A wish-list for 2003

ROHIT BRIJNATH

THE New Year has dawned and not much has changed. Indians still believe winning the World Cup is their birthright and Navjot Sidhu continues to do to the English language what he once did to Shane Warne.

Columnists frequently insist they can discern more from crystal balls than any gypsy in a red scarf, and a new year is often time for bold predictions. For instance, we might tell you that Tiger Woods will be the best golfer at the end of 2003 and that there is as much chance of Ferrari losing the formula one championship as the Sri Lankans entering a "Free lunch with Glenn McGrath'' contest. Of course, any self-respecting 12-year-old who spends more time with ESPN than his physics text books could tell you that.

Still, this column is not really concerned with predictions, it is more a wish-list for 2003; not so much about what will happen but what we would like to see.

For instance, how wonderful it might be if Jagmohan Dalmiya enrolled most of his cricketers in dancing classes, a sort of gentle reminder that moving one's feet while batting is not a felony. Penguins have been known to move with more assuredness.

It will be timely if someone took Virender Sehwag aside and told him that ''Kid, you're talented no question, but forget the hype, forget the back-patting, glib-talking, sponsors, forget the oily agents who keep murmuring 'you're the best', forget The-Next-Tendulkar rubbish. Just remember that greatness is a long journey and you're only at the starting line, that your game has beauty but also warts, that you're great to watch but you're only a work in progress''.

It would be only fair, considering they're hosting the World Cup, if the South African team were given a flair implant and a personality transfusion, and stopped bobbing around the field like a bunch of wind-up dolls. Cricket must be played with imagination, not from a manual.

It would be nice too if Brett Lee actually finished an over to a tail-ender without a bouncer, and did not celebrate every dismissal of a No. 11's wicket with such an exuberant victory jig you think he'd beaten Tendulkar for pace and bowled him for a first-ball duck. It is not so much unfair as unseemly.

It would be excellent if Sourav Ganguly is given the respect he deserves when he visits Australia later this year and that the first journalist who describes him as a princely lord is jailed for being boring. However, the next person who refers to India's batting line-up as ''the best in the world'' gets either a net session with Lee without a helmet or a three-hour lecture from Mr. Sidhu on proverbs and metaphors.

It would be most appreciated if Bangladesh won a match at the World Cup, though preferably not against Pakistan. A World Cup without scandal would be refreshing except it is about as likely as Matthew Hayden holding his tongue as an incoming batsman takes guard.

Mostly though, it would be a unique 12 months if we discovered that it has been scientifically proved that it is possible to survive an entire week without watching or talking cricket.

It will be about time if Marat Safin decided Goran Ivanisevic was not the most appropriate role model. Breaking rackets, being amusing in the press room and losing matches you shouldn't, gets you headlines but no plaque in the hall of fame. People would die for his talent, but he is content to watch it die.

It would be rewarding if soccer players stopped showering referees with spittle, Roy Keane was introduced to Buddhism and common sense replaced sentiment in handing out year-end awards. For instance: Ronaldo is a Brazilian soccer player, who played superbly over one month out of 12 at the World Cup which was held in Asia, did nothing of note for his club in Europe, but was named European Footballer of the Year?

It might be nice if America, and Russia, and some of the world's sporting superpowers figured out that not all hockey is played on skates, though when field hockey is played well it flows as fast and elegantly. A beauteous game remains ignored, more a side-show than a main event.

It might be even nicer if India regained some of its hockey splendour. Teams do not make it a habit of praying for an opponent's good health and fine form, yet people the world over, coaches and players included, wish for India's resurgence. We are still deaf to their pleas.

And while we're on the subject, Ric Charlesworth's The Coach should be made essential reading for coaches, players and spectators of any sport.

It would be remarkable if Evander Holyfield retires before his feet start to drag, his speech slurs and he can't recognise his children. It would be too much, one supposes, to ask that fight promoters actually do extensive scans and tests before letting 40-year-olds like Holyfield into the ring, instead of saying ''$4 million for 30 minutes work, how good a deal is that?''

It will be eye-opening too if everyone who spent a lifetime falling in love with Muhammad Ali read Ghosts of Manila by Mark Kram, if only to figure out he wasn't as pure as we thought.

It will be instructive if India's sporting administrators were reminded that they are here not to rule Indian sport but to run it. Incredible as it might sound to them, officials exist to serve athletes and not the other way around.

It would be spectacular if Paes-Bhupathi won one more Grand Slam title, not an Indian medallist got caught on drugs and state governments didn't spend crores they can't afford on stadiums they can't maintain.

And yes, it would be awesome if India won a series outside the subcontinent. If only because it will stop people asking me every week: ''One billion people, a passion for cricket, and you still can't play it properly. What's the problem?'' Hey Sourav, do something, I'm running out of excuses.