The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Root in cricket bears fruit in Parliament
- After six months of apprenticeship, former Test player strokes freely in debut speech as MP

New Delhi, Dec. 13: As on the ground, so in the House. Cricketer-turned-commentator-turned-MP Navjot Singh Sidhu today made a slow start in Parliament, over six months after his election from Amritsar, bringing to mind his stuttering debut versus the West Indies in 1983-84.

It took him several years ' the 1987 Reliance World Cup ' to shake off the 'strokeless wonder' tag slapped on him after that series. In the Lok Sabha, he got off to a flying start in his maiden innings.

Public speaking is Sidhu's favourite domain and he wasn't going to be tongue-tied, like first-time MPs.

Yet if he needed encouragement, there was no dearth of it. 'We are waiting for your Sidhuisms,' said Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. A keen cricket follower, he is familiar with Sidhu's famous one-liners.

'You have lots of admirers here,' he added. Chatterjee, who has been battling against breaches in parliamentary discipline, was in a good mood. The Speaker hadn't had to crack his whip as often or as hard as usual.

Sidhu, in a dark suit, opened his innings on the uneven pitch of an Amritsar road. 'The 25-km stretch from Jalandhar is a national disgrace,' began Sidhu and spoke at length about its dismal quality.

National pride was at stake for the commentator, who had rushed back from the historic Revival Series in Pakistan to campaign. 'On this side of the border, the Amritsar road is narrow and rutted. But once you cross over to Pakistan, you have an impressive six-lane road,' he said.

Since his election in May, the nattily-dressed sardar has attended the Lok Sabha regularly, but did not open his mouth. Not even to deliver a Sidhuism.

Today, he came out blazing. Turning the heat on the government, he asked how tenders were called for a four-lane road project when the government says it has not yet been approved.

'The government must first get its facts right and then distort them,' he said, taking a heave at surface transport minister T.R. Baalu. He praised the NDA's minister, B.C. Khanduri, for doing more than the Congress-led dispensation.

'There can't be any fruit without root,' went one Sidhuism. Soon he closed his speech with another barb at the government. 'Why is the government ignoring Amritsar' he asked.

As he took his seat, the Speaker said: 'I compliment you.'

When his turn came, Baalu loosened up with a friendly comment. 'It is a great opportunity for me to reply to the MP,' he said. The DMK veteran followed it up with a well-directed bouncer. 'You are 100 per cent misinformed about the status of the proposed Amritsar road project.'

Sidhu wasn't ducking. He was keen to take strike again. The House umpire reluctantly agreed.

'I am giving in to your sportsmanship. But this should not be a precedent,' Chatterjee said.

'Main bhi apne halat mein cheekha to kya/Dariya bhi jab sukhe ho to khak urate hain kya (Why should I not scream at my own plight/Even a river when it runs dry sends out clouds of dust),' Sidhu recited at the end of a six-line verse.

Chatterjee seemed to have had enough of Sidhu's knock and expunged it from the records.

A surprise choice for the Amritsar seat, Sidhu fared well as far as stars in politics go. Though often a candidate for the foot-in-mouth affliction, he fared better than party colleague Smriti 'Tulsi' Irani, who had to withdraw her remarks against Narendra Modi yesterday.

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