Proteas at the receiving end

JOHN WRIGHT, THE FORMER INDIAN CRICKET COACH, could not forgive Virender Sehwag for his careless batting, nor did he forget to tell us what he thought of the selectors.-V. GANESAN

Theory says a cricketer needs a large heart, he must be magnanimous and take the results in his stride.

Sport is civilised pursuit and cricket, supposedly, is more classy and noble than other disciplines. It promotes fairness and players are expected to maintain high standards of sportsmanship. They are governed by a strict code, and any deviation from its clauses calls for severe penalties from its governing body.

The recent events have demonstrated the tremendous authority vested by the ICC in its officials. Not only can umpires charge players (Inzamam) but slap serious allegations against a team (Pakistan) and in the process spark a controversy that threatens to spin out of control. The whole thing can explode, or it could just blow over with sane heads succeeding in averting a disaster. The game, most likely, will carry on after this hiccup but the point is there is allround strain to keep matters on track.

This, of course, is a big ask, especially in a contemporary world swamped by commercialism. Ask Dravid, Chappell or Raina, they will tell you only winning counts, it matters little how you play, how pretty one looks while hitting a cover drive. Players must make runs, teams have to win, and this philosophy, at times, encourages players to look closely at sharp practices. Gone are the days when Pandit Nehru applauded sportspersons for mere participation and competing in a healthy manner. Try explaining this to a current player and he will think you are crazy. His likely response to this noble suggestion: Get connected mate. You play to win, nobody looks at a person who comes second.

Theory says a cricketer needs a large heart, he must be magnanimous and take the results in his stride. This `kya farak padta hai' outlook stems from an understanding that cricket is a cruel and exceedingly unpredictable sport where one ball, in a five-day game, can spell death. Worse, the umpire can send you on your way for no apparent reason. As cricket is a next ball game (the last one is irrelevant, whether it went to the boundary or just missed the outside edge) one should forgive and forget, move on.

Lately, there has been plenty of forgetting on display. The selectors, for instance, forgot they said they will support youth to build a team for tomorrow and won't look back. But with Dada back in the run, having received a (slim) chance of reviving his floundering international career, it seems More's memory lapse constitutes a shift into reverse. John Wright could not forgive Sehwag for his careless batting, nor did he forget to tell us what he thought of the selectors.

But others are forgetting. The Board overlooks promises about professionalism and administrative reform, it forgets to put together a comprehensive coaching structure for cricket development. India has the best tournament base for juniors but scientific backups and modern inputs to convert potential into top performance are missing. Also, why forget poor wickets, pathetic umpiring and awful conditions in first class cricket?

We should forget the last season because a new challenge starts in September. Whatever happened till now, good or disastrous, is gone and can't be altered. What should also be forgotten is politics, all manner of silly reality shows and `faltu tamasha'. What should not be forgotten is cricket comes first, and India needs a carefully thought out system that promotes excellence. The Australians are the best in the world not by chance, nor is it a result of the money their cricket generates. They work hard on their cricket, and though bonding sessions in the outback are rubbished by seniors (Neil Harvey and Warne) they are at least guided by some kind of a vision.

All of a sudden the South Africans are at the receiving end in cricket, they are asked to be large-hearted, to forgive and forget. First, someone asked them if Cronje is forgiven. Yes, came the reply. If Mandela can forgive his captors for 27 years why can't we? Then Amla was asked (by Border and even Rashid Latif!) to forgive Dean Jones. His response (I will pray for him) was appropriately saintly but also a clever way of ducking a bouncer. We are still to be informed about his reaction to Dean Jones' remark.

Later, during the rain-ruined Lanka tournament which caused frustration to cricket fans and massive losses to sponsors, the South Africans were asked to forget bombs and carry on. Their cricket authorities took a practical decision and went with advice received from experts. Their players were equally practical — they boarded the aircraft only after spending quality time in Colombo's Liberty Plaza. Which shows that even in times of stress, it pays to keep your head on your shoulders.

Australia is also forgiving, at least when Warne is concerned. The leggie has fractured many rules of gentlemanly behaviour but manages to ride out the crises that hit his career. Recent spicy revelations about his off-field strike rate and his astonishing tally (a thousand conquests, four dismissals) raised only a minor ripple in the media but attracted no comment from Cricket Australia.

Wonder if India would be so accommodating, understanding and broad-minded if a senior `khiladi' was to demonstrate similar skills. Would we just forget it, dismiss that the issue is peripheral and focus on the performance of the player? Or would we go berserk, take out processions in streets to condemn him and spark angry debates in parliament?