Editorial / Line of talk
It’s the umpire, stupid
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

To talk, in diplomacy as in life, is an act of friendship. The very fact that the prime minister of India, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the president of Pakistan, Mr Pervez Musharraf, will sit face to face to discuss problems that affect the relationship between the two countries should by itself give rise to optimism. However, only somebody completely innocent about the cynical and arcane world of realpolitik will hope that all the issues will be resolved and many years of hostility will evaporate after just one meeting. Past history should dictate that caution prevails over any kind of euphoria. All participants and observers will inevitably recall that Mr Vajpayee’s bus trip to Lahore, marked as it was by jubilation, was followed by the Kargil confrontation. It will be further remembered that despite India’s protests and international condemnation, the shadow of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan has not retreated from Jammu and Kashmir. On a longer perspective, it is impossible for either country to forget that Pakistan was carved out of India on the negotiating table. The existence of Pakistan sits uneasily on the history of India and the presence of India looms large on the existence of Pakistan. The past of India denies the present of Pakistan and the present of Pakistan denies the past of India.

Both Mr Vajpayee and Mr Musharraf will be aware of these vexed issues and more. They will be conscious of the enormous stakes involved in what they say to each other and in the way the negotiating team of one country interacts with its counterpart. Leaving Saturday’s fanfare of protocol and goodwill gestures behind, hard talk will begin in Agra. There appears to be a tendency on the part of Mr Musharraf to push the Agra summit towards discussing only the Kashmir problem. India, on the other hand, recognizes that it has a problem with Pakistan over Kashmir but that cannot be the only — and not even the principal — subject of discussion. This was at the heart of Mr Vajpayee’s letter of invitation to the Pakistani leader. These two contradictory expectations threaten to vitiate the atmosphere in Agra even before the dialogue has begun. Or what is worse, the meeting of the two leaders might be reduced to a dialogue of the deaf in which Mr Vajpayee and Mr Musharraf say their mutually irreconcilable lines.

Posturing can be the product of confidence as well as of insecurity. Mr Musharraf cannot be una- ware of the fragility of Pakistan’s economic situation and of his own political vulnerability. Mr Vajpayee is better placed and has the support of all political parties in his efforts to secure a lasting peace with Pakistan. Mr Musharraf’s apparent refusal to see beyond Kashmir can be read as a show of arrogance that is based more on sentiment than on realism. He would, however, be seriously in error if he mistakes Mr Vajpayee’s gestures of goodwill as products of weakness. Goodwill is not always prompted by a weak will. A stable relationship with Pakistan which is based on mutual trust will not only transform the political climate of south Asia but might well be Mr Vajpayee’s most enduring contribution as prime minister. The most significant aspect of India-Pakistan relations may well be left out in the Agra summit. The people of both countries, when they are allowed to be free of collective jingoism, want peace and stability. This may be lost in the war of negotiations.


Ridley Jacobs, the West Indian wicketkeeper, has been given a three one day match suspension, later amended to a one test match suspension, as punishment for cheating and sharp practice. Either is, for cricket, drastic punishment. Suspensions are normally given to batsmen who show visible dissent on being given out. For example, Inzamam-ul-Haq was punished for lingering at the crease after Peter Willey had given him out leg before wicket — and he only got a two match suspension.

Jacobs’s fault was that he claimed a stumping after breaking the stumps with the glove that wasn’t holding the ball. The laws of cricket stipulate that the stumps must be broken with the hand (or hands) holding the ball. Jacobs, the referee decided, had appealed in bad faith because his hands were so far apart that he must have known at the time that he was using the wrong hand.

I suspect the real reason for the severity of Jacobs’s punishment was not that he had cheated (he probably had), but that he had conned the umpire into giving the batsman out. And the reason the umpire hadn’t caught Jacobs out was that the slow motion replay wasn’t properly used to determine the legitimacy of the stumping. The umpiring was made to look bad by a careless bit of supervision; but instead of punishing the umpire, the match referee punished the West Indian wicketkeeper.

But didn’t Jacobs deserve his punishment? To answer that question, you have to look at the way cricket deals with players who knowingly ignore the laws of the game. Every batsman who nicks the ball to the keeper, or to the slips, or edges it via his pads to short leg, stands his ground and waits for the umpire to give him out. Sometimes the umpire doesn’t give him out and it’s only the television cameras that show you that he had touched the ball. But the batsman always knows; sometimes the edge is obvious to everyone but the umpire, and yet, I’ve never heard of a match referee suspending a batsman for three matches for wilfully misleading the umpire.

Morally, there’s no difference between a batsman who chooses to stay, knowing that he is out and a wicketkeeper who appeals against a batsman knowing that he isn’t. We know this intuitively when we commend a batsman like Vishwanath for “walking”. Even those who admire the hard men for standing their ground (arguing that things even out, that for every time you are not given out when you are, there’s a matching occasion when you are given out when you aren’t), recognize that this is, at best, an argument from experience, not justice, and at worst, a shabby piece of rationalization.

If there isn’t a moral difference, there is, perhaps, a procedural difference between Jacobs asking for a stumping he hasn’t legally made and a batsman staying put when he knows he has been fairly caught. Using the Law as a guide, we can argue that Jacobs’s appeal is much like making a false claim in a court. It misleads the bench and endangers the innocent: it is, perhaps, a kind of perjury and it invites the exemplary punishment that perjurors receive. On the other hand, a batsman who doesn’t walk is simply exercising an accused person’s time-honoured right to silence which is, in turn, related to his right not to be forced to incriminate himself.

So there are intellectually respectable ways of justifying the punishment given to Jacobs but they don’t really explain why Jacobs was so harshly dealt with. The question to ask yourself is this: if the umpire at square leg had referred the appeal to the third umpire, as he was entitled to do (since stumpings can be reviewed by the third umpire), and if the third umpire had spotted Jacobs’s sleight of hand and ruled the batsman not out, would Jacobs have been punished? My guess is that nothing would have happened to him, just as nothing happens to fielders when they appeal for a catch and the replay shows that the ball has been caught on the bounce.

You could argue that such catches are such close calls that the catcher himself doesn’t know if he has taken the ball cleanly, whereas Jacobs’s hands were so far apart that he must have known he was cheating. This is a reasonable argument but it takes umpiring into the murk of motivation and malice aforethought. Jacobs could argue that stumpings are by their nature rapid, instantaneous acts where it is impossible for a wicketkeeper to know what he has done. Breaking the stumps and appealing is an instinct with keepers, not a considered decision. This is not to say that Jacobs wasn’t cheating here: it is to argue that the keeper must be given the same benefit of doubt that Michael Slater received when he appealed for a catch against Rahul Dravid in the recent series against Australia. The appeal was referred to the third umpire who turned it down. Nothing happened to Slater.

Jacobs, similarly, appealed to the umpire who should have used the available technology to decide the appeal. Had he done so, this spurious appeal would have had no bearing on the match — it would have had no cricketing consequences. That it did, that a batsman was wrongly given out, was the square-leg umpire’s fault, not Jacobs’s. To punish Jacobs for it is an act of judicial pique, not retrospective justice.

The trouble with cricket is that it has moved from a system of supervision based on an acceptance of human (read umpiring) error and the alleged honour of the gentleman cricketer, to an umpiring regime dependent on (and second-guessed by) the omniscient camera. Cricket’s audiences and administrators have been seduced by the prospect of perfection; no other game, not football, not tennis, is as regulated by the camera as cricket is.

One of the reasons behind this enthusiastic embrace of the camera is the professionalization of the game and the unwillingness of highly paid players to tolerate human eyesight or human error. So as not to undermine the authority of the on-field umpires, cricket administrators have put the technology at their disposal, to be used at their discretion. This is sensible. In time, this discretion will be constrained by new conventions: already nearly every run-out appeal is routinely referred to the cameras. Having been given this discretion, professional umpires must be made responsible for the way in which they exercise it. Which is to say, that it is the umpire who upheld Jacobs’s appeal without using the evidence of the slow-motion replay, who needs to be suspended, not the wicketkeeper.

Cricket’s recent scandals have demonstrated that cricketers need to be policed off the field rather than on it. Umpires and referees should be told that their job is in making the right decisions during the match, not holding diversionary court-martials afterwards. Ridley Jacobs has a right to feel injured. There’s been a miscarriage of justice: dey got de wrong man.

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Don’t mind the food

Thoughts of food. Yes, the general from across the border must have had lots of those even while surveying the elaborate spread at the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet. But the staff serving him were at least relieved that their all-important guest wasn’t too choosy about what he savoured. Not that the men in the kitchen would have been particularly bothered otherwise. They are a wise lot, having got used to the quirks of the unending stream of five-star guests. They have had to deal with heads of states bringing their own huge contingents of cooks and chefs. The king of Morocco is even reputed to have brought along his own olive oil and spices. Another dignitary had apparently arrived with chunks of meat of one sacred species in India, which the cook on duty allegedly refused to cook. The chaos was however shortlived as another braveheart took upon himself the responsibility of satisfying the honoured visitor to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Which would mean that all the president’s guests left India with a good taste in their mouth. Will the same hold for the general?

Message received

A nice holiday that was. Madam of 10, Janpath has come back from the US of A, more than satisfied. She liked the attention she received from the Americans, the Bush administration in particular. What she is supposed to have liked most is that everyone there read from prepared texts, unlike in India where it is seen to indicate the lack of leadership qualities. Sonia also did her bit. Speaking to Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, she said that she was all for liberalization, but it did not mean Darjeeling tea being passed of as Texas produce. Cheney, in all probability, got the hint. She did it again on Enron, saying that the Congress would not like to drive out the MNCs, but it would also not allow them to charge Indians exhorbitantly. Yankee-ditto-do. One only hopes she doesn’t force Congress-ruled states to buy Enron power just to keep her American audience happy.

Judging the gameplan

Why should Ajit Singh’s entry into the NDA bother the CEO of Andhra Pradesh? The worry seems to be pretty nagging because N Chandrababu Naidu is reported to have taken the matter up with the Union home minister, LK Advani. Naidu has allegedly said that he has got wind of the entire deal worked out between the BJP and Singh. After the assembly polls in UP, in which Ajit Singh will extend his large helping hand to the party, the BJP will return the favour by backing his demand for a separate Harit Pradesh, consisting of western UP and, in case the dream is realized, crown him the CM. If Harit Pradesh comes to UP, can Telegana in Andhra Pradesh be very far behind?

Left in the woods

Too many unhappy souls in the Congress. Apart from RK Dhawan, who has been completely sidelined, the other babe in the woods is Pranab Mukherjee. Despite his requests to be allowed to return from his exile in Bengal, he has been asked to hang on for some more time. His plan of making it to the Rajya Sabha has been foiled. Madam has re-appointed Manmohan Singh as the leader of the opposition in the upper house. Not surprising that Mukherjee would therefore want to get back at the high command. He recently visited madam’s bete noire, PV Narasimha Rao, and made it a point to talk about it to the press. He was also critical about the party’s stand on the recall of the Tamil Nadu governor saying, “Arun Jaitley ja bolchhe, thik i bolchhe (Whatever Jaitley is saying is right).” For now, Mukherjee is reported to be concentrating on wresting the chairmanship of the media committee from Ambika Soni and the Congresswallah helping him is allegedly a protege of Vincent George, the fallen private secretary of madam. The grapes are almost bitter.

Suite the image

Even before the Pakistanis landed, the Agra hotels were facing problems. The large number of policemen, posted to secure the high-risk areas in advance, wanted to be fed free of charge. While one of the hotels belonging to the country’s most expensive chain of luxury hotels, refused to give the men free lunches, the relatively newer hotel relented, not wishing to incur the wrath of the guys on whom its reputation would ultimately hinge. Incidentally, wags could not help notic-ing that the hotel suite earmarked for LK Advani was much smaller than the one allocated for the prime minister’s principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra. Probably the Taj was missing from Mishra’s windows.

Men behind the scene

In the flurry of activities, one set of people, who play a pivotal role in all this, has gone unnoticed — the physiotherapists of the prime minister. Atal Bihari Vajpayee is apparently undergoing therapy every morning by these men so that he can stand steady on his knees and take on the general. It is also on their advice that the PM is supposed to have changed his itinerary. Instead of July 15, Vajpayee arrived in Agra on the night of July 14, so that he could take his morning therapy and stomp to the summit.

Her choice,baby

The gaon ka girl in Lagaan is making statements that would have fit the lips of the heroine, Gauri, perfectly. The Delhiite was recently heard saying that she would marry according to her parents’ wishes, and would do no nude scenes as her “value system” did not permit her to do so. Which in Bollywood’s terms of glitz could only mean more roles of the chhori coming to her.

Footnote / How to keep things in control

A sister to a brother’s rescue. Ever since the humiliating defeat at the hustings, the Trinamooli didi is being hounded with complaints about how she cannot see that she is being controlled by close aide and MP, Sudip Bandopadhyay. The other day, party MP from Panskura, Bikram Sarkar, threatened to resign protesting against Sudip’s high-handedness. Worried about Sarkar joining the rebel camp of Ajit Panja, Mamata rushed to Sarkar’s Salt Lake residence, accompanied by Nayana Bandopadhyay. But why Nayana instead of Sonali Guha? Trinamoolis in the know say that she is didi’s newly discovered troubleshooter. It was evident in the way Sarkar was seen eating his words in front of didi with Nayana in tow. Sarkar says that he had prepared a list of everything he had to say against Sudip that evening. The unannounced guest turned things upside down. “I could not utter a single word against Sudip as soon as I saw Nayana with her. After all, Nayana is Sudip’s wife,” says Sarkar. Bad for him, but good for didi. Bolstered by this success, Mamata is thinking of trying the Nayana magic on Panja as well. Good luck!    


Do we really need to know?

Sir — Tying the knot, untying it or snipping the threads before the knot’s even tied — the media seem to be full of the latest on the relationship front for Hollywood celebrities. Although break-ups aren’t meant to be enjoyed, the comments the stars make about their respective breakups sure are. Nicole Kidman blew me away with her “it is more beautiful to love properly and lose everything than never to know love at all”, while Julia Roberts is quick to proclaim about ex-love Bratt, “He’s not my man anymore”. Due credit goes to the newspapers for bringing such mindless comments to our notice, but shouldn’t “quality” newspapers avoid wasting newsprint on such inane reports?

Yours faithfully,
Shamasree Chakravarty, Kurseong

Over the border

Sir — Both India and Pakistan are making the right moves to ensure that even after the July 14 summit, the mood remains one of bonhomie. The token gestures of goodwill that the two sides have made thus far suggest that the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, will leave no stone unturned in order to provide the people of the subcontinent the rare opportunity of building bridges of friendship and trust.

This is a beautiful dream kept alive by people, visionaries, writers and poets on either side of the border. The lack of political will prove to be the main stumbling block to its realization. The credit for breaking the ice goes to Vajpayee who stunned everyone by inviting Musharraf to India.

Diplomatic and political calculations must note that Musharraf has far more at stake in ensuring the success of the Agra summit than the non-mohajirPakistani leaders had while going through the motions of discussing peace with India. India has done its bit to prepare favourable public opinion in Pakistan as well as in India. Musharraf still has a few more steps to take in order to match India’s gestures of goodwill.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Sir — Pakistan’s insistence on inviting the Hurriyat leaders to the tea party hosted by the Pakistani high commisioner, ignoring clear signals from the Indian authorities that this would have a negative effect on the forthcoming talks, is worrying. If the logic behind this action is to meet representatives of the Kasmiri people, why leave out Farouq Abdullah, the elected chief minister of the state? Pakistan’s feelings were reflected clearly in the letter from Pervez Musharraf to the Hurriyat. While Atal Bihari Vajpayee has bent backwards to ensure a smooth dialogue between himself and Musharraf, he should not go overboard and sacrifice the interests of the country like his predecessors. Hopefully, history will not repeat itself.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Khastgir, Calcutta

Sir — Whether it is divine intervention or pure good luck, Pervez Musharraf has led a charmed life for the past few years. He abolished elected legislatures, deposed the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and became the chief executive of Pakistan and followed it up by being sworn in as president. In the history of Pakistan there has been no leader who has waged war against India while also participitating in peace talks.

Yours faithfully,
Subhashish Majumdar, Calcutta

Sir — The people of Pakistan must be experiencing a feeling of deja-vu at having Pervez Musharraf as president since he is the fourth military official to assume the title of president in a country that has been ruled by armed forces for 26 years out of the 53 years of its existence.

The move was seen as a step to acquire legitimacy in the eyes of the world before the India-Pakistan summit. Musharraf is also expected to make sweeping changes in the constitution to give more power to the president and to ensure the army’s role in the future political set-up of the country.

Pakistan is harping on its own efforts to bring back normalcy in its relations with India. Pakistan has been in deep trouble after sanctions were placed on it subsequent to the nuclear bomb testing in 1998 and the nation is deeply in debt. In the wake of all these developments, Musharraf not only has the burden of smoothing out relations between India and Pakistan but also that of bringing long-awaited peace to the people of his country.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

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