The first, well, it is a bizarre decision to completely put Shoaib and Asif in the clear. It sends out a really poor message to potential sports dopers, and there seems little doubt that the result has been politically achieved. It makes Pakistani, and subcontinental justice, seem ineffectual and self-serving, which is a strange signal to give after the strong stance the authorities seem to have taken in the case. The ICC too can do nothing about it, as it was not under their jurisprudence that the duo was found guilty. Shane Warne would be right in wondering if he got a raw deal. Good for spectators of the game though, as both these bowlers are a joy to watch. This also makes Pakistan a major threat in world cricket again.
As far as Sidhu is concerned, that’s a less bizarre decision, but the circumstances make up for that. In December 1988, Sidhu and a friend of his were involved in a street brawl with a fifty-year-old man over a dispute related to parking of their car. In the physical fight that followed, apparently they struck the man repeatedly in anger, and one of the blows apparently hit his head. The man, who had a heart condition, died of a heart attack later in hospital. Sidhu and his friend were booked for homicide not amounting to murder, but were out on bail, as it was deemed to be an accident probably. Sidhu went through some amount of personal churning, found spirituality and generally became an easy-going (though very garrulous) man. His cricket career went places and he too traveled around the world as an international cricketer, with many memorable moments. In 1999, he was acquitted by a lower court, but the family of the deceased went to a higher court. And this court has now found Sidhu guilty and sentenced him to three years in prison. It has taken 18 years to get this far! And now, Sidhu is all set to appeal to the Supreme Court which could take another 8-10 years perhaps to come to a verdict. It has to make one wonder what value that kind of justice could have for anybody.
Onto more cheery subjects – the boorishness of the Aussies, as per what Ravi and Jonathan feel. The West Indian point-of-view is very interesting here, and the bus driver appalled by abuses is a very sorry state of affairs indeed. In India however, as I alluded earlier, it is the English who have been unpopular. The Aussies have generally been controversy-free (except for an incident with a drunken Ponting in Kolkata during his younger days) and Steve Waugh’s involvement with an orphanage in Kolkata probably led to a considerable amount of goodwill. Also, the quality of India-Australia test cricket seen in India, particularly in the last 8-10 years, probably kept the focus on the game.
With the English it was different, and nothing much seems to have changed on that front.
One has to say though that the captain makes a big difference. Aussie captains in the recent past - Border, Taylor and Waugh were exemplary in their own way, and that took the focus from individual team-members perhaps. Ponting, however, does not have the same class in terms of behaviour (it is hard to see a Waugh or Taylor-led Aussie team behave like they did at the Champions Trophy presentation) and this is beginning to reflect in the overall view perhaps now.
And as far as last year’s English Ashes win is concerned, Jonathan, I’m not suggesting it was a freak act (because we are talking test cricket after all), but that the relentless consistency of intense cricket was a freak occurrence in the context of contemporary English cricket. It is not a slur on their ability but on their mindset. And this has certainly been borne out by everything the team has done (or not done) after that. I’m just saying it’s not injuries that has done them in, as English fans like to think, but a peculiarly complacent and characteristically pusillanimous cricketing culture, or maybe sporting culture, as their football team seems to suffer from it too.
Whatever England do, unless Australia drop their intensity, they are going to get clobbered in this series. Time will tell, as it always does so eloquently.