February 26, 2008

Who will rule the rulers?

Why should cricket's administrators get away scot-free for the travesties of Antigua and Karachi?


Over at last: Younis Khan's marathon comes to an end in Karachi © AFP
 

Barely had Test cricket returned to Pakistan than it endured the foulest of assaults. It would have been fitting if Pakistan had gone on batting all day, because the Test deserved to be remembered for the spurious meaninglessness that it engendered for four-and-a-half days. Five wickets in the last three hours infused a measure of drama that was so artificial that it was embarrassing to watch.

The truth is that cricket lovers in Pakistan, and indeed all over the world, were subjected to a match that defiled the very concept of sport. It couldn't be called a contest and it was unbearable to watch. If Test cricket were a human being, what went on in Karachi would have amounted to culpable homicide.

It was the second time in the space of 12 days that the game has been shamed. With hindsight, it was a mercy that the match in Antigua lasted only 10 balls. The one in Karachi went on and on, robbing the term "Test" of every strand of credibility and dignity; it was only a test of the patience and loyalty of cricket's most vital constituent, the spectator.

It is said that pitch preparation isn't an exact science and even the best efforts are not guaranteed to produce a good pitch. But draining every of ounce of life out of a pitch requires no special effort and it would seem the Pakistani curators have been specialising in the art. The Karachi pitch was not an aberration after all: it was merely an extreme manifestation of what has been the norm.

Let's tell the story in numbers. In the nine Tests played in Pakistan since 2006, 11,754 runs have been scored for the loss of 249 wickets, which returns an average of 47.20 per wicket. A simplistic calculation will make that an average of 470 runs per innings. The corresponding overall world average in that period stands at 34.73. In comparison, India, equally famous for its hospitality towards batsman, produces an average of 38.93, marginally ahead of Australia's 37.62. New Zealand comes across as the most bowler-friendly, with an average of 28.43, and South Africa is marginally behind at 29.03.

If the Test just concluded in Karachi felt insufferable, try this one at the beginning of 2006. Batting first in Lahore, Pakistan ran up a score of 679 for 7 at 4.73 runs per over, with Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan adding 319 runs in 65 overs. India responded with an opening partnership of 410 between VIrender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid at 5.3 runs per over. The misery of this runfest was only curtailed by bad weather, but there was no respite in the next match, in Faisalabad, with the scores reading Pakistan 588 and 490 for 8, India 603 and 21 for no loss. All these totals were finally put into context by the greenish pitch in Karachi, in a match India went to lose by 341 runs after they had Pakistan at 0 for 3 in the first over.

A triple century is a remarkable feat on any kind of wicket. Taken in isolation, Younis' performance is a stirring story. Pakistan were playing their first Test in 16 months; he had just been appointed captain with the specific brief to play saviour; and his team needed to score 444 just to avoid the follow-on. But because two double-hundreds preceded his innings and a 158 came afterwards, it will be a knock remembered mainly for its endurance and not for skill. And it's hard to imagine Kamran Akmal enjoying his 158, of which 98 came against the terrifying combination of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tharanga Paranavitana and Malinda Warnapura.

 
 
Administrators rarely lose the opportunity these days to present cricket as business. But it is unimaginable that in the corporate world an event as calamitous as the abandonment of a Test match due to administrative negligence would have been allowed to pass without punishment
 

Sehwag, the scorer of two triple-hundreds, recently chose his 201 against Sri Lanka in Galle as his best innings. His explanation was typically candid and shorn of pretence to modesty: never during his triple-hundreds, scored in Multan against Pakistan and in Chennai against South Africa, he had felt that the bowlers could get him out. In Galle, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis posed challenges every over, and only one other Indian batsman managed to go past 50. Cricketers know when they have earned their runs or wickets.

Of course, lessons are unlikely to be learnt from cricket's latest debacles. That's simply because it is unlikely there will be any repercussions. Unlike players, cricket administrators are rarely held to account. Giles Clarke, who was confirmed the ECB's chairman amidst calls for his resignation over his board's dalliance with Allen Stanford, claimed blithely to have received 9000 emails urging him to stay on and save English cricket. Twelve days after a Test was abandoned in Antigua because the custodians of a cricket stadium could not tell a beach from a playing field, the executive committee of the ICC came to the perceptive conclusion that "the responsibility for ensuring the delivery of a venue fit for the purpose of international cricket rested with the host Member board".

Administrators rarely lose the opportunity these days to present cricket as business. But it is unimaginable that in the corporate world an event as calamitous as the abandonment of a Test match due to administrative negligence would have been allowed to pass without punishment.

Players are, rightly, dropped because of non-performance. They are also fined and suspended for misconduct on the field. Batsmen are penalised for lingering on after being given out - even if wrongly so. Some of these transgressions are deemed to bring the game into disrepute. It is staggering that this code of conduct shouldn't apply to those who govern the game. Nothing has brought the game more disrepute in recent times than the events in Antigua and the mockery of a Test in Karachi.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

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