Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Australia Gains the High Ground

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The condemnation from the Australian media, past cricketers, commentators and the Prime Minister himself was swift and furious. The ink had barely dried on Steve Smith's arrogant acknowledgement of cheating and self absolution, claiming that he was "still the best man to lead" the Australian team. This is a player who has been on a Bradmanesque run making streak. Almost single-handedly holding the team's weak batting together to give their bowlers enough to win matches.

Now we hear of a possible life ban. His deputy, Warner, often in the cross-hairs of the behavior police, and Australia's second best run-maker in the team is also being potentially benched. An unheard of fierce response to an offense that is not the highest offense in the ICC's list of things that can get you in trouble.

There's glee, schadenfreude and a merry goulash of emotions emanating from all over the cricketing world. Past players, current players, commentators, bloggers have all been piling on. The reaction from many thinking people has been one of confusion. Unclear as to why Cricket Australia and the public would be willing to dump their best and second best player for a seemingly trivial offense. That too when the perpetrator has acknowledged, apologized, received the due punishment from ICC and is ready to move on.

The tendency of most boards is to "back their players" when charged with offenses. Most recently, South Africa mounted a furious six hour defense of Kagiso Rabada to dumb down a serious charge. India has routinely thrown tantrums when their players were caught on camera messing with the ball or charged with offenses that would lead to bans. Pakistan has deemed it worthy to forfeit a match and work "posthumously" to get their captain acquitted.

Australia taking the opposite route. Not only are they not backing their players, they are throwing the kitchen sink at them. They are putting the spirit of cricket above a book of ICC rules. Australia have always been proud of playing hard, but "fair". The people had been supportive of the players as long as they felt they were not cheating. But that thin string of trust has been broken by evidence and followed up with a banal apology.

No Australian till now had ever been sanctioned for cheating (ball tampering). Siddle came close but was found not guilty by the referee. Australia has never appealed against a match referee's decision for any offense. They have lived up to the commitment to the process. Contrast that with the responses from other nations.

Australia is willing to let go of their best players to maintain the sanctity of their country's hard won image of fair play. There is no better way to demonstrate commitment to fair sport. Those who see shallowness, opportunism or hypocrisy in this are well-served to look into their own country's responses. The best way out of darkness is sunshine and the Australian PM, public and board are willing to lose the cricket games to ensure that their integrity and sanctity is not put in doubt.

Australia has refrained from spinning a yarn around this, not played the victim and is copping it on their chin. Past players have spoken with one voice. Not one player past or present has come out in support of the players or coach seeking a more lenient view.

Other countries have defined patriotism to mean that any "smear" on their reputation is to be dealt with fierce outrage and potential retribution. This approach serves to embolden perpetrators to bend rules in the name of national honor (winning games). Australia, refreshingly I may add, has taken the approach that no one is allowed to compromise the honor of the nation by cheating in the name of the nation. Australia have attained the moral high ground and the hypocrites stand exposed. India, South Africa and others would do well to follow the Australian example instead of doubling down.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Something fishy about the South African pitches

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When South Africa toured India in the winter of 2015, the Nagpur Test lasted 247 overs. A little shy of 3 days assuming a 90 over day. The Capetown Test in comparison lasted 230 overs. And yet after the Nagpur Test questions were raised about the the pitch. It clearly seemed like the pitch had played out of character in comparison to previous Tests on the same ground. A combative Ravi Shastri; the architect of the "Hirwani Test"; had argued the right of the home team to make pitches that suit the strength of the home team.

It left a bad taste in the mouth for purists and Ian Chappel, who'd rather not have host captains meddle with pitch preparation. There was no real evidence of that but Ravi Shastri's comments did not help rule that possibility out.

South Africa lost the Nagpur Test by 124 runs. 40 wickets fell and The highest score in 4 innings in that Test was 215 that India scored on the first day. India too struggled to bat on the pitch

The ICC promptly called out Nagpur for the pitch not meeting Test standards. Or something like that.

Take the Capetown Test, the first Test on India's the ongoing tour of  South Africa.

India lost the test by 72 runs. 40 wickets fell and The highest score in 4 innings in that Test was 286 that South Africa scored on the first day. South Africa too struggled to bat on the pitch.

The Capetown pitch too played out of character. Just like in Nagpur, the scores in this Test at Capetown deviated from the norm. Yet the reaction from commentators which included ex-players was that this was a great Test match. No one questioned the pitch. Just that it had "spice". The ICC is unlikely to sanction the pitch.

The shortness of the Test even compared to the short Nagpur Test was perhaps masked by the fact the official 3rd day in Capetown was washed out.  Another factor could have been that India gave a much better account of themselves and thanks to some sparks from Hardik Pandya, and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar did not get blown away, like the South Africans were at Nagpur. Yet another factor that masked its shortness and prevented any questions about the pitch was that the scoring rate at Capetown across the Test, was 3.3 runs per over as compared to only 2.6 runs at Nagpur. So the Capetown Test was indeed more exciting than the Nagpur Test. There was more attractive cricket.

The single biggest factor though I feel that the pitch was never brought into discussion and assumed to be true and sporting was that India did not make an issue out of it. They had promised not to do so because otherwise it would have been hypocritical.

India seemed to have boxed themselves into letting South Africa and popular opinions; which do not always lend kindness to a traveling Indian team; run away with dictating the narrative of the pitches. So much so that in the second Test, they let Morne Morkel get away with setting the narrative that the Centurion pitch was "like playing in the subcontinent". India did not counter. They could not.

The rivalry between South Africa and India has deteriorated to a point that both sides are scared of losing at home to the other and not confident of winning in typical home conditions.

India started it.

I was hoping South Africa would take the high ground which would lead India to follow suit.