If turning wine into water was a skill in demand, Shashank Manohar would be the most sought after man on the planet. The man who claimed he was returning for a second innings at the helm of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to save the game, left with his association in tatters. This was not so much abandoning a sinking ship as taking a speedboat from one to a luxury cruise liner that was on a speck on the horizon. And now, the man liberally misidentified as a messiah has applied his reverse-Midas touch at the International Cricket Council.
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On a warm summer’s afternoon an unremarkable scene plays out in a coffee shop just out of range of a long Chinnaswamy Stadium drive from Chris Gayle. Four young men are huddled around a table, dressed fashionably casually, beards, sassy spiked hair, flip-flops and tee-shirts of varying hues, sipping exotic teas. But there is something remarkable about one of those young men, KL Rahul, who has enjoyed one of the best years of his fledgling cricket career. Recovering from a shoulder injury that needed surgical intervention, Rahul is forced to cool his heels, missing the very tournament that provided the breakthrough in his career.
A healthy Tuesday crowd at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore enjoyed the relief from the heat that evening showers brought, but many would have been flabbergasted at the actions of the ground staff. Each time the rain stopped, the ground staff removed the three giant covers that protected the square and the practice pitches, dumping the water on the outfield. No super-soppers were called for, no mucking about with sponges and the like.
There are very few things that purists and modernists agree on in cricket. The older, wiser, more traditional lot believe that Test cricket is the only form of the game that really counts, that whites are colour of cricket and that anything else is not quite cricket. The younger, fresher, more mobile lot have no appetite for games that go five days without a clear winner, want their runs and wickets bookended by pom-pom wielding cheerleaders and that anything longer than a feature film is a waste of time.
For a generation of Indian cricket fans nothing can compare to the India-Australia series of 2001. For sheer watchability, drama, aesthetic pleasure and the making of heroes no series played in India has come close to that. From Harbhajan Singh’s bucketload of wickets that included a hat-trick to India’s escape from jail in Kolkata, fuelled by V. V. S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid, a generation of Indian cricket legends had their steel forged in that furnace of pressure.
Virat Kohli is no sore loser, so it was ironic that the afterglow of his greatest series victory was tinged with bitterness. India got the better of Australia, 2-1, with an emphatic victory in Dharamsala but even as Kohli won hearts through a glorious home season that ended with India having beaten all opposition, he found that the people he once considered friends were anything but.
With India being the No. 1 Test team in the world, and having the rare honour of simultaneously holding victories against each of the other nine teams in the world, with the ICC’s US$ 1 million coming their way and the Indian board announcing generous bonuses, it should have been all smiles. But, the toxic undercurrent that has poisoned this series left Kohli with no option but to reassess his relationship with some members of the opposition.
There is no thing easier than being moral when it’s convenient to you. It’s also relatively easy to be gracious when everything is going your way, when you are on top of the world, and every decision you take bears fruit. Under pressure, when it seems like the world is against you, when nothing you do works out, is when a person’s true nature reveals itself.For two days, the final India-Australia Test match has been played in the best possible spirit. With Virat Kohli out of the game, and the “chilled out” Ajinkya Rahane leading India, this was always going to be a less contentious contest than the ones that went before. It was Steven Smith, in Bangalore, who derailed what was a peaceful outing, given the history of bad blood between these teams, attempting to take unfair advantage and help from his dressing-room over a DRS call. Smith was contrite enough after, explaining away his actions as a “brain fade.” At first, it seemed that he had made an honest mistake in the heat of the moment. After all, if the attempt was to cheat – a word Virat Kohli never used but has been an undercurrent of all interactions ever since he suggested that the public moment was not the first time this had happened – Smith might have attempted more subterfuge. But, with all the shenanigans that unfolded off the field, involving bosses from cricket boards, former and current players, journalists writing about each other and fans slugging it out on social media, the last thing this series needed was a fresh infusion of spite and pettiness. Unfortunately, that was exactly what Smith provided, his behaviour reverting to the stereotype that gave rise to the term ugly Australian, in cricketing circles. When M Vijay caught Josh Hazlewood, at slip off R Ashwin, and the batsman began his walk back to the pavilion, the catcher began his sprint back to the dressing-room, to get padded up to open the innings, the umpires decided they wanted a closer look at the catch. The third umpire, Chris Gaffaney, looked at videos over and over and decided that the ball had brushed the turf before getting under Vijay’s fingers. It is not unusual for catches taken close to the turf to be ruled bump balls even when the fielder has fingers under the ball, thanks to a phenomenon known as foreshortening. When looking at two-dimensional visuals of a three-dimensional event, as is the case with television replays, an element of doubt creeps in, and in the case of low catches this always goes in the batsman’s favour. Could Vijay have known that the ball had gone from edge straight to hand? Should he have realised that the catch may not have been a clean one? Could he have immediately suggested that he did not know for sure if the dismissal was straightforward? These intangible questions will never be satisfactorily answered, but anyone who has played even a basic level of cricket will know that it is entirely possible for a close-in fielder not to know for sure whether he has caught a ball cleanly, in that split second when the action happens. A fielder’s natural instinct is to appeal, which is all Vijay did. Why Smith, sitting in the viewing area outside the dressing room, assumed that Vijay knew he had not caught it cleanly and yet claimed the catch, made evident by his most eloquent outburst caught cleanly by television cameras: “F***ing cheat”, is anyone’s guess. Smith, who has been caught doing something the wider world will agree, falls closer to the cheating end of the spectrum than the brain fade, may well claim that he said “F***ing shit” rather than the more offensive version, should it come to that. Graeme Hick, Australia’s batting coach, fronted the media on the day and did his best to defuse the situation, saying he knew nothing of what Smith might or might not have said. When pressed, Hick, a quality slip fielder himself, said: “Close to the bat, sometimes you’re not 100% sure. He would’ve felt it go into his fingers and felt that it was a clean catch.” Smith, clearly did not believe in giving Vijay, the benefit of doubt. Why he then expects anyone to extend the same courtesy to him, for his alleged brain fade, is anyone’s guess. Smith may not have heard of Laurence Sterne, the Irish novelist and clergyman, but he will do well to ponder one simple line on the long flight back to Australia: “Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.”
(This article first appeared on Cricbuzz on March 28, 2017)
He rides horses, he plays with swords, he owns a restaurant, oh and he bats, bowls and fields well enough to turn a Test match on its head. What’s not to like about Ravindra Jadeja? For years Jadeja had to put up with cruel ridicule from fans who thought this creature was more strange than wonderful. Was he a bowler who could bat a bit? Was he a batsman who might chip in with the ball? Those questions and several others were answered in Dharamsala on Monday, when Jadeja came up with the kind of performance worthy of any allrounder worth his name, and tipped the scales firmly in India’s favour.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. The Australian cricket team might have met the Dalai Lama on the eve of the Dharamsala Test, but it was these words, Matthew 7:7, from the King James Bible that typified their effort on a second day’s play that left the game poised on the proverbial knife’s edge.
Josh Hazlewood asked questions with the dexterity and tact of an interrogator wearing down a stubborn suspect, marrying nagging accuracy and monstrous movement off the cracks in the pitch, and the wicket of M Vijay was given to him, the batsman playing at a ball that was short enough to leave after being given a torrid time.
In a series that has been dominated by talk of Virat Kohli even if his bat has not done the talking in the manner he would have liked, the final chapter unfolded with the protagonist forced to take a back seat. And, as they have done all series, Kohli’s mates picked up the slack, giving themselves every chance of forcing a result, even if predicting such things at the end of one day of five is fraught with risk.