Fast bowlers have lost their skills

WHY are today’s fast bowlers unable to attack a batsman’s body? Why are they unable to bowl a decent yorker? Why do they just keep bowling up-and-down stuff when the wicket is one of the bounciest in the world?

These are some of the questions that came to mind as I watched part of the first day’s play in the third and final Test between Australia and the West Indies at the WACA ground in Perth. The pitch there is one of the fastest in the world and the West Indies have found it a happy hunting ground in the past.

But this time, they do not have the bowlers to take advantage of the bounce that the pitch offers. Only one, the youngster Kemar Roach, was able to use the pitch to some extent. He gave the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, a good working over and forced him to retire hurt after getting one ball to rise and hit Ponting on his left elbow.

Like all great batsmen, Ponting – and despite the fact that he is in the twilight of his career, the Australian captain is still a class act – has his moments of vulnerability at the start of an innings. Last January, he was given a good working over by the Indian teenager Ishant Sharma and lost the duel. This time, it remains to be seen what he will do when he resumes his innings sometime later in the game.

The rest of the West Indies pacemen were innocuous. They tried to maintain a good line but never threatened. Ravi Rampaul may be a decent tailend batsman but he is no class as a bowler.

The third paceman, Antiguan Gavin Tonge, from the same island that produced the feared Anderson Montomery Everton Roberts, looked to be bowling well within himself and needs to free up his action a bit to generate enough pace. He looks cramped when he bowls though he has the height and physique to be a good fast bowler.

But height and muscle are only half the story. The late Malcolm Marshall was a small-made man but find me a batsman who felt unafraid when the Barbadian with the whippy action was marking out his run-up. The willowy and graceful Michael Holding could hardly be called muscular but batsman called him “Whispering Death.”

Fast bowlers no longer seem to be able to bowl the famous “throat ball” that Colin Croft made his specialty. They seem to be unaware of the “Sandshow crusher” which was a favourite of the great Pakistani fast bowler Waqar Younus who would often knock over all three wickets with one.

When a fast bowler can home in on a batsman’s body and get the ball to bounce awkwardly, it is only a matter of time before the ball is fended off to a close-catcher. And the West Indies were masters of the art of doing exactly this.

On the Australian side, Mitchell Johnson occasionally does get the ball to do unpleasant things but he is erratic and can bowl 20 overs all over the place before he gets one over on target. As a result, batsmen do not have difficulty negotiating his bowling.

Doug Bollinger is good with the old ball though one has to see whether he can use the Perth strip to good effect. The third Australian paceman, Clint McKay, is an unknown quantity.

It is interesting to note that during the West Indies heyday, the 80s, their bowlers were the match-winners more often than the batsmen. The bowlers conceded only around 24 runs per opposition wicket, a figure that went up to something around 26 in the 90s. By 1995, Australia had dethroned them.

In the 2000s, the West Indies bowlers have been getting wickets at the cost of about 50 runs apiece. Their batting figures have stayed relatively stable over these three decades.

Which goes to show that during the good times, the bowlers were the ones who pulled the irons out of the fire. They do not have bowlers of that class anymore – occasionally, someone shines as Jerome Tayor did when they beat England by an innings in Jamaica earlier this year.

But for the most part, the West Indies bowlers cannot take the 20 wickets required to win a Test. And that, one fears, will be the case for some time to come.

An encounter with Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier

MANY people who claim to be part of the so-called free and open source software community paint themselves publicly as open-minded and reasonable people.

As with most things, the reality is often different.

I’ve met more than my fair share of people who consider themselves part of this community as I’ve been writing about these genres of software for nigh on 10 years. There are lots of excellent open-minded and reasonable folk in these circles, but some of those who pose as leaders are often the most biased. Continue reading “An encounter with Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier”

A film that leaves the rest for dead

AT TIMES one encounters a work of art so finely crafted, a work that leaves one so satisfied, that thereafter one cannot view anything of the same genre and experience a similar sense of satisfaction.

The film Syriana is one such work which transcends practically every superlative and leaves one wondering when, or indeed whether, any filmmaker will ever come close to such a masterful effort.

Syriana (original script here) was made in 2005 by Stephen Gaghan who spent four years researching before he created this epic. And it shows.

The film brings together a number of stories:

  • that of a CIA veteran who is returning to the US and finds himself sent out on a mission that turns sour and results in the agency turning its back on him;
  • that of a lawyer who is trying to smooth out a merger between two oil companies and finds himself in possession of information that could end up being political dynamite;
  • that of a religious group in the Middle East which is looking for candidates to serve as suicide bombers;
  • that of a couple of Pakistani expats who lose their jobs because of the merger of the aforementioned oil firms and become prime recruitment material for Islamic terrorism;
  • that of an oil industry consultant who ends up as economic adviser to a sheikh who expects to become leader of a small Gulf country only to find his brother installed as leader instead because of American presssure;
  • and that of the aforementioned sheikh and his efforts to go against the grain and how they end in tragedy.

Despite being a film about people and situations from the East and West, despite including dialogue in five languages, despite drawing half-a-dozen story threads into a coherent whole, the film never, just never, gets boring or descends into stereotypes.

I have never seen a film which shows that the director has so completely understood the psyche of people from the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, the Western world, and all their attendant cultures that he never puts a foot wrong. Directors often get things 95 percent right and that is deemed acceptable; Gaghan gets it 100 percent right all the time.

The film resonated with me because I could relate to it on different levels: as someone who has grown up on the Indian subcontinent, as one who now lives in a Western country, and as one who has spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East.

The editing is so finely tuned that one scene begins almost before the other ends. The dialogue is taut and loaded with meaning; one has to see the film at least twice before all the little nuances of the excellent screenplay can be grasped.

If truth be told, one can’t praise this film too much. All of the above is just understatement. One has to see the film to begin to comprehend exactly why it is a statement of the times, a mirror to society and an apt illustration of the fact that in the inter-connected world we live in, an act somewhere far away can have unintended repercussions in our own backyard.

There is a range of emotions at play right through the film; there are moments of exhilaration when it looks like good will triumph, there are others when depression is the order of the day. The music is classy right through, every language spoken (English, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and French are all used at various times) is translated correctly, with respect to both word and idiom.

Overall, there is a lesson for us all in the film: life cannot go on as it has, with the haves continuing to accumulate wealth while the have-nots continue to struggle for the bare necessities.

And the film also teaches us that the West cannot keep interfering in countries far beyond its borders to maintain its economic superiority, without facing a terrible backlash. Some part of that backlash arrived on September 11, 2001; Syriana sounds a grim warning that there may be more to come.

Why are the Americans still in Afghanistan?

MOST people who haven’t been living in a cave or under a rock for the last eight years know that American soldiers, and forces from a few other countries, were sent to Afghanistan in 2001, following the attacks that brought down the World Trade Centre.

The attacks were judged to have been carried out by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi who had taken refuge in Afghanistan after having his citizenship revoked, and the idea was to capture the man and make him stand trial.

Eight years and a bit later, the forces are still there, bin Laden is still at large, and the Americans are still talking about capturing him.

Indeed, the top American commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal has been quoted as saying that the capture of this elusive Saudi is crucial to defeating the Al Qaeda terror network which the West believes is a vast empire of terrorism controlled by bin Laden.

A few weeks back, there was a bit of news that runs counter to this talk: an US Senate report said that bin Laden was within the grasp of the US in 2001 but had been allowed to get away because the then US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, rejected calls for reinforcements to take the Saudi into custody.

Get that? Did they want to capture the man or not? Or did Rumsfeld want an excuse for the Americans to continue to stay in Afghanistan? Once he had been captured, the Americans would have had no reason to stay there.

About the only change in Afghanistan of 2001 when the Americans attacked and now is the absence of the Taliban in positions of power and the presence of opium aplenty in the fields. When the Taliban ruled the country, there was not a single opium plant under cultivation.

The Americans have installed a puppet government, headed by a former oil company executive, Hamid Karzai. This gentleman was caught rigging elections a few months back but is still the president of the country. That’s what American democracy does for you – it helped an unelected man like George Bush to rule in the US and it helps Karzai to rule in Kabul.

But the Taliban have made gains and Karzai’s remit runs only as far as Kabul and only as long as there are men with guns from various foolhardy Western nations willing to guard him.

Initially, there was evidence that the Americans’ prime interest in Afghanistan was setting up a pipeline to carry gas from central Asian republics through Afghanistan to Multan in Pakistan. The proposed extension would move gas on to New Delhi, where it would connect with an existing pipeline.

This kind of project required a stable government in Afghanistan. And many have speculated that that is why the Americans went to the country. In 1998, an existing pipeline project had to be shut down after the Americans launched cruise missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan.

But the Americans are blissfully aware that no outside power has ever been able to bring stability to Afghanistan. The mix of warring tribes, all of different ethnic origins, has always ensured that unless a dictatorship, or something close to it, was in place, there would be organised chaos.

The pipeline project began in May 2002. By then the Taliban were defeated by American military power. And the opium fields had started to bloom again as Afghans returned to growing what is their main crop.

Given that American military forces have in the past been involved in smuggling drugs back to their country – the famous druglord Frank Lucas cut out the middlemen and made a fortune by getting drugs brought in to the US on American military planes from Vietnam – it is not unreasonable to assume that something similar is happening now.

After all, the biggest market for heroin, one of the many products produced from the opium poppy, is the US of A. It seems to come down to oil and drugs in the end. And for that many thousands of Americans have died. Soldiers from other countries have given their lives too in a meaningless war that has brought no peace to Afghanistan..

For it is becomingly increasingly clear that once the Western forces are out of the country – and that will happen by mid-2011 – the Taliban will be back in power. The pipeline will be guarded and the Taliban are unlikely to meddle there. The flow of drugs may lessen.

West Indies captains are generally conservative

WHEN West Indies captain Chris Gayle opted to continue batting into the final day of the second Test at Adelaide – despite having a lead of 296 at the end of day four – he was just following in the footsteps of previous captains from the region.

Gayle could have looked for a bit of history by being the first Windies captain to win a Test in Australia in this decade. Yes, that’s how bad the Windies have become, the last time they won a Test against Australia in Australia was in 1997 at Perth.

Gayle chose to bat into the final morning and did not declare; he left the decision on when to send Australia in be taken out of his own hands by waiting until his team was bowled out.

But coming off such a terrible record – he has captained the West Indies in 16 Tests and won just three – one can’t blame him.

Let’s recall here that Clive Lloyd did something similar in Melbourne in 1984 – and he had won his previous 11 Tests, six against Australia on either side of five against England. The West Indies were then three years into a reign of supremacy that would see them spend 15 years without losing a Test series.

Lloyd batted into the final morning, despite having a lead of 346 overnight. At the end of the fifth day he was left to rue the fact that his bowlers had taken eight Australian wickets and could well have taken the remaining two if only they had an extra half-hour.

That half-hour had been taken up by Lloyd who extended the lead by another 23 runs to set the Australians 370 to win. Australia was 198 for eight at the end of the day. And the West Indies bowling attack was comprised of Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Courtney Walsh and Roger Harper, not one to be sneered at.

Lloyd had one bad experience in the 1970s when he set India 404 to win on a spinning pitch in Trinidad and, despite having three spinners – Imtiaz Ali, Raphick Jumadeen and Albert Padmore – in the side, ended up losing to India by six wickets.

And thereafter he was always conservative. He never took a chance but then most of the time he never had to, because he was winning and winning without having to strain even a sinew.

Indeed, the only example of a West Indies captain making a sporting declaration (in this case, calling it suicidal is better) I know of, is the case of Gary Sobers who set England 215 to win in the fourth Test of the 1968 series. England duly won the Test and the series as a result of this victory.

Gayle’s cautiousness means that this time too, the Frank Worrell Trophy will remain with the Australians. The West Indies have never been able to win it back since Australia regained it in 1995, the closest they have come to it being the 2-2 series draw which Brian Lara’s team achieved in the Caribbean in 1999.

Gayle may be able to end the tour in style by leading the West Indies to victory in the final Test at Perth. But he’s missed a chance that will never present itself again – to challenge Australia for the trophy.

Time-wasting is killing Test cricket

TODAY is the fifth and final day of the second cricket Test between Australia and the West Indies and I am watching the final session as I write this. I have been watching, and listening to the game on radio, since I was 10 years old and I will probably be fascinated by it till I die.

The West Indies, surprisingly, have had the better of the exchanges in this game, after losing the first Test in three days.

Test cricket is a slow game and has always been so. Yet it has been made progressively slower over the years by the disgusting tactics adopted by players and the inability or refusal of umpires to reel them in.

Take the ongoing game. The post-lunch session on the final day began two minutes late. When tea-time was reached, the umpires took up position for one more over. The two Australian batsmen started walking off – they were trying to save the match. The umpires said nothing. One over was lost.

There are a hundred similar things that happen during a game – players wasting time during an over, between overs, calling for drinks at any time they feel like, captains talking to bowlers again and again about field settings, and on and on and on.

The teams are required by the playing terms and conditions to bowl 90 overs a day. That works out to 4 minutes for an over – one hell of a lot of time. A fast bowler should have no problem getting through six balls in that time.

Yet no team bowls 90 overs in a day. Play always goes on for the extra half-hour that is allowed if needed but even after 6½ hours, the number of overs bowled is always short of 90.

The paying public have their own lives to lead. They are expected to spend an extra 30 minutes at the game – and that means 2½ hours for the duration of a Test – and yet not get the full value they have paid for.

And the folk who run the game are surprised that the public are losing interet in Test cricket!

The administrators of the game – the International Cricket Conference – are more interested in coming up with gimmicks to retain public interest in the game. They are a bunch who have little interest in the game apart from the money – and it’s a lot of money – that they gain by being involved.

Now that the ICC is headquartered in that dodgiest of places, Dubai, it means that income is tax-free.

The West Indies, the top team in the game during the 1980s and 1990s, has fallen away and become a joke but the ICC has never thought about funding some kind of programme to ensure that the islands that make up the West Indies can run some kind of decent development plan to keep training cricketers.

As a result, many series are played between grossly mismatched teams and the public are expected to turn up and watch. The public come to see good performances but how can players who are turning up for games of all kinds – five-day, 50-over and 20-over – shine every time?

How can players who are not trained properly play the game at the level expected? Mediocrity rules – but there are TV commentators aplenty who hype up even this sad spectacle.

And the public are still expected to turn up, knowing fully well that overworked players will put in half-hearted performances simply because they have been playing too many games.

Even the ICC’s latest gimmick, the introduction of referrals to a TV umpire, so that a team can question two decisions per innings in a Test match, has been such a badly botched exercise that most of the players are already pissed off.

One umpire, Mark Benson, could not take the pressure of the players questioning his decisions and promptly left the ongoing second Test after one day of officiating.

Test cricket has no future and with the ICC in charge it is sure to die off in the next five years.

Is Haddin fit to be Australia’s Test keeper?

FOR any wicketkeeper to take over from the multi-talented Adam Gilchrist is a difficult task. When the replacement is a man who quickly sets an Australian record for byes conceded in a Test, it becomes all the more difficult to escape scrutiny.

Brad Haddin is playing his 21st Test for Australia right now and has already conceded the grand total of 265 byes. That’s a very high number for a keeper at any level of the game. When it comes to Test cricket, it is bad.

By the time Haddin had played 15 Tests he had conceded 179 byes; at that stage Gilchrist had conceded just 77. Gilchrist’s predecessor, Ian Healy, had 84 at that stage of his career.

Haddin hasn’t reached anything like Gilchrist’s level of proficiency with the bat either; his 1217 runs have come at an average of 39.25 with two hundreds. He has claimed 77 victims, one of them stumped.

Gilchrist turned many games Australia’s way with his batting. His strike rate was 81 runs per 100 balls in Test cricket. Haddin isn’t even close on this front.

Last year in a Test against India at Nagpur, during a series that Australia lost 0-2, Haddin conceded 39 byes to create his own record. At one stage, he was so frustrated that he threw a glove at the ball when it deflected off Sachin Tendulkar’s body. Result: Australia was penalised five runs.

But it is not only in these respects that Haddin comes off looking bad. Gilchrist had the reputation of someone who played the game in a fair manner and was one of just two players during his time – the other was Brian Lara – who walked when he felt he was out. Nobody walks in the modern game.

Haddin was caught out putting his hands in front of the stumps during a one-day international against New Zealand; the ball hit his hands and then went on to the stumps. Neil Broome was adjuged bowled and after video replays made Haddin’s actions evident, New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori did everything but call Haddin a cheat.

And Haddin has a reputation for being quite a noisy character at the crease. He often can be heard sledging the bowlers and at other times gets quite chatty when a batsman is settling down and looking like he will be around for a while.

When Haddin was injured during the Ashes in England this year, Graham Manou took over. He was then injured and Tim Paine did service for Australia. Both showed much better ability behind the stumps.

Given that Haddin has the blessings of the selectors, he will continue to be the number one keeper unless his performances come under more scrutiny. The Australian media is not overly prone to examine the performance of any player when the country is winning. When the losses mount, then the folk who write for a living get vicious.

Haddin, thus, will survive without having to do a great deal. The fact that he is from New South Wales, which has always been the dominant power in Australian cricket, will no doubt help.

But it is a big comedown from Gilchrist. And that becomes more and more evident with each Test that passes by.

West Indies ruled because they worked hard

TEST cricket from 1980 to 1995 was ruled by one team – the West Indies. During that period, the team never lost a Test series, they either won or drew, no matter where.

There was no points system in place during those years to rank Test teams. Such a system often enables a team to retain the status of top Test team even though it has lost numerous series here and there. During those years, you had to avoid being beaten to stay on top – and for 15 years the West Indies did just that.

One of the great fast bowlers of that period, Joel “Big Bird” Garner, (so named because he stands six feet and eight inches in his socks) was interviewed on TV in Australia yesterday, where the West Indies are now playing a three-Test series and making a pretty big mess of it as well.

Garner, who hails from Barbados, is the manager.

It was interesting to listen to him even if some of the questions posed by Mark Nicholas of Channel Nine were somewhat banal. Thankfully, Ian Chappell was also present for a major part of the interview and he rarely puts his foot in his mouth or utters an unnecessary word.

During the interview there was some footage shown of the famed West Indies fast bowlers of that period getting Australians caught or bowled. There were other clips of bowlers like Curtley Ambrose hitting batsmen on parts of the body and leaving them bent over in pain.

What was most interesting was Garner’s answer to an obvious question – why were the West Indies so good during that period and why had they fallen away so much?

Many people are under the impression that the West Indies just happened to produce a huge number of very good cricketers during that period, players who performed consistently due to their talent.

(After Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, the West Indies have not produced a quality fast bowler. There have been several who have flattered, only to deceive.)

While Garner admitted that they did have talented players aplenty, he had one reason for the success they enjoyed – hard work and thinking about the game.

Much of the credit was given to Andy Roberts, the first great fast bowler of the 20 years from 1974, a period when there were more great pacemen in the game than at any time in the history of the game.

The names of the pacemen from different countries who left their mark (and on batsmen’s bodies too) are familiar – Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Geoff Lawson, Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Wayne Daniels, Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee, Bob Willis, Allan Donald and Fanie de Villiers.

Garner said a junior fast bowler would room with a senior paceman on tour and during Tests – and pick up valuable hints about attacking the opposition.

And whenever the pace quartet was about to come up against a particular batsman, they would pick a man from their own team who was as close as possible to that man and bowl to him in the bats.

For instance, when they wanted to devise a strategy to attack Allan Border, they had numerous sessions in the nets with Larry Gomes. And when they were thinking about the best way to tackle an attacking right-hander, they would ask the great Viv Richards to have a turn against them in the nets.

Many people think of Richards as arrogant but he never put his own interests above those of the team. He was simply proud to be part of that team.

And the West Indies of the modern era? They were lazy, said Garner. They did not train and they did not enjoy the game half as much as the teams of the 1980s and 1990s did.

Garner is in his third year as the president of the Barbados Cricket Association, and trying to upgrade the status of the game on the island. Part of his initiative involves the setting up of a museum so that youngsters can be made aware of exactly how much a tiny island like Barbados has contributed to world cricket.

Any initiative which helps to produce a better class of cricketer for the Caribbean team would be more than welcome. The last time the West Indies were competitive against Australia was when they drew a series 2-2 in the Caribbean in 1999, solely due to the efforts of one Brian Charles Lara.

Australia: where the climate does not change

THERE are two kinds of people in the opposition party in Australia these days – one set believes that the earth is not warming, the other set believes that there may be some warming but man has nothing to do with it. Yes, those six billion-odd souls dwelling on this planet do not in any way contribute any kind of heat to the atmosphere.

That this kind of thinking is even present in a so-called Western developed country in 2009 is a matter that should cause surprise anywhere else. But it is so, and we have an opposition that is now trying to manage the changes in climate without any kind of carbon trading scheme.

Many everyday occurrences tend to drive home the message that humans generate heat. Simply packing four people into a car when it is cold outside and driving a few miles is enough to demonstrate to anyone, except the totally blind, that humans can raise the temperature. And our planet isn’t in some open-ended system – Earth has its limits set as well.

But that does not appear to be apparent to politicians in the opposition in Australia.

There is one politician, a gent named Steve Fielding, who wanted to set up a royal commission to determine whether climate change is real or not. I kid you not. He is from a party called Family First and claims to be an engineer.

Excess heat can affect weather patterns in dramatic ways. I saw this firsthand in the Persian Gulf after the US and its so-called coalition staged a war in 1991 to evict Iraq from Kuwait. Iraq had invaded and occupied the emirate in August 1900.

Before the war, Dubai used to get just three or four days of rain, sometime in December. I remember my chief sub-editor, a jocular Pakistani, telling me on December 27, 1997, “have a good look, my dear, you won’t see much of this in Dubai.” That day it had rained for the first time after I had reached the emirate the previous month.

The amount of heat generated by all the activity in the Gulf area by the war had a dramatic effect on the rainfall pattern in Dubai. In April 1991, there was so much rain in Dubai that the government had to quickly put in place a plan to build a drainage system. Until that point such a system wasn’t needed because there was very little water to be drained.

Climate change sceptics point to the occasional cool years over a period – 1998 was the hottest year for some time, after that it has been cooler – and try to scoff at the science. But then if all of us 6 billion-plus humans are sitting around breathing and occasionally breaking wind, that has to be doing something to the atmosphere. Commonsense tells us that.

One could quote scientific study by chapter and verse, but it isn’t needed when a little use of the grey matter suffices. This is not a question of belief as in religion – this is commonsense. But that seems to be in short supply.

There are many who say that nature will fix itself. But they forget that we are not giving nature a break to effect such healing. It is not possible for any system, no matter how flexible, to heal itself while one is continuing to load up more and more of the substances that bring about the need for healing in the first place.

The Christian fundamentalists who tell us that God will fix it all are entitled to their belief. But they should note that the Bible speaks a lot about climate change Time to have a look before speaking.

I guess the human race will only realise the seriousness of an issue when it actually hits them. Pleas from people in the Maldives, who fear that the sea will inundate their own country, will have no effect. Neither will bizarre everyday occurrences that lead to just one conclusion – the earth is heating and we had better try and save it while we can.

It may already be too late. But when most of those in decision-making positions are middle-aged and do not expect to live to see the dramatic effects that are predicted, why bother?

UAE National Day – but not much to celebrate in Dubai

TODAY is the national day of the United Arab Emirates. But I guess the sheikhs in Dubai won’t be breaking out the champagne or even having a feast. There’s a big shadow hanging over that emirate.

But much as Dubai is painted as the bad boy of the seven emirates that make up the country, there is no great virtue in any of the others.

Each and every emirate has been built on the back of cheap labour from the Indian subcontinent, workers who pay hefty bribes to agents in Bombay and Karachi to get jobs that promise much in terms of pay and deliver very little.

These workers are treated like indentured slaves – anyone who works in the UAE (and indeed anywhere in the Persian Gulf) has to give his passport to his employer; if a worker goes missing, the employer is held responsible and this is used as logic to retain the passport.

But in reality, this is a way of ensuring that employees cannot flee if they feel that conditions are getting too much for them to bear. During the decade I spent in Dubai, I have seen building site labourers stagger into air-conditioned supermarkets, their eyes bloodshot after a day of working outdoors in 36-degree heat, so that they could pick up a cool can of Pepsi (which at that time cost one dirham; 3.65 dirhams buys one US dollar) and a plastic pack of cheap unleavened bread (quboos) for their dinner.

These are the same people who try to spot a literate person on the plane home in order to get their immigration forms filled. I have spent the entire 2½ hours from Dubai to Bombay filling in forms more than once.

Abu Dhabi may have more stately buildings than Dubai but they were built in the same way as those in Dubai. And the same goes for Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain and Ajman.

The last-named emirate, incidentally, has a thriving business importing liquor and bottling it there. I once visited a man who is a major importer of rum which he then bottles and passes off as Old Monk rum, a well-known brand from India. Being a regular rum drinker, I was able to spot the difference, but my host smiled and said that only one in a thousand was a devoted rum drinker to the extent that I was at the time. Most people in Ajman buy liquor just to get drunk and forget the drudgery of their existence – they are not bothered about the brand, merely that it should be fermented enough to enable them to forget their misery.

My host told me that he had no visa to stay there and did not need one – he merely presented a new model Mercedes to the director of the municipality every year. At that time, he had been there for 28 years.

But it’s not only fake liquor that you can buy in Ajman. You can buy the real thing too and openly on the beach. One Friday, back in April 1995, during a picnic on the beach in Ajman, I remember putting down a few cans of Foster’s beer, an Australian brand. Not far from me and my friends and family on the beach, there were citizens of many different countries, all paying homage to the same brand. There were plenty of good Muslims among them as evidenced by their attire.

Sharjah, for all its cultural preenings (the ruler, Shaikh Sultan, has allegedly obtained a doctorate by writing a thesis claiming that there was never any piracy in the Gulf!), is also driven by the one god to whom all of us pay homage – money. If liquor is not served in Sharjah hotels, it is only because of the donations made to the emirate by the Saudi rulers, money that has enabled Sharjah to build a very nice old-style souk.

(But then Saudi Arabia’s ban on liquor has nothing to do with religion. Back in the 1950s, one of the royal family members shot and killed the British ambassador after getting intoxicated. King Ibn Saud offered blood money and the prince’s head to the envoy’s widow. After that, liquor was banned in the country – but every good Saudi has a decent bar, with the liquor mostly coming into the country in crates of furniture. Plenty of Saudis are summoned to the airport to be told that their furniture is leaking.)

For quite a few years after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, most of the flights coming into Sharjah from the central Asian republics were full of beautiful women – who then promptly headed to Dubai for a spot of “work”. I had a glimpse of the fashion parade when my family returned to the UAE via Sharjah in 1996.

Dubai is more open about things like liquor and makes money off it too – every bottle or can or cask sold at either Maritime Mercantile Inc or African & Eastern, the two liquor agents, had a 30 percent mark-up during my time there. This tax goes to the government.

Those who are castigating Dubai, get a grip on the facts. The tales told about Dubai may be more lurid and licentious, but the rest of the UAE is in the game too. It is done in quieter fashion, though. Perhaps that is more acceptable to the Western eye.