Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Googlies: The off-playground matches, stars and ICL/BCCI standoff

Indian cricket, like a typical Bollywood movie, has all kinds of masala associated with it. Be it the affair of Sangeeta Bijlani with Mohammad Azharuddin, or the reports of Nagma luring Saurav Ganguly or Kim Sharma showing attraction for Yuvraj Singh, we savor the gossip about the cricketers lives as much (or maybe more) than we savor real matches. The whole Indian political system, with its flaws: corruption, reservation, quota and regionalism are exhibited at the expense of national team. Personal ends and vendetta of BCCI and state organizations makes more frequent headlines than dropping or picking of the right players. Who hasn't heard of Dalmiya's rise and fall? Bindra throws more googlies than Kumble can imagine. "Pawar ki power ka jawab nahin" (Who can have an answer to the Power of Pawar?)

A phenomenon which old times like me missed out completely hit India during the last world cup. Unfortunately, people like me were already in the states. Mandira Bedi became an overnight celebrity as her dipping necklines kept the breaks in the match as highest viewed parts of the match (!!). Roshni Chopra is said to have emulated her well in Doordharshan's bid to match Mandira. It is another matter that India has a decent women cricket team and most of us cannot name more than a player of that team. When we talk of cricketing women, Mandira somehow tops the list. If you follow news on rediff, you will have seen reports about apologies, protests and applauses Mandira got for her dressing style and cricket acumen or lack of both.

The latest story of public sector vs private enterprise debate has engulfed cricket with the launch of Indian Cricket League. The absence of Bengal players from A-team inspite of being Ranji finalists two years in a row is actually remarkable. I would have never noticed it, but for seven of Bengal's players switching to the ICL. Ambati Rayudu has been on sidelines in spite of great performances few years back. Shikhar Dhawan, an opener from Delhi who failed to sparkle this season, or maybe gave up hope, was scoring like Bradman in matches where Sehwag, Dinesh Mongia and likes were ending up as no shows. BCCI seems to be behaving like a cry baby in the issue: had they set their house in order (don't have website still, locked into advertizing battles of all kinds, poor support system for retired players and state associations), the state of Indian cricket could have been much better. Like many other things in India, the team functions in spite of the system. We can't even decide on a coach. We can't even decide on broadcasters. But when it comes to some kid playing for a tournament we disapprove of, we formulate rules, statements, bans against him in a matter of seconds. Many years ago, someone called BCCI "a safed haathi" (White Elephant), and I cannot agree more.

It is often said that you need to be from Mumbai to be considered seriously. Karnatka, due to good Ranji seasons has had more than couple of players in Indian team. But Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu, Panjab, Baroda, Railways and Delhi have, like Bengal, been traditionally good performers, and yet they seem to get a raw deal. No wonder Mohinder Amranath called selectors a bunch of jokers. The whole Kiran More tenure was bizarre, to say the least. The whole zonal system, the quota system, must be done away with. Period.

Kaif and Raina, who broke into national team managed to be great fielders and below expectation batsmen. I have lost faith in their ability to perform at a level that can make them into replacements for Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman. I have lot more faith in P Ojha, Manoj Tiwary, Piyush Chawla and young Jadeja. I am waiting for their likes to emerge as lead performers for a new Indian team that will live unto the 2011 World Cup. I hope BCCI will clean up its act, find a way to absorb all the money and changes ICL will help to bring about, and after Mandira and Roshni, the era of cheerleading in cricket will arrive as well.

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