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England wicketkeeper Matt Prior tweeted this photograph of England players drinking beer at the Oval after the Ashes win. Photo: PTI
England wicketkeeper Matt Prior tweeted this photograph of England players drinking beer at the Oval after the Ashes win. Photo: PTI

On a wet wicket

Weak bladders and deviant cultural ethos apart, the current England team has been skillful and ambitious

Most doctors aver that beer is good for the stomach; every doctor will also tell you that too much of it can put enormous pressure on the system, especially the bladder. Of course, when there is strong reason to celebrate—like winning the Ashes—it is always likely that even well-informed sportsmen will ignore the latter advice.

But how serious is the misdemeanour of some England players who allegedly urinated on the Oval pitch following an extensive drinking session after the Oval Test? I’d say it is distasteful and undesirable, but we’ve seen worse in the gentleman’s game. It’s certainly not as damaging as match-fixing, open fisticuffs on the field, mean sledging, and cheating through drug-taking or ball tampering, etc., though one must ask why the players couldn’t use the toilet in the dressing room. Why raise a stink at a moment of triumph?

One suspects there’s a rebellious streak even in those expected to be straightforward. Perhaps it has to do with celebrityhood in our consumerist age. Sports stars today are no less than rock stars and some quirks can only enhance brand value.

For instance, my favourite band, The Who, would end up smashing the stage, their equipment, often even the hotel rooms after a concert. This cost them a packet every time but added substantially to their aura which helped them rake in millions more than they’d had to pay for the damages.

Of all the people who have showered opprobrium on these players, I’d say only three have strict legitimacy to be pissed off: their mommies for them showing bad manners, the administrators for them lowering the image of English cricket, but most of all Monty Panesar. The left-arm spinner got sacked from the England squad, his county and even divorced from his wife for showing precisely the same predilection, but in a nightclub, not on a cricket pitch in the middle of the night. Can life be more unfair?

Some apologies from players and a good cover-up job by the administrators will prevent the issue from spinning out of control, but I can’t help wondering what may have happened if the errant players were from the subcontinent.

But enough said about the weak bladders or a deviant cultural ethos in the current England dressing room. The cricket they played was strong, skilful, ambitious and decisive. They have regained the No.2 spot in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test rankings but the fact that Alastair Cook’s team beat India in India last season makes them unofficially the top-ranked for me.

Of the two other teams vying for the top spot now, South Africa have a couple of ageing batsmen and miss a high quality spinner while India have a relatively inexperienced top-order and a bowling attack which still seeks ratification in the five-day game, especially overseas. England have strength and depth in all departments.

Australia have slumped to No.5. The 4-0 win over India in 2011-12 now seems distant memory. The process of rebuilding has stuttered and crumbled, astonishingly to many who believed that the Aussie system of talent scouting and nurturing was exemplary.

Former fast bowler Glenn McGrath believes what’s more damaging is the mindset of current players. “Instead of fighting as a unit, the players were fighting for a place in the team," said McGrath, currently in India at the MRF Pace Foundation. There is a profound message in that observation and not just for Australian cricket. The bigger import for the sport from the recently concluded Ashes was how the game was conducted. There were several events and instances where the fair spirit of the game—of which England and Australia have been the most vocal votaries—came under duress.

Stuart Broad did not walk despite getting a thick edge which was caught at slip, capitalizing on mistakes, both human and technological. This reprieve came at a crucial moment and many observers believe the series could have been different had Broad acted in the right spirit. This simmered right through the series, and was compounded by stories that Kevin Pietersen too won favour from umpire and technology in the third Test when a faint edge to the wicketkeeper went undetected because of silicon tapes stuck on his bat. England’s blatant time-wasting tactics in the last Test aggravated the ill-feeling further.

The Decision Review System came under scrutiny and was found to be so error-prone and disruptive (of trend of play) that even its most ardent supporters were left wondering whether it is useful for the game. Technology-induced boo-boos made the task of the umpires doubly difficult and under pressure, they made more mistakes than one normally sees in international cricket. The ICC and technology partners Hawkeye, HotSpot, etc., have all ceded that there are serious glitches. The use of technology makes cricket watching more compelling. But more important is that it should add a greater degree of certainty, not dubiousness, to decision-making.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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