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.

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.

Outsiders and insiders

THE recent spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and other cities in Australia has resulted in the word “racism” figuring in the media quite often. At times, the use of the word is unjustified and some people do tend to go over the top.

But at other times, it is more than justified and if anyone were to say that there is no racial aspect to the savagery, then one could rightly be accused of being disingenuous.

At times, people have sought to bring in some kind of moral equivalence by pointing out that India has a lot of racism within its borders too. That is perfectly correct – there is an institutionalised caste system, Hindus and Muslims fight pitched battles ever so often, and minorities are not exactly accorded their rights.

That, however, does not justify the violence in Australia, a country which has had a long history of exclusion of people based on the colour of their skin.

Apart from the religious factors in India, people do tend to discriminate based on the colour of one’s skin. And it is not merely white people who are resented because of the colonisation of the country by Britain, black people can face problems too. The following tale is drawn from my own experience.

The Madras Christian College, where I studied in the 70s, could well be considered an elite institution. There were three halls for male students and I resided at the Bishop Heber Hall, named after a bishop from Tiruchirapalli. Each hall had its own traditions and practices and at Heber, the seniormost resident was appointed as the “bishop” of the hall each year.

The individual who carried this title had to “baptise” the freshers who joined the hall that year, – dirty pond water was used – after they had gone through three days of initiation. Yes, it was some kind of organised ragging, ostensibly so that the newcomers could learn the hall song and the customs of the college. Plus Heber had something called the Heber yell. And the bishop had to generally lend his experience to hall affairs, whenever needed.

In the mid-70s, there were a couple of Iranians who gained admission to Heber; they refused to take part in the initiation rites and were thereafter excluded from all hall activities. They could not attend the general body sessions, were generally cold-shouldered and had few friends among the residents. They later left the hall.

In 1977, I was the bishop and three Nigerians joined the hall. The initiation days were generally intimated to the newcomers by means of a notice put up near the mess. The three were all pretty well-built chaps, who had done military service in their country, and I suspect that many of my fellow hallmates were afraid to approach them and “rag” them.

The three Nigerians – Princewell, Moses and Lucky – made it clear that they would not be attending the initiation. The first set of juniors was initiated and after this a second set were scheduled for initiation. At this stage, I took it upon myself to visit these three chaps and have a chat with them. I explained to them that they had come to a different country with different customs; though they might find things strange, they needed to join in and become part of the hall community.

I still remember the objection that Princewell raised when I suggested that he and the others join the second batch when they came for initiation: “But, this small boy (referring to one of the hall residents – Princewell was six-feet tall and had a body to match) he ask me to salute him – how can I do it? I serve in the army. I kill people.”

We talked for an hour or two and finally I told them that it was entirely up to them as the process of initiation had no official blessing; it was a tradition of the hall (and indeed the college) and they were free to come and join in. Else they could stay out but in that event, they would not be regarded well by the others who dwelt in the hall.

I was pleasantly surprised when they turned up on time with the second batch of juniors. I grilled them and made sure that they learnt the meaning of the college and hall mottos, the history of the hall, the song and the yell.

But most of the other seniors who turned up to “rag” the juniors were scared to approach the three Nigerians. There was a growing sense of resentment among the senior members of the hall that these three Nigerians were not getting as much ragging as the others. But then these very seniors were funked, they got cold feet when they tried to approach the Nigerians.

On one occasion, Princewell told a senior that he could not understand what he was saying. The senior in question felt it was an insult, as, in his opinion, he was speaking the Queen’s English. As luck would have it, he was one of the Brahmin gang in the hall.

After the three days of ragging were done, the three Nigerians went through the initiation and were formally made members of the hall. But a large section of the residents were angry with me because they felt that the Nigerians had gotten away scot-free. It was their own fear and sense of prejudice that had prevented them going up to these three chaps and ragging them. But now they needed an outlet for their frustrations.

A general session of the hall was requested and the chairman of the hall called for one. (The hall had its own “cabinet” with various secretaries to run the various activities.) A few of the chaps started accusing me of having initiated the Nigerians without their having learnt what they were supposed to learn. This was patently untrue.

I think I annoyed those who were in this camp by pointing out that if the Nigerians had not been ragged “properly”, then it was because people like those who were making accusations against me had not had the guts to come up and rag them. I also pointed out that it was the duty of senior residents like me to ensure that everyone who came to live in the hall became a productive member of the community.

Whenever one stands up for a principle, one makes enemies. It was my fifth year in the hall and I had made some enemies, most of them being Brahmins, upper-caste Hindus. I was considered part of the Western-influenced elite who were, for the most part, the decision-makers in the hall and the ones who had more influence.

Here was a glorious chance for the Brahmins to get their payback. They started insisting that I had violated the traditions of the hall and that I should resign. It was futile for the chairman, who incidentally was a good mate of mine and someone who had won election to the post in part due to my help, to point out that the bishop was not an elected post, it was just an appointment. It did no good, the Brahmins wanted blood.

Finally, I called the chairman aside and told him that it was of no use; this gang wanted a victim and I had no problem giving up the role of bishop. I had stood up for something I believed in and I was willing to pay the price. I then stood up and told the hall of my decision, adding that I was proud of what I had done.

Later that night, the three Nigerians came to my room. They sat down and I still remember what they said to me: “Sammy, if they do anything to you, we kill them.” I assured them that there was no need for such an extreme attitude and that nothing would happen. I asked them to justify what I had done by becoming productive members of the hall.

Lucky became the outdoor games secretary the next year; he was a great hit. Princewell developed into a much-liked character and got along with most people after the row had cooled down. Moses remained somewhat reclusive and aloof but since two out of three had become good members of the Heber community, I considered what I had done a success.

Indian deaths in Melbourne continue unabated

A TWENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD Indian student was stabbed to death in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray a few days back. He is just the latest statistic in a grim tale that has gone for the last 18 months or thereabouts, with one Indian victim after another being attacked.

The police in Melbourne still refuse to accept that there could be a racial angle to the string of attacks and are yet to catch anyone responsible. Australian politicians are keen to try and use spin to convince people that the senseless violence is due to anything but an underbelly of racism in Melbourne.

There are some plain truths which people just refuse to understand. More and more countries are becoming heterogenous in terms of populations; as more and more people join a population, it is obvious that everyone will not like everything which the others do. Hence, a sense of restraint develops, a sense of being willing to let the other do his thing, as long as he lets you do yours.

If it were not for this pattern of behaviour, there would be pitched battles on the streets of every major city every single day. We would all be out there fighting like dogs over scraps of meat.

Much as each of us claims to be his own man or woman, the things which we learn to abhor, the things which we come to acknowledge as being harmful to social cohesion are defined solely by our leaders, those in authority and those who can influence public policy – politicians, religious leaders, social leaders, academics, the media, police, the army and so on.

A simple example: two decades ago, it was dangerous for gays or lesbians to even hold hands in public. Gay-bashing was not frowned upon and homosexuals were treated as though they were social pariahs. That kind of sentiment has largely gone away – due to public utterances by those in authority and a constant driving home of the message that they should be accepted as people with an alternate lifestyle.

In the case of the violence against Indians, we need educated people to stand up and condemn the racism that is fuelling these incidents. Instead, the politicians and police are in denial. They just refuse to say it out loud. Nobody has been arrested for any incident. The police must be about the most incompetent in the world, considering that they always say they are investigating the hundreds of cases that have piled up over the last year and a half.

And the irony is that right here in Victoria we have a sterling example of how some plain speaking can quell racist rhetoric and drive it underground. In the late 1990s, a woman by the name of Pauline Hanson started spouting hateful racist drivel against Asians. Her ravings were not criticised by the Liberal prime minister of the time, John Winston Howard. Instead, he chose to treat her utterances as some kind of view held by a section of society.

The Victorian premier of the time, Jeff Kennett, a Liberal too, took the right stand. He condemned Hanson’s statements in no uncertain terms, calling her a danger to society and a loony case who needed to be driven underground. He said her attitudes had no place in a modern society like that in Victoria and that they would damage business and the economy.

At every opportunity, he spoke out and did not mince his words. In large part due to his efforts, Hanson disappeared from public life after a few years. He had the balls and the conviction to call it as he saw it and he was right.

If he was still in politics and leading the Liberals, I would even go so far as to vote for the party in the state elections which are to be held later this year. Labor, which is in power, is the party of spin and media management. The situation will get worse if they come back to power but one has to see what the Libs offer before deciding to back them.

Meanwhile, more Indians will continue to suffer in Melbourne.

Building community in an Indian village

WHEN people talk about India these days, they talk of a modern, powerful country that has an impact on world policy. They talk of an economic superpower. They talk about a country that has a techno focus, one that can influence policy even in the United States.

But then such people do not know the real India. They have never lived in the country, do not understand what numbers such as a billion mean, and have no idea of the meaning of poverty in its real, stark and ugly sense.

One year in the real India is enough for a city-bred person to understand what the country is really all about. And though the example I cite is all of 29 years old, India is still very much the same. Nothing has changed in its heart, the village.

I spent 1980 working in an Indian village for a rural development agency. I went in as a wide-eyed innocent and came out with my eyes fully open, and understanding the real meaning of the word cynicism.

Access to running water is one of the major problems in India, even in the big cities. The village in which I worked was supposed to serve as the beacon for others by implementing a project to supply water for its people.

There are numerous problems in trying to implement such a project in a village. First, there is the problem of a common language; people tend to speak a variety of dialects and addressing them in a tongue that they all fully comprehend is a task in itself. This village was on the border of two Indian states and its geographical location meant that the language issue was even more complicated.

I did not speak fluently in either of the two major languages that the villagers spoke and this was a third problem. After months of patiently trying, and much coaching from my servant, I was finally able to communicate in language that could be understood.

Then there was the factor of money. Villages tend to look at outside agencies which come to work with them as suppliers of largesse. They want all the money to come from the agency and do not believe that they can contribute anything. This was not helped by the fact that the outsiders (in this case me) dress differently and have motorised vehicles to get around when all the villagers have is their bullock carts, the occasional rickety bicycle and the village bus that threatens to fall apart at every turn.

The situation is certainly not helped by the numerous Catholic priests who build huge churches in such villages and proceed to bribe people into becoming Catholics by involving them in food-for-work schemes to build their own houses – provided they adopt Christian nomenclature (Basaviah becoming Peter, for example) and attend the Sunday services.

The caste system in the village complicated things even more. I was forced to sit on my motorcycle and drink my daily cup of morning coffee – the coffee shop had two sets of seats, one for the upper castes and one for the lower castes and the owner would never let me sit in the seats meant for the latter. I did not want to identify myself with either, so I took the uncomfortable but wise option.

And then there were two types of glasses at the coffee shop, stainless steel (meant for the lower castes) and glass tumblers, meant for the higher castes. I took to taking my own mug to the shop to drink that morning cuppa!

The lad who used to come by and clean my house taught me another lesson about caste when he refused to wash my clothes; he said he was not a dhobi (laundry worker) – that was a lower caste than that of carpenter or achary to which he belonged.

I convinced him that there was nothing wrong about it by making him sit nearby while I washed the clothes myself. He was incredibly upset by this, as I, his boss, was doing work, that he considered too menial even for himself. He said he would wash the clothes but that I should not tell anyone about it.

But back to the water project: I spent months talking myself hoarse about the value of unity. About the value of combined labour. About the incredible human potential that the people had. About the fact that money was secondary to what they could achieve if they decided to work together. When you have as many castes in a single village as there are fingers on one’s hands, it is incredibly difficult to sell this idea of unity.

But after seven months of talking, arguing, brow-beating, angry outbursts and pleading, they finally came around to my side and agreed that they would hold together as a community so that the project would go through. We had about a month of talk about the location of the two taps in the village before the issue was settled. (There were umpteen arguments about why the main tap should be closer to the abode of Basaviah and not near that of Kariyappa, or why Singanna should have to walk less for his water than, say, Kurumi.)

Finally, I had enough paperwork showing the village contribution to convince the project head that we could ask our drilling team to come down from Bangalore and start looking for the best place to drill. Once the van arrived, there was a massive change in the attitude of the villagers. I guess at this point they realised that it wasn’t all talk, that this newcomer was talking about something concrete and that a supply of running water wasn’t just a pipe dream.

The drilling team was looked after well by the villagers. Maybe too well. They drank too much watery tea, ate too many roasted groundnuts, and had half the population drop in merely to wish them well. It was an exciting time for the villagers.

After the pipes were laid, the villagers had to build a little shelter for the pump that would send water to the two taps in the village. They were used to making their own bricks and promptly set to this task. The night that the kiln was fired, they invited me over and under the cover of darkness served me some of their own hellbrew and chicken curry. There was no liquor sold in the area due to prohibition.

I guess that that was their way of telling me that I was really one of them. On Christmas Eve, the headman invited me to his house for lunch. And the same evening, I was the guest of honour at a function held to celebrate the fact that running water was just a few weeks away.

These were moving occasions, especially when one realised that a few short months before this the villagers had been fighting tooth and nail and had been unable to see that there was a community benefit in keeping their own little disputes under wraps.

Sadly, a few months after the project was completed, I decided to leave myself due to ructions within the agency. The villagers wept openly when I called for a meeting to bid them goodbye. I broke down myself. One of them pushed a small note into my hand; I later discovered that it was a 20-rupee note, two days hard labour for him.

Building community within that village was a rewarding task then. It remains a rewarding memory even now.

Tendulkar: the little genius

THERE have been occasions recently when one has often felt that it was time for Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar to think about retirement. The man has been hesitant at the crease, often slow to react and caught off-guard by balls that he would have smashed to the boundary ten times out of ten a year or two ago.

But then he just blows you away with an innings which puts him on par with the late Don Bradman, Sir Gary Sobers, Sir Vivian Richards, and the diminutive Brian Lara. It is a privilege to be able to watch one of these innings unfold, a chance to study a man who, despite having every reason to be puffed up and proud, is still very much a self-effacing character.

He played such an innings in Hyderabad a few days ago, an innings that almost took India to an incredible victory. He made half of his opponents’ total, in a manner that looked effortless and made the observer realise that, after 20 years of playing at the top level, he still has a few years of good cricket left in him.

The odds were very much against the Indians making anything like a good showing when, in the face of chasing down 351 for a win, they lost two wickets before 100 was on the board, and a further two by the time the score reached 162.

This meant that Tendulkar, who opened the innings, had just one specialist batsman left to play alongside him, and 189 runs more to get if the match was to be won. By the time the fourth wicket fell, he was six runs away from a hundred and had already indicated that he was at the top of his game.

Australia was aware that if he went, a win and a 3-2 lead in the seven-match series, was there for the taking.

The match was all Tendulkar It speaks volumes for his mastery, as his innings came after Shaun Marsh, son of the illustrious Geoff, had made his maiden hundred, and Shane Watson had contributed a well-made 93. That the man of the match award came to Tendulkar says a lot.

Tendulkar hasn’t been in the best of form in this series, and the one time when it looked like he was regaining a bit of touch, in the fourth game, he was the victim of an umpiring error. He made 32 in the third game without really looking anything like his best.

But Hyderabad was a different story. He watched as the flamboyant Virender Sehwag sprayed the ball all around the ground in a quickfire knock of 30 that kept the scoring rate high – India needed a trace over 7 an over to win after Australia made 350 – and kept his end up, taking no chances.

The bad balls were treated as they deserved but Tendulkar played as though he was planning to settle down at one end for the night. It almost turned out that way. It took until the seventh over for a masterly touch, when he played a classy pull shot and a flick off Doug Bollinger, both to the boundary.

He had to cope with the distraction of reaching 17,000 runs in one-day cricket early on in his innings and as there was a full house, there was quite a din when he achieved that mark.

But his concentration never flagged. It was in the 20th over that he began to look ominous when he went back and across to hit Watson over the mid-wicket boundary. There was control, class and domination writ large in that one stroke. At that point, anyone who has seen him play a long innings would have realised that he would be at the crease for a while.

In the same over, he drove home the message by hitting Watson to the cover boundary, dancing down the track and placing the ball very neatly just out of reach of a diving extra-cover fieldsman.

He treated Nathan Hauritz with contempt in the next over, hitting two sixes off successive balls. One went over long-off, the other over long-on. Hauritz saw the second one coming and dropped it short but Tendulkar adjusted in a trice and did not even bother to run.

After his captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, left at 162, Tendulkar found an ally in young Suresh Raina, who played with panache. The pair went through the same routine time and time again – they played a couple of overs without taking a risk, and then got the run-rate back to a manageable level with some calculated big-hitting.

The big hits were never made in desperation; they were cricketing shots every time. Despite the big total, it was Australia that looked the worried team.

Raina was dropped twice but Tendulkar only offered one half-chance when he had crossed 130. It looked very much like India would get home with the little master there at the end.

But, sadly, it was not to be. Not that Australia deserved to lose; it was just that with a player like Tendulkar in such majestic form, he deserved to be on the winning side.

In the 48th over, he fell to debutant Clint McKay. A slower ball caused his demise as he failed to clear short fine-leg with an up-and-under. Hauritz took the catch and the game was over.

India had 19 runs to get off 17 balls but as usual the tailenders flattered to deceive and fell in quick succession to hand Australia victory by three runs.

The night belonged to one man, Tendulkar. He played down his contribution by characterising his 141-ball 175 as “one of my best. I was striking the ball very well…”

Then he went on to talk about the game and the rest of the team. Like Lara, he often plays great innings and ends up on the losing side. He hasn’t won as many games off his own blade as Lara did but the only word that fits for a knock like this is genius. There is no current player in the game who is his equal.


Indian-bashing: the latest Australian sport

EVER since the surge of interest in soccer in Australia after the national team made it to the World Cup finals in 2006 and the A-League was set up, the Australian Football League – the body that governs Australian rules football – has been looking over its shoulder, realising that it has another sport competing for audiences.

Until soccer reared its head as a contender, the AFL had the two rugby codes – league and union – to contend with.

But there is worse to come – the AFL will now have to contend with a sport that had its genesis right here in Melbourne, one that’s beginning to draw crowds on the weekends.

It’s the game called Indian bashing and it’s growing in popularity. Go online, search around a while, see how many people are there to defend it – and you’ll realise that AFL chief Andrew Demetriou certainly has something to fear.

The latest game, staged in Epping recently, drew 70 people in a small indoor venue while four Indians were beaten up.

Imagine what it could have been like if it had been staged at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, an arena which can hold 90,000 people with ease. I can just see the ticket touts rubbing their hands in glee.

While the AFL is busy trying to tone down the biffo and has acted decisively against racism, the new sport has no such inhibitions. Indeed, in Epping the first racist taunt came from a woman.

And biffo? Man, the new game has landed plenty of Indian students in hospital. One guy died of head injuries. Australian Rules cannot compete.

What’s more, Indian-bashing has the support of the police and politicians too. Neither is willing to say a bad word about the sport.

The media is on-side too. With some notable exceptions, there is little negative comment on the issue – and the media manages to keep those truculent Indians from making a noise about it too.

A classic example of how to do this was illustrated on the ABC’s Lateline program a few months ago.

Two Australian citizens of ethnic backgrounds, Tanvir Ahmed and Waleed Aly, discussed the sport within the broader framework of racism. Ahmed inclined to the view that there was no racism at play while Aly said there was “low-level racism” involved.

It looked quite good – ethnic types discussing Indian-bashing. But looks are deceptive – both Ahmed and Aly, no slight on either, have spent nearly all of their lives in this country. Neither is of Indian extraction.

Presenter Leigh Sales just provided an Australian viewpoint all over again. Everyone nodded in approval. Them ethnic types had been given their say – who could fault the balanced ABC?

Demetriou hardly needs another distraction like Indian-bashing. The man has had to set up AFL teams in far-flung areas of the country to generate interest in places where rugby league and rugby union hold sway.

Now, he will have to look at staging AFL games in places like Epping and Fairfield, to pull the crowds.

Else, the AFL had better watch out. There are more than a billion Indians and loads of them are here.

You’ll soon have more Indian-bashing than the eight weekend games which the AFL stages. And remember – while Australian Rules is a winter game, Indian-bashing knows no seasons.