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Shoaib - Can two wrongs make a right?
by Suresh Menon
May 05, 2008
It could be a coincidence, of course. But there is something about cricket in the subcontinent that makes even the casual observer cynical. That is why the ‘suspension’ of the ban against Shoaib Akhtar for just the ‘right’ period to allow him to play the IPL is difficult to interpret as being for the greater good of the game. In this case, two wrongs may have made a right, but should we accept everything at face value or take the advice of the source who told the Watergate reporters Woodward and Bernstein, and follow the money to get at the truth?

The IPL may signify a new attitude, a new game, a new way of making money. But the old morality remains. Money makes the horse go and the threat of losing it makes him apologise. The Kolkata Knight Riders, without their early stars like Brendon McCullum (who have returned to play for their country), need a fresh injection of class to get over their recent defeats.

Bans here tend to be manifestations of ego problems. Usually it is an official trying to show a player who is boss, although the reverse is also true. In Shoaib’s case, the original ban of five years was excessive, illogical and, as the lawyer Perry Mason would say, “incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial.”

Shoaib is no saint. He is at that stage of his career when he has fewer matches left to play than the number he already has. He has been a disruptive influence on a team that has never been known for playing together as one even at the best of times. But he was allowed to get away with a lot in the name of glamour and box office. When the Board could (and should) have read him the riot act early in his career, it was ineffective and now it is too late. It is easier for a leopard to change its spots. Just like a player has to perform at the right time to catch the Board’s eye, the Board too must react at the right time to catch the player. Yet through most of his career, Shoaib was treated as a loveable prankster rather than a player with a problem that needed to be sorted out. The recipient of such largesse soon finds it difficult to distinguish between right and wrong.

The alacrity with which the International Cricket Council, then under the spell of India’s Jagmohan Dalmiya, rushed to Shoaib’s aid when he was under a cloud for his bowling action must have encouraged the bowler to push the limits of the possible further. In the 1980s, India’s Dilip Vengsarkar was once banned for six weeks for breaking his contract with the Board to write a newspaper column. It seemed a very adult thing for the Indian Board to do till you realized that it was a false ban, because there was no cricket being played in or by India in that period. An off season ban! Boards in the subcontinent have taken the paths of least resistance.

Shoaib Akhtar’s problems are not over, of course. The ban has not been lifted, merely suspended. He has been sued for three million dollars for saying in an interview that his Board President asked him for a commission for signing up with the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. The money he gets for playing in the IPL would be most welcome should he lose the case. It is cynical to see a connection, of course, but isn’t cynicism the constant companion of the cricket fan in the subcontinent?

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