the no-nonsense space

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Mohan remains my favourite cricket writer but seems to have lost the edge after moving out of Hindu. Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle are quite undeserving of his writings. Also, "line and lenght" (the name of the column) seems the handiwork of a lazy sub-editor who was very surprisingly inspired by Business Standard and TCA Srinivasa Raghavan. Anyways, if you take the sense of humour, and wry sarcasm out of cricket writing, we might as well stay content with watching live action on the telly..........

What happened, mates, lost all sense of humour?
Line & Length: By R. Mohan
Is it just a blip on the radar of the future or is it terminal decline? The debate rages after the world’s best cricket team suffered its worst week in office after having dominated one form of the game or the other for nearly 500 weeks in a row.

The funniest part of the most embarrassing defeat in Australian cricket history, as the Bangladeshis rolled Ponting’s men over at the Sophia Gardens in a hectic run chase, is that it has not brought any great humour in its wake.

Had England been beaten thus by the minnows, it is not knives but cutting words that would have emerged from Old Blighty. Remember how they flooded the internet during the last Ashes with the joke on the difference between Nasser Hussain and Saddam Hussain being that the latter had more victories?

Escapism through black humour is a distinct English trait. Successive Ashes defeat have engendered so much of it that they seem even to have forgotten how to gloat when the South African import took the United Nations of Cricket to victory over an all-Australian team from which the one England qualified player had been left out for disciplinary reasons.

Funnily enough, Andrew Symonds, who now plays for a team that still boasts of the trans-continental beer-drinking record through David Boon and his reported consumption of 52 cans of lager, was docked for drinking. That is a bit like the court jester being sent to the gallows for being humorous at the British royal court.

Most humour has actually come out of the bookmaker William Hill’s offices as they have posted odds on funny bets like the Australian team being recalled after falling to Mohammed Ashraful’s century. A price has also been offered on Ricky Ponting being replaced as captain before the Ashes begin.

All the Ganguly jokes on Maggie noodles might find a new butt in the form of the Australian captain, who seems unable to keep his feet and pads out of the way of the ball. So Sourav-like have his scores in Australia’s nightmarish week been, a bit like the international dialing codes out of Australia — 010 — or some such bizarre combination of binary bits.

Considering the fact that they tend to send their batsmen in with chants of “C’mon Aussie c’mon,” any expectation of humour Down Under is bound to be too imaginative for the real world. In Australia, they have been grieving over the bad week with the feelings more associated nowadays with double digit inflation or the rising price of petroleum. Having been accustomed to lording it over the rest of the world, the humbling by the Davids of Bangladesh has been greeted with a post-mortem more in keeping with sombre national tragedies. Unfortunately, the most humorous of sports writers, Martin Johnson, has not quite got stuck into the Aussies yet.

The better jokes actually came out of the opening of the Shane Warne portrait at Lord’s, when the news was let out of the bag that the artist may have retouched her work because the world’s leading Test wicket-taker was thought to have been portrayed too big Down Under.

What is not humorous is that the serial sex texter Warne is with Hampshire CCC rather than with the touring team while his new-found mate Pietersen has been turning the knife on Aussie wounds.

I find this quite extraordinary that the world’s best bowler is not turning out for Australia in one-day cricket merely because he thinks he can stretch his multi-million dollar career by sticking to the Test arena, in which he is only 17 wickets away from a magical 600.
Quite apart from the huge variety and options that he represents to a captain in the middle overs, his sheer attitude is something the Aussies could do with as they try to pick up the gauntlets after spending some time on the floor, punched by the world’s lowest rated one-day team.

The lack of humour may be ascribed to the hidden English fear that the kangaroo is such a famous leaping marsupial that it could set records on the rebound. I still believe the Aussies will win the Ashes in a dry English summer because they have a champion leg-spinner. But they would also need the fast Breet Lee, who can change a Test match in one furious spell.

Maybe, the best humour is being reserved for another English defeat. A pity, this, since jokes targeting the Aussies would have been a godsend.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Bring out the ashtray

When you are feeling knotty in the stomach, wobbly in the knees, and a bit windless in the lungs, Navjot Singh Siidhu’s mind numbing filibuster can help. And it certainly did.
I woudn’t have minded the Mexico-Brazil game to continue for another full 90 minutes, especially after the events of Disaster Sunday. But because Adriano and Ronaldinho aren’t from Krypton, I moved on aimlessly to NDTV.
The subject of debate on the Sidhu Show (misleadingly called Cricket Controversies) was whether The Ashes still remain the greatest cricketing rivalry. The answer is a resounding no. End of matter. I should have switched over to Sun TV in my usual late-night quest for Raaja songs. I stuck on as the number of "experts" in fvour of The Ashes was surprisingly high with a Sidhu being the lone voice arguing the Indo-Pak case, relying not on logic or facts but his verbal antics. The soft-spoken Dr Narottam Puri (yeah, he’s still around) said we can overlook the Ashes tradition. An English diplomat and Anand Vasu (who Harsha Bhogle thinks is one of the many fine young writers on the game today) tended to agree. A popular sports journalist said India-Pak cannot be a great rivalry because it’s war minus the shooting—something which goes against the sporting spirit.
The debate set me thinking on what constitutes a great sporting rivalry. For the last 20 years or atleast since the time we got see live Ashes action on TV, it has never been a contest. Shane Warne could have bowled the Englishmen out with an orange if, and all Aussie comers piled up the runs. Things are different now we are told. England now have Hope and Harmisson on their side, but that’s another matter. Great sporting rivalries are marked by the intensity of the battle. Individuals often end up turning in defining performances; heroes are born and we discover new villains; and usually there is always a sting in the tale.
When people watch live sporting action, they don’t think of tradition and history. A great rivalry is born when the players involved can provide great drama consistently. Bjorn Borg and Mcnroe did that. Manchester and Liverpool did during the 70s, 80s and much of the 1990s, Brazil and argentina will be great and worthy rivals for the forseeable future. England and Australia? I’ll watch Gol Maal for the 97th time, thank you very much. Critics say India-Pak matches were characterised by dull draws with neither side wanting to put a foot wrong. Ergo, both decided to spar at each other without pushing forward. But since 1999 when cricketing ties resumed, the two countries have produced managed to produce the most riveting test match cricket ever seen. The first test at chennai in that historic series will remain a classic. Tendulkar battled against the guile of Akram, Saqlain, and his recalcitrant back, and almost won. Afridi made a quickfire 140 which to date remains his best knock. The last four Indian batsmen failed to make 12 runs between themselves. The crowd gave the victorious enemy a standing ovation, but the defining moment for me was an Akram delivery to Dravid. Left arm over the wicket, a full fast delivery which seemed headed towards dravid’s pad changed its course to knock down the off stump. Dravid attempted a straight drive but he missed it by a few good inches. Dravid isnt God, either on the leg side or off-side. He’s merely a great batsman. But even the man up there would have failed to survive. Warne’s "magic" ball wasn’t a patch on this one. So is the current Australia-England rivalry compared to India-Pakistan.