The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Foreigners get away with baseless remarks

A tournament like the ICC Knockout is a godsend for the media to get its information and interviews with players from different countries and because the game is far more popular in India than anywhere else in the world and also because so many newspapers in so many different languages need space to be filled up, any and every player is cornered and asked for a view.

The top stars are rarely available and so the ordinary ones get to say their piece. Nothing wrong with that of course as even the ordinary ones do make a contribution but when some of them are allowed to get away with making silly statements without a counter then it does make one wonder whether getting an interview is the only thing that matters or whether standing up to defend your countryís players is also important.

Take for example, two recent statements one from the cricketing world and one from the tennis world. Ashley Giles, the England spinner was allowed to say that he shouldnít be criticised for his tactics of bowling left arm over the wicket to right-handers because even Harbhajan Singh did that. While he is dead right that he should be bowling according to his captainís instructions and the needs of his side, to try and compare his bowling with Harbhajanís is a bit too much, simply because the tactics were not similar at all. Giles bowled a line outside the right-handers leg stump occasionally turning the ball into the right-handerís pads. Everybody but his team called it negative tactics but it was according to the rules so no action was taken against him, fair enough.

Harbhajan Singhís line on the other hand, when he bowled to left handers, was on their middle stump and turning the ball away from them so it was a wicket-taking line of attack not a run-saving line and that is a major difference. But the interviewer not bringing it up meant that Giles was allowed to say the wrong thing about an opponent and get away with it.

This has been a disappointing aspect about our media who in order to get interviews are prepared to accept wrong statements without challenging them. If only they see how the foreign media, inspite of their internal problems with their players or even their board or establishment stands behind them when a foreigner speaks against them. The Australian press are almost like part of the team and the way they go after a known opposition player to try and undermine his confidence is well known by now.

They may not like one or two of their own players but that will be forgotten as they take on the touring side. To a lesser extent the same happens in England too, though, because there are so many papers there, not every one is read. The sad part is that while our journos hardly ever get asked to contribute a column overseas when the Indian team is touring another country or whenever thereís a team touring India, their journos get to write in our papers.

Yes the former players do get to write but when some of our top papers have only a foreignerís column and not even one from an Indian then something is surely wrong somewhere. Even here it would have been understandable if it were someone like Cardus or Arlott whose prose was always giving a different, attractive perspective on the game but it is invariably someone hardly known who gets a chance at the expense of his Indian colleague.

The second instance of a foreign player getting away by casting aspersions on an Indian player was Todd Woodbridge wondering why Mahesh Bhupathi was not part of the Indian Davis Cup team and suggesting that it was not an injury but some problems within the team that stopped him from making the trip down under. Nobody from the Indian contingent turned around and asked why Mark Philippousis has not been part of the Australian Davis cup team now for some time and was it really injury that was keeping him away or problems with other teammates or manager'

Way back in 1980-81 when India was touring Australia something similar happened when Greg Chappell, the Australian captain, after getting a glancing blow on his head from a Karsan Ghavri bouncer that went off for the winning runs, came to me as we ran off the field and said to me that he didnít mind how many bouncers Karsan bowled as long as he didnít throw them. I told him straightaway that he should look after Lenny Pascoe and I would look after Karsan. We never had a problem after that about anybodyís action being queried or even hinted at.

The other disturbing statement has been Dhanraj Pillaiís about how after his magical performance in the league game against Pakistan he wasnít passed the ball by jealous teammates in the clash for the bronze medal between the arch rivals. Though the coach did refute it there was no follow up with the other players who were accused of not passing the ball to Dhanraj. Imagine if a cricketer had made a similar allegation that his partners were trying to run him out or deliberately dropping catches off his bowling.

The media would not only have swarmed onto the players accused but also written reams about divisions, splits, groups in the team. Its a good thing that the controversy died a natural death before the Asian Games, but you can be sure that if India donít win the gold there will be some questions asked, not as many if it was a cricket team mind you, but still a few will be asked. Statements like that is not going to help team spirit for sure but then over the years Dhanraj has been known to speak his mind and good luck to him for that.

It would be fitting if India brought home the gold, for like in cricket, there is a new self-belief that encourages one to be hopeful that Indian sport is looking up after all.

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