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March 26, 2007

The Tragic Loss Of Bob Woolmer and The World Cup 2007 (part 1)


And I’m back…it’s been a long time, but no time like the present, eh? Bla blah. Anyway, the gap has been big but with exams, assignments, interviews and crucial career decisions on the horizon, what better time to update what may be called the beating heart of Warwick? (oh, give it up, u Boar people…)

But first let us begin with the most relevant and important (the Middle East can wait): the most spectacular event in the cricketing world. I refer, of course, to Dwayne Leverock defying physics, gravity and belief to catch AR Uthappa in mid air. More on Dwayne later.

History lessons

World Cup ’75 gave us Gavaskar’s tremendous 5 hour stay at the crease (amassing 36 not out, supposedly a stern response to England’s 334). Presumably somebody forgot to tell the Indians the new format of the game. Then WC ’83 gave us Kapil Dev’s phenomenal 175 n.o. that remains only in memories and pages because BBC cameramen were on strike that day. Cricinfo tells us:

[In the West Indies v Australia 1975 final] Lillee slapped a Van Holder no-ball straight to Fredericks at extra cover. The crowd missed the call and rushed on, thinking the match was over. Fredericks tried another run-out, only to see the ball disappear into the horde. “Keep running,” shouted Lillee to his mate. When order was restored, umpires Dickie Bird and Tom Spencer declared they could have two runs. “Pig’s arse,” cried Thommo. “We’ve been running up and down here all afternoon!” So they gave them three.

World Cup 2007, however, is a serious contender for the most groundbreaking world cup in cricket. Having been overshadowed by tragedy, the quality of cricket and events on the field will simply not compare. In fact, tragically, even the tragedy is no more – now it’s a mystery and a pot of conspiracy theory. We shall return to the cricket later…


And cricket takes a back seat…

The murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer (left, in the ‘70s) has crossed the sport pages (even cricket, which occupies the back page from the news side AND the sports side in this country) and entered the front page even in non-cricket-interested nations (presumably under “the crazy world of cricket”). By all accounts, it is clear that Woolmer was a uniquely disciplined and honest man, if not a brilliant coach. His friendliness to Pakistanis and the team was countered by a certain lack of control over the team – characterised by drug scandals and the (former) Captain’s all-pervasive presence. Nonetheless, despite these scandals, the stress on youth and professionalism placed on the team by Woolmer, despite mixed success, is a beacon to coaches everywhere. As to the murder itself, a strong case may be made for his forthcoming book being the fuse for this fire – supposedly it contained sensitive information on many cricketing figures. This has since been refuted by Woolmer’s close friends.

As for the perpetrators, there seem to be broadly 4 theories: unknown criminal, Pakistani player(s), bookmakers or fans. The player theory can be safely eliminated, as no Pakistani player would risk everything to protect professional secrets. Clearly, the bookie angle is very strong, given the subcontinent’s long running problems. A big stumbling block is: why right after the game? The perp had time to go and why not do it elsewhere where it would garner less attention?

This has the appalling hallmark of a routine inner city killing – the complete lack of method (blood spattered walls), the timing and lack of motive elsewhere. Meanwhile, the sport and Pakistani squad are left in shock as to how the relatively happy world of sport could be so openly ripped apart. Clearly security will have to be tightened; this is the only blameworthy element so far. That nobody heard or saw anything is not reason enough, security can be all-encompassing. There are suggestions of a Bob Woolmer academy in Pakistan, which can only be a good thing, given the current state of Pakistani cricket. Perhaps some of ol’ Bob’s finer instincts can be carried on.

No doubt the killers will be found and locked up till they die and ugly as it is, we are reminded that it’s just a game, at any level. And yet the World Cup will go on.

December 18, 2005

Newsflash: Having solved all other problems, Indian Parliament to discuss cricket

It would appear that the highest debating forum on the subcontinent, the Indian Parliament's Lok Sabha, will next week discuss the exclusion of Sourav Ganguly from the Indian team. This is yet another demonstration of the peculiarities of India, that it finds such topics relevant for political discussion. I expect people in general to condemn this, but I shall not.

Let us go back to the idea of parliamentary debate – discussion over issues that affect the people. Cricket impacts on Indians' lives like almost nothing else, and is frequently viewed as important as a life-death situation. Why shouldn't Parliament discuss the surprising manner of Ganguly's dismissal? Everybody's talkin' about it…

People who know me are aware of my dislike for Ganguly – but even I must admit that the manner in which the BCCI dispatched with him was a little cruel and unjust. More importantly, it seems to be a byproduct of the critical (and typically Indian) politics of the cricketing board. The loss of the previous Ganguly-supporters camp (Dalmiya et al) and the election of a new anti-Ganguly-camp BCCI President (Sharad Pawar) has directly lead to this quagmire. Note how, even before his name was placed on his office door, Pawar sacked the entire pro-Ganguly squad in the BCCI, a blatant political act. I am aware that the President is not a direct determinant of the team selected, but always privy to their decisions.

The start of the end?

While such sentiment is rare, more discreet versions are widespread, and Sharad Pawar has been forced by widespread condemnation to say:
"As a cricket lover, I am hurt and shocked over the exclusion of Ganguly. In the Delhi Test his performance was satisfactory. Also, he was a victorious captain and we feel proud of him".
Pawar can hardly hide his glee.

On the other hand, we have the spat between Chappell (the Coach) and Ganguly. Even though Ganguly is partly responsible for the Captain, Rahul Dravid’s rise, I suspect he is no longer a fan and his patience must have finally worn out. These two are directly responsible for selecting the team, and despite this, Ganguly has not tried to censor his spats with the Coach. Ganguly is a typical superstar, vain to the point of catastrophe – every major spat with Chapell has come out into the open, opponents from England to South Africa, even the Australians (!) consider him arrogant. It is sad to see such a brilliant cricketer being asked to slip away in dignity, but he is clearly having none of it.
Are we to applaud him for his “never-say-die” attitude or criticise him for being a publicity-hungry, arrogant has-been?

I am of the opinion that he is to be given more chances – I feel he should be an ‘occasional’ in the first team, a second string player. To simply dismiss such an awesome batsman at the age of 32 would be unfair and uneven. But then, cricket is a harsh mistress.

Finally, I will leave you with the wise words of P Roebuck:

"Australia has also been engaged by the axing of a well-loved player, a long-standing servant on the verge of breaking a record. His successor was booed when he played his first fifty over match and also on his Test debut. Hotheads demanded the chairman's resignation. Ian Healy was the dropped player. Adam Gilchrist was his replacement."

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