Cricket clips

# The admin interface on this blog shows you the latest comments right on top — and as it happens, the first comment I saw this morning was tagged to a Chris Broad post, from a certain John who apparently gets his jollies reading all the “crazies” who ramble on in the wake of controversies. I hate disappointing the public, so here’s more “ranting”:

The Australians always seem to get away. Whatever their transgressions on the field, invariably it is their opponents who end up paying a price. Somehow or the other, teams playing against the Aussies seem to invite the match referee’s wrath.

That is why I am not looking at the most recent incident in the Australia-West Indies series in isolation. In the Delhi Test against us, my last, the one that earned Gautam Gambhir a ban for having a go at Watson, the same umpire and the match referee were officiating.

At that time, the umpire Billy Bowden didn’t see it fit to report Simon Katich who had later obstructed Gautam and the match referee Chris Broad too didn’t bother to act on his own or follow it up with the onfield umpires even though it was very much evident on TV. And as on that occasion, the provocateurs got away in Perth too, with Haddin and Johnson receiving minor reprimands.

There doesn’t seem to be any punishment forthcoming for someone who provokes and that to me is against the principles of natural justice.

Dear John, the “crazy” who wrote that is former India captain Anil Kumble (who, most famously, also said this). Getting to be a fairly crowded asylum, innit? Here’s more “lunacy” — from Chris Gayle. And strangely, Ricky Ponting seems to think us crazies may actually be on to something.

#The weekend’s action at the Centurion and the WACA provided the perfect coda to a couple of months of fascinating cricket. Make that Test cricket. For all the tons of runs that were scored in the “thrash the bowlers” versions of the game, the final quarter of the year has been memorable for Test cricket action between Sri Lanka and India; between a New Zealand and a Pakistan intent on examining the limits of their own frailities; between an Australia that prematurely wrote the opposition off and a West Indies unit that re-discovered talent, spark, and the will to fight; and between a conservative South Africa hoping for a win and a tentative England hoping not to lose. Ian Chappell’s summation of the field comes apropos.

# Test cricket has been compelling, but the crowds haven’t felt compelled to come out in their numbers. That’s the sort of thing that triggers laments on the ‘Test cricket is dying’ lines — but perhaps there is another explanation? Here’s Gideon Haigh:

Frankly, for what English cricket fans pay to watch Test matches, the security indignities they undergo, the general dilapidation of grounds and the killjoy prohibitions of administrators, they should be allowed to parade in the nude if they so wish. But there’s the rub. Crowds, in general, are simply assumed, like sightscreens and drinks breaks, and reported with a similar degree of understanding by journalists high above them in air-conditioned comfort, who haven’t had to pay to get in.

Nobody speaks for them: they have no association, no lobbyists, no agents, no spin doctors, no ghost writers. Who has protested the scurvy treatment of fans in Kolkata and Johannesburg, deprived of international cricket by ludicrous administrative turf wars? Where were the thundering denunciations in England when the ECB cancelled a Twenty20 Cup quarter-final 10 minutes before the start because of a dispute about a player’s registration, thereby wasting the journeys of 4000 hapless fans? When wronged, fans have no recourse but the withdrawal of their interest – a self-penalisation.

The main reason for this indifference to the spectator’s lot, in administrative circles at least, is television. For 20 years and more, cricket has been obsessed with its telegenia – how to improve the experience for viewers, and so to maximise the value of the game as a media property. And as viewers have grown in financial importance, so live spectators have diminished.

Crowds flowing through the turnstiles — or not — have become irrelevant to the game’s financial health. But to therefore dismiss diminishing live audiences is, Haigh suggests, short-sighted.

In this unspoken shared belief among administrators that somehow it is immaterial if crowds no longer gather, and that only the vast, diffuse, invisible audience of viewers counts, lies the seeds of a grave crisis for cricket. In the most straightforward sense, crowds matter aesthetically, in a way ratings never can. They ratify by their presence an occasion’s importance; they dramatise by their passion a game’s excitement; they negate by their absence an event’s significance. Tendulkar’s 12,000th Test run should have been one of the great moments of Indian cricket; it will be remembered instead, as even ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat noted, with dismay and disillusionment.

Those who trouble to attend cricket are also its core constituency; to set aside a day for a Test or a one-day international involves a huge investment of time and money, which deserves proportional return. Yet the members of this core are being treated as political parties sometimes treat their most loyal voters, and listed corporations their most steadfast small shareholders: marginalising and alienating them as they take them for granted – and no party or company has done this long and prospered. On the contrary, commercial organisations dependent on public patronage lavish extraordinary efforts on keeping their most loyal customers, encouraging them to return by loyalty cards, bonus programmes and other incentive systems. Why does cricket, so purportedly savvy in the ways of commerce, care so little? Australian golf might have looked a little ludicrous at the Masters last month with its serpentine queues, star-struck melees and striving for church-like quiet – but at least it was trying.

#Headline writers have been having a field day with the outing of Tiger Woods’ latest mistress, bringing the tally thus far to 18 — the puerile golf course analogy apparently proves too hard to resist. Meanwhile, in Cuttack and in their homes across the country, Indian cricketers must be laughing their heads off — the newest among them has notched up far more ‘conquests’ than Woods with his stature, his charismatic looks  and all his billions can only dream of.

I’ve never been able to figure this out. We expect a Gandhi, a Mother Teresa, to provide us a moral compass to chart our lives by, but we do not simultaneously expect them to entertain us. Why then is that not the case in reverse? Why is it not enough for our athletes, our sports stars, to entertain us? Why must they also set “moral examples” for the young?

The two most common answers I get are, oh, but they are in the public eye and, two, our children idolize them. As far as the first goes, so too are politicians — but we accept their affairs, their involvements in crimes ranging from mega corruption to murder with equanimity and even pick potential jailbirds to lead our states, our country. Apparently it is okay for those who would chart our futures to be morally flawed, but not our sportsmen. And as far as our children’s idolatry goes, what then are parents for if they cannot steer their children towards heroes more worthy of moral emulation?

My friend — and favorite sports writer — Rohit Brijnath nails it in this lovely piece in the weekend edition of Mint. An extended clip:

But I rarely go to stadiums expecting lessons in morality. These aren’t arenas of real bravery for this isn’t real life. These weren’t my guides, not my North Stars. My heroes are different, they are ordinary people taking on life, they are my parents, teachers, friends who grapple patiently with troubled kids, they are families who take care of the ill with a selfless love, they are preachers of tolerance.

I have expectations of the athlete, especially the great ones, for with fame arrives responsibility. Certainly he must obey the rules, stay away from gunfights in nightclubs, respect the law, conduct himself appropriately when representing his country. It is not a difficult list. Roger Federer meets it nicely. But not everyone.

But then it gets tricky. What moral standard do we hold the athlete to, a higher one than we have for ourselves? Marriage is beautiful and we are unimpressed by the adulterer, but do we hound them from our groups of friends and from our offices? Is Tiger Woods different, worth such public scorn, because he portrayed himself as a virtuous family man? It would appear so. And as much as the tawdriness of it all, the sheer number of infidelities, what seems to upset people is also the deception. He fooled us, this billionaire hero. He made us buy his shirts while he was taking his off.

What we tend to forget is that the great athlete presents to us an image. On that basis we claim to know him, but we really don’t. Andre Agassi’s revealing autobiography, Open, suggested our view of him was almost entirely inaccurate. Woods is similarly a mystery. We know him as outrageous golfer, bland interviewee, smiling salesman. Beyond that he is hidden. It suited him. His golf was perfect, his trousers creased, his shoes shined, and so he let us assume the rest of his life was as polished. The point is this: He should have known better than to do what he did, but so should we have to have swallowed his myth.

# There’s a one-day game due to be played this afternoon, but all that, and more, tomorrow. Have people to meet, and a packer coming home for a preliminary ‘recce’. Later, peoples…

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