RIP, Arthur Pais

I remember the time Arthur Pais was caught without his trousers.

India Abroad, the Rediff-owned community paper based in New York, had its office on 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth. It shared a floor with a travel agency staffed by pretty young girls who, late into the nights, would sneak out into the corridor for a forbidden smoke. The building also housed the New York office of Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine – more girls, of the pin-up class.

Arthur needed periodic insulin shots, which he administered himself. So late this one night, he crossed the corridor to the washroom, gave himself the shot, came back out and realised the office door had slammed shut behind him.

He had his own set of keys – along with his cell phone (which he could otherwise have used to call his long-suffering wife Betty), it was in the pocket of the trousers he had taken off and left behind in the office.

But why would anyone take off his trousers in the office before going to the loo? The best answer to that is: Arthur Pais. He was like that. He did these things.

The story of that night spent cowering in the shadows, dodging random girls while clad in just a shirt and briefs, has regaled the successive generations of young journalists he mentored and bullied in equal measure – and his laugh was always the first to ring out, and invariably the loudest.

Everyone has an Arthur Pais story. And Arthur had a story about everyone – always original, mostly salacious, often borderline libellous. He loved to gossip. He told his stories in a spirit of impish delight and with a total absence of malice. It was his way of relieving the tedium of endless nights writing and producing India in New York, the free weekly paper, and India Abroad, the flagship community paper.

His was the first name on an editor’s speed dial, and not just because his name began with an ‘A’. Two hours to print deadline, a hole the size of a page to fill, you called him and wailed, “Arthur… HELP!” The inevitable response was, how much do you need and how soon do you need it?

You gave him an impossible ask: a 1,600-word feature for the entertainment page in under two hours. He delivered. Unfailingly, uncomplainingly.

Okay, maybe not ‘uncomplainingly’. There was the time my wife came over to the office one morning to pick up a book she wanted to read. Spotting Arthur in his cabin, she wandered by for a chat, then picked up her book and left. Minutes later, Arthur banged into my office, slammed the latest copy of India Abroad down on my table and went “What the %%%@###@…”

I had cut about 120 words from one of his stories. “You asked for 1,000 words and I gave it to you,” he raged, “so why the @##@@@ did you cut my copy you @##$$$..”

He banged on for a long time, the gist of his tirade being that I wasn’t fit to be editor of a roll of toilet paper, even. And then he slammed out of the office, trailing abuse.

Hours later, he strolled into my room with coffee, doughnuts and a huge smile, and tossed an envelope on the table with “For Raji Plus One” inscribed on it. Inside, I found two tickets for Doubt, the award-winning Broadway play then being staged at the Walter Kerr theatre. “I was telling Raji about this play and she said she’d love to see it,” he said.

Turned out that after yelling at me, he had walked a little over 18 blocks to the TKTS booth in Times Square in blazing summer heat, joined the endless line, and snagged prime tickets at a discount.

What could I say? I knew better than to offer to pay – that would have triggered another rant. All I did say was, “Hey, you know I am Raji’s ‘plus-one’, right?” He gave me a look, said “That’s for Raji to decide”, and walked off, for all the world as if the morning fight had never happened.

That, in a nutshell, was Arthur – irascible, incorrigible, impossible, and impossibly generous, sometimes all in the same moment.

We worked together across many publications: the Singhania-owned Indian Post, the Mumbai-based Mid-Day, the Ambani-owned Sunday Observer, Rediff.com and its sister concern India Abroad. Through those long years — now that I think of it, I’ve known Arthur for almost as long as I have been a journalist — there were times when I thought he was my personal albatross, that I’d never be rid of him. But those times were rare. Most times, I was just glad he was around, that he had my back.

“Arthur, what would I do without you?” Every editor who has ever worked with him has had reason to say that. God knows I have thought that many, many times over the years.

Now, as news that he has met his final deadline comes over the wires, that oft-asked question reshapes itself: Arthur, what are we going to do, how are we going to manage, without you?

Arthur, what are we going to do, how are we going to manage, without you?

Be well wherever you are, friend. Be at peace.

And hey, Arthur? Keep your damn trousers on.

(Arthur J Pais, 66, passed away on Friday, January 8. His long-time editor (and mine), Nikhil Lakshman of Rediff.com and India Abroad, summed up the essence of the man here, as did Arthur’s friend and fellow journalist Aseem Chhabra here. My friend and former colleague Vaihayasi Daniel writes movingly of him here.

My valediction to my departed colleague and friend was first published on Scroll.in)

 

 

And so it begins…

The question, in the wake of the release of the Lodha Committee report on cricket reform in India, was always going to be: What will the BCCI do now?

‘Lie low for a bit’ seems to be the answer,  judging by the lack of official comment from BCCI honchos. Delay is something the organisation is adept at: ‘We haven’t yet gotten the physical copy of the report’; ‘We are now studying the report’; ‘We have set up a committee to examine the report and make recommendations’; ‘We have put our internal committee’s report before the executive board’; ‘We will consider the exec committee report at our next general body meeting’ — there really is no dearth of ways to drag things out if you want to.

And if the alternative is to accept a set of recommendations that spells the end of the BCCI as we — and they — know it today, then oh yes they want to. So, delay. Which is why it is vital for the Supreme Court, when it considers the report and recommends next steps, to set a time limit for response and/or compliance.

Official silence, however, doesn’t mean total silence — expect, over the coming days/weeks, to find various ‘non-state actors’ begin to pick the Lodha report apart, one little bit at a time on the thousand-cuts model, and build a groundswell of opposition. Thus, via Cricinfo just now:

Pruning the national selection committee from five to three, as the Lodha report has recommended, would be a bad idea given the size of the country and the number of first-class teams involved. That’s the opinion of three former selectors – Dilip Vengsarkar, Kiran More andSanjay Jagdale – who say that the increased workload cannot be offset by the proposed Talent Committee that will do the basic scouting.

Kiran More builds out that argument: India is a vast country, lots of games, how many can three watch? And says four would be better. Which begs the question: how many more can four watch?

“India is a vast country”, ok — so how, by that logic, is even a five-member selection panel capable of covering it all, then?

Fundamental question in my turn: Can the same selectors quantify how many games in a month/year they watched during their tenure? And what proportion that was to the total number of games played?

But debating quibbles aside, here is how the Lodha-recommended structure is supposed to work:

There is a talent scouting team, the members of which are mandated to watch *all* domestic games, and at the end of each, to send in reports about promising players spotted in particular matches.

Over a season — or even part of one — these reports begin to show patterns. For instance, a player may have had one brilliant game, and the talent scouts call it out; he may then fade away in succeeding games, or against better opposition, and the scouts call that out too.

The national selectors (who, in any case, still have the authority to go watch any game(s) at their own discretion, monitor the incoming reports. As they spot patterns — a particular player, for instance, consistently performing in different conditions, against various opposition — they flag him for special attention, and then one or more go to watch him play his next game, to confirm for themselves what the scout reports are telling them.

What’s wrong with that? (Actually, this is how talent scouts are deployed, in major international sports).

According to More, relying on talent scouts was never enough. “Recommendations are fine. But you have to see the player yourself, you have to study the conditions. One guy could score a century but a on a pata (flat) wicket whereas another batsman might score 50 on a difficult wicket.”

Well, duh! Read above. Or better still, read the Lodha report — which does not suggest that selectors go simply by the report of the talent scouts.

“So the player pool has increased now,” Vengsarkar, who is now the director of the National Cricket Academy, said. He pointed out the proposed Talent Committee has already been put in place by the BCCI, with the plan to appoint 30 talent and research development officers (TRDOs) comprising three scouts at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels each, across the five zones.

Again, duh! Firstly, it is just a “plan”, and has been for some time. The BCCI has said they will appoint the scouts — but that is for the age-group levels, not for scouting talent in senior domestic competition.

More importantly, assuming the BCCI is already actively considering a scouting infrastructure, then how is that any different from what the Lodha recommendations suggest?

And so it goes, and so it will go. Expect, next, another group — say, of former someone-or-others — to come up with statements about another part of the recommendations. A nick here, a nick there… it all adds up to “arguments” the BCCI can then present before the court as coming from disinterested parties.

 

 

 

ROFL Lodha

Acerbic. Sweeping. Comprehensive. All apt words to describe the Report on Cricket Reforms released January 4, 2016, by the Supreme Court-mandated Justice Lodha Committee. But “funny”? Yeah, that too — if you like your humor to wear a very thin veil. Some samplers:

From the outset, the Committee has reached out to the administration of the BCCI to offer its comments and interventions on the issues that were being considered. Meetings were arranged with all the office-bearers, and from the first week of April, the Questionnaire was sent to all of them. The then President Mr.Jagmohan Dalmiya and Secretary Mr.Anurag Thakur even sent identical responses to it.

That is to say, the late Mr Dalmiya (before he became late, of course) and Mr Thakur had their responses written by the same hand, didn’t bother to make even cosmetic alterations to the words, and submitted them independently, not allowing for the possibility that the committee would pick up on similarity of response. Then there is this:

We are glad to note that having obtained a broad picture from the Questionnaire about how the Committee intended to proceed, BCCI started taking some action, or at least made some announcements touching upon the contents of the questions. These include statements concerning committees to represent States where associations were in dispute or not formed [Qn.1.6], agent accreditation [Qns.6.10 & 6.13] and conflict of interest [Qns.7.1 – 7.3]. Unfortunately, a closer examination shows that these measures came without any structural modifications, and were done more in an effort to assuage the public.

Translated into undiplomatic English: We sent out a questionnaire, the BCCI honchos figured out from the questions what our areas of concern were, and promptly made some cosmetic announcements to convey the impression that our concerns were already being addressed, even before we had begun our sittings. Unfortunately, all of it was an eyewash.

Immediately following, is this bit about Shashank Manohar, and this is where the humor really bites:

On the 30th of September 2015, the Committee interacted in New Delhi with Mr.Shashank Manohar, who had been the President of the BCCI when amendments were carried out to permit a conflict of interest, which action was eventually quashed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. On the day of the meeting, Mr.Manohar was widely tipped to be the consensus candidate to again be the President of the BCCI in elections to be held on the weekend. During the extensive discussions, the Committee put to Mr.Manohar the various concerns highlighted in the Questionnaire, particularly regarding the wide-ranging powers of the President, the lack of financial oversight over State bodies, the lack of transparency as far as BCCI regulations and processes were concerned, the lack of a Conflict of Interest policy and the need for an Ombudsman. Mr.Manohar fairly conceded that these needed to be addressed. We are again happy to note that that on being elected as President of BCCI within 4 days thereafter, Mr.Manohar, even without waiting for the Committee’s report, adopted and projected the Committee’s views as his roadmap for improving the functioning of the BCCI. He also implemented some of them, i.e. uploading of the Constitution and Bye-Laws on the BCCI website, creating a policy for Conflicts of Interest and appointment of an Ombudsman. While we believe that these proposals are in the right direction, we find that they are not comprehensive and substantive.

Check out the underlined bits.

Shorn of politeness, this bit translates thus: We met Manohar and told him of our chief areas of concern. Within a week of that meeting, Manohar — on whose watch the most egregious case of conflict of interest was rubber-stamped — trotted out a set of “reforms” as coming from himself, but which in reality were attempts to undercut the work of the committee. “He also implemented some of them,” the report says, leaving unsaid the corollary, that much more remained in the realm of ‘statements’.

“We are happy to note…”, the judges say, their expression of delight yielding to disappointment a couple of sentences later as the judges note that Manohar’s reforms were neither comprehensive nor substantive.

And so it goes.

The judges must have been seriously pissed, to call out — repeatedly — the BCCI’s attempts at preempting their report.

FWIW, I had scribbled random thoughts down while reading the report in full. Here is the “annotated” version.

PS: Did you read the full report? What thoughts struck you? What do you like? What do you dislike? Why? Comments in the box, please? Let’s start a dialogue — will be back tomorrow morning to look for your thoughts.

The champ

They all fall

In the round I call

Fifty years ago today, Cassius Marcellus Clay motor-mouthed himself, quite literally, into the world heavyweight boxing title — or at the least, into the storied title fight, February 25, 1964, against reigning champion Sonny Liston in Miami.

A good two years before his dancing feet and blinding jabs propelled him to boxing glory, the ‘Louisville Lip’s’ mouthy ways had already drawn the attention of the game’s premier writers. AJ Liebling, who after making his bones as a war correspondent wrote brilliantly of boxing in his later years, watched a young Clay, by then an Olympic champion, train for his debut as a professional. “Clay has a skittering style, like a pebble scaled over water,” Liebling wrote in a piece for the New Yorker (March 3, 1962; subscription required).

Liebling was ringside, watching Clay train at the Department of Parks gymnasium on West 28th Street, NY, when Clay first game him a glimpse of his motor-mouth skills. The young boxer was doing sit ups when his trainer, the legendary Angelo Dundee, mentioned that Clay wrote poems, and had just done one on Floyd Patterson. Here is what happened next:

“I’ll say it for you,” the poet [Clay] announced, without waiting to be wheedled or breaking cadence. He began on a rise:

You may talk about Sweden

[Down and up again]

You may talk about Rome

[Down and up again]

But Rockville Center is Floyd Patterson’s home

[Down]

And so on, Clay’s verse and the rhythm of his sit-ups in perfect sync, till he gets to the punch line:

“He cut up his eyes and mussed up his face

And that last left hook knocked his head out of place!”

As the title fight neared, Clay’s lippy style shifted in tone from the playfully admiring to the abusive, and its focus from the once-great Patterson to the reigning champion, Liston.

This is the legend of Cassius Clay

The most beautiful fighter in the world today.

He talks a great deal and brags indeedy

Of a muscular punch that is incredibly speedy

The fistic world was dull and weary

With a champ like Liston things had to be dreary

Then someone with color, someone with dash

Brought fight fans a-running with cash

This brash young boxer is something to see

The heavyweight championship is his destiny.

From thus brashly announcing himself to the world, well before the world was ready for him, Clay began to escalate the venom of his taunts as the fight grew closer. His preferred epithet for Liston was ‘the ugly bear’; his carefully-scripted ‘impromptu’ riffs  including lines like “You so ugly, when you cry the tears run down the back of your head. You so ugly, you have to sneak up on the mirror so it won’t run off the wall. ” (Part of an extended monologue, quoted by Tom Wolfe in his superb 1963 Esquire piece The Marvelous Mouth).

“He even smells like a bear,” Clay told reporters. “When I beat him, I am going to donate him to the zoo.”

Some interpreted his rants as the product of fear; others, as unbridled arrogance. Clay knew precisely what he was up to. While the media, shocked by his brashness, eagerly awaited the young pretender’s moment of hubris (43 of 46 boxing reporters at ringside, in pre-match predictions, said Liston would win with humiliating ease), Clay continued with his clear-eyed strategy — and explained why, in a first person piece in Sports Illustrated, one day before the fight that was to change boxing history:

Where do you think I would be next week if I didn’t know how to shout and holler and make the public sit up and take notice? I would be poor, for one thing, and I would probably be down in Louisville, Ky., my home town, washing windows or running an elevator and saying “yes suh” and “no suh” and knowing my place. Instead of that, I’m saying I’m one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, which is true, and that I’m the greatest fighter in the world, which I hope and pray is true. Now the public has heard me talk enough and they’re saying to me, “Put up or shut up.” This fight with Liston is truly a command performance. And that’s exactly the way I planned it.

Part of my plan to get the fight has made me say some pretty insulting things about Sonny Liston, but I might as well tell you I’ve done that mostly to get people to talking about the fight and to build up the gate. I actually have a certain amount of respect for Liston; he’s the champion, isn’t he? That doesn’t mean I think he’s going to stay champion. I have too much confidence in my own ability to think I’m beaten before we start. I do mean he is a strong, hard puncher, and he’s not a fighter anybody can laugh at. When I walk into a room where he is and see him staring at me with that mean, hateful look, I want to laugh, but then I think maybe it’s not so funny. I’m pretty sure the way he acts is just a pose, the same way I have a pose, but that look of his still shakes me. I wonder what’s really going on in that head of his, and I wonder what poor, humble Floyd Patterson was thinking when he had to climb into the ring with Liston.

But I am not fooled by what Liston did to Patterson once they started to fight. Liston didn’t do anything except hit Floyd while he stood there and took it. Now don’t think for even a little bit I’m going to stand around for Liston to do with as he pleases. The way I plan for things to go is to stay out of his way during the early rounds, and I count on him to wear himself out chasing me. I’ll circle him and jab him and stick and fake, dogging him most of the time and tying him up when he gets too close. He won’t be able to hurt what he can’t even hit.

Liston had decimated former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, via two first-round knockouts, in the run-up to the Miami bout, while Clay’s own preparation included underwhelming wins against two never-will-be heavyweights (Doug Jones and Henry Cooper). Veteran fight reporters previewed the February 25 title fight as a match up between Liston’s brutal punching power and Clay’s penchant for back-pedaling and relying more on foot speed than his fists.

Clay agreed — only, he had a characteristically pithy turn of phrase to describe his strategy: “Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.”

On the day of the fight, Clay and his team strutted to the ringside, premiering a chant that was to redefine a sport:

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee! Rumble, young man, rumble!

The slogan, now inextricably linked with the Clay/Ali mythos, was the creation of Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown, the assistant trainer Sugar Ray Robinson recommended to Clay. Bundini (here’s a cute story of how Drew Brown became Bundini Brown — in India), who went on to become one of Clay’s best friends, and who came up with that exhortation to gee up the fighter during his progress to the ring, died broken, and broke — just another of the sad footnotes the history of the sport is littered with.

The fight itself has by now acquired the panoply of legend; here is a typical Wiki description, long on detail, short on drama. And from among contemporaneous chronicles, here is Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, one of the correspondents who had written Clay off as a blow-hard before the fight and predicted a brutal comeuppance, wonderingly recanting.

A more poignant description, one that sums up all that Clay/Ali was, and continues to be, is contained in David Remnick’s King of the World. Remnick and Ali, the latter by then in the quivering, debilitating grasp of full-blown Parkinson’s, are in the latter’s home, reviewing his life and watching the iconic fight on videotape. Excerpt:

“SEE THAT? SEE ME?”

Muhammad Ali sat in an overstuffed chair watching himself on the television screen. The voice came in a swallowed whisper and his finger waggled as it pointed toward his younger self, his self preserved on videotape: twenty-two years old, getting warm in his corner, his gloved hands dangling at his hips. Ali lives in a farmhouse in southern Michigan. The rumor has always been that Al Capone owned the farm in the twenties. One of Ali’s dearest friends, his cornerman Drew “Bundini” Brown, had once searched the property hoping to find Capone’s buried treasure. In 1987, while living in a cheap motel on Olympia Avenue in Los Angeles, Bundini fell down a flight of stairs. A maid finally found him, paralyzed, on the floor; he died three weeks later.

Now Ali was whispering again, “See me? You see me?” And there he was, surrounded by his trainer, Angelo Dundee, and Bundini, moon-faced and young and whispering hoodoo inspiration in Ali’s ears: “All night! All night! Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee! Rumble, young man, rumble!” “That’s the only time I was ever scared in the ring,” Ali said. “Sonny Liston. First time. First round. Said he was gonna kill me.”

The fight began. In black and white, Cassius Clay came bounding out of his corner and right away started circling the square, dancing, moving around and around the ring, moving in and out, his head twitching side to side, as if freeing himself from a neck crick early in the morning, easy and fluid—and then Liston, a great bull whose shoulders seemed to cut off access to half the ring, lunged with a left jab. Liston missed by two feet.

At that moment, Clay hinted not only at what was to come that night in Miami, but at what he was about to introduce to boxing and to sports in general—the marriage of mass and velocity. A big man no longer had to lumber along and slug, he could punch like a heavyweight and move like Ray Robinson.

“It’s sweet, isn’t it?” Ali smiled. With great effort, he smiled. Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system that stiffens the muscles and freezes the face into a stolid mask. Motor control degenerates. Speech degenerates. Some people hallucinate or suffer nightmares. As the disease progresses, even swallowing can become a terrible trial. Parkinson’s comes on the victim erratically. Ali still walked well. He was still powerful in the arms and across the chest; it was obvious, just from shaking his hand, that he still possessed a knockout punch. No, for him the special torture was speech and expression, as if the disease had intended to strike first at what had once pleased him, and pleased (or annoyed) the world, most. He hated the effort that speech now cost him. (“Sometimes you won’t understand me,” he said when we first met. “But that’s okay. I’ll say it again.”) He rarely risked a word in front of a camera. And usually it was an enormous effort to show a smile. I said I knew what he was talking about. My father has Parkinson’s. He can no longer walk more than a few steps, and his speech, depending on the time of day, can be a trial. So I knew. What I couldn’t tell him was that my father is over seventy. His speech is better than Ali’s. But my father had not spent decades getting hit hundreds, thousands of times, by the best heavyweight fighters of his era.

Ali was smiling now as his younger self, Cassius Clay, flicked a nasty left jab into Liston’s brow. “You watchin’ this? Sooo fast! Sooo pretty!” Liston seemed hurt and confused. He had no answer to this new species of athlete.

This “new species of athlete” would go on to define the tumultuous sixties become its lightning rod and standard-bearer, as Jimmy Cannon said:

He is all that the sixties were. It is as though he were created to represent them. In him is the trouble and the wildness and the hysterical gladness and the nonsense and the rebellion and the conflicts of race and the yearning for bizarre religions and the cult of the put-on ad the changed values that altered the world and the feeling about Vietnam in the generation that ridicules what their parents cherish.

Having defined his sport and through it his decade, he would go on to be enshrined Sportsman of the Century by both Sports Illustrated and the BBC. The man who was once vilified for his religious and political beliefs and had his gloves, and his livelihood, snatched from him now lives on to see the gloves he wore in that storied fight against Liston go under the auctioneer’s hammer — and fetch a fortune. And it all began fifty years ago, when a brash young man with a quick mouth and quicker fists announced himself to the world.

Twit wit…

An occasional series starts here, now:

Dear ICC: Your move. Love, Supreme Court of India

Not to be a nag, ICC — I know there are more pressing matters for you to attend to just now — but still. I’m mildly curious about a couple of things. Like, so:

#Is it true that per your rules, the president of a national cricket body is the one who gets inducted into the ICC’s board of directors? If yes, could you let us know who the BCCI president is? None of us here in India seem to know — but you should, since you do have an individual occupying that seat on your board, no?

#On September 29, 2013, a BCCI meeting decided “by oral consensus” that N Srinivasan would be the BCCI representative on the ICC executive board. The board’s natural life-span ended in September 2014. So who is India’s representative on your executive board just now? How? Why?

#Clause 2.1 of your Code of Ethics (by the way, just this morning I read of your determination to be very strict on enforcing the code — I presume you meant it to include officials as well? — says “Directors shall not engage in any conduct that in any way denigrates the ICC or harms its public image.” Arising from which: The Supreme Court of India ruled today that N Srinivasan (I believe he is your chairman?) can not contest the much-delayed BCCI elections. Some niggling thing about “conflict of interest” appears to have pissed off our Supremes. So the question is: Do you think a director deemed by the court to be unfit to hold office of BCCI president, and further, one barred from contesting the upcoming election, should be on your executive board, let alone be your chairman? If yes, why? If not, what do you propose to do about it?

#Clause 4.11 (F) of your constitution says that the Executive Board can remove any director if, among other things, he indulges in any act that brings the Council into disrepute. Would you say that Srinivasan, by (a) Being at the receiving end of court strictures about egregious conflicts of interest; (b) Being told by the Supreme Court that his presence at the head of the BCCI is “nauseating”; (c) Being told that he cannot office as president due to conflict of interest, and is barred from contesting any future elections until and unless he clears himself of that conflict, has possibly brought disrepute to your council? If so, do you intend to review his position in your executive board, and at its helm? If not, could you let us know what will bring your esteemed council into disrepute?

#justasking #don’tmindme

Cogito, ergo sum confusion

Cogito, ergo sum, says Iain O’Brien in the latest issue of The Cricket Monthly. He thinks, therefore he is.

What he is thinking about is David Warner — who, Iain says, is not just a serial offender, but an escalating offender.

That’s a neat way of putting it. Shorn of polysyllables, what it means is: Warner’s behaviour is getting worse. He says:

I have seen the regularity of Warner drawing fire, the growing frequency and the level of these indiscretions, increasing since late last year. Is it wrong to try to find a reason for this? Is it wrong to possibly suggest that the tragic death of his good mate Phillip Hughes – Warner was on the field when Hughes was fatally hit – is having an unwanted affect on the decisions he makes, and contributing to his involvement in conflicts?

From that jumping off point, the writer transitions to the death of Philip Hughes on the field of play, and the possibility that Warner — who was at the other end when his mate died — suffers from PTSD.

Perhaps it is fair to say that Warner has had similar demons to deal with since the death of his very good friend. Perhaps it isn’t. It may be that it is still worth discussing. Maybe we can just rule out any form of PTSD and simply justify Warner’s actions saying, “He has always been like that”, and say they might also be a result of the laxity in efforts to curb certain forms of on-field behaviour. I get the feeling there’s a little more to his recent behaviour than can be explained by the flighty application of fines and limited consequences for his actions.

I read a lot of crime fiction, particularly the courtroom types. And when someone says “PTSD” I am all over him like a rash — I know PTSD like only readers of Shane Stevens and Scott Turow and Richard North Patterson and such can. Seems to me — my view is probably colored, even jaundiced, by too much of this stuff — that there is no case that comes to the courtrooms of America where the anatomy of some horrendous crime cannot be explained merely by whether it is right or wrong to rape and kill; it needs a battery of experts to speak with polysyllabic profundity to child abuse or adult trauma and its effects on the individual’s id.

It is all supposed to lead to a verdict of Not Guilty By Reason of <insert your favourite trauma here>.

Hold that thought, while you follow some of these narratives:

Australian coach Darren Lehmann says he knows there are lines drawn, but Australia is always going to push as close to the edge of acceptable behaviour as it thinks it can get away with:

“If the ICC decide it’s not in the spirit of the game or we cross the line, they’ll come down on us. We all know that. So we’ve got to make sure: we’re always going to teeter pretty close to it, that’s the way we play, but we’ve got to make sure we don’t cross it. David’s an aggressive character and we support that. It’s just making sure he does the right things on the ground, and he knows that more than most. We’ll work with him with that.”

Australia’s almost-was-captain Brad Haddin believes this is the “brand of cricket” Australia should be playing (Inset, James Anderson believes sledging “done right” can be “entertaining”. He doesn’t say for who.)

Haddin said Australia would not be changing the way they play and he said they always respected their opponents and the game.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting — famous, among other things, for a spirited discussion with umpire Aleem Dar during the 2010 Ashes series — believes the problem is not with what happens on the field, but with how it all looks when magnified by the TV cameras.

Darren Lehmann has said publicly that David is an aggressive character, and the Australian public love the way he bats, which goes hand in hand with the sort of confrontational approach he sometimes takes in the field. What David needs be aware of is how animated that can look through the lens of a television camera.

When I was captain I often had to control how things looked when I was talking to opponents or umpires. The incidents that got me into trouble often had little to do with what I was saying but how it could appear when I started moving my hands around, pointing fingers or taking on an assertive posture. That would leave me open to different interpretations from people about what might have been going on, and invariably cause the match referee to have a word. I also had a few hearings in my time.

That has been true of this episode for David, where his 50% match fee fine has come about largely because of how it played on television and came across to fans around the world. Whether misplaced or not, Australian anger that a run was taken after the possible deflection of a return to Brad Haddin was genuine. I could count a few instances where I’ve seen opposition teams take another run when the ball deflected in this way. As minor as it sounds, that convention is about as well understood as that of not running out a non-striker backing up without a warning. So I can understand some anger in the belief it had not been followed.

That is a very good argument to do away with not mayhem, but with the cameras that might be in a position to record that mayhem and amplify it via YouTube and other social megaphones. “The problem is not that the cops strangled the black guy, the issue is really how it all looks when that irresponsible idiot with the cellphone camera…”

In those same courtroom novels I referred to, I’ve come across another phrase: enabling behaviour. Like, when someone does something that is clearly wrong, and the officials excuse it on specious grounds (“It is only a first offence… Level 2.1 (a) (ii)…)? Like, when people of stature and authority don’t call out an act for what it is — unacceptable — but obfuscate, justify, condone?

I’ve no quarrel with Iain’s cogitations. Merely, that I did some of my own — and I wonder if it is fair to say this: Excuses — even legitimate ones — may help us understand the nature of the offender. But they should have no bearing on the offence. Or the consequences.

BTW? Try searching for “David Warner sledging”. You might find a couple of instances if you look hard enough. And if you care to notice the dates, you might find that the odd example pre-dates any PTSD.

PS: Warner and Australia are merely the peg of this argument, not the sole targets. Bad behaviour is just that — no matter who the culprit is, or which team he belongs to. Oh, and to Anderson’s point about all this being “entertaining” — if the quality of your cricket was good enough, why would you need an item number?

Additional reading:

Martin Crowe wrote recently about the need for cricket to take bad behaviour seriously, and mooted the concept of red and yellow cards.

The sad part? Back in 2002, the same concept was briefly discussed by cricket’s lawmakers. And dropped. And I remember writing about the need for it, in 2003. Can’t seem to find the link, but I did find this discussion I was part of, where the theme was developed on. Here, read.