Of Brains, Hair, Selectorial Leaks and Third Worlds


While Australia returned to their winning ways in the comfort of their home conditions and as India continued to mount an impressive ODI campaign against the visiting English team that is in a bit of a disarray at the moment, the usual suspects have been at it again this week.

  • Sunil Gavaskar and Ricky Ponting have continued their public spats.
  • Ricky Ponting continued his petulant wars with Ian Chappell and Alan Border.
  • The BCCI has another selection room leak to contend with.
  • Matthew Hayden continued his Third World campaign even as the sight-screen froze at The Gabba!

Ponting Vs Gavaskar, Chappell, Border, A. N. Other:

It looks like the public spat between Ricky Ponting and virtually anyone within spitting distance of the Australian captain has now consumed Sunil Gavaskar as a somewhat willing participant! It all started when Ponting was criticised by virtually everyone on his captaincy in India during the recently concluded Test series, which India won 2-0. In the Nagpur Test Ponting employed his part-time bowlers in a bid to save himself (first and then, his team) from incurring the wrath of the ICC Match Referee. It was a move that potentially cost Australia the match, the series and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Former Australian captains, Ian Chappell, Alan Border and Steve Waugh condemned the decision immediately.

Instead of offering a philosophical shrug and accepting the criticism, Ponting — as is his wont in recent times– went into overdrive in defending his actions. He even said at a luncheon in Brisbane that he had no intention of speaking to the former Australian greats for a while yet! These were classic signs of an Australian captain who seemed to have lost the plot.

As if all of that wasn’t bizarre enough, Ponting then took aim and fired in the direction of Sunil Gavaskar through the release of a section of his book in which he criticises Gavaskar, a consistent critic of the Australian team’s on-field behaviour! Ponting aimed his gun at Gavaskar, saying that the former Indian great was no angel in his playing days! For substantiation of the argument, Ponting alluded to Gavaskar attempting to stage a walk out at the MCG in 1981!

Three things come immediately to mind! (a) What has the “walk out” in 1981 got to do with Australian team behaviour in 2008? (b) Wasn’t Gavaskar’s walk out in 1981 in protest against Australian behaviour on the field, thereby substantiating Gavaskar’s argument, and not Ponting’s? (c) What has the “walk out” got to do with the price of fish anyway?

Sunil Gavaskar needs no invitation to fight. He picked up his boxing gloves. But instead of saying that Ponting’s allusion to the 1981 “walk out” merely substantiated his own argument, Gavaskar lashed out some more on Thursday 20 Nov, saying “Ponting was just seven-year-old when MCG incident happened. He does not know the background”.

As if that wasn’t enough puerile behaviour for one week, in today’s Sunday Times of India, Gavaskar has said “Ponting’s hair has grown, not his intelligence” (I can’t find an online link to this story, but will like as soon as it appears on the ToI site)! This makes reference to the sudden (re)growth of Ponting’s mop. In his vitriolic diatribe against Ponting, Gavaskar drops a pearl in a line that makes me sigh in despair. He says, “The Australians have gone home with their tail between their legs, like most dogs that bark and do not bite when confronted with another who stands up and does not run away.” Sigh!

Selection-room discussions:

The biggest story in India right now is the selection room gut-spill. The India team for the Bangalore and Cuttack ODIs against England included Irfan Pathan and Sachin Tendulkar for R. P. Singh and Murali Vijay. The selectors declared their intent, upon being chosen, that they wanted to focus on the nurturing of all-rounders. So despite his patchy bowling form, the selection of Irfan Pathan was consistent with that approach. All good, one would have thought!

But no. In a move that only the BCCI and its machinery can match, a selection committee leak to the Kolkata based ‘Anand Bazar Patrika’ revealed that India captain, M. S. Dhoni disagreed with the selectors.

If I were the BCCI, I’d identify who this idiot was that leaked discussions held in a committee and publicly flog him.

This leak does not serve anyone’s interests. The BCCI’s interests have been compromised. Dhoni’s interests have been compromised. As Dhoni himself said, “This is the pinnacle of the sport. We are selecting 15 guys for the Indian team. There will be debates inside, and that information should not be put out in the media. If it is meant to come out, then I can say we might as well have the whole meeting telecast live on television. Nobody knows what was discussed except the eight guys in the meeting. And only they know whether it’s the truth or not.”

I totally agree here. Indeed, I think that such debate and argument is healthy. I certainly hope that we do not have a robot that goes into a meeting, nods his head at the “respected elders” sitting there and comes out of the meeting with a team sheet.

It is alleged that Dhoni said, “Sir Caaptani bhi dete ho aur baat bhi nahin sunte. To caaptani ka kya faayda?” (“Sir you’ve made me captain, but do not wish to listen to me? So what’s the use of this captaincy?”)

Fair point.

Note that he hasn’t actually said, “If you do not back R. P. Singh, I will resign”, as has been commonly reported by the “braying mediocrity” (the press) here, in India. It is more of a rhetorical question and I think it is a fair question to ask in the context of a selection debate.

Debates at the selection table are what they should be: debates at the selection table. In this instance, Dhoni lost the debate and that’s fine too. He should have copped it on the chin and moved on.

He did!

After the meeting Dhoni said, “This is a selection thing and personally I don’t discuss anything outside. To some extent it does distract us. The good part is that we trust each other – every player in the team trusts the other.”

However, Kris Srikkanth and his team have much to answer in this sordid saga. I hope Srikkanth does not push the dust under the carpet. For the sake of his own integrity and the integrity of his selection committee, I do wish he hounds down the selector that leaked this to the press and gives him a sound thrashing.

The leak has put Dhoni in the invidious position of having to have conversations with R. P. Singh and Irfan Pathan. As Dhoni himself said, “There might be a scenario where all of a sudden we might want to get in touch with RP Singh and Irfan Pathan. And you don’t want RP to feel that I will go out of the way and stand and defend him and Irfan should not feel I don’t want him in the team. I will stand and defend both these players and both of them trust me. My talks with them went off well.”

While I do agree with Anand Vasu, one of the saner voices in Indian cricket media, when he says in the Hindstan Times, “What this incident does is vitiate the atmosphere in the dressing-room,” I do not agree with him when he says “There’s no need to name names, no need for the BCCI to investigate.”

Sorry. I do not agree. The integrity of the selection process has been violated. It is time that the BCCI draws a line in the sand, pulled up the culprit and hangs him out to dry. But I really can’t expect that from the BCCI.

What shocked me, however, was the reaction of a journalist like Bobilli Vijay Kumar, who, in an article in The Times of India, supports the leak wholeheartedly. In an article that sports the tone of a king crab in a lid-less container shipment of Indian crabs, Vijay Kumar hopes that “Dhoni has learnt his lesson: yes, there are no secrets in Indian cricket; no meeting, however sacrosanct it might appear, remains confidential for ever. Every word, especially one that has the contours of a controversy, will sooner or earlier end up as part of a headline.”

And some people wonder why we, at i3j3Cricket, have termed the Indian cricket media, the “braying mediocrity of Indian cricket”?

G. Rajaraman, another sane voice amidst the cacophony (the man who got is credited with enlisting that powerful quote from Kumble after the Sydney Test), offers a solution. He says: “I believe that much of the speculation would have been stifled had BCCI let Srikkanth speak for the Selectors and offer some insight into the changes. It is important for the media and the cricket fans – stakeholders of the game, after all – to understand the thinking behind such changes rather than be left to grapple for understanding on their own.”

I agree with Rajaraman. Much of the speculation arises from having people like Niranjan Shah (in the past) and G. Srinivasan (currently) front up to offer selection explanations to the key stakeholders in the game — the fans and media. That should be left to the chairman of selectors — in this case the loquacious, never-shy-in-front-of-a-microphone, I-can-speak-faster-than-I-can-think Kris Srikkanth!

This episode is not about whether R. P. Singh would have been a better choice. Nor is it about interpreting Dhoni’s words as a resignation threat. As I have said, in the context of a selection meeting, those words make perfect sense to me. I certainly do not interpret those words as a resignation threat! However, this episode is about resurrecting the integrity of the Team India selection committee. Its integrity has been shot and a proper investigation needs to be conducted. A message needs to be sent.

I do hope the BCCI has learnt its lesson. But before that, the BCCI has an important task on hand. It needs to start weeding itself of unprofessional thugs, and in my view, the rascal responsible for that leak is indeed, nothing more than an unprofessional thug.

Hayden, sight-screens and the Third World:

Matthew Hayden, started the week off by complaining about sight screens in Third World India. His comments led to much consternation, disbelief and hurt! Amidst the continual shaking of utterly dismayed heads in India, the key message that Hayden wanted to convey was, once again, lost!

I do agree with Hayden at a general level. There are many things that happen in India that make me roll my eyes, shake my head and leave me with no option but to say, “Only in India”! For example, the other day Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, walked into a game being played at Rajkot. He proceeded to sit himself down on a chair right beside the sight screen. His entourage of nearly 100 people (it seemed) circled all around him. Several of them spilled onto the sight screen area! Play was held up for nearly 5 minutes while this mess was sorted out. Surely, Narendra Modi could have been seated at some other part of the ground where play need not have been held up thus!

But then, as he often does, Hayden had the political acumen of a mosquito flying headlong into an oncoming Mortien spray burst! He should have perhaps even used the more politically conscious “developing” instead of “Third World”, especially since he professed his deep love for India and her people.

But then, as Peter Lalor says, somewhat apologetically, after there were several stoppages in the recently concluded ‘Gabba Test match, “karma [had] a way of sinking its frustrating teeth into [Hayden’s] behind”.

— Mohan

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5 responses to “Of Brains, Hair, Selectorial Leaks and Third Worlds

  1. The media has yet again proved that it can take a small lump of sand and convert it into a mega sized anthill. It is believed that during the 1999 WC semifinal between Aus and SA, Steve Waugh never said “You’ve dropped the cup, mate”. He actually said “You’ve dropped the match, mate”. Waugh explains in his autobiography that he takes things match by match and doesn’t think too ahead even if it means playing a semi-final. And we all know it as “You’ve dropped the CUP”.

  2. Today Shane Warne says something similar. In 1998 he is reported to have said that bowling to Sachin Tendulkar gave him nightmares. It was reported that he was scared of Tendulkar!

  3. Talking of hair, Ishant Sharma has shed some 30 kilograms of weight by styling his hair. The ToI here reports that his hair-stylist is Amjad Habib if that means anything to anyone.

  4. Ha ha! I think that remark from Gavaskar is fantastic! I would not want to annoy him.

  5. Re:my previous comment. I was referring to the 1999 quarter-final but mentioned semi-final by mistake.

    @mohan,
    That tweaking of Warne’s statement was interesting.Didn’t know about it.

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