The prim and proper professionals

Former India wicket-keeper F. M. Engineer was charismatic both on and off the field.-VIVEK BENDRE

THERE are many cricket ratings — most of which don't make sense — but if there was a system to pick the most exciting team, India would fail to qualify, finish at the bottom, not make the cutoff.

Our players are big on talent and have terrific cricket skills but spice and masala? Think again. Where have all the controversial and charismatic personalities gone? Earlier we had giants (Salim Durrani, Engineer, Bishan Bedi, Manoj Prabhakar come immediately to mind, all with colourful personalities) but masters like them are in short supply nowadays. What we have instead is a string of so called professionals, proper and practised, managed not by instinct and individual flair but by other events. Players are tutored and trained, plastic and uninteresting.

Also, where is the drama, intrigue and scandal that rocks other international sides?

The Indian team is sedate and sober, its players correct and cultured. We have not won the World Cup for more than 20 years, neither are we at the top of the one-day or Test rankings. But, this is the view of sneering experts, India is the best behaved (but boring) side which does everything right, consisting of a bunch of obedient school kids who stay silent even when the school teacher is missing. Never a controversy surrounding the team, let alone a scandal.

Other international teams have impressive records of creating a stir. The Pakistanis are in a class of their own, their dressing room is an indoor facility put to multiple use where, besides team meetings, even wrestling bouts can be held. Players have brawled during practise, exchanged hot words in raw Punjabi in public, been involved in drug allegations, once a warm-up football game got so hot someone almost called the authorities to establish order. In all, a bunch of wonderfully gifted players who fight each other which is not good for a team sport but interesting nevertheless. Rumour insists Inzamam and Younis are not great pals, there is some friction between them. About Inzamam and Shoaib Akhtar there are no rumours, everyone seems to be certain of the equation between them.

Australia too is not far behind. Ponting overcame a drinking problem to become captain. Andy Symonds, following that tradition, turned up for a game reeking of daaru, a breach of team rules which attracted a gentle rebuke and a minor suspension.

Warne has repeatedly proved that he is genuinely unmatched and has more angles to his personality than his bowling. He is crafty and colourful, a master with unique powers who has travelled different roads at the same time, delivered wrong ones and no balls together with devastating flippers. He has featured in match-fixing controversies, sent dirty text messages, tried phone sex, dabbled in drugs and much else. His dil maange more attitude is such he has to constantly maintain a delicate balance between spice and spin. But the man is a winner, his 600 Test wickets are proof of his remarkable skills. About his other achievements there is no accurate tally but, whatever one's position, the fact is Warne has more colour in him than an Asian Paints godown.

Sachin Tendulkar is a model celebrity and concerned citizen too.-K. MURALI KUMAR

England is relatively clean, thus uninteresting. In the past Botham matched other illustrious stars stroke for stroke but now, under a stern team management, the English are clean, their eyes focussed squarely on the middle of the cricket ground. But the West Indies continues to spin a regular supply of controversy. Cricket there is going through a turbulent phase, there is open rebellion (player vs officials) and revolt (player vs player), not the ideal atmosphere for the sport to move forward. Similar jhatkas have hit Kenya (its CEO is facing all kinds of charges), Zimbabwe (first the pay row, then allegations of racist team selection, suspension of Test matches) and Sri Lanka (dissolution of the Board, criminal charges against officials and men with machine guns standing outside the Board office).

Indian cricket keeps the media busy but our virtuous players play straight. Sachin is a model celebrity and a concerned citizen — he increasingly devotes himself to charity, and supports social causes when not appearing at functions related to motor-racing. Dravid will do nothing crossbatted, he is forever doing the right thing, be it wildlife preservation or campaign against AIDS. Kumble is so underhyped you'd think he is in his first Ranji season, not a giant who has dominated India's bowling for 15 years. Modesty is an admirable virtue but Kumble is so staggeringly low-profile that people forget the man is nearing 500 Test wickets, a peak only a select few Tensings have climbed in 125 years of history.

Captain Ganguly has style and attitude, a touch of flamboyance and recklessness but understands the role — and responsibility — that comes with leading India. He has taken off his shirt in public, lost it on a few occasions, expressed his private thoughts (for instance when not selected for the Asian team) but, overall, kept his wicket intact, refrained from playing a bad shot. Among the juniors in the team there is a spark in Yuvraj, evidence of which surfaced recently in Lanka when he reacted with violent rage after scoring a hundred. Dhoni too has talent and is an explosive hitter, but how this promise plays out remains to be seen. Kaif conducts himself with poise, conscious like Dravid to do things just right. Laxman is in the same mould, correct from head to toe, a perfect gentleman who would be an automatic selection in the all time great team of well-behaved cricketers.

Given the blanket coverage cricket and cricketers receive in India — this after being boring — what would happen if they suddenly decided to be bad boys?