Spreading the message of xenophobia

IN AUSTRALIA, shows like Customs and Border Security are prime time material. There is one reason for this – they cater to the innate sense of xenophobia among the Australian masses.

It is extremely unlikely that one will ever see a white man nabbed for carrying anything illegal on either of these shows. There are countless Thais, Vietnamese, other Asians, Jamaicans, or other black people, caught carrying anything from soft drugs like marijuana to the hard stuff like cocaine.

Of course, if programs like these did show white couriers and drug smugglers, the number of viewers would drop like a stone. These shows are just a means to drive up the fear factor and pull in white people who think they are superior to brown- and black-skinned people.

There is an inherent message in shows like this: brown and black people are bad, we white people are good. It is a necessary message at a time when the Western world is rapidly losing its economic superiority which, for long, enabled it to dictate things to the rest of the world.

Western commentators are quick to admit the hold that China has, in economic terms, over the rest of the world, but boy, does it leave a sour taste in their mouth!

Nominating John Howard to the ICC is a big mistake

WITH the nomination of former Australian prime minister John Howard to the ICC vice-presidency – he will become president in 2012 – the power-brokers in the countries that play the game have ensured that priority will be given to politics, not cricket.

Howard was prime minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007. He was a divisive figure, refusing to apologise to the country’s first people for atrocities committed by white settlers, supporting the US in its crazy Iraq adventure and ensuring that the rich got richer and the poor poorer. Australia’s economy was doing well during his time – due to the boom in resources exports, not due to any financial reforms introduced by Howard’s government – but none of the money was saved; it was spent on buying votes through pork-barrel politics.

Howard is known for his support of apartheid South Africa. He was also quick to brand Sri Lankan spinner Muthiah Muralitharan a chucker, because, in his own words, “they proved it in Perth with that thing”, as stupid a statement as one can find uttered by a politician in any part of the world. His contribution to the game, in other words, is a big zero.

What makes the selection of Howard all the more amazing is that the man who was ranged against him, Sir John Anderson of New Zealand, has impeccable credentials to hold the post. Sir John became chairman of New Zealand Cricket in 1995 and then represented his country on the ICC board.

Sir John was one of the main figures in restructuring the ICC’s internal make-up and he also re-drafted its articles and committee manual. He served for 13 years. And a man like Howard has now been pushed in ahead of him. Australia, a bigger player in world cricket, has once again heavied its smaller Tasman neighbour to promote an unworthy candidate.

Cricket’s world governing body has not exactly covered itself with glory in its administration of the game. In the days when Australia and England were the dominant powers in the game, the MCC was running the show and rarely did it make decisions that ensured the progress of the game. Cricket was confined to a few counties while the officials enjoyed their sinecures.

In 1969, following the omission of a coloured player, Basil D’Oliviera from the England team to tour apartheid South Africa, the MCC had to finally rise from its slumber due to the pressure from the media. It’s worthwhile recalling that after the Gleneagles Agreement was reached, Howard was still keen on visiting South Africa.

It’s not as though politicians have not been appointed to head the ICC. But rarely has there been so much of a gap in quality between candidates and the less qualified one selected. Howard loves sinecures, parading the world stage and free travel. He used to attend the Test matches in Sydney every year but then any Australian prime minister who does not turn up at big sporting events is a fool, given the nation’s obsession with matters sporting.

Some of the most damaging things to happen to world cricket took place during the reign of Jagmohan Dalmiya, a Bengali, as ICC head. It was during his time that Bangladesh was made a Test playing nation. Nearly 13 years later, the folly of such a decision is apparent – unlike Sri Lanka, which has a good cricketing pedigree and an almost fanatical devotion to the game, Bangladesh is more attuned to soccer.

Dalmiya also brought in the infamous future tours programme which has all Test nations constantly playing games. It has ensured that there is too much of Test and one-day cricket. Players perform poorly – they are human and their bodies and minds can only handle so much.

The West Indies, a powerhouse from 1980 to 1995, and not exactly a pushover even before that, has fallen away to become little more than a joke – and the ICC has done nothing to try and prevent this disaster taking place. Now it is too late.

If the ICC wants to keep making money off cricket, it needs to look at the health of the game in all its constituent countries and take measures to ensure that teams remain at their full potential. It is not only the responsibility of the national cricketing bodies. (This is not to say that those who followed Dalmiya were much better than him when it came to looking after the health of the game.)

I think Howard will follow in Dalmiya’s footsteps. And if a situation like that which arose with Darrell Hair comes up again, it is clear in which direction he would go. World cricket is already in trouble and has had to resort to gimmicks like Twenty20 to draw crowds to the game. With Howard, a man who has the imagination of a dead duck, leading the organisation, it may well be time to start writing the game’s obituary.

Like wine, Tendulkar seems to get better with age

ON February 24, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar set a record that a few have looked like achieving but nobody has – a double-hundred in a one-day game. He set the record against South Africa, the team that is currently ranked third in the ICC one-day rankings, and this gives an indication of the achievement. (Australia stands first in the ODI rankings, followed by India; in the Test rankings the same three teams hold the top positions, with India being first, followed by South Africa and Australia).

One must go back fo 1983 to trace the progress of high scores in one-day cricket – during the world cup in England that year, India’s captain Kapil Dev made a swashbuckling 175 not out against Zimbabwe. At that time, the latter was still a fairly decent outfit, and nothing like the rabble it has become after the political troubles that have engulfed the nation. A year later, Viv Richards knocked the stuffing out of England with a knock of 189 not out, an outstanding effort which was made out of 272 and in an innings where only two others reached double-figures.

Pakistan’s Saeed Anwar eclipsed Richards in 1997 when he made 194 against India in Madras (now Chennai), a score which ZImbabwe’s Charles Coventry equalled last year. Coventry’s innings was somewhat devalued because he made the runs against Bangladesh, a team that should not be playing top-level cricket.

In some ways, Tendulkar’s unbeaten 200 – he reached the mark in the final over of the game – was not as taxing a knock as the 175 he made against Australia last year. The pitch at Gwalior was flat, India was batting first, and the ground was small. Hitting over the top and reaching the boundary was far easier on this ground than in Hyderabad where Tendulkar made his 175.

But that should not detract from the achievement. At 36, any cricketer would normally be devoting his attention to the longer form of the game; that Tendulkar still plays the one-day game and performs so well is testimony to his ability. And an important thing to note is that unlike many others, he has never adopted ugly improvisation to keep making high scores; practically all his shots are genuine cricket shots that the connoisseur can appreciate.

Indian batted first in this game, the second in a three-game series against South Africa, with the advantage of having already won the first. The innings began at at a fair pace but Virender Sehwag, who normally relishes batting on a flat track, fell early. Thereafter, Tendulkar shared three partnerships, with Dinesh Karthik, Yusuf Pathan and skipper M.S. Dhoni. He dominated the first two but Dhoni was in such a savage mood that for a while it looked like Tendulkar would be denied his 200.

Tendulkar scored at a cracking pace – 100 in 90 balls out of 176 (his 46th one-day hundred), 151 out of 264 (18 balls to go from 100 to 151) and 200 from 147 (29 balls to go from 151 to 200). He was lucky to be adjudged to have made his ground when sneaking a run at 159. In total, he hit 25 boundaries and three sixes as India, 213 for one in the 32nd over, reached what was ultimately a match-winning 401 by the end of the innings.

South Africa did not play Morne Morkel in this game and Makhaya Ntini is no longer in the team. Dale Steyn, Wayne Parnel, Charl Langeveldt, and Roelof van der Merwe were the main bowlers for the Proteas, a decent attack by any standards. Jacques Kallis and Jean Paul Duminy provided back-up.

When great batsmen strike a certain vein of form, there is nothing any bowler can do; Steyn, who has been a vital cog in South Africa’s move up the ladder in international cricket in recent years, could only watch in resignation as Tendulkar played some incredible shots against his pace. One particular shot stays in the mind – he moved outside the off-stump and hit Steyn to the mid-wicket boundary. That degree of control against a man of Steyn’s pace is reminiscent of the great Richards at his best.

Records are just one indicator of a cricketer’s greatness. The way a player makes runs, the opposition, the circumstances, all count. No matter what factor one measures him by, Tendulkar stands tall.