From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.04 :: Jan. 26, 2012

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CRICKET / AUSTRALIA DIARY

All brickbats, no bouquets

When M. S. Dhoni's touring party of not so merry men decides to take time off cricket after the Sydney Test, and try a spot of go-karting, the sort of get-away-from-it-all team-building exercise corporates love to splurge on, there is enough righteous indignation to lift a hot-air balloon three-quarters of the way to the moon. By S. Ram Mahesh.

AP

The kids are watching... Whatever the provocation, neither Virat Kohli, on the field of play, nor Ishant Sharma (in pic) should have responded in that manner.

What a palaver! India has but to lose for everyone — the media, former cricketers, pop psychologists, tarot readers, maintenance men — to creep out of the woodwork and either denounce the team or tell it how it can turn matters around. So when M. S. Dhoni's touring party of not so merry men decides to take time off cricket after the Sydney Test, and try a spot of go-karting, the sort of get-away-from-it-all team-building exercise corporates love to splurge on, there is enough righteous indignation to lift a hot-air balloon three-quarters of the way to the moon. “Back in my day,” begin several ex-cricketers before proceeding to state just what they did back in their day — feeling shamed into drinking raw eggs and training till they puked, sleeping with an Indian map under the pillow, stiffening their resolve by singing patriotic songs off-key. “Now they get money so easily,” is another refrain. Granted, there's plenty to dislike about the Indian system, but the cricketers try their hardest when turning out for the country, at least the current generation still does. Peter Siddle can't believe India's getting plastered for having fun. Would you Peter? Would you do this with a few days before a crucial Test match?

“Well, we got to go home, so that was nice,” says a grinning Siddle. Come on, Siddo, my man, quit being so politically correct, has Australia ever done this on tour? “Yeah mate, like only for the last 60 years,” says Siddle, still uncertain what the fuss is about. By the time you, dear reader, cast your eyes on this spiffy bit of writing, India might have won a stirring Test or surrendered pusillanimously. The result wouldn't have been any different had they trained an extra day.

* * *

Speaking of go-karting — and this is the last you'll hear the diary speak of it; also the first, for it realises it hasn't made a moralising comment thus far into the tour and twitches to spew wisdom — Ishant Sharma's finger-gesture needs a word or three. Whatever the provocation, neither Virat Kohli, on the field of play, nor Ishant Sharma should have responded in that manner. It's difficult for young athletes, with adrenaline and testosterone and all sorts of dizzying chemicals coursing through their bodies, to always behave properly; and the insults Indian cricketers have to put up with when they lose are often so cheap they provoke the sanest of men into the rashest of actions. But follow Tendulkar, you guys — the headphones and the dark glasses. Give the hecklers none of your energy. Save it for the young kid who wants your autograph, the kid that will likely lift an indecent finger because he or she saw you do it.

* * *

One last thing about the go-karting episode. So the diary breaks its word, reneging on its promise never to mention it again, but isn't it allowed to? Why must expectations be so high? Why must it pander to your every diktat? Err… sorry bout that… a monologue the diary has been practising for another occasion sort of slipped out. Ahem. Where was it now, ah yes, the go-karting episode. G. S. Walia, India's media manager, has a line to suit the hilarity of the incident: “The team had also gone for a cycling session ahead of the Perth Test of 2007-08 and they ended up winning the Test,” states Mr. Walia triumphantly.

The defence rests.

* * *

An India-Australia series and no smack-talk? Brad Haddin, the man with a face only a mother would love, can't bear it anymore. “India is mentally fragile,” says our Bradley, with that familiar, much-adored smirk. “They break quicker than any other team in the world.” Zaheer Khan will have none of it. He's riled Australia in the past, most notably in 2008 after helping save the first Test, when he said with a smirk of his own, “they can't get me and Bhajji, how are they going to take 20 wickets?” This time, the response is more obvious, but no less taunting. “I think Haddin needs to concentrate on his keeping,” says Zak. “That looks fragile to me.” Ouch. Hitting a wicketkeeper where it really hurts. Zaheer goes on to say that Haddin is the team-mouth, hired especially for the purpose of talking because he clearly can't keep or bat. Ok, the last bit was made up, Zaheer didn't explicitly say Haddin can't keep or bat. But he is asked whether Haddin deserves a place in the Australian side after his poor showing, and this is what Zaheer says: “He is doing all the talk. So he is definitely playing his role.” Can it be more obvious?

* * *

The diary and its cohorts run into Wasim Akram on the street (the diary thanks its guardian angel it wasn't a dark alley, for Waz is one scary dude). “Going for food?” Akram asks. “I only see you guys at the lunch table.” Akram, as dedicated readers of these pages will know, already gave the diary the sagest advice on travelling: “Pack a bottle of Tabasco with you”. The diary hasn't bothered doing it, but the advice is much appreciated. Akram's countryman, Aleem Dar, is set to officiate in the third Test. Dar fancies himself as a crack bat. “I've hit six sixes in club cricket,” the Waqar Younis body-double once told the diary. Dar backs his talk, giving his colleague, Kumar Dharmasena, some fierce tap in the Indian nets. M. S. Dhoni rolls in to bowl, and is shrewd enough to play Dar into a good mood, bowling easy half-trackers to be swatted away. So that's two Test bowlers Dar has handled with impunity. “He'd be good at six for India,” goes the cry from the press corps. Such cleverness.



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