From `That World' to this

HOW, with each euphoric World Cup win by Sourav's India, Asoka de Silva seemed to rise yet another umpiring notch in the ICC's rating!

RAJU BHARATAN

India may be saddled with Asoka de Silva during its ODI home series against New Zealand and Australia later this year . — Pic. N. SRIDHARAN-

HOW, with each euphoric World Cup win by Sourav's India, Asoka de Silva seemed to rise yet another umpiring notch in the ICC's rating! So much so that Emperor Asoka — after having, on the Tuesday of March 11, `Super Six' imperiously ruled Adam Gilchrist (18 off 20 balls) out, lbw, to one from New Zealand's Shane Bond clearly pitching outside leg-stump — did not know where to draw the `Sportsline'. As Asoka (in that `Sportsline' capsule) kept his finger pointed in the direction of the pavilion, he brought menacing meaning to his expressed feeling: "My opinion counts in the middle and that's the most important thing!'' Asoka's opinion does indeed count in the middle. So that, unless Sunil Gavaskar is able to turn the ICC umpiring tables (as a gesture that Sunny, by now, owes to Sourav), India looks like being saddled with Asoka de Silva, all over again (as the sole neutral umpire), during each one of its end-2003 ODIs, due at home, against first New Zealand and then Australia.

As the most healthy and sturdy umpire on the international panel, Asoka de Silva, in the aftermath of the World Cup, is the ICC's ready Jagmohan Dalmiya-spiting choice (as Resident Umpire) for a couple of series extending up to 11 weeks in India! It is imperative therefore that Sourav — forgetting his World Cup ego-clash stand-off — interacts urgently with Sunil in a vital umpiring matter already coming to a head. Otherwise Sourav is welcome to consider himself a dead lbw duck — with Asoka de Silva, near inevitably, back in Indian terrain. The Cup is not the end of The World, whether won or lost. Sourav has to lead, from up front afresh, come October. An arduous dual campaign in which Asoka de Silva could, displaying dynamic neutrality, yet again cramp Sourav's style. For what I detected in Asoka's `Sportsline' demeanour was a regrettable touch of arrogance. The arrogance of a man very much conscious of how he has grown in ICC umpiring stature during six weeks of the World Cup.

By contrast, look at how humanely Billy Bowden, for all the capers he cut in the middle, came through in an earlier `Sportsline' half-hour. I touch on this sore theme, here and now, only because the business — of which overseas umpire is going to be assigned to which Test country when — comes up for ODI review in April 2003. Sunil Gavaskar and Jagmohan Dalmiya have some plain ICC speaking to do here. Get the drift, now, of what I meant when I pointed to the pitfalls of Sourav's confronting the media? In the Sunny persona of ICC bigwig Gavaskar? Now that the World Cup is won and lost, what Sourav spot needs is Sunil Gavaskar's ICC good offices in India's being enabled to keep Asoka at forearm's length! It's Asoka here and now — or never!

Like Arjuna Ranatunga, Sourav Ganguly has to learn to make his voice felt on umpire-deciding issues that could snowball into a major irritant in India. Nothing that Asoka de Silva did in the World Cup suggested that India overreacted to this official with whom we had been stuck for so long. Justly did Sourav receive high national and international acclaim for the gumption and imagination with which he led India in the World Cup. It was no mean feat, as the `Super Six' cherry on the icing, for Sourav to have paid back Stephen Fleming and his New Zealand in the Kiwi coin that, so often in the Antipodes, had rolled so ODI-dauntingly for Ganguly. To have sent Fleming's New Zealand for the kind of `Super Six' toss Sourav's India did took some doing. That Sourav came through as an achiever in the teeth of his own variable Hero Honda form is a measure of his go-ahead outlook as a leader of men.

No matter what be the final World Cup outcome, memory of Sourav's never-say-bye achievement here will endure. That Sourav, on the spur of the moment, should have labelled some of our telly commentators to be "jokes'' is ironic when you recall that it was Kapil Dev who came out as Ganguly's Sony supporter supreme. Now, if there is a bigger commentating "joke'' on TV, Live TV, than Kapil Dev, do let us know, Sourav. Unless, of course, telewatchers argue that Arjuna Ranatunga (as a Sony commentator) brought a matching virtuosity to the serial killing of the arts and graces of the English language. As of now, the odds here are still 60-40 in Kapil Dev's favour. Those odds could shorten if, still hooked on SonyMax, you keep watching one Kapil Dil Se episode after another. The episode you ideally want to watch is Kapil's interviewing Arjuna. You are sure to conclude that Kapil Dev deserves the Arjuna award, afresh, for such a dream interface.

Truth to tell, with the humility of the truly great did Kapil speak up as, at the end of India's Friday, March 14 Centurion Kiwi conquest, Dev urged viewers, all over India, to comprehend that victory and defeat are but two `rides' of the same South African gold coin then set to drop. Yet Kapil Dev would not be Kapil Dev if, just when articulating a point so tellingly in Hindi, he is not overtaken by that angrez complex. Full point! Kapil Dev in English is as much of a joke as Kris Srikkanth is in Hindi — not only to Sourav. That Sourav, even in the highly charged situation in which it happened, should have taken `Sri 14' seriously is sad. Sad because Tony Greig got away with outpourings far more objectionable about Sourav and his `Team India'. Objectionable, of course, depending upon the spirit in which you take it. Indeed, the Sri Lanka-Zimbabwe March 15 second semifinalist Saturday `decider' saw Greigy `disarmingly' cosy up to Sri — by way of `a long shot in the arm' to take the sting out of the purely bantering suggestion that Sourav should have been batting No. 14. Qurbani is the Sunil-given name by which Sri went in the Indian team. Having ultimately reduced Sri to re-enacting the role of being Qurbani on the Sony screen, Sourav should now be laying off.

Let us, in the same context, turn to Sourav and his team's being so upset with Sunny. `Tact' being Sunil's telegraphic address, Gavaskar strategically just vamoosed from the STAR screen for a spell. ("The experts are in rotation!'' as Jason Dasey reassuringly put it in response to a viewer query.) Overnight and day, so to speak, Sunil was back, appropriately attired. As the would-be pa-in-law of a Swati teleset to wed a superfielder in Rohan Gavaskar. A Rohan falling for the Mankar Girl in reaching out for a prize catch. Do Sourav and his team now sustain their TV boycott stance — struck at the World Cup wicket — as Marshniel and Sunil invite the Indian team to cricket batchmate Rohan's wedding on the Friday of April 4? India's captaincy, Sourav, is the art of managing contradictions! My own face-off with Sunil was in an acrimonious phase when, as Rohan was born and the picture showed Sunil to have left Marshniel holding the baby, I conjured, for that new-born photograph, the caption — `c Marsh b Gavaskar'! How could any hard feelings abide after such a punchline thrown as a bait? In a similar vein do I urge Sourav and his men to let World Cup bygones be World Cup bygones.

That leaves Sherry with his customary `microgenics' having, this one time, offended the sensibilities of the entire Indian team. Here, even before Sherry came out strongly against Sourav & Co (after India's 9-wicket group match thrashing at the paws of the Kangaroos), how many times had the same Navjot lauded the same team in superlative terms? In fact, superlative is the only degree Navjot knows. All those accolades Sherry showered on Ganguly's Indian team, particularly on Sourav for his shot production, should they have been summarily bypassed, there and then? No way should Sherry have become persona non grata, with the whole team, for the resonance with which he pilloried Sourav & Party during what, after all, was a timorous surrender by India to Australia in that early group match.

The gut point is Sherry knows no other way to inveigh. He says it all in an Omkar Prasad Nayyar strain of: Yeh desh hai veer jawaanon ka. From Kapil to Kargil is but a one-stop truck drive for Navjot Singh Sidhu. As a creature of impulse, Sherry overdoes the condemnation by the same Queen's English token by which he goes STAR overboard with the adulation. Sherry knows no halfway house. That precisely is why Navjot Singh Sidhu was effective as a strike force, in Indian cricket, only when he returned, as a swirling six-hitter, with consecutive scores of 73 vs Australia at Madras, 75 vs New Zealand at Bangalore, 51 vs Australia at Delhi & 55 vs Zimbabwe at Ahmedabad — in the 1987 Reliance World Cup.

Let there be some logic about the way our team reacts to a norm of criticism inescapable when it is launched on a campaign to win the most coveted cricket prize in the world. Indeed we expect Sourav to take on someone his own crickety size from hereon. Take on, for instance, the gamesmanly Steve, sportively ignoring the ones purely telecast in the mould of observer commentators. Remember, Navjot it was who demonstrated to Sachin how to smash Shane Warne out of Test orbit. While Kris Srikkanth, in his time, opened in a vein that had Imran Khan quiveringly querying: "How do I set a field to someone who just `winks' the ball away to the boundary?''

Each of these three commentators (Sunny, Sherry, Sri) has been a performer in his own distinct idiom, so that it is but meet that Sourav and his team infer any criticism offered by them, and their like, as the rub of the New Zealand green that saw Ganguly's India take such a giant stride forward to the World Cup. A World Cup standing lifted by who, I do not know, as I submit that a player-commentator helmet-on collision should be avoided, at all costs, as not being in the long-term interest of either performer. The helmet of Rashid Latif it was that Zaheer Khan hit on the First of March, without displaying the slightest trace of regret. Sourav, as captain, steeled and galvanised India into a world force. A development no commentator, however momentarily outspoken against Sourav and his team, could venture to overlook. To the extent we Indians fortuitously still live in an open society, commentary distortions correct themselves as we get on with the game. Turn to Pakistan, Sourav, to divine how much better off we in India are with an autonomous institution to control the levers of the game with the telegenic name. How many World Cup teams envy us this standing, wondering why there are tremulous times when we cannot count our own blessing!