Failure syndrome

When Australia's Andrew Symonds was assailed by alleged racist taunts he replied with the perfect riposte: runs, runs, more runs, perfectly-timed wickets and displays of fielding athleticism in the covers which would have gladdened the eye of the fielding immortals.-V. GANESAN

Passing the buck has become an art form especially when it comes to a question of escaping the consequences of violating the ICC’s and BCCI’s edicts on racism, abuse, the misuse of illegal substances or betting, writes Frank Tyson.

Shakespeare’s Othello valued his reputation above the price of rubies. He said: “Who steals my purse, steals trash but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which enriches him not and makes me poor indeed.” Other famous men have enunciated similar sentiments down through the ages. And apparently former Pakistan cricket captain, Inzamam-ul-Huq was of the same opinion.

He refused to continue the 2006 Oval Test match and forfeited a rubber against England because he deemed his side was dishonoured and insulted by Australian umpire Darrell Hair’s suggestions that the Pakistani players had illegally tampered with the condition of the ball.

The hide of Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds was, however, made of tougher stuff — just like the formidable leather of India’s cricket balls; for when in Australia’s fifth one-day international on the sub-continent, in Vadodara, he was assailed by alleged racist taunts and supposed insulting monkey calls from the spectators, the Gold Coast player replied with the perfect riposte: runs, runs, more runs, perfectly-timed wickets and displays of fielding athleticism in the covers which would have gladdened the eye of the fielding immortals, Aussie Neil Harvey and South African Colin Bland. But even without their cricketing testimonies, Symonds would have been ideally equipped to counter any accusations of racism levelled at him under the aegis of the codes of the ICC, or the BCCI.

Born to coloured West Indian parents in the multi-ethnic environs of industrial Birmingham, adopted by English schoolmaster Ken, “Roy” Symonds was reared in the migrant melting pot of Australia and, on the score of indulging in racial abuse as a form of sledging, was far more likely to be sinned against than sinning.

Moreover, from the personal experiences of my wife and me on the sub-continent, we can say with perfect assurance that we have never been subjected to racial insults based on the colour of our skins. Indeed my partner frequently assures me that she is treated more considerately in Mumbai than she is in London.

It is only when Indians touch upon the real passions of their lives that one sees the downside of their natures. This rarely encompasses race or colour; but it certainly includes cricket and religion. Indeed one might say that the two terms are mutually interchangeable. They certainly stir up identical emotions. Occasionally they even provoke violent physical reaction. I recall reading of the failures of an Indian Test team causing mobs to attack the homes of players — and even setting fire to them. Perhaps we should seek a term to describe this phenomenon: how about the “Test Cricket Failure Syndrome!”

India’s first-round exit from the World Cup and its subsequent defeats at the hands of “minnows” Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, qualified the Aussie coach-in-charge, Greg Chappell, local skipper Dravid and his side as sufferers of the syndrome. The essential components of the affliction are that there must be selectors to make all the important decisions of the team and take none of the blame for their outcomes. And the selection panel must be large enough to mask the blame which emanates from such a set-up.

Such an arrangement may go a long way in explaining the strange phenomenon of top-class cricket: why senior or star players, such as Tendulkar and Laxman, are willing to play active roles with bat or ball, but shun the captaincy as the plague, excusing themselves as unwilling to burden their playing talents with the extra responsibilities of leadership. It may be the reason behind India and Pakistan’s employment of foreign coaches — men to whom no blame or responsibility can attach.

The explosive mixture of cricket passions and foreign coaches still plagues the international game, producing skill directors whose instructions lack the emotions of the native-born and administrators, eager to claim the credit for success but quicker to shrug off the responsibilities for failure. Passing the buck has become an art form especially when it comes to a question of escaping the consequences of violating the ICC’s and BCCI’s edicts on racism, abuse, the misuse of illegal substances or betting. Shifting the blame on to technicalities, language difficulties or misunderstandings on the part of police officers may offer one lucky way out of such impasses. But there comes a time when good fortune deserts the unworthy: when misunderstandings are captured by the camera, on television or film and retrospective punitive action becomes essential to the maintenance of the good order and credibility of the game’s governing body.