Playing the heavy

In the preoccupation with the IPL, a minor matter appears to have escaped the collective attention of the media. Or maybe there was no space left over, after all the vapid columns ‘written’ by various ‘stars’ have been accomodated.

Dileep Premachandran finds the space, on his blog in the Guardian, to draw our attention to the BCCI’s latest display of misdirected muscle.

But that’s Sehwag. And this is the BCCI, whose behaviour increasingly resembles that of the playground bully. Resting Sehwag is not an issue. But why revoke the NOCs granted to Piyush Chawla, Yusuf Pathan and VVS Laxman?

Chawla was a fortunate addition to India’s Twenty20 squad for the Caribbean. He hasn’t been part of India’s Test or one-day international plans for a couple of years and is no more than a fringe player at best. Denying him an opportunity to play on a variety of surfaces in England is foolish in the extreme. As Dravid and many others have said, the county circuit is a good finishing school for developing talent. If Chawla spends the Zimbabwe triangular and the Asia Cup rotting on the bench, or not even in the squad, there’ll be a lot to answer for.

Pathan’s case is similar. For all his big hitting in the IPL, he has yet to find his niche at international level. Given his travails against the short ball, you can’t say if he ever will. A spell in England on pitches where the ball can do a bit would only have been beneficial.

The most perverse case is that of Laxman. He hasn’t been part of India’s limited-overs plans for years, and it’s doubtful whether he will get an IPL contract next season. To deny him a stint with Lancashire is nothing short of restraint of trade. In a recent interview, Dravid spoke of how difficult it had been to mentally adjust to not playing all the time after he was jettisoned from the one-day squad. For Laxman, who has played only Tests for years, any match practice is valuable. With (yet another) series in Sri Lanka scheduled for July-August, denying him a few hits in the early part of summer makes no sort of sense at all.

In Indian cricket, conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen — and much of it is just smoke. In this instance, though, I find myself agreeing with those who hold that the reason the BCCI suddenly revoked the NOCs to the Indian players is not because it wanted to give them a break, but because it would rather the ECB’s Twenty20 Cup does not gain much traction.

It is, points out Dileep, laughable to imagine the T20 Cup could threaten the behemoth the IPL has become — but the BCCI believes in taking no chances. Remember the ICL?

Trouble is, we can protest on blogs and newspaper articles and such — but what can you really do, to a body that has no heart to appeal to, and no ass to kick?

It’s official: the Shiv Sena has lost it

Not so long ago, Shiv Sena activists egged on by their supreme leader and the party mouthpiece were urging Shah Rukh Khan to go to Pakistan, after the actor supported the participation of Pakistani players in the IPL.

It is a different matter that the odor of opportunism pervaded the whole affair. Shah Rukh, whose franchise had along with the others refrained from picking up any Pakistani players in the latest round of auctions, got considerable face time on national television thanks to his pronouncement, and managed on each occasion to bring up his about to be released film. And the Sena — which operates on the belief that even bad publicity is better than oblivion — managed to grab a few headlines, before the issue got defused.

In a measure of how irrelevant the Sena increasingly believes itself to be, it has now latched on to another promising bandwagon for a few more headlines. And this time the comments emanating from the party are mind-bogglingly WTF:

Sena objects to Sania’s marriage, says in its mouth piece, Saamna that she should marry an Indian in order to retain nationality & represent India.

“After marriage she will be going to her in-laws, how will she then play for India? It’s being irreverent to this country and its laws” said Sena.

“After marriage Sania will become a Pakistani citizen. How can she have Pakistani citizenship and play for India? Has this country become a tennis ball to Sania that she plays with it however she pleases?,” said Sena.

Sena further said that in any case chief of Pakistan Tennis Federation Dilawar Abbas has welcomed you (Sania). He has already expressed his desire to see you play for Pakistan, but if you are so keen to play for India, you ought to have chosen an Indian instead of a Pakistani as your life partner.

“Morally she (Sania) has no right to get into this wedlock in the cost or expense of another individual. On one hand, Sania Mirza stands for ‘Save the Girl Child’ campaign and on the another hand she is showing absolutely no respect, no care , no attitude for another girl, women or lady of this country” said Shiv Sena legal head Rahul Narvekar.

“Is Sania Mirza’s achievement in isolation of the nation? If nation has supported her , it is her duty to have sentiments, values and emotions for the people of this country” added Narvekar.

On Twitter, many have mocked the party for its double-speak, pointing out that it cannot in one breath continue to claim that Sonia Gandhi, despite marrying an Indian and accepting Indian citizenship, is an Italian, while also claiming that Sania loses her right to represent India just because she has married a Pakistani.

Logical argument, that — but when, in recent times, has logic permeated anything the Sena has said, and done?

The fan

A day after Sid Vaidhyanathan and I vented some angst about “doing” cricket for a living, comes this piece in the Hindu about an octogenarian fan of Sachin Tendulkar, that makes us see the other side of the coin.

Sceptical of the statistics available on the Internet this octogenarian keeps track of her favourite cricketer’s achievements in her own way. Tiny scraps of paper with all the scores painstakingly written in neat handwriting are tucked away along with other prized possessions that include a couple of books on the cricketing genius gifted by her grandson. She secretly pulls out a few bits and shows them to me ensuring I handle them with care. All of a sudden, she chuckles. Saraswathi’s face is bright with enthusiasm as she narrates another incident. “After the1998 Sharjah Cup, Shane Warne said he used to get nightmares about Sachin. Sachin ko ‘Man of the Series’ ke liye car mila.” Here, Saraswathi’s son interrupts, saying, “She is very sure some day Tendulkar will meet her. Once when she was asked if she wanted to meet her grandchildren in Australia, she said, “I don’t want to meet anyone, I only want to meet Sachin Tendulkar.” Saraswathi now looks coy, blushes and says, “If I ever meet him, I’ll tell him to keep playing with confidence and keep entertaining us.” And with that she goes back to telling me more anecdotes about the Little Genius and his numerous records.

Maybe the trick for Sid, for me, for many more like us who have over time lost that fine edge of enthusiasm, is to rediscover the delight that this game can provide — and to write from that delight, not from “duty”, “professionalism”, whatever.

Related, Harsha Bhogle in his latest column celebrates Sachin’s captaincy in the IPL:

In the first game he backed his youngsters, Saurabh Tiwary, Ambati Rayudu and R Sathish, and played only three overseas players. In every game thereafter he has given these young players the confidence they need by sending them out at crucial moments. Tiwary, for example, has retained his No. 4 slot ahead of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, Rayudu gets to bat at No. 5, and even Sathish, just returning from the ICL, has a clearly defined role: if he gets 15 or 20 in quick time at the end, and does little else, his captain seems quite happy with him.

Bravo and Pollard occasionally get the No. 3 slot to allow themselves to rediscover form, but I think the best move of all has been to put Ryan McLaren in the side and, in doing so, freeing Lasith Malinga to play the role Tendulkar likes him to: bowl after the new ball and at the death. It helps that McLaren can bat, and indeed the Mumbai Indians now have three allrounders in crucial areas and a floater in Sathish. McLaren doesn’t mind bowling up front and that allows Malinga to bowl no more than one over early on, leaving his captain with enough options at the end.

More than his use of personnel, I’d think the standout feature of Sachin’s leadership this IPL is that he has freed up his team to play without fear. Harsha makes the point that in the last game, against Kings XI, the team seemed to slip into a complacent mindset. Perhaps — but even in that game, the noticeable characteristic was that even as wickets fell, the collective belief that they cannot be beaten seemed unshaken.

Sometimes, that is all that separates the good sides from the great — as any member of the all-conquering Australian side of the 1990s will tell you.