Monday, January 10, 2005

Why do our heroes do this to themselves?

If you love cricket, you almost certainly love cricketers as well. There’s something about the men (and occasionally women) who play the game that draws you to them. Cricket, more than any other sport, forms a protective umbrella around the players that made the game. Nowhere do you see former sportsmen accommodated – in coaching roles, administrative posts, media spots – as cricket. But, in recent times, this has eroded the respect fans would normally have for players.

Which Indian now remembers Krish Srikkanth for his fearless hitting? Who remembers the manner in which he took on great fast bowlers – men no lesser than Andy Roberts and company – and hooked with only a visorless helmet for protection? Who remembers the startling batting at the top of the order? Who remembers him top-scoring in the final of the World Cup in 1983 when India won? Sadly, he is now remembered for his outrageous, often ill-timed but well-intentioned comments in front of the mike in one TV show or the other.

But, it’s not just the hard-hitting Srikkanths who have come out worse for wear through media work. Anyone who has met Bobby Simpson, as I have in his frequent visits to the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai, will tell you he is a charming man. Full of the old values and anecdotes that you associate with a well-thumbed cricket book you might find in a library, Simpson is a man you can spend hours listening to. His views – especially on illegal bowling actions, a subject he’s an expert on, having served on several panels to deal with this thorny issue – have always been accepted with some manner of reverence.

But, recently, Simpson has done himself no good with the columns he has written. Not weeks ago, he wrote a piece panning Dennis Lillee for the dearth of quality swing bowlers in Australia. Lillee, who was fast-bowling consultant to the academy in Australia, did not swing the ball, contented Simpson. Anyone who has seen footage of Lillee bowl knows this is not true. Lillee certainly had the pace, bounce and mental strength to get rid of batsmen even without swinging the ball, but as one of Lillee’s contemporaries put it, “Simmo must have had an old black and white TV then, and had trouble spotting the ball, for Dennis took half his wickets with away-swingers.”

But, if having a go at one of the finest fast bowlers ever to grace the game was not enough, Simpson went one better in his latest column. Charged with the task of picking an all-time Australian Test XI, he struggled, meandered, explained, and finally picked himself as one of the opening batsmen. Now, there’s no doubting that Simpson was one of the great opening batsmen Australia has produced, but it’s beyond the scope of this piece to debate the merit of Simpson’s selection. The manner in which he laboured to justify his selection left you shaking your head and feeling just a little sad. No former great – who has proven himself as a cricketer and coach – should do this to himself.

Yet, they routinely do, and the cricket world is poorer for it.

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