Wait a minute, Roebuck!

The proud Indians that bookies could not touch

— Peter Roebuck

India have been lucky with their senior players over the last few years. Not so long ago a captain and some cronies were caught with their fingers in the till. Had other famous cricketers been involved in the scandal the edifice of Indian cricket could have crumbled. Followers of the game would have been entitled to regard their sporting champions with the cynicism usually reserved for politicians. Instead Indian cricket emerged stronger for its ordeal.

Amidst all the stories and gossip about the bookmaker affair it was easily forgotten how many players refused to accept the polluted money. Doubtless vast sums were offered to celebrated performers yet most survived several examinations of events without a black mark against their names.

Accordingly India have been able to recover their position in the rankings. If anything the team is more popular than ever and the side plays a fighting and spirited game.

Nothing reflects better upon these senior men than the honesty and enthusiasm with which the youngsters play their cricket. No one is pretending the newcomers are faultless but they play with their hearts. These young men have confidence in the integrity of their elders. Respect cannot be feigned. Hugs on the field may be foreign to the natures of those raised with the stiff upper lip but they seem to work and they tell a tale.

Not that India’s older players are all the same. Far from it. They are a mixed bag. The group contains several articulate and intelligent men, at least one genius, a few natural leaders and a captain spoiling for a fight. Crucially all of them have been well raised at home and school.

Background influences every man but has a special effect upon those plucked from youth, put onto a stage and surrounded by wealth.

It’s hard to imagine players from the distant past sullying themselves with dirty money because it was beneath their dignity and contrary to the outlook inculcated in their formative years. The gangsters succeeded only with unscrupulous players.

But men of caliber could not be lured into the trap. Happily Sachin, Sourav, Javagal, Anil, Rahul, VVS and our other friends understood at an early age cricket was only a game and that fame and fortune were fleeting. It is to Ganguly’s credit his reputation was not tarnished. Had he been compromised India could not have achieved nearly as much. Rather than indulging itself in complaints about the lofty manner he adopts with outsiders, cricket should doff its cap to the Bengali.

Ganguly was too proud to fall foul of the bookies. Pride is not always a bad thing for the man who holds his head high cannot afford to dirty his hands. Thanks to his disdain of the fixers, the Indian captain was able to play a part in reconstructing his country’s cricket.

Tendulkar’s position was the most crucial of all. Every attempt to besmirch him has failed. As captain he wanted to omit the corrupted only to be thwarted by his coach. None expected Dravid, Laxman, Srinath or Kumble to dance to the tune of the bookies. These were men of integrity. As a bunch they deserve to be put alongside the West Indians who have graced the game. Until the last few decades it seemed most of the great men of the game emerged from the Caribbean. Nowadays India produces most of the genuine top-notchers.

Now these men are experiencing the delight of playing in a happy Indian side. Thanks to its impressive collection of players, Team India has not missed the fallen.

Read this one, where Roebuck bats for Azhar!!!

Time to forgive cricket cheat

Peter Roebuck

Mohammad Azharuddin has not suddenly grown horns.

As far as can be told he has not harmed a mother or child, betrayed the secrets of his country, spent the taxpayers' money on himself or prevented a foreign-born leader taking the position of prime minister.

Not that he has been a saint or anything of that sort. Better men can be found upon every street corner. But sooner or later the past must be forgotten and a man allowed to resume his life. If the prodigal son can be welcomed back, then Azha can be allowed to work on TV.

Not that cricket has any choice in the matter. Recent attempts to dictate the identity of the commentators before the contract was signed set a dangerous precedent. Zimbabwe's governing body insisted that outspoken observers of the contemptible regime in power in that country were crossed off the list and accepted only those prepared to sing like the caged parrot.

Likewise the ICC refused to allow fierce critics to join the television team covering the last World Cup, a deplorable act indicating a desire to control the watchdog of the game.

Accordingly, no fuss should be made about Azha's appearance as part of the media attending the Asia Cup. Apart from anything else he has paid the price of his misdeeds. To the best of its ability, the law of his land has called him to account. Cricket has also scrutinised his activities as part of a wider investigation.

His game, the game that never lets go, the recreation that took a hold upon him when he was a poor Muslim child playing in the back streets, has rejected him. He cannot play cricket again, or not in public. Batting was his life.

Worst of all, Azha has lost his reputation. Until his dying day he will be remembered not as the sleek batsman who scored a wondrous hundred at Lord's but as the man who used his position as captain of his country's cricket team to feather his nest.

Whenever he walks into the ground he will hear the whispers and sense the mixed emotions that his arrival has provoked. He could have been a hero but threw it all away in an attempt to fulfil the other dream of the sporting child, to live in the grand way, surrounded by marble, adorned by jewels, wearing fashionable clothes and with an attractive wife upon his sleeve.

Doubtless Azha now understands the folly of his ways. Doubtless he has encountered the emptiness to be found inside the pleasing shell of the stylised life. Doubtless he yearns to turn back the clock, a license permitted only to writers of fiction.

In public he may excuse himself, may refuse to show contrition. In private he is hurting because he has lost his reputation, the most valuable thing a man possesses. Only the vengeful will seek further recrimination and they ought to examine their own souls before worrying unduly about Azha's.

Apart from the loss itself, the saddest part of Hansie Cronje's premature passing was that insufficient time was permitted for a fallen man to redeem himself. For all the world knows Cronje's best days lay ahead. The idea that a man of his sort had nothing to offer merely upon the exposure of financial misconduct was absurd.

Nor does the idea that the world is divided between black and white sit easily with anyone who has seen journalists fill in their expense forms, businessmen claim their allowances or politicians misuse their funds. Sportsmen, too, are notoriously mean.

The notion that Cronje, Azha and others inhabit a world separate from the rest of mankind is dishonest. Like the rest of us they are made of flesh and blood. Curiously it is the most saintly of people who are generally the swiftest to forgive because they know the power of the temptations they have resisted.

Not that a red carpet needs to be laid upon the ground for Azha as he rejoins those living under the thin veneer of respectability. Cricket barely survived the self-indulgence of its corrupted players. He should be regarded as a professional earning his crust by making comments on TV, as a man of past glories who fell with a thud from a high place and now deserves the chance to try again.

Cricket teaches its practitioners to forget about the last ball and to think about the next one. Man himself deserves the same opportunity. Azha's past is irrelevant. He, too, must be treated upon his current merits.

Welcome back, Azha, and may happier days lie ahead.

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