Competition should promote quality

IT is inevitable that as cricket enters more homes, and the lives of more varied people, the kind of information sought would begin acquiring different hues.

HARSHA BHOGLE

Young Munaf Patel, who might well become an accomplished cricketer, has to learn to keep his feet on the ground before he learns to take a first class wicket. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

IT is inevitable that as cricket enters more homes, and the lives of more varied people, the kind of information sought would begin acquiring different hues. Where an analysis of a cover drive might have been the need of the hour, a cricketer's choice of leisure activity attracts just as much curiosity. It is inevitable but as it heads towards general entertainment, and away from the diehard enthusiast, it attracts a different breed of mediaperson.

We need to be careful here because in the entertainment industry, hype counts for more than reality, truth is a very early casualty in the search for something juicy. And with the need to get into print, or on air, as quickly as possible, diligence tends to get ignored. Competition can sometimes do that. On the face of it, competition should promote quality but in the need to be sensational, to attract eyeballs, speed tends to ride over accuracy. We saw that with the ghastly reporting of the Mumbai bomb blasts on television with inexperienced people unaware of the strength of their pronouncement. And I experienced it during the last column I wrote for The Sportstar.

I had commented on the fact that V. V. S. Laxman had said he wouldn't mind opening the innings again. It was in my newspaper and I made the mistake of believing it. It puzzled me but I put it down to the insecurity that can overwhelm people when they are in insecure careers; until Laxman told me that he had never said it and that there had indeed been a tiny clarification. This was confirmed to me by a more responsible reporter who was at the press conference.

Depending on which way you look at it this is mischievous and alarming and I wonder whether we in the media need to regulate ourselves better. And whether people in authority need to be a little more careful about their next "cricket reporter". Amrit Mathur tells the hilarious story of a press conference at the World Cup where a reporter asked if the Indian team had a strategy to counter a tree that was within the playing area; or whether the fact that the Indian team had planted saplings at Pietermaritzburg made them a more environmentally conscious team!

And two days before writing this piece I grimaced at a television report on Indian cricket's latest "sensation", Munaf Patel. Here is somebody who is 20 years old, has played no serious competitive cricket, has a gift to bowl really fast but has done nothing else yet. Again the parallel from the entertainment industry is appropriate where it seems all right for a Fardeen Khan, with very little to show, to be hyped as the next big star. But sport, unlike the movies, is about performance and poor young Munaf Patel, who might well become an accomplished cricketer, has to learn to keep his feet on the ground before he learns to take a first class wicket. And often that can be more difficult.

Disappointment of another nature came from Pakistan where Rashid Latif, regarded as forthright if a little quirky, did something very forgettable. There are many things that a player should not do on a cricket ground and picking up a ball from the ground and claiming a catch is one of them. His explanation, that he had completed the catch, was just as strange because the law clearly states that a player has to be in control of the catch, which he wasn't. Mike Procter's verdict, a five-match ban, was necessary though Latif must consider himself very lucky to get away with only that much.

Pakistan skipper Rashid Latif, seen with Inzamam-ul-Haq, did something very forgettable during the third Test against Bangladesh. There are many things that a player should not do on a cricket ground and picking up a ball from the ground and claiming a catch is one of them. — Pic. AFP-

Had Procter not been around, had third country umpires not been officiating, we would have gone down the old road of bias, there would have been an uproar and quiet threats of retaliation when the contest resumed in the other country. Here is where the ICC needs to pat itself on the back. The presence of the referee and independent umpires is the best thing to have happened to the game in the last 15 years.

Latif's action begs a larger question though. What do you do to people who cheat? Having worked on the issue of match-fixing, this is the next major area for the ICC to focus on: cheating and sledging. For too long now we have allowed the aura that surrounds players to distract us from the real issue behind the criticism they level at umpires. They grimace and they sneer every time they get a bad decision but the truth is that if they didn't cheat, they wouldn't get so many bad decisions.

By appealing vehemently when they know a player is not out, they are putting pressure on the man who has to take the decision. At some point, in the face of such aggressive appealing, he will make a mistake. That is why, as the originators of the pressure on umpires, players need to accept whatever decision comes their way. If they didn't cheat in the first place, if they didn't put on a song and dance act when they knew the batsman wasn't out, they wouldn't have to face so many poor decisions.

In every other sport, an umpire takes a decision without an appeal from the player. I love the whole drama of appealing, the whirling around at the umpire, the celebration or disappointment that follows, but I can't help asking myself if in the current context, it is losing its original flavour. I wonder if we are ready for the day when appealing will have to be outlawed. I hope not, but if we have cheats in the game, that might be one way ahead.