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May 18, 1999


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The unfair advantage

Prithvi Anand

All 12 teams have played their opening gambits in this World Cup. There has been little surprise in terms of strategy, and by way of results too. And the theory of World Cups being a place for innovations has not happened. It may be early days yet.

The only innovation was the 'earpiece controversy' at Hove the other day. In one's view, an advantage was sought and a deliberate attempt was made to hide it from the opponents, in this case India, and the authorities, like the ICC.
The least Hansie Cronje could have done was to take the umpires into confidence. Worse, Dr Ali Bacher, such a strong face of the establishment, tried to conceal it from the media, whose attendance he seeks on the minutest of matters.

One thing about this earpiece situation, which promises to "speed up the game": Who are we to know who is linked at the other end. Is it a coach or bookmaker?
Even if the intentions are fair, it must be an unfair advantage to a fielding team. Everyone knows it is far easier to assess situation from beyond the boundary, when you are standing at mid on and a Tendulkar is cutting loose. It also diminishes, deglamourises and de-romanticises the notion of frail or strong, innovative or drab captaincy.

One also wonders what would have been the case had an Indian or Pakistani captain attempted it. A few debatable decisions from Javed Akhtar was enough to send the 'white' force of cricket up in arms. A Mohammad Azharuddin or a Wasim Akram would have been dubbed as eternal villains of cricket.
A typical supporting case of this situation was the Mark Waugh and Shane Warne episode. The two top Australians have confirmed accepting bribes, but continue to act indiscreetly, as Warne did the other day on Arjuna Ranatunga, and there is suspended ban at best.

Salim Malik, for all his perceived and imagined links with shady dealers of cricket, is yet to be proven guilty. But he has been pilloried more in the press than the two Australian gentlemen, so proud of the green baggy cap, who are guilty of having direct links with bookmakers.

To take a wider picture of the situation though, it must be said the MCC rule book needs to be thoroughly revised in view of the technological innovations which are being experimented everyday. Just to update those old rules of 100 years, in some cases, or at best at least a generation old, will not help. A complete review of technological issues waiting in the pipeline must be handled straightaway and also unforeseen developments must be taken into account.
The game has grown too big and multidimensional for the ICC and it must take control if the game before this growing game is torn apart by unsavoury situations.

Mercifully, if this smacks of a racist attitude, it is not true of the British society largely. This melting pot of a society has accepted people of different culture and creeds rather well. In the England-Sri Lanka match, a great number of Sri Lankans had come draped in their national flag and there was a fair bit of national jingoism. Imagine this happening in a India-Pakistan match in India. Who would dare to support the Pakistanis so openly without any fear of recrimination to follow. In a way, the western society is far more amenable to accepting pressures of different nationalities than is possible in an increasingly fascist-like nation that India is turning to be.

Maybe what British society has already learnt, the cricket establishment is yet to learn. They are still warped in that time zone where things were viewed with prejudiced blinkers. Hence there is no attempt to assimilate the growing Asian presence into the cricket mainstream.

According to an estimate, everyone of five Britons is either interested in cricket or is playing it. It is a huge number, but surprisingly 80 per cent of this number belong to men from Asian stock. All of them feel unwelcome in the British cricket system. Hence they form their own league and tournaments and remain just there. Naturally, there is a simmering discontent.

Many in England have started to question this philosophy and are wondering whether it is not English cricket's loss if this talent is allowed to go unattended and unwelcome d in the hierarchy.
After all, the country has a past of taking the best from other countries and flourishing!

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Prithvi Anand

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