Viru out of WC

The news as it happens: Virender Sehwag has been finally ruled out of the T20 World Cup [Update: Rediff link], after his shoulder injury refused to heal as expected. Reports say he ended a net session abruptly, in considerable discomfort, following which the decision was made that he will return to India for treatment.

This likely installs Rohit Sharma as opener for the duration, unless MSD and Gary Kirsten decide, against some particular team and for strategic reasons, to push someone else — Irfan Pathan or his brother Yusuf? — into that slot and bat Rohit at 3 or 4.

CA probes performance, hikes pay

Two related news items, offered up for their informational value: 1. Cricket Australia will extensively probe the team’s fiasco at the T20 World Cup. 2. Cricket Australia to pay its cricketers more in the coming season.

Pakistan’s to-do list

Yesterday saw one big upset [if, that is, you can say Australia losing to Sri Lanka in T20 counts as an upset]; today could well see another if the Netherlands manage to dump Pakistan out of the WC. Who, incidentally, would have imagined that a Pakistan-Netherlands encounter would be seen in that country as ‘the most important match in its recent history’? [Imran Yusuf in Dawn]<P>Going in, Pakistan needs to win, and win big enough to overtake the Dutch on run rate. Kartik Ramamurthy, who has been contributing articles to Rediff, sent us this table on what Younis Khan and his men need to do in today’s game. Meanwhile, Kamran Abbasi is unimpressed by the team’s personnel, its attitude, and management.

In the Hindustan Times, Imran Khan makes a point that was made also by Wasim Akram while Pakistan was stumbling to its first defeat — a large part of the team’s troubles owed to wonky selection, most notably the decision to exclude Sohail Tanvir.

Pilgrim’s progress

Tug of religion

The Mental Floss list of top pilgrimage sites to visit has Jagannath in pole position. And not that this should be particularly surprising, but the list is dominated by Indian religious sites: The Golden Temple, Shatrunjaya Hill and Bodh Gaya.

Memo to self: Add Shatrunjaya to the list of places on the to-visit list. Additional memo: find time to work on the items in that list.

The future of Future Tours

India has a four-game one-day international series in the West Indies immediately after the ongoing T20 World Cup, but otherwise appears to have a relatively easy schedule for most of the year.  The Future Tours program is up for review at the ICC meet in Dubai this week [incidentally, what kind of scheduling has the ICC honchos meeting in Dubai while an ICC-mandated World Cup is being played in England?], and considerable angst is being expressed in some quarters that the FTP could become loaded with fixtures pitting the top four nations against one another, while the bottom half of the table languishes for want of money-spinning fixtures. More as the story develops over the week…

Silence of the heart

David Frith's seminal work

David Frith's seminal work

If, like me, your early memories of cricket were aural — and if you, like me, are on the wrong side of 50 — the name Berry Sarbhadikary will set up a peal of nostalgic bells.

When I read, in late 1976, that he had jumped out of the window of his room in a south Bombay lodge, it was Sunil Gavaskar’s seminal tour of the West Indies in 1971 that came immediately to mind. Berry broadcast that series for All India Radio; it was through his cultured voice and crisp diction — a welcome departure from AIR’s otherwise cliche-riddled, excitable commentary team — that I followed that five-Test series with its remarkable performances [the batting of Gavaskar and Sardesai, the rear-guard actions of Eknath Solkar; the  bowling of the spin troika; the historic win at Port of Spain…].

Berry’s story is just one of hundreds involving players — ranging from the obscure to the immediately recognizable — and commentators/reporters/administrators that David Frith chronicled in his book on cricket and its suicidal tensions and pressures; if you don’t already have it in your collection, go stand in line for a copy.

In the latest issue of  Outlook Frith revisits the topic of that book, and its follow-up By His Own Hand:

An experienced cricketer at least has reflections of his successful days to comfort him for the rest of his life. But what of the young man who craves success but is denied it either by a shortage of talent or nervous cohesion or—far worse—by a perceived unfair exclusion by ignorant or deliberately biased selectors? All that fame and fortune and travel and television exposure snatched away by some posturing official? Frustration is a damaging force.

My researches took an unexpected turn recently when items began to filter through from India, whose cricketers had scarcely featured in my two books. (The burden of suicide among cricket folk had seemed to fall almost exclusively upon Anglo-Saxon men.) First came stories of cricket fanatics on the subcontinent harming themselves—sometimes fatally—because their team lost some match. Then came stories of youngsters in India who craved the fame and fortune that cricket now offers. With someone blocking their paths, life suddenly seemed scarcely worth living. It is an alarming direction, pointing to parallels with Hollywood, where so many unsuccessful actresses and actors have destroyed themselves when careers faltered. Like so many tyro cricketers, they simply wanted to be stars.

Modern razzmatazz has much to answer for. To fail to get to the top in cricket today, especially in India it seems, leaves some youngsters with shattered dreams of fame and fortune. In years gone by a boy would calmly have been aiming just for the honour of playing for his country, with its pleasant travel opportunities. Nobody got rich from playing.Now it’s big business, gaudy glamour. As in the wider world, there are manipulators and dodgy dealers—and broken hearts.

Frith’s piece is a companion to Rohit Mahajan’s cover story on the pressures of contemporary cricket, and the growing number of cricketers who, unable to handle the pressures, the expectations and the disappointments, lose their equilibrium. Outlook has also got Maninder Singh to speak to the subject [other possibles from relatively recent times include Sadanand Viswanath, the best Indian wicket-keeper I’ve seen since the days of Engineer and Kunderan, and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, who long before the entry onto the world stage of Shane Warne threatened to make the leg spinner’s art glamorous].

Before leaving you to your reading, a quick hark-back to Frith’s book — which on the back of a meticulous chronicling of cricketing tragedies concludes that it is not the game itself that is responsible, so much as off the field pressures. This is how Frith ends the book:

Cricket fanatics sometimes have their enthusiasm dented by the oh-so-resigned and po-faced dictum, ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’. So, as a final thought-link to the theme, let us draw from someone who may never have heard of this all-consuming game — the French-Algerian existentialist writer Albert Camus, 1957 Nobel Prize winner and sometime soccer goalkeeper, who perished in a car crash in 1960. Camus claimed: ‘Suicide is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art.’

At most levels of the game we may now be enduring an abstract, violent, noisy, money-grabbing age. But cricket is an art, is it not? Who would deny that it too lies in the silence of the heart, emerging to enchant, to torment, to consume?

The founding editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly wrote those words — ‘violent, noisy, money-grabbing age’ — in 2001. Outlook’s cover story brings urgent currency to the theme. Read. Comment.

PS: Slightly off the ball, consider the case of growing incidence of suicides in another field where fame and money seek out the very young: reality TV.