Why Ricky Ponting should be sacked

RICKY Ponting is one of the best cricketers in the world to watch when he is on song. The man has played 145 Tests, captained Australia since 2004 and is a pugnacious fighter all the way.

Despite all this experience and these attributes, Ponting does not deserve to captain the country any more. Not after he decided to bat in the second Test against Pakistan in Headingley last night and saw the team blown away for 88.

Ponting is a great cricketer. He is not a good captain, something I have pointed out in the past.

With all his experience of having played in England, why did Ponting take such a decision? It is being put down to a Test in England in 2005 when he put the home team in – without Glenn McGrath in his ranks – and ended up losing the Test and the Ashes.

He is not the only captain to be haunted by a decision made in the past, one which cost him dearly. Steve Waugh was similarly loath to enforce the follow-on after he did so in India in 2001 and lost the Test and finally the series.

But a captain is expected to have some intelligence and also to use it. The conditions in Headingley were treacherous – exactly the kind of weather that would help bowlers like Mohammed Asif and Umar Gul who pitch it up and can move the ball either way. And what transpired was a slaughter of a very good Australian team.

One just has to see the way Michael Clarke was dismissed to understand what Australia was up against. The ball from Umar Gul swerved at the last minute and uprooted Clarke’s middle stump – and he is a man with very good technique, one who generally plays down the right line.

It’s not so long ago that Pakistan had Australia on the ropes – in Sydney last year. That time Asif was the wrecker-in-chief but Australia managed to escape. Asif was much more difficult to play in Headingley and that should give an indication of exactly how bad the conditions were.

But would Australia have had Pakistan in as bad a position if they had sent them in? Given the way that the Australian bowlers performed when Pakistan batted – in similar conditions to which Australia had been knocked over – they could do little. Pakistan got away to an excellent start and had practically overtaken their rivals before a wicket had fallen.

A captain should have the maturity to think a decision through, not react in a standard way that is pre-determined. Each Test is different and one can impose oneself on the opposition by bowling first just as well as one can by batting first. Ponting, great cricketer that he is, lacks that maturity even today. Either that, or he has no faith in his bowlers – and given the way they performed, one could not fault him for that.

I doubt that Shane Warne, the greatest captain Australia never had, would never have made such a decision. Ponting did and that shows the difference in reading the game between him and the leggie.

Even if Australia does escape from the hole that it has dug itself into due to Ponting’s muleheadedness, it would not justify his decision. Captains must think and then act. Not the other way round.

The beautiful game but not when it comes to the World Cup

WHILE Spain rejoices over having won the World Cup, it seems somewhat churlish to remind those who are overjoyed that the game played in the final against the Netherlands was anything but the beautiful game.

It was an awful game, presided over by a referee who was out of his depth. One cannot forget the influence that a referee has in a game; the man can set the tone by impressing on the players the fact that no nonsense will be tolerated. Once that is done, the referee can melt into the background and let the game go on.

But Englishman Howard Webb appeared to want to be as prominent as the players. He engaged in verbal duels with several of them and never bothered to lay down the law early on in the game. The result? There were nine yellow cards given to Dutch players and five to Spanish players; one Dutch player was given a second yellow which meant a red and hence he had to leave the field.

I was reminded of the 1990 final when Germany played Argentina for a second tournament running; in 1986, the Argentines, inspired by Diego Maradona, defeated the Germans by the odd goal of five. In 1990, the Germans put one man, Guido Buchwald, to mark Maradona and that took him out of the game altogether. But, despite this, the Germans only won through a dubious penalty which they gained through the dying swan, Juergen Klinsmann.

Many people admire the type of game that Spain plays, keeping possession all the time and making the occasional foray up the field. Football is supposed to be about scoring goals, not hanging on to the ball and boring people witless. The quality of passing is definitely to be admired but not when 90 percent of it is backwards in a bid to prevent the opposition from doing anything. It’s a dog in the manger attitude and does the game no good. Of course, no matter what methods a team uses, it takes home $30 million when it wins. The losers get $6 million less.

But the Netherlands does not deserve any praise either. They came prepared to literally get Spain off the field by playing a robust, physical game. Here the referee is to blame; the moment the Dutch started fouling with gay abandon, he should have sent off one of their players. But Webb was more interested in arguing with players and proved that just because one is an Englishman it does not make one an expert in the administration of the game.

For all the horrible methods used, there were at least seven clear chances when goals could have been scored. If just three of those chances had been taken, the public would have had something worth watching. But in the end, there was just one goal, scored a few minutes from the end of the two-hour-long game.

By the time 2014 comes around, if FIFA has not put in place some kind of system to use video replays to avoid the kind of horrible refereeing errors seen in the 2010 tournament, then football will be in danger of becoming the laughing stock of all the codes.

For top-grade racism, you can’t beat the US

THERE have been a few instances in the last three months when racism has reared its head in Australia, via the utterances of sportspeople. One was the case of one of the coaches of the NSW rugby league team, Andrew Johns, who referred to a player from Queensland as a black cunt.

Then there were two former AFL players who made disparaging comments about Aborigines. But when it comes to xenophobia and racism you can’t beat the US of A.

Time magazine columnist Joel Stein recently demonstrated the supremacy of that country in the practice of racism – through the written word. In a column that expressed regret about the fact that Edison, the town in New Jersey which he grew up, was no longer lily white, Stein bettered even many of those who were masters of this art in the old Jim Crow days.

Stein’s beef was with Indians, who have apparently settled in Edison in such large numbers that they have changed the complexion of the town. Restaurants which once served white people’s food now serves curry, theatres which once screened movies fit for the white man now screen Bollywood masala. Stein didn’t miss out on a contemptuous reference to Hindu deities. He had the whole bag.

If all that wasn’t enough, Stein went one step further and threw in a reference to the insult levelled at Indians in Edison – dotheads – evoking memories of the infamous Dot Busters hate group which was responsible for a number of crimes against Indians in the 1980s.

There was more: Stein said he had no problem with Indian engineers migrating to his hometown; he didn’t like it when the lower classes such as merchants came in in numbers. I have never read a column where someone manages to bring in every possible racist angle within such a short stretch. One has to hand it to Stein – if the Ku Klux Klan is looking for a grand vizier, they know where to look.

If the column was about any group of white people and was written in the same vein, Time would never have published it. That’s something one can say with certainty. But people of colour – even the US president Barack Obama – are somehow illegitimate in their own country. There is still a bunch of ignorant, stupid Americans who claim that Obama was born outside the US.

Stein’s open racism – and the pathetic defence he offered – are examples of the fact that people whom one considers civilised are quite often not what they seem. What is inside comes out when people are under pressure and shows their real character. Of course, after the deed is done, we have the pathetic defence: “I never meant to hurt anyone. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

Surprising that people who lay claim to being educated know so little about themselves.

Some lessons from the World Cup

THE World Cup football tournament is almost over; just three games remain and within a few hours the second finalist will be known, the one who will take on the Netherlands on Monday morning (Australian eastern time) for the title.

There have been plenty of upsets this time – Italy and France, the two finalists in the last tournament went out in the first round, Spain was beaten by Switzerland in the group games, New Zealand drew with Italy, Brazil were put out in the quarter-finals, and Germany gave England a thrashing in the second round and Argentina a similar hammering in the quarter-finals.

But for all that, it has become apparent that football has some catching up to do with other sports in many respects. Take for instance, the refusal on the part of football authorities to use video replays to aid referees; England scored a legitimate goal against Germany that wasn’t awarded and the US did the same against Slovenia. Both goals would have been given if referees had the benefit of replays.

In the quarter-finals, Paraguay scored a goal against Spain and it was not given because the scorer was deemed to be offside. Replays showed that this was clearly not the case.

There were also numerous penalties given when they were not deserved; in some other cases, penalties should have been awarded and were not given. FIFA, however, does not seem inclined to accept the use of video replays.

Rugby union (and several other sports) uses video replays to make judgements when the referee cannot decide and thus there is no doubt left in the players’ minds about the correctness of a decision. Of course, the referee is still left to interpret things in most cases.

One case where football could take a lesson from union is in the case of deliberate handballs in the six-yard box. In the case of football, the player concerned gets a red card — which means that he is sent off and misses at least one more game in addition — and the opposition gets a penalty which they then have to convert in order to get a goal.

In rugby union, if the referee is convinced that a player would have scored a try were it not for some illegal tactic by an opposing player, he can award a penalty try. That means there is no need to score – the five points are awarded. The conversion becomes a matter of course as it can be done from right in front of the posts.

Football could introduce a similar rule – if a player is deemed to have deliberately prevented a goal by using his hands, then the goal should be awarded right away. A classic case is that of the Uruguayan striker Suarez who used his hands to punch the ball away from the goalline in the quarter-final against Ghana. He got a red card but the subsequent penalty was muffed by Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan. He denied Ghana a win but in the end his team won as the match went to a penalty shootout. The rugby union rule would have been more equitable.

Cricket is all about politics

SPORT and politics should not mix. How often have you heard that meaningless line? It is untrue of any sport – and most of all cricket.

Following the humiliation meted out to former Australian prime minister John Howard – the man was roundly snubbed by Asian and African cricketing nations in his bid to become the vice-president of the International Cricket Council – it is worthwhile having a look at the political implications of a sport like cricket.

The game was spread from Britain to its colonies at the time when the British Empire ruled the waves. It took hold in India (and by extension in Pakistan and Bangladesh when those nations were formed as breakaways), the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

When Australia and England play each other for the Ashes, there are deep political connotations – England shipped convicts to Australia as its first settlers and thus Australian resentment towards the former “mother country” knows no bounds. Beating England at any sport is welcome Down Under, but it is especially sweet when it is for the Ashes.

When India and Pakistan play cricket, it is something akin to war. Pakistan was stripped away from India in a ghastly act of partition, a result of Britain’s divide and rule policy, and that wound has never healed. So great is the animosity, that when Javed Miandad hit a six off the last ball of a one-day tournament in Sharjah to give Pakistan victory over India – and this was in a minor tournament – he was showered with riches by Pakistani businessmen.

Friendly games between Indian and Pakistani supporters can turn into violent confrontations in third countries like England – and have, on many occasions, become just that.

When Bangladesh plays Pakistan, there are again political overtones. Pakistan treated the former East Pakistan as though it was a slave colony and when it broke away, with India’s help, in 1971, Pakistan was mortally wounded. It was shamed in front of the world – at the moment when its UN envoy was claiming that things were under control, TV footage of the head of Pakistan’s army surrendering to Indian forces at Dhaka race course was being broadcast worldwide. These insults have never been forgotten. They carry over onto the cricket field.

Take the games between the West Indies, a team formed from among a group of islands in the Caribbean, and England. Many black people were shipped to the Caribbean as slaves by Britain back in the days when Britain ruled these islands. For former slaves to defeat their masters is a very satisfying thing – and to the West Indies defeating England is the most important thing in cricket. It does not matter even if they lose to minnows like Kenya.

Politics in cricket is deep-rooted and will never go away. Indeed, if it did, then the intensity of the sporting contests would decrease and the crowds who come to watch would dwindle. When brown and black people get the better of white people, it is always sweet, simply because of the way the West has dominated the East for so many years. Cricket is another substitute for war and it is probably a preferable outlet to fighting on the battlefield.

Howard has been rejected, not Australia

WENDING his sorry way back from Singapore, after having been roundly snubbed by the International Cricket Conference after his bid to become the vice-president was rejected, former Australian prime minister John Howard is now trying to paint his rejection as a snub for Australia and New Zealand.

There is a one-word answer to this claim: bullshit.

It was the Australasian region’s chance to nominate a candidate and it was time for New Zealand to have a chance considering that, in the past, on both occasions when it was the region’s chance, an Australian took up the job – first Malcolm Gray and then Malcolm Speed. New Zealand had an excellent candidate, Sir John Anderson, a man who has worked with the ICC and shown remarkable aptitude as an administrator.

Howard claims that the cricket board of Australia approached him. This seems highly unlikely. What seems more likely is that Howard pulled a few strings in order to get his name put forward. He is a person who never wanted to leave public life; indeed, well before the 2007 elections, there were more than enough indications that if Howard continued to lead the coalition, it would meet with electoral disaster.

But Howard did not care; he hung on and suffered the ultimate ignominy. A sitting prime minister, he lost his seat to a political novice, former ABC newsperson Maxine McKew. If he had not been defeated, he would no doubt have hung on as an MP – the fact is he has no other skill other than being a politician. He has no administrative skills, no inter-personal skills, he can only manipulate public sentiment based on the lowest common denominator. And he has the imagination of a dry cucumber.

If any person other than Howard had been put forward as the nomination for ICC vice-president, there would have been no issue. But consider:

  • Howard did not support sporting sanctions against apartheid South Africa but was willing to back sanctions against Zimbabwe, leading to the obvious conclusion that it did not bother him when discrimination against blacks was being practised;
  • he used the military to board a ship full of asylum-seekers – Afghans and Iraqis – which was moving into Australian waters
  • he made no secret of the fact that reconciliation with Aborigines was not a priority of his, despite the fact that Australia has given its first people the raw end of the stick;
  • he has been known as someone who discriminates against people of colour
  • he never did a thing when Pauline Hanson was spreading the message of xenophobia across the country;
  • he was a staunch supporter of the illegal invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, a gross injustice against a Muslim country;
  • he has been the greatest fan of shock-jock Alan Jones who, on more than one occasion, has been guilty of backing racist thugs. most notably those who were responsible for the riots in Cronulla.

These are just a few of the things which make it clear that Howard has a distinct problem dealing with people of colour. He would have been a disaster dealing with an organisation where the majority of the members are non-white – and the ICC is just that.

If Mark Taylor had been nominated would he have been rejected? Allan Border? Steve Waugh? Bill Lawry? Ian Chappell? Dennis Lillee? Jack Clarke, the current president of Cricket Australia? Damien Fleming? Paul Reiffel? Was Malcolm Speed or Malcolme Gray rejected? Howard is the problem, not any competent Australian.

Howard can continue to make brave noises about not withdrawing his nomination. In truth, he has nothing to do with it; only the boards of Australia and New Zealand can advance or withdraw it. By wheedling his way into contention, he has put the two boards in an awkward position.

Given that India is among the countries that has given Howard the thumbs-down, there is little chance that he will succeed in becoming the ICC vice-president. Had India not objected, Howard would have been accepted. But given all the reasons above, it is no wonder that Asian and African nations feel uneasy about accepting him as the chief of world cricket.

Howard’s rejection by the ICC is reason to rejoice

WORLD cricket has finally shown some commonsense in rejecting the bid by former Australian prime minister John Howard to become the vice-president of its governing body.

The post of vice-president serves as a two-year incumbency for the next president and the nominations for this position come from different cricket-playing regions in turn. This time it was the turn of the Australasian region and Howard was nominated by Australia while New Zealand put forward an eminent administrator, Sir John Anderson. Politicking ensured that Howard, the worse of the two candidates – by more than a mile – was put forward.

This happened in March. It was assumed that the vice-presidency was a shoo-in but it was not to be. Six countries put their names to a letter on June 29, objecting to his nomination and saying that he was not a suitable candidate. They have asked for the name of another candidate to be put forward.

Howard has had little to do with cricket. He is the type of man who will confess a love for anything if it gains him political mileage and cricket is one game that is very popular in Australia; indeed, many people describe the Australian cricket captain as the second most powerful man in the country.

The Australian media is trying to make out that Howard is an extremely principled man and that the cricket boards which have objected to him are trying to prevent the entry into world cricket of a man who will try to put the house in order. Rubbish.

Howard showed during his 11 years as prime minister that he was willing to sleep with the devil if it would keep him in power. He had no principle – apart from that of doing anything to stay in control of his party. He did nothing to fight against the xenophobic policies of a woman politician named Pauline Hanson, put Aboriginal reconciliation back by a few centuries, was as anti-asylum-seeker as they come, sent the military to board a ship carrying refugees to Australia and did everything possible to discriminate against non-whites.

When it comes to things cricketing, there are a couple of things about Howard’s past which are unlikely to have endeared him to the six boards – Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, and the West Indies – which objected to his nomination. One is his crude comment about Sri Lankan leg-spinner Muthiah Muralitharan, calling him a chucker. Howard’s words were, “they proved it in Perth with that thing.” If anything, the reverse was true.

The second thing is Howard’s refusal to let Australia tour Zimbabwe in 2007. At this point, white farmers were being dispossessed of their land by blacks, with official support from the government of Robert Mugabe. While this decision is certainly justified, it must be borne in mind that Howard was deeply enamoured of South Africa during its apartheid era and only constant advice that it would harm his political prospects kept him from making a visit there in the 1980s. He opposed sanctions against South Africa but was more than willing to institute sanctions against Zimbabwe once Mugabe came to power.

It is, thus. difficult to avoid the conclusion that he was disturbed only by one kind of discrimination. When blacks were the target, it did not seem to bother him.

Cricket has always been a political game. It was taken up by countries colonised by Britain and for a long time Australia and England had veto power over decisions taken by the world body. Power has slipped from these two countries as the ability to generate finances to support the game has grown in India. Today, four-fifths of the money in the game comes from India which distributes it to all the cricket-playing countries.

As the old English proverb goes, “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” Once India decided to reject Howard, it was only natural that Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh would go along. That would have been sufficient to sink his candidacy.

There are other factors why India has decided to reject Howard. It is doubtful that Australia commands a great deal of respect in India, following the attacks on students which have taken place over the last three years. Additionally, all the Australian kow-towing to China and its refusal to treat India on the same level would hardly have gone down well in New Delhi.

Despite all the righteous talk that politics has no place in sport, the reverse is true. A politician who wants to keep his options open as a sports administrator later on in life would do well to be more circumspect than Howard has been.

It’s worthwhile remembering here that Australia and England ran world cricket for a long time with a condescending and patronising attitude towards the other non-white nations. South Africa was part of the clique and the fact that it would not play against non-white nations caused no disquiet either in London or Canberra.

More than once, rule changes were introduced to curb the rise of the West Indies in order that England, Australia and South Africa could continue to be the dominant powers. The first time in the 1950s, when Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine were bamboozling the opposition, the front-foot lbw law was changed. Not many seasons after that, at Edgbaston in 1957, Colin Cowdrey and Peter May used their pads to negate everything which the two spinners could throw at them in a partnership of 411. The spin twins never recovered from this.

The next time the West Indies threatened to dominate was in the 1960s and Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith were their spearheads. A campaign began to label Griffith a chucker (Richie Benaud was in the forefront); it succeeded to some extent but did not daunt the fierce Barbadian. Then the front foot no-ball rule was introduced. The pair were reined in.

The last time the cricketing authorities attempted to rein in the West Indies was in the 1980s. Clive Lloyd’s fearsome four-man pace battery had started its triumphant run and the question of bouncers was raised. Mind you, world cricket’s governing body had never been exercised about bouncers when England’s John Snow and David Brown were running amuck, nor when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson were causing havoc in the ranks of opposing teams. The number of bouncers per over was clipped back to one but that did not get in the way of the West Indies finally squashing all and sundry under their heels.

Discrimination has always been part of cricket since its inception as an international sport. Australia, thus, has no reason to whinge now and complain that it is not getting a fair deal. The wheel has turned and both Howard and Australia should just shut up and cop it sweet.