Friday, August 04, 2006

Cricket Blasphemy: Can God be questioned?


I start off by putting an article below which I could not read because I do not subscribe to Times of India (thank god for it), but which every channel and publication discussed so avidly that I was feeling left out. Thanks Satya for giving me access to the below:
I was a fan of Sanjay Manjrekar, like I am of Rahul Dravid now. In fact, Manjrekar was supposed to be the missing link between Gavaskar' and Dravid's era, and what a lethal combo would it have made with the pomp of Tendulkar. Manjrekar would also have made a superb captain for India, though I think he would have been slightly defensive (and I don't think Dravid is defensive).

When I first started watching cricket intelligently, just before India's defining tour to Australia in 1991-92, Sanjay Manjrekar was my favourite cricketer. Good-looking (yes I think so), calm, sober, suave, correct, everything which an old-fashioned cricket should be like. He went to Australia considered the technically best-equipped batsman in the world, definitely India's best, but returned yielding that crown to Tendulkar. The story was very similar to Dravid's first trip down under in 1999-2000, and maybe that's why I like Dravid so much, he changed the script to follow a different route from Manjrekar's.

Anyways, Manjrekar was never the same batsman again after his Aussie tour, and his interviews during his playing days were slightly bitter: changes in batting-slots, techniques, defending his not-so-good innings, etc. In fact, even in his good days, he came across as slightly curt. He thought the hugely controversial Aaqib Javed hat-trick against India in Sharjah was perfectly legitimate, in fact the only doubt was whether Azhar had got a nick (what about Sachin's decision on the rolls of his pad). And he was best equipped to judge the same along with the umpire, as he was the non-striker. I am not sure whether this might have made him a popular team-man.

Manjrekar played his last test in 1996 against South Africa as a Test opener, subsequent to which he was dropped. After a couple of superb first-class seasons in spite of which he was never selected for the Test team (or even shortlisted amongst probables), he retired from the game in 1998. His first candid moment came on 'Harsha Unplugged' on ESPN in the same year, when he talked about his youthful aspiration to be the next Gavaskar, and how is international career gave him no joy subsequent to his Test hundred against Zimbabwe in 1992.

I was possibly the first fan of Manjrekar the commentator. Ten Sports and others realised it slightly later, but even today lotsa people find him funny. However, the people whose opinions matter to me find him very good and insightful. He belongs to a list of my favourite commentators, along with Ian Chappell, Richie Benaud, Harsha Bhogle, Geoffrey Boycott, and Tony Cozier. In fact, I am slightly peeved at Ten Sports for removing him from live commentary for India matches, though the non-live programming is a treat to watch primarily because of him.

What I specifically like about him is his complete honesty in accepting his own short-comings and failures. It is very similar to Bhogle's style which has endeared Harsha as the non-players' voice on cricket. Harsha rarely criticises, just suggests. Similarly, Manjrekar accepts he finished his career as an unrealised potential, and like Harsha, genuinely backs steps which will improve Indian cricket.

Manjrekar has been a friend, teammate, captain of Sachin, and hence knows him and his game even better. The current article has been written in light of this familiarity, and that's why I guess is a very bold attempt as I think it is actually a critique. It is anyways diffcult to criticise a friend, it becomes herculean when the friend happens to be Sachin Tendulkar. And however much I want Sachin to come back with a bang (refer my previous post on Chotu), in the recent past, he has given enough reasons to at least get questioned.

The point which Manjrekar has raised, on his Bangladesh trip, puzzled me also. Remember, Sachin got his highest score on that trip, which also equalled him with Sunny Gavaskar's record. While it increasingly seems obvious that Ponting will smash that record if his last season's form continues even by half, there are some reasonable doubts how good will Sachin ever return as. Even earlier, when Sachin had beel left stranded at 194*, Manjrekar was the first one to hail this as a positive move, simply by virtue of being the first to be on-air. As John Wright has made it public now, Sachin was genuinely disappointed at the decision. This then genuinely casts doubts on Sachin's motives, as he himself made no efforts to speed up things to reach the milestone quicker, facilitating a prompt declaration.

More disappointing has been Sachin's retort to Manjrekar: "I don't want to comment much, but I feel sorry that an ex-India player has made statements without checking and without talking to the people concerned. I also find it surprising that he has made these statements without being in the dressing room and knowing the true situation."

To which Manjrekar replied in the most dignified manner possible: ""All that I had to say I wrote in my article. It is out there and people are reading it. I have nothing more to say."

The finishing point, pls go through Sambit Bal's superb rejoinder on the same:

3 comments:

Abhigyan said...

And Ian Chappell's thoughts on the same....

http://ww3.mid-day.com/sports/international/2006/august/141411.htm

satya said...

yeah, this is a good piece and very topical too.

I think Manjrekar's article very sympathetic to Tendulkar and also does exhibit his sincereity.

My earliest cricket memory was the Reliance Cup in 1987 but it was with the Indian cricket team's tour to Pakistan in 1989 under K. Srikant with a struggling for form, Md. Azharuddin and a debutant Tendulkar that forms a deeper and continous memory for me. Manjrekar, who I didnt know then, also travelled with the team.

Tendulkar made his debut in that series, Azhar found his form and was made captain after the series and Manjrekar flowered to be the main stay of the Indian cricket team till the 1992 world cup in Australia which marks the end of the high point of his cricketing innings. One dayers or test matches, Manjrekar's solid defense and his string of consistent performances was a treat to watch. It was sad to see him struggle all those years but Manjrekar got a number of chances to regain his golden touch which he never did. In one of his years, he had five man of the series awards in his kitty.

If there was one cricketer who i had genuine affection for it was Manjrekar though after his dismal performances i largely choose to ignore the good times he gave me.

Reading the Mid Day piece left me euphoric about the great fortune of the Indian team to have such an enlightened coach, till on reading it again here I realize it is Ian Chappel and not Greg!

The John Wright book controversy is pretty crazy, why doesnt someone get the book to India. I doubt the book has a market in NZ.

Every cricket journalist worth his salt has taken a shot at the Wright controversy but I still think this piece in (i)The Hindu (i) by Makarand Waingankar on 1 August, takes the cake with its hostility to Wright and his "foreignness".

Available at
http://www.hindu.com/2006/08/01/stories/2006080106762000.htm

These are the final lines of the article,"There is a lesson for Indian cricket. Insert a clause in the contracts of the coach and the support staff that will prevent them, during and after their tenure, from making scandal-mongering attacks on the Indian cricket fraternity."

Totally in conformity with the Right to Information Act amendments that the Cabinet is putting through with alacrity!

Mera Bharat Mahan!

Abhigyan said...

check out rohit brijnath's measured response to the same two controversies, in the same publication as Satya has mentioned

http://www.hindu.com/2006/08/02/stories/2006080208701800.htm