Antony of cricket, Shastri of politics
By: M. J. AKBAR
What does tight-lipped Congress politician A.K. Antony have in common with loquacious cricket commentator Ravi Shastri? Both have been summoned from the woodwork to pass judgement on a debacle. Antony had the simpler task, for he was told the answers much before he began to ask questions about the Congress humiliation in this year’s general elections. His verdict was served as ordered. Everyone was responsible for the Congress defeat except those actually in charge of the party, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. An official scapegoat was named: inevitably, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Any other conclusion would have been lèse-majesté, an insult to the prevailing sovereign of the Sonia-Vadra dynasty.
The lords of Indian cricket have, so far, blamed the wreck of our team during an English summer on treacherous weather; four letter words; the coach, Duncan Fletcher; Ishant Sharma’s unreliable bone structure; and star player Virat Kohli’s oomphy girlfriend. Our captain, M.S. Dhoni, who surrendered to the English with the agility of Siraj ud Daulah at the Battle of Plassey, was never at fault. Dhoni is a crony of the BCCI boss N. Srinivasan. The boss and his gang are never wrong. Ravi Shastri knows that. That is why he has been appointed the Antony of cricket.
So what should our cricket aristocracy do next? There is a simple option. The Indian Test side should reposition itself as a one-day outfit. Our bowlers can’t keep line and length beyond a strenuous 50 overs. As for our batsmen, whether it’s a Test match or a one-dayer, they do not last even that long, so why pretend? They are professional processionals. They depart for the pavilion in an orderly procession.
We might, however, be required by some clause in the international treaty governing relations between cricket-nations to play some Tests. If such is the case, we are in luck. The president of our Board is the most powerful man in world cricket, and so he can use his considerable influence to ensure that we play all future Tests against Zimbabwe, and only in Chennai weather. After we have successfully negotiated this African hurdle, we can be promoted to playing Bangladesh, then move westwards to Pakistan and South Africa before reversing to Australia in around 2022. The next series against England can be scheduled for the winter of 2024 when, hopefully, the icy weather will be so bad that play will be impossible.
I learn from the noble, all-purpose historian Bill Bryson that the term cricket derives from the French criquet. I could not immediately see the connection, but apparently this is the sound — if you are speaking French — you hear when bat hits ball. Presumably “crack” is a relative of criquet; hence the phrase “crack off the bat”. Some purist philosophers of the reformist persuasion are beginning to feel that we need to find another name for cricket in India, since most of our batsmen never get anywhere near the ball. I would, however, consider this an extreme step.
We should just stop calling our batsmen “cricketers” on the legitimate grounds that this is gross exaggeration; they don’t, as noted, actually ever hit the ball. They generally blow air kisses with their bats outside the off stump. Is this a psychological reaction to the fact that their wives, and more dangerously, girlfriends, are on tour with them? Possible, but we cannot be certain without more investigation and perhaps some subtle, but not coercive, interrogation. A long chat with Kohli and Anushka should certainly be on Ravi Shastri’s agenda. Nothing personal about this, naturally. Nor should we prejudge the outcome. If it is discovered after serious research that Kohli would have scored even fewer runs had his paramour not been with him 24/7, then the Board must consider the possibility of making wives and girlfriends compulsory members of every tour, all expenses paid. Perhaps Shastri will offer such a proposal for consideration, with cheers all around.
It is also time that BCCI begins to invest a good bit of its hoarded cash on climate change. The trouble with climate change in Britain is that the damn thing isn’t changing; Pankaj Roy had the same excuse when Freddie Trueman bowled him for a duck in the early 1950s.
Moreover, the weather is racist. The ball swings only when India is batting, never when England is at the crease. In addition, our players must get special classes on how to swear. At the moment their four-letter words are anaemic, unless they are using Hindi, which the English neither understand nor care much for.
Finally, as in Congress, Indian cricket also needs a scapegoat. Indian politics offers an excellent precedent. Blame someone, like Dr. Manmohan Singh, who is not going to be in the next team in any case.
Stand up, Fletcher, put on the dunce cap and go to the corner. Nothing thereby is lost, except the truth, and who needs truth?
M. J. Akbar is an eminent Indian journalist. Write to him at: firstname.lastname@example.org