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June 17, 2000

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Slowly, softly, catchee monkee

Harsha Bhogle

There were two strong statements in two weeks from Pakistan cricket; one laughable, the other short-sighted. It is statements like these that colour all of Pakistan cricket in one shade, and hide the fact that with their natural talent, they have more to contribute to world cricket than any other nation.

I confess I could not believe what I was reading when Brig. Nasir, Pakistanís rather outspoken manager in Sri Lanka, tried to suggest that bookies from India were solely responsible for the matchfixing problem. There was a time when, if you shouted loudly enough, people believed you but sadly for the Brigadier, his comments are a couple of years too late! And I am sure people would be amused to learn that those that receive are genteel and pure, while those that give are the source of all evil. Dear Brigadier, if no one received, no one would give!

Apart from being a laughable view, it was also a very short-sighted view, and convinced me that people in our part of the world are taking a dangerously narrow view of the game. There is a feeling in Asia, and it is more pronounced in Pakistan than in India, that the sub-continent is being victimised and that, in keeping with our fondness for metaphors from war, we must fight back, we must engage in rebellion. Indeed, I sometimes fear that we eagerly await the first whiff of victimisation, so that we can rebel. The way forward is through development not rebellion; by building better roads, not digging existing ones.

That is why people who take on a system, having excelled within it, are heard with most respect. That is why Imran Khan, one of the three or four dominant personalities in the game in the last fifty years, is heard with respect. That is why, when Venkataraghavan speaks out about the most ridiculous aspect of modern cricket -- namely, different fees for umpires standing in the same match -- he is heard. What a pity that genuine issues like these are being forgotten in an attempt to justify things that are sometimes wrong.

This is what worries me about the Waqar Younis episode, and the second statement that I referred to. There was Waqar, in full view of everyone, scratching furiously at the ball and in doing so, clearly breaking the rules of the game. Lt.Gen. Tauqir Zia, a good firm voice at most times, makes the point that John Reid is biased because the umpires did not report the crime. But surely, in the face of very strong visible evidence, if the umpires do not report a bowler and the referee does, it is the umpires who are wrong, not the referee.

I wonder though if the General was reacting to a perception that he had of John Reid, who is one of the least liked referees in the world because of his headmasterly attitude. But however unpleasant people might find Reid to be, in this case I am afraid he was right. That is why I believe that on the sub-continent, we wait for signs of victimisation, and plunge headlong into combat without pausing to think if the person involved was right.

It is true that there is a worrying tendency among match-referees to pick on certain players and let others go. But I believe the way to combat this is to to produce evidence and fight a case strongly. For example, post the appalling behaviour of Allan Donald in South Africa against Rahul Dravid, there is absolutely no way Barry Jarman should have been allowed to get another game. But we kept quiet then, instead of producing evidence before the ICC to show that Jarman pulled up Sourav Ganguly and Pankaj Dharmani for a very minor offence and let Donald off for a major one.

Or again in Australia, a few months ago, tapes of Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath should have been played before the ICC. A dossier should have been made on the unacceptable behaviour of Darrel Hair. Instead, we let it simmer and then, picked on the wrong moment. We made a noise about Javed Akhtar, who should never have been an international umpire. And we now make a noise about Waqar Younis, who has been filmed doing exactly this on innumerable occasions.

Now, if John Reid had pulled up Waqar and let another bowler go for doing exactly the same, or a worse, offence (like Barry Jarman did), there could have been a very strong case for expressing no-confidence in his authority. But by picking a case where a bowler has obviously broken the rule, we do ourselves no credit. If anything, we lose credibility and when the genuine complaint comes up, we are not taken seriously.

That is why I sometimes think that on the sub-continent, we need to find the right mix between introspection and aggression. We must ask ourselves, internally, why Asian bowlers are being hauled up for suspect actions more than others. Is it only because, as we sometimes let ourselves believe, the world is targeting us? Or is it also because our system genuinely allows bowlers with bent arms to progress through it? Similarly, does our system allow our bowlers to scratch one side of the ball? I fear it does and that is why, a voice raised against victimisation must necessarily be accompanied by a movement that cleanses a system.

A forum has emerged though, in the appointment of Sunil Gavaskar as Chairman of the ICC Cricket Committee, for such grievances to be addressed on a policy-making level. Gavaskar isnít merely one of the greatest cricketers to have played the game, he is also a clear-headed, articulate man and in his being offered a critical job, both factors would have played a role. It is in having proud Asian voices like Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Venkataraghavan or Majid Khan in positions of influence or power that this apparent discrimination can be fought. It is there, at the root, that these issues can be raised and countered and if that opportunity is squandered, it makes very little sense to go about breast-beating in public.

Finally, a little snippet that, I am sure, caught your attention as well. In one of the preliminary matches of the Asian Under 15 tournament, India made 403 from 40 overs, the kind of score you make in book cricket when you are picking the pages yourself! In reply, Hong Kong made 40 all out, 29 of which came from extras, which means they only made a few more than they would have made if there had been no batsman standing in front of the stumps!

But having poor opposition isnít the fault of a strong team, and let us not hold that against our young boys. We have shown again that in competition involving raw talent, we are virtually on top of the world. It is in creating the finished product that we seem to fall short. Now, talent is a measure of the resources available, the finished product is a reflection on the efficiency of a system. What does that tell you about the way cricket is run in India?

If we concentrated on that, we would not need to shout from the rooftops about discrimination!

Harsha Bhogle

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