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Cricket needs to stop thinking defensively

Peter Roebuck

Cricket remains the most controversial of games. At times it is hard to remember that it is only a game and supposed to be fun. But, then, cricket stopped being merely a recreation long ago and instead became both an industry and an expression of national pride. Once its leading nations became independent it was only a matter of time before they began asserting themselves.

Consider events this week. In Perth the captain of Pakistan decided that the time had come to eat the ball. Shahid Afridi did so openly, brazenly. Observers speculated that the fare at the ground had been poor and he was hungry. Others concluded that he had taken leave of his senses. Inevitably he was suspended for two matches.

No sooner had these events unfolded than bowlers around the world were up in arms; not so much to justify Afridi’s aberration as the fuss batsmen make whenever a long suffering flinger tries to even the odds. Those convinced that relations are bad between Congress and the BJP ought to take a look at those between batsmen and bowlers.

Pitch invasion

In the same insane hour and at the same venue as Afridi’s impromptu meal came a pitch invasion by a drunken 37-year old. Nor did this interloper limit himself to streaking or sidestepping the sleeping security officers. Instead he charged at a Pakistani fieldsman and tackled him, knocking him over.

As it happens the victim was not seriously hurt but the attack could not be taken lightly. Players in various sports have been wounded in body and sometimes mind by these sudden assaults. Nowadays heavy fines are imposed on pitch invaders on every Australian ground except one — Perth. This reckless intruder will be charged with assault and has even been banned from the ground. Barbed wire and drinking restrictions will follow.

Next India called its High Commissioner in Australia home to discuss the attacks on Indian students. It was intended as a message to the Australians to give the assaults their due. Relations between the game’s powerhouses have soured. Shiv Sena says it will stop all IPL matches involving Australians.

As a matter of urgency Australian cricketers ought to get together with the large Indian community in Melbourne. It’s a chance to use their clout. Shane Warne and Brett Lee have smoked the peace pipe but otherwise little has been heard from the leading players, past or present. And the same applies to the top Indian cricketers; they too have a part to play.

No consensus

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand cannot agree on a candidate to serve as the ICC’s deputy president in 2010. The Kiwis are backing their man, Sir John Anderson, a highly-regarded businessman with a deep knowledge and long-standing commitment to the game.

Unwilling to back its own chairman and unable to find anyone suitable on its Board, Cricket Australia has nominated former Prime Minister John Howard, a cricket enthusiast but a divisive figure regarded with suspicion in many senior cricket countries. Apparently Australia believes that a heavyweight political figure alone can get the ICC back on track. It is concerned about the poor governance in so many cricket playing countries, including Zimbabwe, a nation still in the hands of poisonous snakes.

It’s all enough to make followers of the game despair. But there is another way of looking at it. Clearly the stakes are high. But these problems arise because cricket is the most mixed of games. Adversity can be an opportunity. Cricket needs to stop thinking defensively and cast itself as breeding ground for diversity and toleration.

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