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.


Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

Updated 20 July 2018
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Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

  • Portuguese superstar has moved to Italian giants in deal worth nearly $120 million
  • Ronaldo scored 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid

LONDON: Love him or loathe him, you have to admire Cristiano Ronaldo’s character.
At a time of life when lesser mortals are lured by big paychecks to the likes of Qatar or China, the mercurial Madeiran has opted for what will be his biggest challenge yet at Juventus.
His career over the last decade has been played out under the cloud of the never-ending debate — “Ronaldo or Messi; who is better?”
Thankfully, that circus was quietened somewhat at the recent World Cup. Some flashes of pure brilliance aside, neither player made a big enough impact to lead their respective teams to glory and Messi’s wait for an international trophy goes on.
And, while both players are undeniably in a league of their own, the fact Ronaldo does have a European Championship title under his belt will always tip the argument toward the Portuguese — especially for those who measure greatness in statistics and trophies.
In fairness, Ronaldo’s statistics are mind-boggling. His stint at Manchester United, where he cut his teeth and started to show his potential as a great of the game, was instrumental in the club winning three Premier League titles and their third European crown. His staggering 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid saw him become the Spanish giant’s record goalscorer on his way to winning everything under the sun.
But the Premier League and La Liga are leagues in which attacking footballers flourish. With the dawning of wall-to-wall TV coverage, they have both been transformed to entertain the billions of people who tune in every week — and in this day and age, goalscoring superstars win you fans, not defenses.
The art of defending has all-but disappeared and the culture of building a spine through a team has slowly but surely been eroded away. Nobody wants to watch an engrossing, absorbing, end-to-end goalless draw anymore — it is all about 6-5 thrillers.
But not so in Italy.
Serie A, for all its scandals and fall from grace since its heady days of the 1990s, is still an extremely difficult league to win. It is a league in which fans and managers place great emphasis on defending, on building teams from back-to-front (not the other way around) and on the mentality of “you cannot lose if you don’t concede.”
Granted, Juventus have walked Serie A for the past seven seasons; it is to be expected from one of the richest clubs in the world. But rarely have they won it at a canter. Never once have they scored anywhere near 100 goals in a season to win it — unlike Manchester City in last season’s Premier League, or Barcelona and Real Madrid almost every season in the same period.
And not once has Serie A’s top-goalscorer reached the dizzying heights Ronaldo (and Messi) hit in La Liga season after season, nor has it always been a Juventus player claiming the golden boot.
This all points to a monumental challenge for Ronaldo. On paper, he should not find it as easy to score goals in Serie A and with the marked improvement of Napoli, Roma and Lazio recently, nor will it be an easy ride for Juventus to claim an eighth scudetto in a row this year.
So, while Messi prefers to stay in one country and within his comfort zone of the defense-shy Spanish league, if a 30-something Ronaldo succeeds in Italy — or, better yet, guides Juventus to the European glory the fans crave so much — it would be his most remarkable achievement yet.
And it would put the tiresome debate over who is the greatest ever to bed, once and for all.
No contest.