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Wonder Boy "Azharuddin' does it again

An insight into Azhar's character
By S. Zeyaur Rahman

I wonder what Harsha Bhogle would be thinking about the events of the last few months. He would be badly tempted to completely revise his much acclaimed biography of Azharuddin. Or perhaps he will need to write another one. And this time he will not find it half as enjoyable as the previous time.

It is quite astonishing to read the book in the light of the match fixing controversy, which in India revolves around the disgraced captain. Is it the same Azhar, Bhogle has written so powerfully about? How could a biographer miss the mark so completely? Perhaps we all did.

Till very late Bhogle has been portraying Azhar as the 'best role model India EVER had'. The brightest diamond from the city of Kohinoor. Jewel in the crown, apple of the eye… seemingly unending series of choicest of adjectives one could use to describe a cricketer, a gentleman, a man.  

Since then Azharuddin has gone a long way. Long way vertically down, from dizzying heights to abysmal depths. With every passing day we find ourselves short of negative adjectives, when we describe the same person. 

Nobody has forgotten the minority card, which this role model chose to play and an extremely inopportune moment. That was undoubtedly his ugliest stroke, which left a very bad taste in everyone's mouth. Gladly for us, there were no takers for this logic and he came under a good deal of criticism from his own community.

A silence followed. An uneasy one and we thought that Azhar had reconciled himself to his fate. But the 'comeback' kid was not to be silenced so easily. Now he is trying to give it a regional colour. He just stopped short of absolving himself and concentrated on implicating players from other zones, who are supposedly as bad as him. 

Yet, another ridiculous, despicable and desperate attempt to pass on the blame. Where is the team spirit and camaraderie that symbolizes cricket? Fourteen years of involvement with the most refined of all games have been inadequate in instilling him some virtues of decency in him. I will not sink alone seems to be his motto.

Gavaskar had been rather sympathetic to Azhar for most of the time before the ego clash erupted. The foreign-currency-in-the-locker episode has given Azhar an excuse to point a finger at him. Since Kapil, Jadeja and Prabhakar are already in the dock, Azhar does not waste time lotting against them. A poor thing like Kambli has not escaped his attention.

Very much like the choice of friends, the choice of foes also goes to show the standard of a person. Kambli is much junior to him and inconsequential as far as Indian cricket is concerned. Targeting Kambli goes to show the extent to which Azhar can go. Tomorrow he may accuse some debutant from Tripura or Goa in a bid to prove that he is not the lone bad guy. 

Hyderabadis take pride in their rich culture and Azhar used to symbolize all the positive aspects of their mannerism. He had an incorruptible image after his glorious days in big cricket and Hyderabadis used to say with pride, 'Yeh ladka kabhi nahin bigdega". That ladka is throwing mud on everyone's face with his repertoire of ugly strokes.

To top it all he still nurtures ambitions to play his 100th test. He has more than ample faith in our forgiving and tolerant character. But then he has stretched everyone to the limits and even saints will find it difficult to pardon him for the damage that he has done.

Azhar makes a remarkable study in contrast. The same applies to his South African counterpart. People with impeccable credentials, who were beyond the realms of doubt and suspicion. They have ended up doing unimaginable things.

Azhar had a habit of proving everyone wrong demolishing the predictions of one and all. Sadly this time it is in a completely unwanted field. How wrong we all were when we hailed him as 'God's gift to Indian cricket'.
Great innings wonder boy. You have fooled everyone.

Has Ganguly arrived as a captain? 
The angry young man of Indian cricket
By Vimal Kumar


Of course, the 9-month of captaincy period is not enough to comment fairly on Sourav Ganguly, as a captain of India, but still there are plenty of reasons to assess him. The prince of Calcutta has been in news in recent times for various things. Be it for various things. Be it for his consistent batting display or for his outspokenness, the man is hogging the limelight, currently.

During the glorious decade of 80’s in the last century, an angry young man called Amitabh Bacchan mesmerized a whole generation of cine-lovers because of his aggressive image. Sourav Ganguly, of course, is not another Amitabh but the “angry man of Indian cricket” is trying too hard to make this Indian team as a cohesive unit of go-getters. Indian cricket has been under-achiever or to be precise poor-achiever because of the lack of fire under the belly and lack of pride in most individuals.

But Sourav Ganguly knows very well how important these qualities are and he is working diligently hard to find tune this aspect in the present team. Forget about the results under his tenure of captaincy, the most important gain has been the changed approach of the team. This team really looks like a unit and everyone is rallying around his captain. 

But in inculcating, the aggression among his team members, Ganguly has sometimes been fired because of his excessive zeal. To be fair to Sourav, the man is always prompt, when it comes to accept blame or constructive criticism. This quality is remarkably outstanding because it is one of the rarely feature in any Indian cricketer.

When the new season started with the ICC Knock Out Trophy in Kenya, nobody gave a chance to the Indian team. But the inclusion of fresh blood and the responsibility shared by seniors in the team almost lifted the cup for India. Despite their defeat in the final, they were stilled praised because of an unlikely commendable show. The performance in Sharjah tournament was a mixed one and so was the show against debutant Bangladesh in one off test match. While the credit for winning the Delhi test must be given to the whole team but the brave declaration by Ganguly surprised everyone. Sourav was highly praised for the above decision in media and one must say, he would have been lambasted had the gamble not been paid off.

The sheer courage and penchant for taking risks makes Sourav an admirable captain. The convinicing one day series was the result of the no nonsense attitude shown by every member including the new coach John Wright.

But Sourav is not getting carried away by these facile victories and he knows the real challenge ahead against the formidable Aussies in February next year. Hopefully, he will be able to enhance his reputation of being a finer captain in the coming series.



Five Dark Circles

The scandals in the history of cricket
By Goutam Das

The recent controversies about match fixing have hit cricket like nothing so far has. Some maintain, that it has reduced its stature so drastically that it has seized to be a “gentleman’s game”. Nothing is further from truth. Perception, as is said, is more real than reality itself.

History can be a consolation. It can be frightening too. Our beloved game had long lost her virginity and her body was violated over and over again. And even though the dark serpents kept raising their ugly heads, the game has survived. It has withstood all the ravages of time, the storms, the floods and the droughts. Today, it has reached a stage where all disasters are immune. The game cannot loose its tranquility anymore, her maturity can ward off any ungentlemanly behavior. 

Yet, she can never wipe of the dark spots on her beautiful face. The first of them appeared as early as 1932-33. No points for guessing what it were. English captain Douglas Jardine wanted his bowlers to bowl short-pitched deliveries, aiming at the batsman’s body. His order was carried out to perfection. The Australians led by Sir Donald Bradman had no answer to Harold Larwood’s stuff, which also had a strong leg side cordon to aid him-two fine legs, a square leg, a mid-on and a cluster of short legs. Sports stand for peace. Not barbarism. Many Aussies were hit on the chest and the head. With no headgears in those days, facing “bodyline” bowling meant an open invitation to serious injuries, or even death. The repercussions that the series created had almost terminated the political relations between the two countries. Thank Heaven’s, it did not happen actually.

The second dark circle was of a different nature. And perhaps the more serious. Basil D’Oliviera, a coloured South African born all rounder, was prevented from touring the “rainbow country” with the English team in 1966-67. The evil in the form of Apartheid took its first toll on cricket. South Africa was expelled from the international arena and England on that occasion, promptly cancelled the tour.

In the 80’s and the 90’s ball tampering, or “doctoring” as it came to be known, became a serious controversy. Fingers were mainly pointed at Pakistan, whose bowlers got the ball to reverse swing. But as many countries followed Pakistan in perfecting the art, the debate died a slow death. Manoj Prabhakar for India got the ball to reverse swing considerably. A more recent example would be the young prodigy, Zaheer Khan.

Thanks to Darrel Hair, “throwing” made bowlers loose their sleep. Muttiah Muralitharan was no balled nine times in one match for “chucking”. Our very own Rajesh Chauhan and Harbhajan Singh were asked to change their bowling actions. TV cameras with their expert commentators began to dissect bowlers like Hospital Surgeons. All these created a lot of accusations and counter accusations and some bad blood between countries.  

The latest of the dark circles is of course, match fixing which is not necessarily the youngest. It came to the forefront in 1995 when Salim Malik was accused by Shane Warne and Mark Waugh of trying to bribe them into loosing a match during Australia’s tour of Pakistan that year. In India, it had deeper roots. One Police Commissioner went on record saying that match fixing was prevalent in Gavaskar’s time, matured when Kapil was the captain and blossomed fully during Azharuddin’s era.

One thing that comes out of all these, is the inter mingling of politics and sports. It is not politics that depends on sports, but it is the other way round. The bodyline controversy, the expulsion of South Africa from international cricket and the betting scandal, all had a political color attached to it. Sports, in any case has enough of its own politics. So much so, that one wonders whether it is the politicization of sports or the sportsisation of politics. 

                                                                                                                                       
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Perils Of Victory

Reflection and Retrospection of Indian cricket
By S. Zeyaur Rahman  

Victory is always sweet. It has an encouraging and electrifying effect on the winning team. It may seem ridiculous to imagine that victory may not have positive consequences. The first major casualty of success is reflection and retrospection, a very vital ingredient. One does not find many a thoughtful faces on a victory lap or deep furrows on the forehead while lifting a trophy. 

India has had the fortune (or misfortune) of being a victorious side many a times. It has recorded spectacular results in both the versions of the game, albeit inconsistently so. It was natural that
nobody ever sat down to analyze these victories and take steps to make them a permanent featureIt was only after a thrashing that the post mortem was conducted and only after a serious malady was diagnosed that a remedy was suggested.

We have won yet another series and added yet another feather to our cap if not another jewel in the crown. This victory is bound to give us a feeling that everything is fine and we can jolly well continue the way we are. All the past and recent defeats and humiliations will be forgiven and forgotten. 

A victory at home. It does have a special meaning for every country. But not when it is India. The way India has defeated, destroyed and demolished every single side at home with a monotonous regularity that the entire exercise appears mundane if not a farce. We could not have avoided winning even after fixing a couple of them. A decade of unbeaten record at home. But abroad?

Till date India has won only 14 Test matches abroad and three in the past fifteen years. We needed a debutant like Bangladesh to record our first 'overseas' victory in seven years. There were a couple of very near misses but like all would-have-been, they should be allowed to rest. The stunning regularity and predictability with which India has catapulted overseas is shameful.  But we made up for that by breaking all records at home with series after series of brown wash.

I would not be solving a mystery, if I say that the ineptness of our batsmen against fast bowling is the root cause. Every frontline Indian batsman has performed brilliantly, even abroad, but that was never enough to provide us with more than 3 victories in the past 15 years. The spineless displays of these very batsmen comprehensively outnumber the occasions when they had stood their ground to ensure a draw let alone a victory.

Not knowing the cause is one thing and not taking any steps to rectify the disorder is another. Our cricket system falls in the second category. For an entire decade it ordered doctored pitches as a tonic for a defeated team. And the team never disappointed. A tacit quid pro quo. You give me a doctored pitch and I will give you a victory, to distort one of our famous national slogans.

All kinds of suggestions and theories have been floated in order to get rid of this chronic problem. Ideas ranging from harshly realistic to absurdly idealistic have been provided but little has been done apart from setting up of a couple of academies and pace foundations.

A common suggestion is to prepare sporting pitches for a domestic series. That will rob us off an opportunity of making up for abroad losses through home victory and disappoint the fans. We know what has happened to us at Mohali. The Kiwis scuttled us for less than hundred and earlier we squandered the golden opportunity to end the unbeaten record of West Indies. Even the morning dew is enough to account for our collapses as Donald and Kasprovicz have proved on two occasions.The second idea is to prepare sporting tracks for our domestic cricket. Nothing could be more welcome than that except for the risk of running out of batsmen who can play spin and bowlers who can tweak the ball.

 

























 


Nonetheless one finds that something quick and far reaching must be done. The least we can do is to give our batsmen more exposure to fast tracks and hostile bowling with regularity. A test in Mohali once in three years will not do. 

I understand the need to prepare a turner, when the Kangaroos and the Proteas visit us. But when less lethal sides like Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and New Zealand come calling, then we must have green tops, at least in some matches of the series. A victory at any such venue would do our batsmen a world of good. 

Similarly we can have a quota of fast track matches for every Ranji side. Say one of the four Round Robin ones. Or the Knock out round to be placed on fast pitches and so on.

Unless we give our batsmen a feel of genuine fast bowling, nothing is going to help. What about having Dravid or Ganguly play for Tasmania or Transval for some of their matches? Which side would not want to have crowd pullers like them? Conversely we can have a Donald or Lee bowling in our domestic championship. I am sure that the state associations are rich enough to afford that. To say in short, why do not we have a foreign player quota like the English have? Apart from breathing in a new freshness to our boring championships, it would give our youngsters a nice idea of the world outside.

I seriously place this propositions before the board for consideration. Six months of Ranji Trophy may be too much. But we can certainly have the services of foreign players in the knock out stages or at least in the Duleep Trophy.

The step would help our players in their transition phase. We will not end up with a long list of players like Raman, Rathor, Martin, Kanitkar etc, who could not convert their triple centuries into 50's at the Test level. And of course avoiding the home series from becoming a fixed affair.

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The Selection of the Selectors 
Lets save Indian Cricket from the Devils !

"The wrong sort of people are always in power because they would not be in power if they were
not the wrong sort of people." - Jon Wynne

Over the years, if the performance of our selectors is anything to go by, we would realize that they have done reasonably well to vindicate the above quote. The word 'cricket- selector' has an aura of enigma and intrigue and it has always been an object of criticism. And it is not very difficult to fathom the reasons because their actions have always been louder than their words! 

The selector's very selection is often the result of politics, manipulation, maneuver and regional interest. Becoming a national selector is not an easy task, to do so, one has to please too many 'guardians' of Indian Cricket. In recent times, there has been a lot of debate on the selector’s selection process. There is one school of thought which believes that only former cricketers should be made selectors because they know what international cricket is all about. Apparently, it seems a good suggestion but again, it is not entirely necessary that only a former player will make it good selector.  

There is another school of thought which believes that playing cricket at the highest level should not be made the only criteria for appointing someone a selector. It may deprive the chance to many who may not have played cricket to the highest level but whose knowledge may be better then others who have.

The examples of Harsha Bhogle or Amrit Mathur, to name a few, have more astute and perspicacious approach to the game. They may not have swung the ball, the way Kapil did or they may not have played the incredible square cut, the way Vishwanath did, but their knowledge and love for the game can't be questioned. So, there should be a way where a selection committee comprising former player and genuine professionals can be formed. Meanwhile, Sunil Gavaskar has suggested that a selector's selection should only be for 6 months and after each 2 months, their performance should be evaluated. The cricket lovers in India have always been demanding that the selector's job should be made accountable.  They should be paid for it and there should be an element of professionalism. The so- called 'honorary' selector is a whole rubbish concept.     By the way, why doesn't the Board let the selection committee's proceeding be live telecast- an idea suggested by one of most controversial selectors of all times - Kishan Runta, two years back. Thus, people would be able to know what exactly happens during a selection committee's meeting.  However, it is very unlikely that our conservative board will embrace this revolutionary idea.

For India to become a World Class team it is imperative that the composition of the team is balanced and only the deserving candidates get a chance. The selectors must realize that the future of Indian cricket lies in their hands and only they can save it from going down in the dumps. 

Lets sincerely hope and wish that eventually common sense would prevail over this honorary gentleman who have made a mockery of the word selectors. 

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Is the Indian Board defensive on match-fixing issue

We have two pictures with almost similar situations but totally different results. The first picture goes back to some year in the 90’s when former Pakistani keeper and captain Rashid Latif accused Pakistani and Indian players for throwing away matches in exchange of money. BCCI keeps quite. During that time Manoj Prabhakar accuses a former player without naming him of offering him25 lakhs to perform badly. The board reacts to almost zero degree. Enter the year 2000, and the Delhi police accuses Hansie Cronje of match fixing. He admits it and names Azharuddin as the one who introduced him to the bookies. 

The board says we can’t take action until he is proven guilty. Income tax officials carry out raids on some of the cricketer’s houses that are suspected to be involved in match fixing and find out about some undisclosed amounts and properties. To this our Dear Mr. Lele says that Indians just cannot be involved in match fixing. All that they could do was drop the accused citing reasons, which are ambiguous to say the least.

Lets talk about the other picture. In the first week of April the Delhi police accuses Hansie Cronje of match fixing. Within a day he confesses and in a week’s time he is banned for life. Not only that the inquiry set up to investigate the issue also punishes the other accused Gibbs, Williams and Strydom. There is another inquiry taking place in our neighborhood in which big names from the Pakistani team are accused of fixing matches. The main accused Salim Malik and Atar ur rehman are banned for life. Inquiry against the others is still on and they have been fined heavily.

Now after going through both the pictures what we gather is that something is seriously wrong with our system. On one hand people who have been accused are being reprimanded and banned for life and on the other hand some are getting away with well, nothing and almost every Indian feels that nothing will come out of the so called investigation which has been on for months now. So the question arises is there something terribly wrong with our system. No one is calling Azhar, Jadeja, Kapil Dev match fixers but why do we feel that even if they are involved they will get away with it. Why has our board kept shut about the whole thing when the others are so actively working on finding the culprits? Why do we get this creepy feeling that there is more to it than what meets the eye?  Our law is very fragile and time and time again it has been seen that the accused doesn’t get duly punished and that encourages the person to go ahead with it. If the kind of nexus that is suspected to be on in India then it seems strange that the board was not aware of it. The CBI is supposed to submit their report to the government at the end of this month. Only time will tell how good their investigation was and how authentic as well. All we can hope is that the guilty should be punished and justice is done so that this great game’s pride can be restored forever.

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