Ricky Ponting (L) and Michael Hussey © Getty Images
Ricky Ponting (L) and Michael Hussey © Getty Images

 

By Akash Kaware

 

Being an armchair critic is easy. Cricket fans think that they can do a better job than a captain who makes daft decisions on the field, or a selector who picks and drops players seemingly without rhyme or reason, or a board that cannot think beyond bottom lines and show cause notices. The criticisms are often unfair because fans tend to think about things in isolation, not as a part of larger picture. Yet, sometimes, there are decisions from the men who matter which quite simply make you wonder whether they have taken leave of the most precious commodity a man can possess – common sense. The last week has been one such week for the world of cricket.

 

When Cricket Australia announced a few days ago that they had rejected all the silly ‘innovations’ that were proposed for the Big Bash, I was among the many who applauded them for it. But it seems the applause was premature, for they came out with a list of 25 contracted players for the next year, and a name that probably should have been the second on the sheet after Shane Watson, was nowhere to be seen. Simon Katich’s reward for being the second most prolific batsman in the game for the last three years was a four-minute phone call from Andrew Hilditch to tell him that he’s too old to play Test cricket.

 

My first reaction to the announcement was that India would be glad if Katich did not take guard along with Watson against them later this year. The man may be as elegant as a crab at the batting crease, but boy, was he effective! And Australia’s response to the frailties that their batting line-up showed in the Ashes was to drop the very batsman who could have held it together for them. Instead, in comes a young upstart, Phillip Hughes, who jumps around the crease like a cat on a hot tin roof! All because Katich is on the wrong side of 35, but then aren’t Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting on the same side as well? In fact, the two are above Katich on the age-list and down below him on the run-scoring list for the last couple of seasons. The selectors might say that Hussey and Ponting offer more value than Katich since they are certainties in the other forms of the game too, but that means they just pay lip-service to Test cricket when they say that it is the pinnacle of the game and then drop one of their best exponents of it.

 

Hilditch might be getting a hiding in the press for the decision, but to me it sounds like the sort of thing a certain Greg Chappell would do. Lest we forget, this is the man who, if he had had his way, would have seen to it that Sachin Tendulkar would not have been around long enough to get his second wind, score a double century in one-day cricket, complete (almost) 100 international centuries and finally win a World Cup. 

 

The Jayasuriya Mystery

 

In the same week that a 35-year old in prime form was dropped for being too old for Test cricket, a 42-year old who is now a shadow of his former formidable self made a stunning comeback to one-day cricket. Sanath Jayasuriya was a titan of the game in his pomp, but his desire to end on a high seems to have clouded not only his own judgment, but even that of the selectors. If the selectors’ decision to recall him was absurd, even more absurd is his decision that he will only play the first one-dayer and then retire! Even if he scores a hundred in that one game, what will people remember? The hundred? Or the fact that the man chose to come back for one game simply because he was not given a chance to bid adieu on his own terms? The last time I saw him play, Jayasuriya was missing straight deliveries as if he was having trouble sighting them. Watching former champions struggle after they are past their prime is one of the most painful sights in sports, and Jayasuriya and the selectors have chosen to subject his fans to that sight.

 

BCCI Stubborn

 

And in the same week, as if to prove that stupidity has no nationality, the BCCI renewed its stubborn stance towards the DRS. So the marquee series of the year, India vs England will not have the system in place. In fact, I guess it would be a tad unfair to blame just the BCCI for it, because it is well known that India’s senior players, most notably MS Dhoni and Tendulkar, are against the review system. It was hoped that Tendulkar’s reprieve in the World Cup semi-final would prompt a change of heart, but clearly that is not the case.

 

Dhoni has repeatedly said that they system should not be used until it is perfect, but the fact is, the system is never going to be perfect. But as long as it is capable of over-turning even one wrong decision per game, it should be used. Situations like the Ian Bell incident during the India-England World Cup game will happen from time to time, but there is no denying the fact that the Decision Review System (DRS) has improved decision-making overall. And in its own small way, it has helped to address the imbalance between the bat and ball. Check the percentages of batsmen getting out leg before wicket in games with DRS to games that did not have it, and the number will be significantly higher, especially for spinners.

 

The Indians had a bad experience with the DRS experiment in the one series when they had it, more than three years ago, but if one remembers correctly, neither the Hot Spot nor the predictive path of the HawkEye was used on that occasion. And of course, Dhoni did not even play in that series! It is ironic that the DRS was hastened into existence after the Sydney fiasco in 2008-09 where India were at the receiving end of several umpiring howlers, and now three years on, they are the only side that has not adopted the system. Maybe it will take another Test like that one for them to finally embrace it. One just hopes that that Test is not during the India-England series.

 

The PCB Circus

 

Elsewhere in the world, the Pakistan Board continues to be a circus, with Ijaz Butt as the ring-master or the blundering clown, whichever you prefer. Mohammed Amir, a precocious talent destined for greatness until last year but now banned from playing any official cricket, could not be bothered to check the status of a match he played in the grand theatre of Surrey Cricket League Division One, and now could possibly be banned for longer.

 

In an era where communication is as easy as breathing, the West Indian Cricket Board and Chris Gayle cannot seem to get into the same room and thrash out their differences. Everything that has happened around the cricket world this week just makes you wonder, how hard it is it to be normal?

 

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)