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June 29, 1998


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Fourth straight washout!

Prem Panicker

Galle made sure, today, that it went out with a perfect record -- three games scheduled at the venue in the ongoing Singer Akai Nidahas Trophy, all three washed out due to rains.

Today's game -- India versus New Zealand -- was not exactly a washout. In the sense, there was no rain this morning -- but the heavy rains of the last few days had produced a marsh where there used to be an outfield, and the umpires, after the routine inspection this morning, figured that there was no way it would dry out in time for even a 25-overs-a-side game.

So the caravan moves back to Colombo, to the Sinhalese Sports Club ground where India will, wind and weather permitting, take on Sri Lanka on June 1.

Meanwhile, I keep seeing criticism of the Indian tour management's obdurate stance, in the face of offers by Sri Lankan authorities to reschedule the tournament, and play more games. India's management, headed by Venkat Sundaram, Anshuman Gaikwad, Ajay Jadeja and Azharuddin, after some discussion decided to turn the proposal down, though New Zealand, the other side in the competition, were more than willing to go with the Lankan proposal.

Much of the criticism has centered around the view that India's stance flies in the face of concern for the game, and the paying spectators. However, manager Venkat Sundaram has a point -- which he articulated rather forcefully and well, when TV commentator Tony Grieg quizzed him, when he says that cricketers are human beings too, they have their own commitments, and it is unfair to expect them to drop everything at the fall of a raindrop.

Four Indian cricketers, Sundaram pointed out, were scheduled to fly back early morning of the 8th, to attend to their pre-scheduled commitments, and any attempt to reschedule would have meant these four would have been considerably hampered.

Responding to the suggestion that India's present position, at the top of the points table, influenced the management's decision not to agree to a change in schedule, Sundaram -- himself a former Ranji star -- said the suggestion was ridiculous. "The first thing I told Azhar, Ajay and Anshuman when we met to discuss the proposal was to keep the points position out of it, and decide purely on cricketing and personnell grounds," Sundaram said.

The manager pointed out that tours and conditions are not decided overnight -- this one had been planned a long time ago. Surely, asked the Indian manager, the Lankan cricket authorites were not unaware that it rains in those parts during this time of the year?

Sundaram has a point when he says that instead of scheduling nine league games, with each side playing the others thrice, six (two meetings between each side) would have been optimum, given the weather. This would have enabled provision of stand-by dates for washed out games -- a must when you schedule a cricket tournament in the height of the monsoons.

Point well taken, I thought -- and it came as a rather pleasant surprise to see an Indian tour manager take a decision, and back it with refreshing firmness, without passing the buck on to the BCCI.

Interestingly, Sri Lankan board chief Dammika Ranatunga did discuss with the Indian management the possibility of amending tournament rules so that, for the duration, a game that cannot be completed on schedule can be continued the following day. Again, the Indians refused -- arguing that this would mean playing three days on the run. For instance, if India's game on July 1 is not completed on deadline, then the side will play again on the 2nd -- and then have to turn out on the 3rd for its next game, against New Zealand.

"Given the high humidity levels and corresponding heat when it is not raining, back to back play of that kind is asking too much of the players," said Sundaram, adding, "It is the Indian team alone that will be affected -- we are playing on July 1 and 3, against Lanka and New Zealand. Both those teams only have to play one game apiece, we could be the ones really facing extreme conditions and that could affect performance," the manager pointed out.

BCCI secretary J Y Lele reportedly told the tour management to give the Lankan request serious consideration, pointing out that the island nation is a "friend of India's" (presumably a reference to the fact that Lanka voted for Dalmiya in the ICC presidentship elections).

"We discussed the situation threadbare for four and a half hours, the whole team was taken into confidence," said Sundaram. "It is not that we want to offend the sensibilities of the Lankan board and the people," he added, pointing out that during the 1996 World Cup, when Australia and the West Indies had refused to play their league games in Colombo, India had sent its premier players over to play a goodwill game. "Finally, we took the decision to adhere to the original schedule keeping in mind all factors.

So that, for now, is that.

Not sure if doggerel has any part in a cricket news report, but hey, I read this one a while ago and enjoyed it. So, since rain is in the news, here's one to tickle your funnybone:

The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But it raineth more on the just, because
The unjust steals the just's umbrella!

Ananth Nagarajan, meanwhile, writes in with his take on Clarke's Curve. Or more specifically, his take on what a reader had written on the subject. Here is his view:

"I read the suggestion by Rajarshi Gupta. It is based on sound reasoning. Every time there is a reduction in the number of overs, the team batting second should not be penalized for the way it batted in the earlier overs. Any adjustments to the runs required should only be applied to the remaining overs.

Having said that, I have a basic disagreement with the multiplication factors used by Mr Clarke. Let us say Team A has batted the full 50 overs, and scored 250 runs. There is then a rain interruption, and Team B gets to bat only 25 overs.

According to the curve, team B will have to score 66.7% of 250 i.e., 167 runs, which comes to a whopping 6.7 runs an over!

While it is certainly true that a team batting for lesser number of overs is at an advantage, the difference in the required rate, in the above instance - about 1.7 runs an over -- seems too inflated.

While the whole matter is highly subjective, 60% seems fairer than 66.7%."

Venkat's argument seems to be in favour of a general reduction in the percentages favoured by Mr Clarke -- and frankly, I tend to agree. The game as devised is about two teams, each trying to outscore the other over a fixed distance. However, to say that one team, for no fault of its own, has to score at a rate of nearly two runs more than the other seems to militate against the principles of natural justice.

Once earlier, when I argued this point, a reader had written in, saying that to balance the higher run rate, the team batting second and facing a reduction in overs has the luxury of knowing it does not have to conserve its batsmen. 10 batsmen lasting 50 overs is one thing, the argument ran, but when you know you have only 25 overs, then you can throw the bat around with some vim.

True enough. But the counter to that will become obvious to anyone who has tried batting after a spell of rain stiff enough to knock out 25 overs worth of play. For one thing, the aftermath of such rain leaves moisture in the air and the ball starts doing things. For another, the outfield becomes next to impenetrable -- your best shots beat the infield, but don't find the fence, letting the fielding side have the luxury of not having to set the sweepers right back (thus, not only don't you get fours, your twos dry up as well, pretty much).

Sure, before you point it out, the ball does get a shade wet and hard for the bowler to grip -- but nothing a bit of sawdust, and application of a towel, won't cure, so to my mind it is the batsman who gets the worst of the deal here.

Waiting, meanwhile, for your spin on the thing...

Postscript: Plenty of response for our request to readers, asking those who wish to contribute to Rediff to write in. That is heartening, thanks much. We will get back to each of you individually in course of the week.

Mail Prem Panicker