Always trying to please foreigners

Published : Sep 15, 2001 00:00 IST

WAY back in 1982, when India visited England, the Indian tour management objected to the appointment of a particular umpire for a Test match. While this was done confidentially, a well-timed leak to the British media ensured a furore and among the many accusations against the Indian management, the most prominent was that they were trying to do a tit for tat. Just the previous winter the England team touring India under Keith Fletcher had managed to remove an Indian umpire who they did not have confidence in. But when India did the same thing and expressed a lack of confidence in an English umpire they were accused of trying to do it simply because England had done it barely six months earlier.

England's excuse for not having the Indian umpire officiate was the so-called mistakes he had made on their previous tour in 1976-77. Imagine that, an umpire being objected to in 1980-81 for what they believed was incompetence and worse five years earlier! That the umpire was thought good enough by the Indian Cricket Board to officiate for five seasons after that didn't count.

The English were paranoid about the umpire officiating against them and no thought was given to the fact that he would have had five years more experience and so would be a better umpire for it.

The Indian objection to the English umpire was simply because he refused to extend the simplest courtesy and was obnoxious to say the least. For example in the county matches before the first Test whenever an Indian bowler appealed and was not able to get a decision in his favour like leg before wicket, the natural query as he walked past the umpire to his bowling mark would be something like, "Was it missing off stump? Was it too high? Or was it going down the leg side? And to each of those queries the answer would be a mimicry of the question. Even when a bowler when called for overstepping asked by how much he had overstepped, all he would get from the umpire was the query repeated in such a way as to mimic the Indian accent.

Not only that, in a one-day international when there was a wet patch right on the good length spot which would have been dangerous and thus unfair to the side batting first, the umpire ignored the requests of both captains to delay the start of the game till the patch was reasonably dry and retorted to the Indian captain, who happened to be yours truly, that this was not India. With this kind of behaviour we were entitled to believe that he was not going to be entirely unbiased in his decisions and so raised the objection.

The Indian manager was summoned for a meeting at Lord's where the greatest amount of pressure was tried, but to his credit he stood firm and so finally Lord's had to announce that the umpire would not be standing in any of the Tests against India that summer.

The difference in the Indian approach and the English one was that while the Indian Board acquiesced without a whimper, the English tried everything including media pressure to ensure that the Indians would take back their objection.

Unfortunately, Indian cricket does have a reputation for crawling when asked only to bend and even today we see evidence of that from the way the Board changed the venue of a Test match just because England complained that its supporters would not be able to find accommodation at Kanpur! So the Test was moved to Ahmedabad and Kanpur was given a one-day international. But then why have a one-day there if it is not good for a Test?

Has India ever asked for a change of venue of a Test from Headingley where the crowds are likely to be inimical to them and from a cricketing point of view the pitch would also not be to their liking? In fact if any change was to be made then it should have been on a reciprocal basis.

What we can be thankful for is that England wanted both Mohali and Kanpur changed as Test venues, but the Indian Board has changed only one. As they say, "Thank God for small mercies".

If the Indian Board is only too willing to do others' bidding the Indian cricketers are not too far behind.

Don't be surprised if you find Indian players instead of resting after two strenuous back to back tours of Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka rushing off to participate in the match to raise funds for the Oval. Now the Oval is my favourite ground in England because it really has a lively crowd and a terrific atmosphere and it is a pleasure to play there.

Luckily for the Indian team they are not participating in the Asian Test Championships and so would not be pressed for time between Tests. Still, they have had hard and unsuccessful outings in Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. So the top players who have been involved in both the Tests and the one-dayers should ideally rest, but that is unlikely to happen.

There is even talk about Tendulkar playing there. Now that would be a huge risk with the injury he has and the Indian Board has to step in and tell players that they would like them to rest.

By all means let players like Srinath and Kumble go, for they have not played much cricket, but the others including Tendulkar must be told to rest and be fresh for the tour of South Africa.

Even though the contract system comes into force from 1st October when the Board will be able to control the players and stop them from playing in any insignificant match, it is important for Indian cricket that they tell the players from now on as to which matches they can play in.

Of course, the month of September is full of internal politics of the Board where the different power blocs try to woo the undecided to their side and so cricket will be the last thing on their minds. Maybe, just may be, there is one, yes just one Board member who will awake to what's happening and take the right decision for Indian cricket.

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