February 5, 2010

The rebel who could be king, and a rule whose time may be up

Why Afridi may be the captain Pakistan needs, and why the case against ball-tampering may not be as strong as some of us think
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Shahid Afridi has always brought the essence of roulette to cricket. Not just the gambling variety but the rather more deadly Russian version. Predicting what Afridi is likely to do on a cricket field is like putting money on one of the 37 numbers on a roulette wheel and hoping you get it right. Off the field, though, he is more the oddball, likely to put the gun to his head and pull the trigger with one bullet in the clip. He has added greatly to the game but has self-destructed beyond imagination; a flash of genius one moment and a descent towards stupidity the next. Nobody else would do a pirouette on the pitch with spikes on. Hardly anyone would score a century off 45 balls opening the batting against a potent adversary. And certainly nobody would bite a dirty cricket ball and hope to camouflage the act by saying he was smelling it!

I am not sure which was the more daft act: actually biting the ball (and testing his immunity!) or saying he did so to win his side a match (having realised that the "smelling the ball" approach was a touch flawed). It couldn't have got worse for Pakistan, with the trademark boardroom squabbles at full pitch, a pathetic performance on the field, and the hysteria over the IPL auction. Their real problems actually figure in that order; they'd be in reverse if you go by the time spent in debate over them.

In spite of all this I believe Afridi might well be the right man to lead Pakistan in limited-overs cricket, for he is most likely to understand others like him. There is something about him that engages you, there is a little playfulness to him and he seems willing to take a gamble. He might just nudge the Pakistanis away from rebellion and towards victory. Some believe that he is at the heart of most rebellions - precisely the reason why he must be given a stint as a leader. In most parts of the world an offence as dramatic and disturbing as biting a ball to alter its condition would ensure you never became captain. But such is the diversity in our little sport that I suspect in another part of the world it may not even be remembered for too long.

I believe Afridi might well be the right man to lead Pakistan in limited-overs cricket, for he is most likely to understand others like him. There is something about him that engages you, there is a little playfulness to him and he seems willing to take a gamble

But at least one good has come out of it. We now have a nice debate on the whole issue of ball-tampering. Predictably bowlers, who have always played the role of the exploited, sometimes with good reason, are all in favour of fiddling a bit with the ball. Batsmen (and at least one wicketkeeper) are up in arms. The law doesn't allow it but maybe the time has come to question whether the law is indeed just. Cricket allows you to "maintain" the state of the ball but not to "alter" it. You can therefore rub the ball on your flannels to ensure the shine stays longer, but you cannot rub it on the ground, for example, to ensure it goes faster. But in either case you are altering the natural condition of the ball.

By maintaining the shine a bowler prevents the ball from deterioration. And yet the worsening of the ball, and the ensuing implications, are at the very heart of our game. Either action seeks to make the two halves of the ball unequal, so why should one be allowed and the other outlawed? Is it because one helps conventional swing and the other encourages reverse swing, which has always been looked upon as the naughty child in the family? Or, let's face it, is it because batsmen don't like reverse swing?

Having said that, I must admit I am not a fan of ball-tampering, but I do believe that if it went to a just court, those in favour would have a decent case.

Angus Fraser, always interesting to read, equates it to a batsman who knows he is out but stands his ground. Like ball-tampering, not walking has traditionally been looked down upon; unlike ball-tampering, it is now accepted. So, here's a thought for everyone. Can you make walking mandatory? Put it in the laws of the game? And make standing your ground attract a fine? Would that make people walk all over again? What fun that would be.

I don't know if Afridi would ever walk, but he certainly would find a hysterical reason for staying on!

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • straight6 on February 12, 2010, 9:14 GMT

    Harsha you are back to your old tricks again! If today Zaheer Khan has become good then it's due to some hard work with Wasim Akram, or otherwise India have tried so many left armers and no one seems to fit the role. Oh and India attack is so poor that they are going to get thumped by South Africa!

  • sabina2009 on February 10, 2010, 20:15 GMT

    Why can't ICC come up to any concrete solution where players will never have any sort of a chance of ball tampering?? May be it is time to change the ball! May be ICC implement strict laws that may ban a player permanently for life time. Or ICC can even ban the entire team for just one payer who does the ball tempering!!!

    And as far as Afridi is concerned, all I can say is that Afridi is a true gifted player with God gifted natural talents. If Afridi had just concentrated on his batting a bit then he would have been a true world class player.

  • Doctor-Googly on February 10, 2010, 7:31 GMT

    Sorry Mr. Toupee, rules are rules, however arbitrary. It is like making Bart Simpson the class monitor. While intriguing, it will implode eventually.

  • Cricinfouser on February 7, 2010, 21:46 GMT

    Tampering is tampering it doesn't matter how u do it. There is no wrong way or the right way. just remember Tendulkar and Dravid were also banned and please use another word other than joker. This is the same joker who whopped indians in india and made fastest century ever.

  • Howie_CrowEater on February 7, 2010, 13:35 GMT

    Mr. Bhogle, the reason a player is not allowed to deteriorate the ball is because they could destroy it beyond recognition. If you allowed ball tampering, then where would you draw the line. Shining the ball is improving its condition, which is totally different. Very silly articles from Ramiz and Harsha. I can only imagine the tone of this article if Ricky Ponting bit the ball.

  • dummy4fb on February 7, 2010, 13:17 GMT

    Boomboom

    Tendulkar and Dravid did not bite the ball....like this joker. What was he thinking

  • Abhis_Lion on February 6, 2010, 22:47 GMT

    What a sad article by harsha...i didnt expect this from him... well i think he has got it wrong too..if we shine one side in the course of day the other side will get rough and thats the time we will get reverse swing...u dont need to rub it with hard surface and make the side rough illegally...yes its not allowed.and the legal reverse swing u ll always get later in the inning and the only reason is that one side is shined again n again while other is ignored... i dont know why Harsha went all out on harsha praising may be a futile attempt to calm paki nerves afte IPL fiasco...

  • Krishna_Sydney on February 6, 2010, 22:14 GMT

    To restore balance between bat and ball (become totally lop sided last 15 or 20 yrs, with better protective gear, shorter form of game, and various fielding restrictions) I think the ICC needs to put on their thinking caps and put their best brains together. Changing (removing) some fielding restrictions especially the one on the fielders behind square, is one sorely needed change. Apart from my earlier suggestions re. reducing the number of overs when the new ball is due (to 75 or 70) and giving the bowlers some say in the choice of a replaced ball (when out of shape), how about a different kind of ball for the second new ball ? One that, say, is manufactured with leather of a different quality/hardness on either side so that it can bring legitimate reverse swing challenges to a long boring and grinding innings (handling reverse swing) of the kind we have seen especially in the subcontinent ( 700 and runs ...!!). The middle order needs to be challenged!

  • Cricinfouser on February 6, 2010, 21:49 GMT

    To all the Indians Tendulkar and Dravid have also been banned for tampering with the ball so give me a break dont act like you guys are so innocent.

  • crazyalip on February 6, 2010, 21:00 GMT

    I've been reading and noticing the post which people are putting under this article and whats the funny part is that most members keep saying that Afridi shouldn't be the captain BECAUSE he's irresponsible and make aggressive decisions? really?' If you give the name of irresponsibility to his top notch bowling skills and great reflex fielding then i agree he is irresponsible. And because of his irresponsibility we can't afford to play with out him in limited overs. And talking about leadership? That's what we want what he has. sharp, quick and risky decision making and willingness to do anything to win the team and not caring about of his own personal image though i strongly condemn his ball tempering but the point is he didn't care about himself.who does that today? Not like Yousuf to just make things go the way they go.(no offense. I highly respect him as a batsman). And i'm sure you guys noticed the difference in the first 4 ODI's and the last one. PEACE

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