The bowlers failed but so did the captain

IT’S the fourth day of a Test match, the first of a series that is the most important of the year for your country. Your team is 202 runs ahead at the start of play; the opposition has knocked off 19 runs of a 221-run advantage that your boys gained in the first innings.

First thing out on the field, what would be your reaction as captain? To put as much pressure on your opponent by using the most threatening and intimidating fields possible or taking a milk-and-water approach that indicates an ambivalent attitude?

Do you show faith in your bowlers by packing the slips cordon and keeping two short-legs to occasionally get in the face of your opponents? Or do you use a standard field, an indication that you are basically a bob each way man even in a situation when your team is clearly in an advantageous position?

The Australian bowlers have copped a lot of flak for letting England nullify a 221-run first-innings deficit and allowing England to make a mammoth 1-517 in its second innings in the drawn first Test.

But the Australian captain Ricky Ponting has escaped scrutiny in toto though the tactics he employed on day four were those of a coward.

At the start of play on the fourth day, Ponting had two fielders on the boundary. For what? Was he trying to win or draw? He had 202 runs to play with, he had nothing to lose.

Remember, Australia is the team which has to win back the Ashes; for England a drawn series will suffice. One cannot blame England for looking for such a result as the whole point of playing five Tests in Australia is to retain the Ashes. That is the prize, nothing else matters.

This is not the first time that Ponting’s inability to captain the country properly has let the team down. It happened earlier this year in England. He is far too cautious and often looks to his own interests, rather than that of the team.

It is unlikely that any remarkable new talent is going to be unearthed in some part of Australia soon enough to make a difference to the Australian team in the remaining four Tests; any new blood brought in will be much like the old.

A trend of picking players based on reasons other than merit has been around for too long and mediocrity has crept in. Australia is fifth in the world Test cricket rankings and that is a good reflection of its strengths.

Ponting is favoured by the selectors because he has become an administration man. He knows when to speak and when to keep his mouth shut. Some months ago, people were theorising that if Australia failed to regain the Ashes, he would be stripped of the captaincy.

But that seems unlikely in the wake of reports that Michael Clarke, his deputy, is not exactly the flavour of choice with the rest of the team.

If Ponting regains the Ashes, he will stay as captain for the World Cup that begins in February next year. And it is also likely that he will continue to captain Australia until he chooses to retire – which may well be in 2013 after the tour of England. Ponting has said often that he wants another chance to win the Ashes in England, having lost two series in 2005 and 2009.

But if he fails to regain the Ashes over the next four Tests, then there will be plenty of pressure from people to play him as a batsman only. He still has some of the magical touch that he displayed in his early career and is easily the best batsman in the team once he gets going.

Australia’s cricketing disaster

SHANE Warne, the Australian leg-spinner, was always keen to be captain of the national cricket team. Unfortunately, the Australian cricket administrators are obsessed with the idea that a man who leads the country’s cricket team should also be a saint. Warne did not get the job because of his numerous sexual peccadilloes and Ricky Ponting was given the gig instead.

That apparently still rankles because Warne often embarrasses Ponting with unsolicited advice and comments after he retired. The latest such episode occurred on the final day of the second Test against India, when Warne questioned the field placings provided for Nathan Hauritz, the alleged spinner in the Australian team.

India was chasing 207 to win on the final day of the Test. No team had ever scored that number of runs on the Bangalore wicket to win a Test until that day. Yet India did, with ease. The two Indian spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Pravin Ojha, had helped to bundle out Australia for 223 in its second innings. Both obtained a great deal of purchase from the wicket. The Indian fast bowlers obtained plenty of reverse swing. The Australian bowlers could not do a thing to trouble the Indians.

Australia is now ranked fifth among the nine countries that play Test cricket. It is below India, South Africa, Sri Lanka and even England. Calls are now starting for Ponting’s head. Warne’s comments thus assume a lot of significance.

One reason for Warne’s utterances may be the fact that Steve Smith, the spinner who has Warne’s backing, is yet to be picked for a Test ahead of Hauritz. This, despite the fact that in the first Test of the series against India, we had the peculiar situation of India fighting against the odds to chase down a total of 216 on the final day and Hauritz not bowling even though the pitch was taking turn. What made it even more odd was the fact that Smith was not in the team and Ponting’s spinner of choice was the occasional trundler Marcus North.

Australia rarely picks two spinners. Hence when one man is picked, it is assumed that he is the prime spin talent in the country. Hauritz, sadly, is not up to the mark; he is the poor man’s spinner and does not deserve to play. Ponting does not know how to handle him and that shows. Ponting’s failures are beginning to affect his batting as well.

The next opponent for Australia is the old foe – England. The Ashes which England holds are up for grabs in the Test series that begins in November. That is a matter for even more worry. Ponting won the last home series for the Ashes but promptly lost the next series in England. This was a repeat, as he had also lost the 2005 series.

A loss at home may well mean the loss of the captaincy as well. That could be a blessing for Ponting as he still has a lot to give as a batsman. He is still a class act in full flow. Whether he will be able to function under another captain remains to be seen. But he would do Australian cricket a service by stepping down and playing as a batsman instead.

History tells us: the ICC must take the blame for match-fixing

IT WOULD be amusing to read all about the apportioning of blame by various people in the wake of the recent revelations about match-fixing, were it not for the fact that the whole thing is so damn serious. But then one should not be surprised about all the breast-beating that is going on – it is common for people to concentrate on the effects and forget the cause.

It does not take much effort to go back to the event that provided the seed for the growth of match-fixing in cricket. Remember, one is not talking about betting on cricket, that has been around for as long as the game has been played.

In 1980 the first international one-day cricket match was held in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. This was sanctioned by the International Cricket Council and it marked the start of trouble. The matches in Sharjah increased in number and India’s win in the 1983 World Cup gave the tournaments held in the desert emirate a fillip.

For one, the Sharjah tournaments were built on one factor – the enmity between India and Pakistan. There was always a third team invited (or even a fourth) to make up the numbers, but given the large numbers of Indian and Pakistani expatriates in the UAE, they were the focus.

Additionally, the Sharjah cricket organisers opened the doors to illegal betting of huge amounts by people of dubious reputations. Apart from the cricket, celebrities from both India and Pakistan were invited to attend. The UAE is a peculiar place – you can walk in to the country with a million dollars in a suitcase and no questions are asked but if you carry a Bible in, you may be questioned for an hour or more. Before oil came into the picture, Dubai was better known as the source of gold smuggling into India.

Both India and Pakistan have massive amounts of black money in their respective economies and lots of this money was used to wager large amounts in Sharjah. A great many dubious people offered awards in Sharjah to buy popularity and these were accepted without any hesitation – Pakistan batsman Javed Miandad earned more than a million dollars in 1986 when he hit a six off the last ball of a game to defeat India and win a tournament for Pakistan.

The UAE is known to harbour a number of people who are wanted in other parts of the world, people like the smuggler Dawood Ibrahim, who fled India in 1993 after he was being sought by police as a suspect in the bombing of the Bombay stock exchange that same year.

It is inconceivable that the ICC was unaware of all the goings-on but it chose to turn a blind eye. Cricketers were benefitting financially – the Sharjah organisers used to present three cricketers with money at every tournament – and the ICC was being paid the fees it sought. What’s more, any ICC bigwig who visited during the tournament was treated like God.

But the tournaments provided the means for illegal bookies and people of their ilk to gain access to players – one merely had to host a reception in Dubai for the cricketers (no liquor is served in hotels in Sharjah, hence the choice of Dubai which is just a 20-minute drive from Sharjah) during the tournament and one could pal up with the best players from India and Pakistan.

The money attracted other teams too and as the years went on the organisers scored their biggest coup by signing the West Indies, at that time the hottest property in world cricket. Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka all came and played and were feted and wined and dined. Nobody raised any question as to why cricket in the desert was needed. It was something like the Packer days again, only this time the ICC gave the whole shindig its blessing.

Prior to Sharjah, there was hardly any talk of throwing a game of cricket. It took a few years for the bookies to develop their contacts to the point where they could make demands. Sharjah began hosting two tournaments a year soon after it started operations and this provided a fast track for unsavoury activities to grow.

in the 1990s , there was more and more talk about matches being influenced by factors other than the players’ ability. On the Indian tour of the West Indies in 1997, one Test, when India fell for 81 when chasing a little over 100 for victory, was a game that came in for some examination. An Indian writer, R. Mohan of the well-known Indian paper, The Hindu, lost his job after his betting activities came to light. And by the turn of the century, a few cricketers had been found out and banned from the game.

It is easy to gain access to junior players once one knows the seniors. And mind you, the seniors need not be in the pay of bookies, but merely acquainted enough to be persuaded to introduce others to the men who pay cricketers to fix games. After all, if you were told that Al Capone wanted to meet you during the heyday of that gentleman’s existence, would you have turned it down?

The ICC never objected to cricket being played in Sharjah. The only reason why the tournaments are no longer being held there is because there is no space on the international calendar after the future tours programme was put into practice. The ICC has even shifted its own headquarters to Dubai – simply because it benefits from the no-tax regime in the UAE and also gets free flights from Emirates airline – which is owned by the ruling family of Dubai – for its officials. When an international body has sold itself out in this manner, can it ever hope to call attention to the wrong-doings of its players?

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.

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.

Nominating John Howard to the ICC is a big mistake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like wine, Tendulkar seems to get better with age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catches win matches. But then you knew that…

WHAT do you say to a wicketkeeper who has just cost you a Test win against Australia in Australia? If you are a good diplomat, you take the blame for the defeat yourself.

Australia won the second Test against Pakistan by 36 runs in Sydney yesterday. Michael Hussey, who made a gritty 134 not out, was dropped thrice – on 27, on 45 and again on 52. Even if he had been caught the last time, that would have saved 82 runs.

In all three instances the culprit was Kamran Akmal, and the bowler to suffer was Danish Kaneria. For good measure, Akmal gifted 13 runs to tailender Peter Siddle who hung around with Hussey in a partnership of 123 for the ninth wicket – he was dropped on 25 and went on to make 38.

After Australia won the game, the Pakistan captain Mohammad Yousuf took the rap himself, saying that his dismissal – he charged down the pitch and hit a ball back to Nathan Hauritz at a million miles an hour – was the turning point as he was the most experienced player and should not have gone after the bowling in that manner when it was not needed.

Indeed, that is one question that has yet to be answered: Pakistan had about three and a half hours on day four and the whole of day five to score the 176 they needed to win. Why were they in such a blue hurry? Why was the target treated as though it was a one-day target?

In the first innings, the Pakistani openers had batted carefully, eschewing all flamboyance, and raised a partnership of 109 which, to a large extent, served as the foundation for their first innings total of 333. They added 70 runs in 33.5 overs on the first session of day two, going from 14 for no loss overnight to 84 at lunch.

In the second innings, they played with panache and gay abandon, maintained a run-rate of 5 – and were both out by the time the total reached 51.

It is easy to see how the abundance of Twenty20 cricket has made many players unable to stay at the crease for a long time. In the shortest form of the game, making 45 off 15 balls is enough. But in a Test, one must make those same 45 off 90 deliveries and stay around so that partnerships are fostered.

Pakistan has always been a nervy unpredictable side. They are something like the West Indies, which once collapsed from 156 for one to 202 when chasing 208 for victory against Australia in the World Cup of 1996.

The result of either series played this summer will, thus, not be reflective of how competitive the games were. The first game in each series wasn’t overly contested, but the others have been fought tooth and nail. We don’t yet know what will happen in Tasmania but it is a good bet that Australia will win again.