Silly Point: The UPI cricket column

By UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL  |  Oct. 8, 2002 at 12:10 PM
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UPI Editors Krishnadev Calamur and Martin Hutchinson look at the upcoming fixtures in the cricketing world.

Pakistan wants to India to resume matches


Should nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, whose leaders refuse to shake hands or exchange pleasantries at international events, resume cricketing ties?

Cricket has been one of the few things that unites the Indian subcontinent, home to more than one-sixth of humanity. At other times, the region combats poverty, religious fundamentalism and, like in many other parts of the world, wariness to the changes that modernization has introduced, but when it comes to cricket, the region can compete on even terms with the rest of the world, or at least the rest of the cricketing world.

The region's two largest countries, India and Pakistan, which are otherwise at loggerheads, even support each other when it comes to cricket, but the two nations haven't played each other since a tournament held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2000. The Indian government says it won't allow its cricket team to play against the Pakistanis until Islamabad stops what India calls "cross-border terrorism" in disputed Kashmir. Some see that stand as strange because India and Pakistan compete against each other in other sports, including field hockey and even in junior-level cricket.

Now comes the Asia Cup to be played in Pakistan in April 2003. Indian participation is needed to guarantee the tournament is a financial success, but the Board of Cricket control in India, which oversees the game in the country, has not confirmed participation. The Pakistan Cricket Board has gone as far as to suggest it will shift the tournament's venue to Bangladesh if India agrees to play.

Tauqir Zia, head of the PCB, said he had spoken to his Indian counterpart, Jagmohan Dalmiya, about the tournament.

"I have asked (him) to get the government permission in writing," he said in a recent interview to the Indo Asian News Service. "Only then will we change the venue, otherwise it remains Pakistan."

Many hope that if India plays Pakistan it could mean the resumption of cricketing ties between the two neighbors.

"He (Dalmiya) said probably the Indian government was inclined to give permission to play in multilateral tournaments," Zia said. "If the ice is broken by playing there (Dhaka), then we might have bilateral matches in future."

"It will be a very good diplomacy if we resume cricketing ties," he said.

Several countries have skipped their Pakistan tours of late because of the attacks on Western targets in the country, forcing the team to face opponents at neutral venues such as Morocco and Sri Lanka. The PCB says it has lost $25 million because of this.

"And most of the money we have lost is because India is not visiting Pakistan," Zia said.

He said he had asked the International Cricket Conference, the game's governing body, to approach former South African President Nelson Mandela to mediate between the two countries and resume cricketing ties.

"I have suggested that if they could request Mandela, who has some influence over India," Zia said.

Other cricket news:

During a two-day meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the ICC Executive Board said it will send team to Zimbabwe, co-host along with South Africa and Kenya, for next year's World Cup, to investigate in late November safety and security conditions in the country before the tournament starts.

Zimbabwe has been the object of international attention after President Robert Mugabe announced the seizure of all white-owned farms in the country. The move was criticized and several international organizations, including the European Union and the Commonwealth, most of whose members are cricketing nations, censured the move.

Several white farmers have been killed or forced from their homes and Mugabe has also been accused of using intimidation to silence his political rivals.

ICC President Malcolm Gray said the inspection teams would play an important role.

"There are a number of matches programmed in Zimbabwe and the ICC will be taking all possible steps to fulfill this obligation," he said.

He said the team would look into safety concerns players may have.

"Part of ensuring this is to deal with any real or perceived concerns that any country may have about safety and security issues in Zimbabwe," he said. "This visit will provide the ICC and its key stakeholders with the opportunity to make a first hand assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe."

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Australia -- the highest mountain


An England cricket team touring Australia these days must feel rather like Charlie Brown watching Lucy tee up the football yet again -- he knows she will withdraw it at the last minute, and make him look and feel ridiculous. Yet the attempt must be made, the kick must be delivered, ideally with the determination of Adam Vinatieri's last minute field goal that won Super Bowl XXXVII.

It was not always thus.

The psychological domination of Australia over England goes back a long way, of course, in fact, to the "bodyline" tour of 1932-33. Centenarian readers may remember that in that tour Douglas Jardine and Harold Larwood invented modern fast bowling tactics and won the Test series 4-1 against Don Bradman, the greatest batsman of all time, only to have the Marylebone Cricket Club cave in cravenly to Australian whining and effectively have the result annulled. It was more than 20 years before England won another Test series against Australia, during which period Bradman twice (1946-7 and 1948) pummeled England with exactly the same kind of aggressive fast bowling attack that the MCC had theoretically outlawed in 1934.

Ever since 1934, whenever England has won in Australia (and it hasn't happened very often) a strong segment of Australian opinion has tried to annul the result. In 1954-5, Hutton used Jardine-style fast bowling tactics -- clearly illegitimate when used against Australia. In 1970-71, England won in a seventh Test match only scheduled because a previous match in the series had been wiped out by rain. In 1978-79 Mike Brearley's team wiped the floor with them -- but of course all the best Australian cricketers were absent, playing for Kerry Packer's World Cricket circus. In 1986-7 Mike Gatting's side eked out a narrow victory -- and nearly got that epitome of Australian ruggedness Alan Border, the losing captain, fired for being too wimpy.

Gatting's tour, in which the English performance began superbly and then deteriorated sharply over the course of the tour, was also the first tour in which Mike Stewart was appointed as England manager, and imposed on the touring party his Spartan tracksuit regime, concentrating on routine physical jerks rather than cricketing technique. It is no coincidence that the decline of David Gower and Ian Botham, the last truly transcendent England players, began from that tour, and that England have not won or even tied a Test series against Australia since.

This time, England look a little stronger than before their last three tours (1990-1, 1994-5 and 1998-9), all of which ended in decisive victories for Australia. However, we thought English fortunes were due for a renaissance in 2001, which series ended in a 4-1 win by Australia. Indeed the previous Australian tour of England, when English cricket was thought to be at low ebb, in 1997, produced England's best performance since Gatting, with Mike Atherton's team losing only 3-2. So even though England seem stronger than they were, fortunes could shift and Australia could win all the Tests, something they have only done once, in 1920-21.

Conversely, fortune could swing the other way, and England could win, or at least salvage a draw. Well, one can dream ...

In terms of recent form, the India series, drawn 1-1, was moderately encouraging for England. On the positive side, Michael Vaughan, with 615 runs at an average of over 100, emerged as a full-fledged star, albeit perhaps as Cyril Washbrook to Marcus Trescothick's Len Hutton. If this is the case, they will form England's first top quality opening pair since Geoff Boycott and John Edrich in the 1970s -- while Graham Gooch was an excellent opening batsman, he was 12 years younger than Boycott and 10 years older than Mike Atherton, so could not establish a long term opening pair relationship with either.

Matthew Hoggard, too, emerged as a full-fledged strike bowler, young enough at 25 to play an increasingly important role as Darren Gough, 32, and Andy Caddick, 33, lose some of their firepower. On the negative side, England proved again it now has no spin bowling worth a damn, as Ashley Giles took 5-364 in the series, compared with 14 wickets for Anil Kumble and 12 for Harbhajan Singh.

The ICC Champions Trophy, in Sri Lanka, in which England were knocked out, told us nothing useful about the side -- short one-day competitions hardly ever do -- but was moderately depressing for England's chances in the World Cup at the end of the winter.

The touring side to Australia contains the usual mixture of selectoral blunders and interesting new faces. Leaving out Dominic Cork, three years younger than Caddick, as good a bowler and a much better batsman may turn out to be a big mistake, though certainly he had a mediocre series in Australia in 1998-99. Alec Stewart, 40 next April, may turn out to be a blunder similar to that of selecting Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting to tour Australia in 1994-95, when they were both well past their sell-by date and performed poorly, in Gatting's case, abysmally. This is typical of England selectors, who tend to stick with established players too long, rather than bringing in new blood. The only backup for Stewart is the classy but very inexperienced James Foster of Essex, back in the squad after missing almost all the 2002 season through injuries in May and July -- probably the boldest and best selection in the squad, but a risk nonetheless.

On the bowling side, the spin attack looks very weak, with the selectors' grim determination to persevere with Ashley Giles being backed up only with the off-spin of Richard Dawson, lucky to be back in the squad (he played three Tests in India last winter) after taking only 40 first class wickets in 2002 at an average of 38.5. Of the fast bowlers, Stephen Harmison and Simon Jones both looked promising against India this summer, although I would have preferred Cork instead of one of them.

Among the batsmen, finally, there were no new faces in the original touring party, surely a mistake if England is to build for the future. However, Robert Key, with a promising debut against India at 23 and a first class batting average of 41 has now been picked as replacement for Graham Thorpe, who has pulled out. Thorpe's loss will hurt England's chances in the short term, but "blooding" Key may well prove more important in the long run. I would also have considered Ian Bell, in spite of a poor domestic season, and perhaps Jamie Troughton, 23, of Warwickshire, who averaged over 50 in his first full season.

It will be an uphill struggle. Next month I will look at the Australians, still ranked No. 1 in world cricket, and the task England faces.

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