I cannot say that I am pleased with the ICC decision that Darrell Hair will no longer umpire international matches, since that is not me. I do not take delight in someone's plight.
Personally, I had forgiven him for the Oval fiasco. Pakistan, it has now been proved, was wrongly accused of ball-tampering.
But the International Cricket Council was in an unforgiving mood. Since the meeting was attended by heads of most national cricket associations, I would like to believe they arrived at the decision after due care.
On ban on Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif:
It has pained me to see the bans on Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif. Both are our lynchpins and they would be missed in the upcoming series against the West Indies. I do believe that they took the banned substances unknowingly and hence the ban on them is a tad harsh.
I have spoken to Shoaib since the ban came into effect and he, as can be expected, is devastated. Both his reputation and career have come crashing down. There is no knowing how his tomorrow would shape up.
I instinctively though feel that cricketers from the sub-continent would not do it on purpose. They are not drugs or medicine savvy. It must be inadvertent or at somebody's behest. I doubt if the purpose was to enhance their performances.
I do not rule out though that cricketers around the world could be tempted to take recourse to drugs in order to recover quickly from injuries. They want to be back on field as early as possible and hasten their recovery process. Hence, the temptation.
The important thing to consider here is the cause of such spate of injuries. Most of it is because of unending saga of one-day cricket. There is no break till relentless cricket takes it toll. It is not as if cricketers from Pakistan alone are getting injured. The pattern is the same, be it in England or Australia.
The case of one-dayers is different from Tests where you get to stay at a venue for at least seven days. In one-dayers, most of the time you are heading for airports after finishing a game. The constant traveling, waiting at the airports and all those check-in at the hotels are extremely draining. Cricketers are feeling the heat.
It has also not escaped my notice that all the sub-continental teams were found wanting in the recent Champions Trophy. We have to really bring up our fitness and fielding standards, not to mention the focus if the trend is to be avoided in the next World Cup. We really need to be united as one in our purpose. Such an attitude can move mountains as teams like New Zealand, and now West Indies, regularly exhibit.
I do not think West Indies is studded with stars yet they seemed moved by a common purpose.
In contrast to most teams, India has a most experienced batting line-up. Yet, most have failed collectively. I do not think there is an issue with Virender Sehwag's technique for he has batted in the same manner in the past and scored runs by hundreds. He is a batsman who thrives on confidence from self or bestowed by others. He needs to be told that he is wanted.
Sachin Tendulkar too is only 33 and pretty young when compared to someone like me. He is a peerless batsman but a human too and failures are inevitable. Nothing in life is constant so why the form should be? Such batsmen do not lose their touch in one or two months. They are good enough to turn the match on its head. It's only a matter of time.
The pattern which has emerged in one-dayers is that if you could retain your wickets in the early overs, you could score as many as you want by the time the overs run out. Hence, it is important to send regular batters at the top of the order. Someone like Irfan Pathan, I don't think, can occupy that position regularly.
On the Indian team:
India has chosen to confront the recent setbacks by falling back upon seniors. I see the likes of Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble are back for South Africa. It must inspire a new bout of hope in the likes of Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. It cannnot be that Ganguly has run out of his skills at such a young age. If he can consistently score in domestic competitions, he should be back in the thick of things.
There is no denying the importance of experience in crunch moments. While even an average talent can prosper in regular situations, an experienced hand is required when matters become tricky. A youngster, unused to an unusual situation and the pressure of international cricket can lose his head. A senior on the other hand can draw on his experience to pull the team through.
I do not know Greg Chappell enough to say if he is hard-headed. But I do have opinion on the kind of coach a team should have. A coach should always be friendly in whose presence cricketers feel comfortable to share their intimate thoughts and fears. He should inspire trust failing which the unity of the team could get affected.