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A burning stink in cricket

April 2: If India’s World Cup exit demanded its own version of the Ashes, Greg Chappell’s Australian deputy tried to provide it through a spectacular bonfire today.

Ian Frazer treated onlookers at the National Cricket Academy, inside Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy stadium, to the astonishing scene of thick notebooks and files going up in flames.

The team biomechanist, who doubles as unofficial bowling coach, had cleaned up his desk at the academy, thrown all his papers out and struck a match.

But the day’s other blaze that his boss and friend lit looked big enough to swallow up much more. Chappell alleged “some people” in the board wanted to tarnish his image, according to a television channel.

Reflecting the circus that the public post-mortem of the Cup campaign has been reduced to, another channel stoked the fire. It quoted somebody who knows Chappell as saying the coach had spoken of senior players acting like the “mafia” to keep juniors out.

Frazer’s flames were a mere flicker in comparison, but he should have waited till all had turned to ash. Witnesses, fearful that he might be destroying sensitive data, salvaged bits and pieces, even whole pages.

The evidence was hardly the “smoking gun” they were looking for. Scribbled in Frazer’s hand were references to cricketers, including captain Rahul Dravid and some academy trainees.

One page bore the legend: “Rahul: Was patient and relaxed with oneself.” But in keeping with the air of intrigue now swirling about Indian cricket, many were ready to read dark hints in those few words.

Was it criticism or praise' Depends on whether it was written before, during or after the tournament, some said.

To the media’s persistent queries, Frazer merely said: “(I was) just burning some papers I had written on.”

Academy sources said the papers were useless to anyone but the author. “Looks like he’s not interested in writing a book on Indian cricket. Else, I’m sure he would have taken them back home,” a former cricketer joked.

Frazer has donated his collection of cricket literature to the academy library and distributed his kit among trainees and staff. The burning of the notes was the clearest sign that he is preparing to snap his India connection.

Chappell, however, insisted he wouldn’t quit before his contract expired at the end of the World Cup on April 28.

The coach will be handing a report on the team to the board, which will decide his future at an April 6-7 meeting. He said he hadn’t blamed any individual for the debacle.

But the TV report had the source quoting Chappell as saying that the senior players “hammered” the juniors and feared that if the youngsters got opportunities, their own careers would be in jeopardy.

Board secretary Niranjan Shah declined comment on Chappell’s claims about the attempts to tarnish him, but sprang to Dravid’s support, saying there was no better man to lead India.

He added that the board was planning to introduce performance-based incentives in the new contracts to be offered to the players before the Bangladesh tour.

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