Gavaskar has said aloud what many have been whispering


CRICKET is full of people who mind their Ps and Qs, who use the diplomatic language of "disappointment" and "delight" to express what the ordinary man calls "disaster" and "triumph" and who always consider their proper public duty before they breathe a syllable.

Thank heavens Sunil Gavaskar is not one of those nonentities.

Let us also be grateful that he has said out loud what many have been whispering for years.

England's claim to world dominance is obvious only when they begin to complain. They would win an inter-planetary competition for whinging and, even though some of their moans have been heard and dealt with years ago, they continue to lead the field in this specialised art.

If it is ever an Olympic sport they will scoop gold, silver and bronze. I doubt if anyone else would dare compete.

I feel qualified to say so because I have followed them round the globe for more than 20 years. I have heard them squeal in every Test playing country as well as Fiji, Sharjah and Kenya.

And I have no doubt that by the end of their current tour of New Zealand - one of their favourite places since it is so like home - they will find the strength of their opposition in the warm-up games unacceptable, or the practise facilities dire or the pitches less than perfect.

When Gavaskar called them "the champion whingers of the world" he underestimated their merit. Their only competition comes from the Australians although the lads from Down Under practise the art less frequently than the lads they call "whinging Poms."

It takes years of concentration to acquire such skill in the art of being miserable but England have a head start. They learnt it in their home dressing rooms, they trained for it regularly in county cricket and they honed it to perfection when they first went abroad.

Back in what are often called the good old days England were alone in making trips to the sub-continent and the West Indies and sometimes they must have run up against pretty bad living conditions.

I have heard stories about the professionals being locked in a good wagon for a journey that took a full day in north India. The players were hit by bad illnesses and Micky Stewart had to return home from the tour of India with a stomach bug in 1963-64. All the jokes about batsmen going to the toilet more often than they went to the crease, Delhi belly and Rawalpindi Revenge are still common parlance.

Old West Indies players have told me how rough they found accommodation in their own islands. I accept that often cricketers were treated with very little respect and that, to judge from my own experience in Pakistan in 1983-84 and India in a year later, outside the main cities hotels were rough and travel was slow.

Compared that is with their highly-sophisticated, well-organised homeland where, and this is a key to all their objections, the England players were used to the food, the water and the way of life.

All that has changed.

It is almost ten years since bottled water stopped almost all the stomach complaints. Injections have been developed which can cure many other illnesses and I know from personal experience that a call to an Indian or Pakistani doctor will find the solution to a stomach ailment pretty quickly.

Sadly, the English cricketer prefers to grumble and, as one who has suffered from Asian heat and dust and smog I have some sympathy.

I also know that hospitality, good pitches, and fine practise conditions prevail everywhere, that there are no longer any trips into the interior where life is sometimes fairly basic. More to the point, it is not the place of the management to lead the complaints.

Show me a squad who have begun to moan about the umpires, the pitches and the tactics of the opposing side and I will show you a losing team. Good sides ignore dubious decisions, make the most of the practise facilities and see poor pitches as a challenge.

One factor that made the West Indies side of 1977-1990 supreme was that they overcame difficulties by sheer will power.

When they had bowled badly their fast bowlers ran all the way back to the hotel to prove they were still up for whatever came along next morning. When the batsmen failed they went early to practise.

In 1986 England made nets optional because they did not like the quality of surfaces provided. West Indies found a piece of level ground and trained hard, long after England had gone through the motions. Their fielders missed nothing, their captaincy was thoughtful, their fitness routines were revolutionary and scrupulously carried out. It is a combination that cannot be beaten.

Oh, and by the way, they rarely kicked up a fuss. I have this memory of a team who were always smart, always intense and always ready for whatever the game threw in their direction. If they had moans they kept them for their team room, their private parties and their meetings.

One of them used to say: "God never sleeps when West Indies play in Australia". He meant that God stayed alert to rule on all the injustices. But I will bet you have never read that before because it is the very private thought of men who knew the value of silence.

This winter England have played, and fought and planned as well as any side against India but they have not helped their public image nor improved their own chances of winning by resorting to protests about the conditions. It is a concern to the men in suits back home at Lord's.

Sometimes bad teams win and good teams lose. When that happens it is not always because the good teams are cheated; more often it is because they are short of greatness.

That is a perfect description of the present England team. Good but lacking Jacques Kallis, honest triers without Shaun Pollock, bright fielders but not Jonty Rhodes; and kept going by the passion, the pride and the thinking power of their captain.

Nasser Hussain's purpose in his complaints is to gee up his side to greater effort. I am not sure what reasoning lies behind Duncan Fletcher's decision to release the contents of his letter to ICC or to complain about Gavaskar's criticism.

His own protests make nonsense of his clearly rehearsed comment that "Gavaskar sits on the ICC panel and he's meant to have an unbiased opinion. It's very sad when a fine wine turns sour." It would have been more impressive if Fletcher had ignored Gavaskar's attack altogether.

Ought Gavaskar to have spoken out as he did? Of course he should.

Let me first make my own position clear. I work for The Sportstar as Gavaskar does. I enjoy his company, his writing and his commentary, his wicked sense of humour, his harpoons directed at Geoff Boycott, a man well able to give as good as he gets. I respect Gavaskar as a great cricketer and thinker.

I am also in favour of people speaking their minds whether they have a political position to uphold, a reputation to maintain or even if they are at the head of an organisation that ought to be independent. If something is wrong and needs to be put right, let them say so. Of course, they may have to take the consequences.

Gavaskar may lose his place in the great of ICC and be unable to change the game to make it more attractive, fairer and richer. But if he thinks ICC are out of step, if he thinks England ought to mend their manners, he should say so.

I have few connections with cricket officialdom - I believe it is wrong for a writer to be closely attached to a body he may need to condemn - which may mean that I see things from a newspaperman's viewpoint. Gavaskar comes from a cricket background and he feels differently. I respect that too.

Finally, would the rest of the world prefer a Gavaskar who came straight out and said: "You are a bunch of whingers and that is no benefit to your own image, your chances of winning nor any help to cricket at large." Or a Gavaskar who whispered his opinions behind his hand.