Torture and torment by Bodyline is not new to English cricket. They invented it, and inflicted it on the Australians in 1932-33. The Australians got even last year, after eight decades, as Harold Larwood was reborn at the other end of the globe as Mitchell Johnson. It seems that when Johnson was busy knocking over Englishmen by presuming the middle stump was located somewhere between their ribs and chins, India were watching and taking note. The victory at Lord's this Monday (July 21) brought us many interesting cricketing messages. That India could also intimidate with pace and bounce. But with six on the leg (including two short legs), no slip but a third man for the miscued hook, the intention and attitude were there. This is the new generation in Indian cricket, riding on the growing power of the game's establishment in their country.
But why are we mixing cricket and its power politics? What does the presence of N. Srinivasan, sharp suit, vermillion teeka and all, pacing between the boxes of BCCI and ICC, both of which he heads, have to do with this victory? Isn't this just a logical outcome of the rise of this mostly small-town group of Indian cricketers who now care for no reputation or past dues, so typical of a rising, aspirational society, and whose inadequacies with the English language no longer make them hold the Englishman in any awe? I savour two brilliant moments from this game, one off the field, the other on it. Both involve Ravindra Jadeja. He was asked at the end of day four, in a conversation on Sky Sports with Ian Ward and Shane Warne, why he flourished his bat the way he did after reaching his 50. "I don't know what you call it in English, but in my caste we call it talwar (sword) and we like to play with it like that," he said, beaming, with zero embarrassment. The second, in the manner he walked up to Jimmy Anderson, the last man he had just run out, to shake his hand in send-off, in mock gratitude or with casual delight I can't say. This was more significant because India have charged Anderson with getting unsportingly physical with Jadeja on the Trent Bridge staircase and they are not going to be forgiving in victory.
You might think I am overstating the point, but I speak as someone who still carries a scar from 22 years ago, from Port Elizabeth, when Kapil Dev was cruelly knocked on the shin with the bat by his South African counterpart, Kepler Wessels. I was then covering that series for INDIA TODAY. Millions saw Kapil bend over in pain. Wessels was furious because Kapil had just "Mankaded" Peter Kirsten. But knocking somebody on the shin with the bat? And that too the Kapil Dev? India protested, but sort of anaemically. If they had made a bigger deal of it, threatened to call off the tour, the South Africans would have been on their knees. But it was a different India then, and a different cricketing establishment. Even Kapil has never convincingly answered why he did not protest more strongly when he ended up with a big, blue and ugly bruise. He wasn't inclined to be drawn in even when I pressed him in the course of a long TV interview, except to say something like "nobody wanted a diplomatic complication".
Today's cricket establishment wouldn't be bothered by similar concerns. That is why Anderson is still in the dock, and the complainant, Jadeja, can give him a mocking handshake in send-off just after running him out. We have seen this power grow. In the way match referee Mike Denness was removed after he charged Sachin Tendulkar with ball tampering in South Africa (2001). In the soft treatment Harbhajan Singh got for whatever epithet he used for Andrew Symonds beginning with 'M'. It had to be a really forgiving jury to hold that a "compliment" of that kind directed at somebody's mom was less bad than if it was targeted at his origins.
That is the new power of Indian cricket. It means that when South Africans "offend" us merely because they elect as their board president somebody we don't like (Haroon Lorgat), we punish them by cutting our series there to two Tests. And when England please us by resuming the series after the 26/11 disruption, we reward them by accepting their request for a five-Test series, our first against anybody since 2002. This power also means that rules can change for India, a lament that ran across the rueful commentary following the Lord's result in the English media.
Even the usually measured and ever-so-scholarly Mike Brearley started his piece in The Times quoting Stuart Broad complaining that "batsmen wanted DRS, bowlers wanted DRS, crowds wanted DRS, but because India didn't want DRS, we didn't have DRS". In the context of the match it was cute that an Englishman should complain about not having DRS as they were the net gainers from bad umpiring by far, particularly Broad who had Ajinkya Rahane caught off his arm-guard. But the fact is, India have chosen to dislike DRS and rules are reset for them. Brearley went as far as to accuse India of stubbornness, of fearing a loss of face in now conceding DRS, and wished India were handed out some really bad decisions so they would fall in line.
The Economist's former India correspondent James Astill noted this rising power in his book, The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India. (Disclosure: I moderated a discussion with him and then BCCI Vice President Arun Jaitley to mark the book's release at British Council in New Delhi). "Having huffed and puffed to remove from the ICC's statute the Anglo-Australian veto that was never really wielded, the BCCI, through its financial stronghold on the game, had engineered one of its own. The result is that India can now cherry-pick (who to play against)... It can also demand India-sized exceptions to any ICC agreement." Astill then invoked Australian cricket writer Gideon Haigh to buttress his point: "This is more than a power shift. It is a change in the nature of power."
If mega tonnage of nukes has now made way for economic strength as a nation's strategic power, so has tradition and history yielded to financial muscle and spectator power on cricket's high table. World cricket will now decline without the cash India generates. That's why the international media detests the rise of the cement maker from Chennai, N. Srinivasan, as the global cricketing tsar, but has to accept it. And Srini is no goof. He is suave, articulate, knowledgeable on cricket, and warm. Contrary to what some hyper-ventilating prime-time warriors insinuate, he is not into cricket for money. Fame, power over the game he loves, yes. Ego, likely. But money, no. His India Cements has forever been a billion-dollar company and he travels for cricket at his own expense. But he can be abrasive and assume a take-no-prisoners attitude. Ask Lalit Modi.
I catch him at his celebratory dinner at London's St James Court on the day of the victory in the company of Dhoni, coach Duncan Fletcher and the team management. "We won the World Cup, a few series at home, but this evening, this victory, is something special," he says, deftly tapping his pipe. And he is not shy of talking of India's new power. In the past nobody wanted to come to India, we had to pay them guarantee money and yet their best players would decline to come (notably Geoffrey Boycott), he says, now they are demanding longer series with us. It has taken India 70-80 years to get here, he says, and he is not done yet. At another level, though, here also is the delicious paradox of the same Indian politicians who make such a mess of our governance doing a brilliant job of cricket. BCCI is India's only truly multi-partisan body. If only our Parliament could work like that occasionally.
Dogs and Englishmen
Sunil Gavaskar once poured scorn over county cricket by asking who comes to watch it but some beer-drinking old men and dogs. But there is something endearing about Englishmen and dogs.
At the Farnborough air show last Sunday, the commentator drew applause for the RAF pilot performing aerobatics in an Eurofighter typhoon (though I have seen our IAF do even better with its Sukhoi Su-30) by announcing that he was a local lad from Southampton and that his dog was called Toby. I am sure Mr Toby was flattered. So should little Ms Lola be. Because lifelong Lancashireman (but a total Bambai ka Bawa inside) Farokh Engineer constantly has her unmistakable terrier's bark accompany him: it is his ring tone.
Pushing 80 now, he is incorrigible. At a reception, I introduced him to a friend's child as the man who scored the fastest Test century ever (Madras, 46 balls, against West Indies, 1966-67). Farokh bent backwards, tapped the back of the guest behind him and said, here, meet the man who scored the slowest. Sunil Gavaskar wasn't amused, and Farokh wasn't giving up, "Oye dhikra (Mumbai lingo for chhokra), I always say between you and me, we have 36 hundreds. I have two, and you the rest."
On the drive to Lord's on victory day Farokh talked about India's rise, about how much BCCI has done for former cricketers, about how the capital of world cricket has now shifted from London to India, the only regret for him being that it's to Chennai, not Mumbai.
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