This is true especially when they have a book to sell. Providing juicy excerpts to newspapers enables their book to get the publicity it needs.
England’s star all-rounder and World Cup hero, Ben Stokes, did just that to publicize his autobiography, On Fire. And his comments are now being used by former Pakistan players to allege that India lost the World Cup game on purpose to England at Edgbaston to oust Pakistan from the tournament.
Stokes’ book, which notably has an Indian distributor, chronicles the game where England set India 338 runs to win and India fell short by 31 runs.
“Arguably, the way MS Dhoni played when he came in with 112 runs needed from 11 overs was even stranger. He appeared more intent on singles than sixes. Even with a dozen balls remaining, India could still have won. There was little or no intent from him (Dhoni) or his partner Kedar Jadhav. To me, while victory is still possible you always go for broke,” Stokes recollects in the book.
Analyzing Dhoni’s innings, Stokes further writes, “There is a theory in our camp that Dhoni’s way of playing has always been the same. Even if India can’t win the game, he takes it right to the end to try to make sure that India’s run rate stays relatively healthy,” Stokes wrote.
“His big thing has always been to give himself a chance of winning by being at the crease for the final over, but he generally likes to stick around to get as close to a target as possible even in a losing cause.”
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma during the ICC World Cup 2019 vs England. (Getty Images)
Stokes, who has had several run-ins with Indian skipper Virat Kohli, takes the opportunity to needle the champion batsman further by suggesting that his knock and his stand with centurion Rohit Sharma was mystifying. “The way Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli played was mystifying. I know that we bowled brilliantly well during this period, but the way they went about their batting just seemed bizarre. They allowed their team to get so far behind the game. They showed no desire to put any pressure back onto our team, content instead to just drift along, a tactic that was clearly playing into our hands.”
Talking about Indian players in a book just before it is released in a cricket-mad country like India, has become fashionable.
When Shoaib Akhtar released his book, Controversially Yours, in 2011, the first excerpts released to the Indian media were comments about Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
Akhtar wrote that he intimidated Tendulkar during the 2006 Faisalabad Test.
“I bowled (to Sachin) a particularly fast ball which he, to my amazement, didn’t even touch. He walked away! That was the first time I saw him walk away from me that, too, on the slow track at Faisalabad,” the man nicknamed Rawalpindi Express wrote.
“I think players like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid weren’t exactly match winners to start with, nor did they know the art of finishing the game.”
Akhtar was panned for those remarks and his book release in Mumbai was cancelled. But the publicity that he sought for the book was achieved, as all media networks played up his comments on the two Indian legends.
While Stokes’ comments found some mention in the Indian media, across the border, in Pakistan, it became huge news. Instead of conducting an honest post mortem on why the team underperformed in the 2019 World Cup, Stokes’ comments were used to suggest as if it was because of that game only that Pakistan crashed out.
Truth is, they had played poorly and picked up only later. Even then, they nearly made a mess of a routine chase against Afghanistan at Leeds and it was only because of some late heroics by Imad Wasim and Wahab Riaz that they won.
Former Pakistan pacer Sikander Bakht alleged that Stokes has mentioned that India deliberately lost to England to knock Pakistan out of the tournament. He also shared an old video of him pointing out the same.
When a reader pointed it out to the star England all-rounder, Stokes, perhaps realizing that he may be jeopardizing his Indian market and IPL price tag in the future, quickly tweeted, “You won’t find it cause I have never said it… it’s called “twisting of words” or “click bait”,” Stokes posted.
Former Pakistan all-rounder Abdul Razzaq too said that India lost deliberately. “There is no doubt in this. I had told this at that time as well. In fact, everyone else opined the same. For a person who can hit fours and sixes at will, he was blocking everything…Hence, one tends to know,” Razzaq told a TV network.
Razzaq and Bakht suddenly seemed to revive former Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed’s memory too. Mushtaq, who was working as the spin bowling consultant of the West Indies team during the tournament, revealed what Gayle apparently told him a year ago: India were playing to a plan to scuttle Pakistan’s hopes of qualifying for the semifinals.
“I was working with the West Indies squad at last year’s World Cup. After India’s loss to England, Jason Holder, Chris Gayle and Andre Russell said to me, Mushy, India didn’t want to see Pakistan qualify for the semifinals. There is no rocket science in it,” Mushtaq was quoted as saying by ARY.
“England commentators, Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton, had also pointed this issue out then. If you try to play cricket, it will play with you. India became overconfident as everyone thought they were favourites,” he added.
In fact, Mushtaq went a step further and added that India also bowled poorly, almost as if it was part of a grand design. “We are only discussing that India didn’t show any intent while batting. I think there was no intent when they were bowling as well. When you pick up two or three early wickets then you try to wrap up the innings as a captain. You don’t let the opposition build a partnership. England shouldn’t have made 337 after they lost two or three wickets early,” Mushtaq stated.
‘That’s just not cricket’, is a phrase we often read about or hear from the commentators to describe unsavory incidents on the field of play.
While it is fine to make observations and valid points and offer constructive criticism, but to look for unnecessary conspiracy theories for events that have happened nearly a year ago, just to stay in the news, or publicize a book, is also not cricket.
No wonder, there was hardly a reaction from the protagonists involved in that game in India, nor the BCCI.