October 27, 2008

A Fanatical offence, Benaud's cap, and a missing coach

T-shirt slogans, Warnie's recall, and a Gibbs double feature

The Australian supporters have kissed and made up with the Indian public © Getty Images

Gettin' shirty with it
The Australians have had a tough time in India, and it's not just the players. A group of supporters called the Fanatics enraged locals in Mohali and had to make a public apology for "offensive" written material on their official t-shirts. The t-shirts' slogan "Beers with Mahatma, bets with Gupta, dancing with Indira and still getting the runs," was apparently misinterpreted by local fans. Warren Livingstone, the Fanatics' founder, explained that Mahatma referred to the former Test cricketer Greg Ritchie's "Mahatma Coat" Character; Gupta is Mukesh Gupta, the bookmaker in the infamous Shane Warne and Mark Waugh match-fixing scandal; and Indira is Indira Naidoo, a former Australian journalist of Indian origin, who they described as their "schoolyard sex symbol".

The issue was featured as a lead story on a local news channel. A bemused Livingstone said the Fanatics had sailed through their three previous tours to India without any such controversies. He said: "Anyone that has travelled to India will know that you have to be light-hearted or you'll go crazy. I've seen the television news footage and enjoyed it when they repeated the last line about 'getting the runs' without any idea of what the slogan meant."

Whose cap is it anyway?
A baggy green cap supposedly worn by Richie Benaud on a tour to South Africa in 1957-58 is expected to fetch up to A$25,000 in a Melbourne auction. The twist is that Benaud isn't sure it's really his cap. "I never kept a cap or a blazer," he told the Sydney Daily Telegraph. "They just disappeared, no one bothered keeping them in those days." He noted an instance when one his caps was bought for 50 cents and sold for $10,925. Michael Fahey, who recently published the first history of the Australian Test cap, The Baggy Green, explained why Benaud's response isn't so surprising: players back then often received caps that did not fit and hence traded them with their team-mates. They sometimes received so many on tours that there would be enough to fill a cupboard, and many were regularly given away to friends and acquaintances. Fahey added that Benaud gave one away to an airport customs official after a tour. So don't leap for the sky when you see a cap with the name tag "R Benaud".

No idea, boss
More bemusement, this time in Cuttack. When the India Red team practiced on the eve of the opening game of the Challenger Series last week, they were without a coach. It was understood that Praveen Amre, the former Indian batsman, had been appointed to the team but his absence was a mystery, so much so that one of the players, Rohit Sharma, even admitted he had no idea who the coach was. Amre turned out to be in Mumbai, and when the media contacted him he said he had been appointed in principle but was yet to receive official word from the BCCI. All N Srinivasan, the board secretary, could say was that the "matter was being looked into". Amre eventually landed in Cuttack and blamed the mess on a "communication gap".

Total recall
For a change, teams world over can afford a chuckle at the plight of Australia. The well of spin talent in Australia seems to have run dry - a desperate situation that inspired a rather desperate measure. A newspaper in the country launched an online petition to convince the world Test record-holder Shane Warne to reverse his retirement, nearly two years after he called it quits. "There's no polite way to spin this. Australian cricket needs a helping hand. Our stocks of quality frontline bowlers are low. We don't have a spinner worthy of the title," the Daily Telegraph wrote. "It's time to send out an SOS to SKW [Shane Keith Warne]. Shane Warne, it's time you came out of retirement." Warne's remarkable stint as a player and captain of the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL must have played a part in prompting this step, but will he budge from retirement? Watch this space.

Worth the weight?
Kentucky Fried Chicken is on a sponsorship rampage. Having secured deals with Cricket Australia and its players, the company has done the same with Cricket South Africa as well, signing up as an official supplier. But will it be smooth sailing? CA ran into rough water recently when researchers at the University of Sydney blamed the board for increasing obesity among youth by associating its national cricketers and icons with the company. A survey found a 3.1% increase in levels of overweight from 1995 to 2004-05 in the country. In South Africa meanwhile, KFC made a novel start by raising funds for the World Food Programme by donating R60,000 for every six hit by Herschelle Gibbs off a bowling machine at the launch event.

You just lost ₤ 125,000
With the Stanford 20/20 for 20 series kicking off, a lot of talk, naturally, has centred around the massive amounts of money players stand to gain. The Observer on Sunday carried a feature on the Most Expensive Mistakes in Sport (six in all). At No. 5 is Herschelle Gibbs: you don't have to scratch your head too much to figure out why. Remember the 1999 World Cup Super Six game when Gibbs appeared to gobble a sitter at midwicket, only to spill the ball while attempting a rather premature celebration? Steve Waugh, the batsman at the time, strolled up to Gibbs and allegedly quipped, "You just dropped the World Cup, son." That drop cost South Africa the match, and the paper estimated the damages at ₤125,000. Ouch. At No. 1 on the list is Michael Gray's missed penalty in the 1998 Division One play-off final between Charlton and Sunderland, which cost a queasy-making ₤10 million.

Headline of the Week
"Uthappa's blitz gives Badri's Reds the blues"
The Challenger Trophy was a headline writer's dream and the Times of India cashed in

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo