India, Australia and England are calling too many shots in Test cricket

Virat Kohli's India are part of a triumvirate of Test-playing nations who are wielding plenty of influence. (AP)
Updated 17 December 2017
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India, Australia and England are calling too many shots in Test cricket

BANGALORE: Less than a year after the controversial Bodyline series that England won 4-1 in Australia (1932-33), Douglas Jardine led the first side to tour India, then still the jewel in the British Empire’s crown. But unlike the team that had beaten India at Lord’s in 1932, this had few household names.
Bryan Valentine may have finished his seven-Test career with an average of 64.85, but unlike Hedley Verity, the legendary left-arm spinner who was killed in WWII, or Jardine himself, his wasn’t a name that rolled easily off the tongue. It was his punishing first innings hundred, however, that paved the way for a nine-wicket victory in the first Test at the Bombay Gymkhana.
As the years passed, and India became independent, the attitudes toward touring what VS Naipaul called the land of a million mutinies didn’t change. Len Hutton, Fred Trueman, Peter May and Brian Statham were among the titans who never played a Test in India. It was not until 1976-77 that an almost full-strength team led by Tony Greig toured, and won 3-1.
Australia were different. In the 1950s, Indian cricket fans were privileged to watch the likes of Neil Harvey, Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud. A decade later, Bob Simpson, Billy Lawry and Ian Chappell also toured. Yet, as Gideon Haigh has written so eloquently in The Summer Game, touring India then was such a harsh exercise that most viewed it as a hardship assignment. And after they won 3-1 in India in 1969-70, Australia didn’t send a strong side for close to two decades. Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh never played a game in India.
It is in this context that India’s membership of cricket so-called Big Three should be viewed. Having been treated as second-class citizens for so long when England and Australia set the sport’s agenda, India have replicated that behavior since taking the administrative throne themselves.
Consider a simple example. In November 2000, India’s players took the short flight across the eastern border to be part of Bangladesh’s inaugural Test. The invite for Bangladesh to tour India for a Test didn’t go out till earlier this year. This, despite the India-Pakistan rivalry being waylaid by political differences, and India-Sri Lanka coming to epitomise viewer fatigue.
Much was made of India, England and Australia trying to carve up the ICC’s financial pie among themselves nearly four years ago. That attempt may have been rebuffed, to an extent, but little can be done to alter itineraries that are increasingly centered around matches between these teams. When it comes to games, South Africa are added to this list of heavy hitters for the simple reason that they have been competitive in most conditions over the past decade. Once they lose the box-office appeal of AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla, it could be a different story.
In the current cycle of matches, scheduled between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, India will end up playing 23 of 46 Tests against England, Australia or South Africa. By the end of the ongoing Ashes, Australia would have contested 17 of 35 games against the other three. The figures for England will be 23 of 43, with a five-Test home series against India to come in the summer of 2018.
In the new Future Tours Program that is currently being chalked out and ratified, India will play 19 home Tests between 2019 and 2023. As many as 12 of those will be against England, Australia and South Africa. The away figures are 12 out of 18. The numbers for England and Australia will be similarly skewed.
Much has been made of India’s readiness to host Afghanistan in 2018-19 for their maiden Test. But that will ultimately mean nothing if the seeds of a meaningful and regular rivalry are not sown. “It is with us the prerogative of how many do we play and with who,” said Rahul Johri, the chief executive of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in a recent interview with ESPNCricinfo. “We are looking at good content for the Indian fans, the cricketers, for the broadcasters, for all the stakeholders. It is our responsibility to ensure the best possible content and context.”
Hopefully, he and his fellow administrators will remember the days when India dined off scraps from the top table, and ensure that they don’t treat Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and other nations where there is immense passion for the game, with the same callous disregard.
Don’t count on it though.


Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

Updated 18 October 2018
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Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

  • Lebanon have made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000 and are up to 77th in world rankings.
  • Oumari feels the Cedars have what it takes to upset a few of the big guns.

LONDON: While much of the focus ahead of the Asian Cup will be on defending champions Australia, who are one of the favorites, along with Japan and South Korea, Lebanon’s Joan Oumari is hoping his side can grab people’s attention and cause a shock or two.
The Cedars’ last appearance at the tournament came back in 2000 when they were hosts — this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit.
Since their FIFA world ranking fell to 147 in 2016, Lebanon have been one of Asia’s most improved and in-form teams, with their ranking jumping to its current position of 77 — the highest in their history.
Drawn alongside regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, it will not be easy, but Oumari, one of their star players, is convinced they can put on a show when the tournament gets under way in January.
“I think when we play and stay like we are now we can go far,” the defender told Arab News. “In football everything is possible and we have a great team.”
Oumari knows that just being back at the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence is already a victory for the nation of six million people.
“For sure it is a great thing for us as a national team, but also for all the people (of Lebanon),” the 30-year-old said. “I hope we will write history and get very far in this tournament.”
Oumari’s journey to play for the Cedars is an interesting, and not unfamiliar one in the recent climate of war, family displacement and refugees. His parents, both born in Lebanon, fled the country during the civil war of the 1970s, making their way to Germany, where Oumari was born in 1988.
Starting his professional career in the lower divisions, he gradually worked his way through the professional tiers of club football in Germany, playing for SV Babelsberg in the fourth division, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt in the third tier, before making the step up to FSV Frankfurt in 2.Bundesliga in 2013.
Along the way he came to the attention of the Lebanon Football Association, and when the invitation came to join the Cedars in 2013, there was no hesitation in accepting and representing the country of his heritage, if not his birth.
“When I got the invitation from the national team for sure I didn’t have to think about it,” he recalled. “I was very proud to play for the national team.”
His debut in a 2-0 win against Syria in September 2013 did not go to plan, however, getting sent off late in the game. His next appearance would not come for almost two years after Miodrag Radulovic had taken over as coach.
“To be honest it was my decision not to play for the national team for these two years,” he said.
“The main reason was our ex-coach (Giuseppe) Giannini, because after he invited me to the national team I was on the bench and I am not used to flying all over the world just to sit on the bench.
“I am not a player who sits on the bench in my club and not in the national team. After Mr. Radulovic started at the national team the federation called me and convinced me to come.”
The change in fortunes for the Cedars since Radulovic took over has been remarkable, and as it stands they are one of the most in-form teams in Asia, going 16 games without a loss dating back to March 2016.
A friendly match with defending Asian Cup champions Australia in Sydney next month will be sure to provide tougher competition, but given their form they travel to Sydney confident of causing an upset.
While the Asian Cup is within touching distance, Oumari’s immediate focus is on club matters and trying to help his side avoid relegation. Having made the move to Japan’s Sagan Tosu, becoming the first Lebanese player to play in the J.League, Oumari has been in and out of a side that has struggled for consistency and currently lie 17th in the 18-team league.
“I hope that we can avoid relegation and stay up, that’s why I came to help the team,” he said.
One of his new teammates in Japan is Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Torres, and despite the team’s struggles on the field, Oumari is loving his time in Japan.
“It’s really nice here and I like it very much,” he said. “I am enjoying the time with my teammates after training. For sure Fernando (Torres) is a great football player and any football player can learn from him no matter which position you are playing.”