October 19, 2011


After "monkey-gate" in 2007 comes "donkey-gate" in 2011. Despite their volatility, there cannot be two more different characters than Harbhajan Singh and Nasser Hussain. Having said that, I am frankly tired of the fuss made out of Hussain's remarks. To dilute the pointless rage a bit, here's a funny take on the issue - some fictitious reactions from real people who have a stake in Indian cricket.

Shastri's words accuses Hussain of one of seven sins; and an eighth - envy towards his own commentary: 

"Nasser Hussain is jealous of everything in Indian cricket - their former number one ranking, their present status as World Champions, the IPL, attractive (read ear-offending) new words that have been contributed to the Queen's Language like DLF-er, the BCCI's stand on the DRS, Mumbai cricket, Sachin Tendulkar and most importantly the way I say tracer bullet. All of Indian commentariat will take up issue against anyone calling Indian cricketers by name... beg your pardon, names!"

Navjot Sidhu as always delights us with his word play:

"You remember the 2002 Natwest final my friend? Two young Turks using their bats as if they were bazookas and the English team were terro...," - and quickly checks himself remembering Dean Jones' fate after calling Hashim Amla a terrorist on air - "terrace players on tiny little lanes in Tate Square?"  NJ  probably added that for alliteration but how a Square can have streets is beyond us! "Hussain's paying back through words now. But as they say," - as always Sidhu does not say who? - "a man who pays for deeds with words is like a mirror that does not reflect."

Kris Srikkanth is, well, Kris Srikkanth:

"Arrey yaar! I am the Chief Selector, not the team manager - yes, yes Chennai Super Kings won the last IPL and will win the next one too. Anirudha is a class player, man. This Naaser," - pronounces it acutely like the name of an actor from the south - "bhaai no, when he was a boy he was fond of Chepauk but after going to England...," - and as always jumps topic without giving us a clue - "Yes, yes to call any Indians a donkey is not right yaar especially when we have Tendulkar who has scored a double-hundred." Some journos try to inform him that SRT was not in the ODI team in England but Kris has a call - either a fake one or from N. Srinivasan.

Lalit Modi tweets:

"As fmr bs of IPL I'd v hd Swn, Brd, Ck playing. Husn wunt hv cld us Dada not donkey." Mr. Modi. One clarification: even if you were the boss of IPL, you didn't pick teams, or did you?

N. Srinivasan (after his call with Kris Srikkanth):

"Bearing in mind the professionalism we want to bring to the running of the board and the team, we have just advised everyone in the selection committee, team coaching committee, present and past and future, team and organised groups of fans to never issue press statements. We will definitely conduct a lexical and legal enquiry into Hussain's use of the offending word," - Mr. Srinivasan is too uppity to even bring himself to say it -"but we continue to be in consensus over the fact that the team's performance in England requires no investigation, that the ICC is right in removing the mandate on DRS and that Gideon Haigh is... never mind. We also do not have any conflict of interest," concludes the BCCI President heading to a court hearing. 

We just hope James Sutherland, CEO of Cricket Australia, does not hear Srini speak; he's quite elaborate as it is.

Viswanathan Radhakrishnan (cricket host and expert, Neo cricket):

"It's incredible isn't it how the Indians, the World Champions, have sl...umped to no. 5 and England have played some outste...nding cricket haven't they?" Arun Lal tries to say something but Mr. Radhakrishnan goes on. "However, the question is: is Nasser Hussain justified in claiming that the Indian team... has... some..." Fans wonder why there cannot be a blackout like the one in the Sky studio.

Shahrukh Khan, part-time actor, owner KKR:

"Heyyyyy, hey, hey, chill guys. I am Bollywood's Baadshah and I say every Indian in the Indian team is a superstar. Take KKR...," tapers off remembering that KKR's most successful player has been Jacques Kallis. What is with South Africans and other countries? ;)
Mandira Bedi:

"Ajanta Rahane," - ma'am that's Ajinkya -"what a player he is! I cannot understand how Hussain can call Indian players donkeys." Indeed, just like we do not understand how you have been allowed to host or co-host cricket-related shows for so long.

Barkha Dutt:

"Gentlemen, the point is at a time like this, when the Indian team was already facing a huge crisis such as the loss of key players, the loss of number 1 ranking, the loss of the World Cup gloss," -strictly in that order it appears - "and, of course, the 4-0 loss in the test series, was Nasser Hussain morally right in calling Indian fielders donkeys? We will first go across to our cricket correspondent in Chennai..."

Rajdeep Sardesai (threatening the glass panel on TV screens as always):

"We have completely run out of time. The verdict: 88 % says Hussain was wrong 11.5 % says maybe and .5 %... well. Mr. Hussain... you owe... the aam aadmi, the commoner in the street, the fans across the country shouting whenever an Indian takes a wicket or a catch," - well that was the point of Hussain's comment wasn't it? -"you owe them an apology. On that note, it's goodnight."

Rahul Dravid:

"Look there's not much you can do about it. We just have to go there and do what we are good at and let the others do their job. I dropped a few dollies myself in the test series," - smiles -"and we have to work really hard on our fielding. I sometimes wish fielding is like batting, it would help me concentrate more."

As diplomatic as ever, Dravid does not mention either Hussain by name or the donkey remark. After a polished statement, he signs off with a repetition of his success mantra.

Dravid's fellow test debutant of sixteen years ago and these days a refreshingly honest voice in the commentary box, Sourav Ganguly is precise - but confuses his pronouns as usual:  

"That's the Indian team at its worst. This is Hussain at its best!"

h. i. s Dada, "his", not "its".

Nothing in Indian cricket is every complete without a gig and/or a word from our Prince from Kerala. This is what Santhakumaran Sreesanth had to say repeating his famous line, and in the process giving the former English skipper some advice:

"Silence is the speech of the spiritual seeker. I hope Hussain goes to the Himalayas or Dharamshala to get some inner peace. After all, even the great Tamil superstar Mr. Rajnikanth does it!" 

October 1, 2011

Akhtar's book (and why BCCI is wrong again!)

After a vacation of sorts from this space, during which time I did pen paeans for Dravid elsewhere (among other things for fear that if they were penned here my lovely friend, co-author and critic would ambush me!), Shoaib Akhar's Controversially Yours and the media circus surrounding it has given me something to write about. In this connection, I find myself mostly in agreement with Kamran Abbasi when he says Akhtar is the victim of his own inferno, despite his lines that hardly veil his attempts to show Indian batsmanship as second to others'. More on that though for another day.

The former Pakistani paceman from 'Pindi has evidently said in his book that Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are not match-winners in their own right. As far as statements in general go and as far as Shoaib's words, not very different in consistency from Shahid Afridi's retirements or Ijaz Butt's decisions, go, that is hardly a shoulder-high bouncer let alone a beamer. Others have said similar things in the past and truth is seldom judged by the loudness of the chorus anyway. But what made the Indian spectators, BCCI, the fans and their uncles - and also Wasim Akram - irate is the reference to "fear" in the eyes of the little master at a test match in Faislabad. As absurd and foolhardy as the claim seems, lifting it out of context and aggrandising Akhtar's stature as cricket's primordial bete noire is a media stunt intended either to make the book sell or to attract more prime time viewership given that there is no bigger idol in India than SRT. Thus what should have been treated as a joke, an attention-seeking ruse or at the very least a rather parochial opinion has been blown out of proportion. I can bet that half of the bandwagon, comprising media personnel, ex-cricketers, garrulous cricketing pundits and others participating in opinion polls, would not have even seen the book cover before delivering their "expert" opinions on the matter.

As always, Harsha Bhogle's tweets on September 26 about Akhtar's book breathed commendable moderation and commonsense. I completely agree with Mr. Bhogle when he says that Akhtar, much like you and I and the rest of the world, is entitled to an opinion albeit "[he] is not a saint". I also tend to concede that there is, in our part of the world, an almost tetchy wait to feel offended and at the slightest of provocation we get ready to hurl our verbal repertoire against any opinion that is in discord with our own. Admittedly, a headline like "Akhtar says Sachin feared me" is not something that will go down well, even as an opinion, in a cricket-mad nation like India. And yet when Tendulkar himself said that it is beneath his dignity to respond - a response arguably as clean and firm as his back-foot cover drive - I fail to understand the ambient fuss.

Of all responses to Akhtar's remarks, what surprised me most, however, was BCCI's demand for an apology from him, as if his remarks have hurt the reputation of a young tyro, or have devalued and brought down Dravid's and Tendulkar's colossi of runs overnight, or have hurt BCCI's fiscal underbelly. From a board which does not allow its selection committee (or coach) to be accountable - by gagging its members from speaking to the media - whose selection committee does not know the difference between a raw fledgling and an emerging player, or even between a fit and an unfit one, which thinks there is no need for an inquiry into the Indian team's zero-international-win debacle in England recently, and which acts holier-than-thou at the slightest sign of governmental or other interference when its internal structure seems more daunting than the notorious iron curtain, the reactions to a controversial character's rants and the demand for an apology are as befuddling as they are amusing. If BCCI's response is out of anger, and there is little to suggest that, the anger is as misplaced as its priorities are. No wonder the board is headed by a hardliner whose interests in cricket seem like a mere extension of his business interests. 

I am not making a case for Akhtar or his book. However, the fact that we spend loads of vocal decibels, paper and new media space and television hours on a remark made somewhere in a book is quite annoying even if the tendency is not new and may be a sign of the times. I will close with yet another remark made by a former player about Sachin Tendulkar a few years ago in his autobiography titled True Colours: the  substance of it was that Tendulkar would never be around for "shake hands" whenever India lost a game. We could have said, "I see" or politely interjected with a "So what? He plays only to win which is not criminal!". Instead, we and our media again blew the issue up, throwing in the reference "loser" for good measure and attributed it to the author who, at least in my opinion (even with his flaws during Sydneygate which he acknowledges and which he provides an unapologetic perspective on), is among the fairest gents to have played the game: Adam Gilchrist walked - and not just his talk - and we blamed him for his observations about "our" Little Master. I would in no way liken Akhtar to Gilchrist - or their books to one another - but the upshot is this: if every response we have to an opinion is coloured deeply with our own -isms (among them nationalism), how is it that we feel self-righteously fair in criticising others for their opinions, the way they play the game or their lack of sportsmanship?

The jury, Ladies and Gentlemen, is still out.