Monday, November 06, 2006

Sayonara, Shoaib! Arrivederchi, Asif! Salut, Sami?

I don't think I've ever felt more apathetic about something as significant as the drug bans given to Shoaib and Asif. I didn't feel a great deal of anger. Or sympathy. Or disappointment. I didn't know quite what to feel, to be honest. So I ended up feeling nothing.

Were the bans unfair? No, I don't think they were. I finally found the time today to go through the entire statement released by the PCB when the bans were announced. Reading the statement, it became clear to me that at least as far as Shoaib was concerned, there's just too much smoke for there not to be fire. The most salient features of the report were covered by an excellent (as usual) piece by Osman Samiuddin, but he didn't mention this part, from paragraph 27 of the report:
We may however state that there is a urine test known as GC-C-IRMS which can determine whether or not the given levels of the metabolite have been produced endogenously or otherwise. We offered this test to Shoaib Akhtar but he declined to take the same.

If he's declining to take a test that may prove his innocence, he must be guilty, right? That's my view on it, though I suppose the retort to that would be: he's not denying it's in his system, he's denying he knew how it got there. To that I say: doesn't matter. With the amount of supplements he was taking (seriously, if you haven't read the report, please do just to see what was entering this man's body) he should have asked either his doctor or a coach or a trainer or someone. And that's under the charitable assumption that he didn't know damn well what he was doing.

What about Asif? The most astonishing thing about his case is that, as Kamran Abbasi said in his blog, he had no legal representation. But here's the kicker: apparently the Shahid Hamid/Intikhab Alam/Waqar Ahmed panel repeatedly offered him to get legal or other representation. He declined (see paragraph 15 of the report). Why would he do that? One can only speculate, and frankly, I've had enough of speculation. What was really unfortunate about his situation was that he was portrayed, both in the report and in the media coverage that followed it, as a true village idiot. It must not be easy to have your intellect questioned in public the way his has been in the last 2 weeks. But I guess it's easier than having your integrity questioned.

You have to feel sorry for him though, unless you're an asshole and just like to see people suffer. Any reasonable person can conclude that he had absolutely no idea. He was given a few injections on the England tour and was taking some sort of supplement, which he stopped doing when he was told. By that time, clearly, the damage had already been done. What can you say? I hope he keeps his head up, that he keeps working hard, keeps bowling in the nets, that our management and Woolmer stay in touch with him through this period, that his family gives him support, and that our media lays off him. He's a genuine, genuine talent, we're lucky to have him, it's unfortunate what happened, it's not the end of the world, and that's all there is to say about it.

What does this mean for our team? Well, as I've said before, one-day cricket doesn't really matter, so even though the World Cup may be an important tournament for many, it's certainly not for me. I'm more gutted about the South Africa tour immediately preceding it, where with our bowling attack on those pitches, we would have had a great chance to knock 'em over. I have an enormous amount of respect for SA's batting (at full strength: Smith, Gibbs, Kallis, Rudolph, de Villiers, all of whom can play) but I have even more respect for our bowling. That's all gone now. But if you think about it, we're only really losing Asif for two series, provided he's allowed to walk back into the team straight after his ban ends. The tour dates to India aren't finalized (they never are until the 11th hour when the BCCI is involved) but it's around November of next year. He was banned October 15th. What a Messianic return that would be, huh? Especially if he can do this again.

For now, though, all of that is well into the future. In the present, we're apparently looking to call back a man who averages near 50 with the ball in Test cricket and another who's been called more times than the average hooker in Heera Mundi (zing!). Which basically means we're back to the halcyon days of 2002 vs Australia, when our attack consisted of a half-fit Shoaib, an old Waqar, a new Dani, a predictable Saqi, a docile Razzaq and a crap (as usual) Sami. Actually, that might be a little harsh (on our current attack, that is). I think Gully's a fantastic bowler. I think Rana just needs one spell to go right for him. I think Shahid Nazir can be effective on South African pitches. And I think neither SA nor the Windies (except for the Prince) know how to play Dani. I also think in our next six tests, we're not winning more than two and not losing less than four. You don't lose your two best bowlers without suffering some sort of blowback. I'd be very surprised if our record in the next two series is any better than one draw, one heavy loss.

That's all I want to say about the Shoaib/Asif affair. But I do have comments on a couple other issues:

Religion and cricket
Should Nasim Ashraf have said what he did? Probably. Should he have said it in public? Absolutely not. He should have talked to Inzi in private, told him what he thought, politely, respectfully, and dropped it. Whatever your thoughts may be on Inzi, his English, his sometimes horrendous on-field decisions and his attitude to training, know this: he has united and led this team and brought us, along with Woolmer no doubt, to the top 3 in both forms of the game from one of the lowest points in our cricket history. For that, he deserves respect. He is, at root, an honorable man. He should be treated as such. Embarassing him and calling him out in public was absolutely over the line, which is why he reacted the way he did.

That said, I don't disagree with the substance of what Ashraf said. Things like this get so messy so quickly that it's hard to state your case without getting bombarded, so I'm going to try to carefully parse this out as well as I can. Look, Inzamam might say no one is forced to pray in the team. That may well be true. But what does "forced" mean? If the entire team wakes up at 4 in the morning to pray, and I choose not to, am I going to be asked why I wasn't there? Am I going to sit alone at breakfast that morning in the hotel? Will the team treat me the same way they would if I did show up for prayers? You see, "force" is a tricky word when it comes to groups like teams and office colleagues and cohorts. Even if nobody actually uttered the words "You must pray with us", there can still be "force" applied. It's intangible yet palpable. Anyone who's ever lit up a cigarette because everyone else was doing it knows exactly what I'm talking about (not that peer pressure was ever a reason for me to start..promise).

On the other hand, what is a pious, religous member of the team supposed to do? If they're 14 of you going to prayers, and 2 don't show up, it's quite natural to talk about the two behind their back, to comment on their lifestyle, to shun them. You're obviously going to be friends with people like yourself, and in this case, if there are 13 others like you, and 2 not like you, who're you going to be friends with? It's clearly a complicated situation, which is the main reason I think it should have been handled behind closed doors.

Intikhab's comments
I actually burst out laughing when I saw what this jackass said. It's obvious what he was doing: he was appealing to the lowest sensibilities of our population, hoping that by bringing Shoaib's "anti-Pakistani/anti-Muslim" habits to the fore, any criticism of the ban would be deflected. Hey, if he drinks and fucks, he deserves to be banned, right?

Look, Shoaib deserved to be banned for his actions. The panel should be strong enough to back their judgement by standing on the merits of the case and evidence provided. Slinging cheapshots to ward off criticism of your decision, especially when a man is down, is disgraceful.

Take care, Hair!
I love how the stories are already coming from the British and Australian press that a good man and umpire was sacrificed at the altar of financial and political considerations. Look, I don't know about him being a good man. He could be the next Mother Teresa, he could be beating his wife every day. I don't know. What I do know is that he was a bad umpire. Not just a bad umpire, in fact, but a horrible, horrible umpire. People who say he was (the use of the past tense has never felt this good, by the way) a firm umpire who stood up for principles are lying. Or are blind. I've seen plenty of Hair decisions on LBWs, caught behinds, running on the pitch and bat-pads and they haven't been firm. They've been wrong. I have no problem with "firm" umpires as long as they are fair too. Hair wasn't. Which is why he's been told to fuck off. And for that I am thankful. (Speaking of being thankful, a hat-tip to the Indian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, South African, West Indian and Zimbabewean boards).

That's enough for me today. Good night.

Correction: If Asif's ban is not reduced under appeal, then he would miss 3 series, not two. I completely forgot about the home series against South Africa before our India tour next year. Apologies.

No comments: