the December issue of Man's World)
Pullela Gopichand made his name as only the second Indian after Prakash Padukone to win the All-England Open badminton championships. That was in 2001. Eight years down, he is India’s number one badminton hope again — this time, as The Coach. Coach to Saina Nehwal, possibly India’s best sportsperson at the moment; coach also to the Indian national team. And to Jwala Gutta and Valiyaveetil Diju, who became the first Indian pair to win a Grand Prix mixed doubles title.

Gopi is also a thinking man. When you ask him what the one issue closest to his heart is, he theorises on the link between poverty and sport, between fitness and education. “We have a huge population, but we are woefully behind in education. The uneducated are poor. The rich, who are educated, suffer from all sorts of lifestyle diseases. The problem is lack of physical activity. Ask them, have they walked even a kilometre in the last two years? Poverty eradication is the biggest issue for our country. I can’t solve that. So I am trying to work on making people fitter, healthier,” he says.

So, along with managing the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad, he also runs a foundation that organises 10-km marathons across the country. Importantly, he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is. Gopi once refused to endorse a cola company because, well, he didn’t want to endorse a product that is ‘anti-fitness’.

Oddly enough for a man so much in the news, all of this isn’t common knowledge. But it’s important to know this side to Gopi, if we are to understand that Gopi is not our everyday coach. He engages with his wards on a deeper level. He explains, “I can’t tell Saina what she should endorse and what she shouldn’t. I can’t push her in the direction I think is right. But I do try to explain to my ‘kids’ what’s right and what’s wrong.” Does everybody else have it, though? Because these days, not all of those kids are getting coach-time to their heart’s content. “I coach a lot of kids but nowadays Saina obviously takes up most of my time. Apart from travelling with her, we train together for four hours every day when she is in Hyderabad. Plus there are other endorsement-related commitments with her,” Gopi says.

Gopi, 36, is comfortable in the world of competitive sport. Saina is 19. Still learning the ropes, trying to figure things out, so the role of the coach goes a bit beyond just working out the backhands and forehands. “I’ve known Saina since she was 13 or so,” Gopi says. “I guess I am a bit of a father figure. I am also a bit of a friend. A mentor. A bit of everything.” Let’s talk a bit more about Saina, shall we? Gopi is game because he is in the centre of things right now mainly because of Saina’s super performances through the last year and a half. “She’s brilliant. Remember, she has many years ahead of her. Some things will come only with experience. Some of her weaknesses she has ironed out already. Give her another year, and she would have gotten even stronger.”

In a sense, all coaches wait for someone like a Saina Nehwal, don’t they? But does the discovery of someone like a Saina make the job that much simpler? “When we started the academy, a bunch of players applied, and we took on all of them. Importantly, we got a number of kids who were talented. Indians are naturals at badminton, and if you get two talented kids out of 20, your job becomes easy. When you get a Saina, it’s even better.” For Saina too, this is as good as it gets. After all, she began training under one of the best shuttlers in the country. Someone who has seen the way international sport works and knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Had it not been for a series of injuries during his prime, Gopi would have been at the top of the game in his time.

For Saina and Gopi, things worked out perfectly. But do the other youngsters at the Academy feel left out somewhat? For once, Gopi, who took over as coach of the national team in 2006, wavers a bit before responding: “We do have a good group of coaches at the Academy. There are a couple of good Indonesian coaches with the national team as well. So it’s not as if the kids or the senior team members are ignored at any stage.” Plus, Gopi does spend a lot of time with the kids as well as the pros when in the country. And that’s evident in Gutta and Diju’s exploits too — Gutta credits Gopi with improving her game in recent times, despite having boycotted the national camp in 2008 ahead of the Sudirman Cup when Gopi refused to allow players to participate in random Open events. It helped that they patched up, because Gutta and Diju won their first Grand Prix title in Taiwan in August this year. A first for Indian badminton, like Saina’s Super Series win in Jakarta.

But is this because Gopi is a super coach or because he has gotten lucky with a batch of talented players? Possibly, the former. For some of us who have watched Gopi from close quarters, spotting his coaching character traits isn’t tough. You’ll have coaches who want students to become mirror images of themselves. And there are others, who let kids have their own identities. Gopi appears versatile enough to belong to the latter category. “I realise not everyone can do what I can do. I also realise there are things some of them can do, that I couldn’t. I shouldn’t push my style on the kids,” says Gopi. He doesn’t either. For him, it’s — to borrow a Harry Potter usage — ‘constant vigilance’ more than anything else. And, importantly, while trying to improve his ‘kids’, he does try to improve himself. “I know I am a bit stubborn at times. But I am working on it.”

Yet another first is the number of Indians in the Top 20 of the senior categories in world badminton right now. Apart from Saina, the Badminton World Federation puts Chetan Anand at number 17 in men’s singles, the Rupesh Kumar-Sanave Thomas combine at number 19 in men’s doubles, and the Gutta-Diju combine at number seven in mixed doubles.

To end, though, a question is necessary. How do we feel about Gopi prioritising Saina above everyone else? Do we criticise him, or are we going to back him on this one? Difficult to answer, and maybe Gopi isn’t sure either. Is there a chance we would have had a group of world-class players if Gopi were to divide his attention? Who knows? As it stands, we are sure Saina is going to get closer and closer to the top with each passing day. That’s not such a bad deal, is it?”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don’t set the agenda for Sehwag

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
Amazing as it sounds, Virender Sehwag has not crossed the 30-run mark in Twenty20 cricket in over two years. Yes. The same man who has now risen into the top five Test batsmen’s category in the ICC rankings, is no good in Twenty20s. This, despite Sehwag being known as an attacking batsman.

Sehwag scores at a strike rate of over 80 in Test matches, and the 293 he scored the other day came off 254 balls. That automatically suggests he would be a huge threat to opponents in Twenty20s. But that’s not quite the case. The man known across the world as one of the fiercest hitters of the ball has a rather poor Twenty20 record.

13 games. 249 runs. An average of 20.75. A handsome strike rate of 148.2. But only one score of 50+.

Why though?

The more you think about it, the more interesting it gets and the more you realise that you don’t really know Sehwag at all. And the story actually became interesting from almost the time when Sehwag started playing international cricket.

Prior to that, Delhi selectors were always iffy about him, because he was too attacking. Everyone thought he would be no good in the four-day Ranji games, because he wouldn’t be able to bat for long. He did.

When he emerged on the international stage in 1999, he made a name as a dasher straightaway. But in Tests, there was no room for him. Again, he was too much a hitter. It was only in November 2001 that the debut happened. Bloemfontein. He scored 105 on debut. At a strike rate of 60! Where had the fire gone?

But it was only a matter of time. From number six, he was promoted to the top of the batting order, and that’s where Sehwag finally blossomed. First in ODIs, then in Tests as well. And today, in Tests he averages 52.5, while in ODIs, he languishes at 33.9.

To return to the original question: why though?

Is it because Sehwag is at his best when there are more fielders up close than in the boundary? Can’t be. He clears the field brilliantly even when there are fielders in the deep. In Mumbai for example, he played with a spread out field for the most part and got to within 7 runs of a third triple century.

I think it’s because for Sehwag, hitting a boundary or two every six deliveries is not a big deal. It’s when the demand is more that he starts getting hassled. I think he likes setting the agenda, not when the agenda is set for him. In Tests, a boundary every over is good enough. Sehwag will give you two. In T20s, the demand is at least three, and Sehwag feels under pressure to perform.

Why I think this is true is also that Sehwag is not the best batsman around in the third or fourth innings of a Test. When the asking rate and target is set out for him, Sehwag is half the batsman he otherwise is. Let him bat without numbers muddling his brain, Sehwag is possibly the most exciting batsman in the world. Any other situation, you have a better chance by asking him not to bat.

Can Sachin pull off a Tiger?

(Also on
Tiger Woods is a great man. He is easily the greatest golfer in history. By far the most charismatic. All of which contribute to him being the richest sportsperson in the world.
He is golf’s Roger Federer. Or Sachin Tendulkar. Or Usain Bolt. Or Cristiano Ronaldo.

But these comparisons throw the issue out of focus a bit. Because Federer is clean as a whistle. Tendulkar is ‘squeaky’ clean. Bolt is anything but a cheat, on the tracks or off it. Ronaldo is at most a ladies’ man, but young, not married, and therefore 'allowed' to fool around.

So was Tiger Woods. A coloured man. At the peak of his abilities. Married to lovely Elin Nordegren. Life was perfect till Elin found out about his relationships with various women. Heaven knows what Tiger had confessed to, but the count has gone up past 10 already – the number of women Tiger had sexual relations with.

As a result, Tiger’s empire is in a shambles. No one knows if he will able to hold on to the endorsements which make him the richest athlete on the planet. No one knows if Tiger can ever get back to the course and remain the best golfer there is.

And that says a thing or two about pressure, doesn’t it? The pressure of succumbing to your image – only to remain different from the average man.

This year itself, apart from Tiger, we have had a few examples: Andre Agassi, Andrew Symonds, Diego Maradona, Serena Williams and Thierry Henry. All heroes. All now regarded as cheats in some way or the other. None of them now have an image they can bank on anymore.

Let’s just talk about Tendulkar for a bit here. Doesn’t he ever want to abuse? Doesn’t he ever feel like getting drunk? Doesn’t he ever want to share a cigarette with his friend Shane Warne? Doesn’t he ever feel like being with another woman?

Maybe, maybe not. Most probably, he does. But there’s the image one must live within if he has reached where Tendulkar has. A level where there is no good or bad or right or wrong. It’s a level where lines blur so much that lines don’t exist anymore. It’s a level where there’s only success or disaster.

Stick to the image – success. Take even the smallest detour – disaster.

Think about it – billions are usually at stake around these parts. Also think about the fact that Tendulkar has managed to pull it off for 20 years now!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Constant is the only change

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
A few days back, we got the confirmation from Pakistan Cricket Board chief Ejaz Butt that the Pakistan cricket team has no room or patience for Shoaib Akhtar anymore. Then, courtesy a mauling from the Indian batsmen in Kanpur, Muttiah Muralitharan announced that he might quit sooner rather than later.

That’s two of the many people who should never have been cricketers. Because they are chuckers. Not bowlers. Or, as Bishan Singh Bedi calls them, javelin throwers or shot-putters. Their wickets are nothing but run-outs. I agree.

Which is why Akhtar’s fall from grace and Murali’s gradual decaying are good things. It’s good news. It’s a reason to celebrate.
But there are a lot of unfortunate areas in this. Firstly, the fact that – forget Akhtar – Murali already has more ‘wickets’ than anyone in cricket history; almost 800 in Tests and over 500 in one-dayers. That’s unfortunate, because that means around 1300 batsmen have been dismissed illegally by Murali over the years in international cricket alone.

But what’s even more unfortunate is that the gradual decline of Akhtar and Murali, and hopefully Harbhajan Singh in the near future, does not really signal the end of this illegality in cricket. Cricket remains a sport that is ruled not by its official governing body, but by its unofficial governing body; not by the ICC, but by the BCCI. The BCCI will not change its colours. And the ICC will never be able to grow its fangs. What that means is that whatever the BCCI wants will continue to be a part of international cricket.

If that means allowing blatant cheats to continue bowling and picking wickets – so be it.

If that means allowing the IPL authorities to announce sanctions on cricketers from the rest of the world – so be it.

If it means altering the cricket calendar to suit the needs of the premier Indian cricketers – so be it.

Do I have solid evidence of any of these things? Not in my hands, no. Do I know or believe all of this is true? Yes, I do. We all do. None of this is new. It’s all been going on for over a decade now.
Will it stop? Will things change? Unlikely. Cricket fans in India will continue to back their favourite sport till kingdom come; the greater common good be damned. And that means the BCCI will continue to carry out their business the way they do. And why not? Seeing that they are being allowed to. And will continue to be allowed to.