Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I think I know how Yuvraj feels



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Last year me and 2 very good friends; one of them Vidooshak; decided to train for and run the marathon. Like all feats of physical activity, running a marathon requires focus, training and serious amounts of motivation.

Each of us set goals, drew up training plans and went about the training in earnestness. Each of us was at varying levels of physical fitness and set our goals accordingly. I set mine to run a sub 4 hour marathon. Millions have finished marathons, but only about 20% of them finish within 4 hours. I had run 2 marathons before and I wanted to enter the somewhat elite club of sub 4 hour marathoners; so I could; with reasonable etiquette; look down upon the majority of ‘just finishers’.

My previous best marathon was a 4:39 when I was 10 years younger. I wasn’t in the mood for anything that would make my goal seem unreal. Plus this time I was going to train specifically to run fast, so this goal seemed logical to me.

To motivate myself, I started making public my goals to anyone and everyone who would ask; friends, family, acquaintances and eventually passersby and imaginary people. Among the close circle of friends this was a race between the 3 of us. I might have something to do with hyping it up. For weeks leading up the marathon, we made sure the conversation was running, how we were doing in training and based on our training time, who was the favorite to win.

We hyped it to no end. I did.

My training was all wrong. I convinced myself that training on inclines with heavy shoes would make me a stronger runner. That when I transition to lighter, minimal shoes as the marathon date appeared closer, I would magically be able to run 9 minute miles required to safely finish a marathon under 4 hours.

The epic day arrived.

Everyone who I remotely knew, knew was going for a sub 4 marathon and that I wanted to finish ‘first’ among the 3 of us friends.

I spotted the 3:55 pace setter and ran. Running Miles 1 through 10 was a breeze. I was feeling light, I was right on target pace and I was running without a care for the remaining distance. Then I felt a slight twitch in my left calf.

I ignored it.

At mile 13, I was slightly ahead of my target pace.  I thought the twitch was just a twitch. Sub 4 was a foregone conclusion.

A few hundred meters into mile 14, there were no twitches in my calf. It was a full blown cramp. I stopped, stretched massaged and off I went again; only for my right calf to cramp up. I hobbled a couple of more miles before I resigned myself to the reality that sub 4 is history.

By now I was walking

A few moments later it dawned on me…what a flop I was. After weeks and months of hyping this race, when it came crunch time, I broke down. I felt vain, defeated, stupid and above all a complete loser.

I eventually walked the second half of the marathon, with a finish time of 5:14. A full hour and 14 minutes more than what I wanted to do.

After I crossed the finish line, I remember thinking, may be this is how sportsmen feel when they fail in a big game. I was instantly more sympathetic towards them. I told myself I will be less critical of players who flop or freeze in crunch time. Will be less flippant about calling South Africa chokers, will be more sympathetic when a batsman does not deliver in face of a mounting asking rate.

Because, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni said, no one wants to do badly.

In my case, after analyzing my training, I figured that my approach was all wrong. Within 6 months I am ready one more time to have a second shot at a sub 4 marathon. This time I used a training plan from an expert.

No one can question Yuvraj’s commitment or earnestness. Neither can one discount the fact that his innings was one of the key contributing factors to India losing the finals.

When people criticize Yuvraj, they are not discounting his previous contributions. So Sachin, Harbhajan and company, please don’t recant his resume to us.

Ever since Yuvraj has returned from cancer treatments, I am not questioning his desire, his earnestness, his ability. I am wondering though if he has been given the right support to succeed.

Why Yuvraj failed is not Yuvraj’s problem alone. We somehow have to get his confidence back. A repeat of 2011 in 2015 is hard to visualize with Yuvraj sitting at home in India



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's credibility



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I wonder if anyone truly expected this Indian team to win any of the 2 series that they eventually lost recently. In South Africa and New Zealand. 

That they came close to winning 3 of those Tests, was an over achievement.

Indian teams struggle overseas and only the settled batting line ups with a couple of potent bowlers to exploit the alien conditions have traditionally been able to win games for India outside the sub continent. 

Indian teams have enjoyed brief periods of supremacy outside India. Ajit Wadekars team in 1971, Kapil Dev and his men in 1985 and Ganguly's teams 2003 onwards which won consistently abroad all had great batting line ups with skiful bowlers.

By contrast this team led by Dhoni is a new one. The batsman performed well above expectations and while the bowlers were amazing in patches, they were unable to sustain the advantage.

Hence when experts, including ex-cricketers criticize this team for coming up empty, I am temped to question their expectation and the basis for it. Add to that the attempt to include the colossal failings of India's ageing seniors and count them as losses against Mahindra Singh Dhoni seems rather unjust to me.

The team that refused to chase 90 odd in 15 overs in Domenica in 2011 and lost 8 straight games thereafter, and this team that came close to winning both in South Africa and New Zealand are different teams. The earlier team was humiliated. This one gave an excellent account of themselves. 

Given this teams performance, the right question to ask is, why did we hold on to Sachin and co for so long. Instead this team has been burdened with the disasters of their more eminent predecessors. 

I don't see how you can criticize Mahendra Singh Dhoni for leading a young, still learning team, to 2 away series losses. 

All is not well with Dhoni, though.

That however has little to do with the team's performance in the away series but Dhoni's testimony to the Supreme Court appointed commission that parroted his boss's stance that Gurunath Meiyappan was a mere cricket enthusiast in relation to his role at the IPL team CSK. When contrasted against the Mugdal committee eventual ruling rejecting this notion, India's cricket captain finds his credibility and integrity brought into question.

India's cricket stars can never be expected to truly speak their minds because the cost of doing that is often in millions of dollars. The BCCI is not averse to humiliating even its greatest cricketer in Kapil Dev, so that he falls in line. But surely at some point one of them will realize that their integrity is above the cash that the BCCI throws at them. Or may be not. 

I think Mahendra Singh Dhoni has implicated himself with his testimony into a position where I don't know if any of his on field exploits and bravado are enough to justify his hold over the national team captaincy. 

The BCCI has so far done nothing in response to the Mugdal committe report. Promises of cleaning up the league have remained promises. Perhaps forgotten. They seem unwilling to even impose their own rules. CSK continue to be a part of the league.

The BCCI is a strong politically influential body. However I do not believe they can continue to ignore the Mugdal committee findings. A committee formed by the Supreme Court of India. The only way I can see CSK still be a part of the IPL family and Mahendra Singh Dhoni continuing as India's captain is if the BCCI rewrite its own rules for the IPL to in effect legalize match fixing from retrospective effect. 

The sponsors have given no indication that a clean league is a prerequisite before they associate their brands with the IPL. The people have shown no indication that they pay money to watch sports. They come to the games to socialize and be entertained. They turn on the TV as an alternative to Reality Television. The players have time and again justified their quest for cash. The IPL will sustain, even if matches are fixed or even if there is just a perception that matches are fixed.

So why not make it official. Remove all pretense of wanting a clean league and a clean game. Let every one make money. Change the rules. Delete the clauses under which Gurunath Meiyappan is being pursued. 

Just don't call it sport.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why criticize the BCCI?



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Sachin Tendukar was once accused of ball tampering in South Africa. I personally thought at that time, it was rather unfair. This was the early 2000s. Match referees back then tended to be more lenient towards the western nations and Indians in particular used to be banned for such things as "excessive appealing". Had it been Ricky Ponting in place of Sachin Tendulkar, I doubt if the late Mike Dennes would have bothered to even issue a warning for the same misdemeanor. 

There was a huge uproar as Mike Dennes issued a one match suspension to Sachin and a few other team mates.

That was the first time the BCCI bullied its way to right, what in their eyes was a wrong. 

BCCI refused to honor the ban. ICC, for their part, refused to give "Test" status to the subsequent match. between the 2 sides. India and South Africa played anyway. 

All was well...and the BCCI lived happily ever after... as a bully..

The most blatant act of BCCI bullying was Sydney 2008. After losing a Test fair and square, the BCCI and the Indian players sulked and flexed their financial muscle and threatened to leave the tour mid-way if Steve Buknor was not removed as the umpire. Cricket Australia and the ICC obliged. There are dozens of games every year that teams lose because of bad umpiring. But the BCCI know they have the means to do something about it. 

So, yes.... I do believe the BCCI is a bully.

And now once again, we are being told by most opinion dispensers that the BCCI is bullying again. By wanting more control of the ICC and "forcing" Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board to demand more of the ICC revenue.

This time however, I am not entirely certain the BCCI deserves as much of the criticism as they seem to be getting. The BCCI have been pretty clear; as clear as they possibly can; that they would be better off playing cricket in a manner than maximizes their profits and that some of the cricket the ICC wants them to play isn't aligned to their goals. For the BCCI the Future Tours and Program is a hindrance.

The BCCI wants to do what every board is doing. Play the game for higher and higher profits, yet a disproportionate amount of abuse is hurled towards the BCCI only because they are one of the few boards actually succeeding in the pursuit. 

All cricket, every where, from the beginning of time, be it the Ashes, the Pentangular tournaments in pre Independence India, India's tour of Australia in 1977-78 to counter Kerry Packer, the IPL, county cricket, was and is played because at the core it makes or protect money for the people involved. 

From what I understand what the BCCI has proposed is this...
  • "We don't need the ICC to tell us whom to visit and host and when. We can manage that perfectly well". In this arrangement, India may never play the likes of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Instead they may play a 7 ODI series with Australia. This is already happening today. So what's new.

  • "We need more money from the ICC revenue because we help you make more money". This will mean that countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the likes will get even lesser money than they get today.  (N. Srinivasan insists that everyone will get more money in this deal. This is only possible if the pie itself increases substantially) The way I read this is that these boards have failed to properly invest the money they receive from the ICC to make the cricket they play sustainable. As a consequence they are being held accountable and penalized (in a way and in a matter of speaking) by the BCCI, CA and ECB. I am of the opinion that the BCCI is in a better position to use the money more wisely and grow the game and the pie for everyone. However much we would like to believe; a billion people did not watch Sachin Tendulkar bat... and bring "joy to their lives". The Indian market is still a work in progress. Growth potential is immense. Instead of giving the money to Sri Lanka to waste on a Test Series with Bangladesh that no one watches, the BCCI will use it to play cricket that converts more Indians to cricket fans. It is one thing to appreciate and like Test cricket and want to preserve it, its entirely foolish to believe that the BCCI would be okay with wasting money (generated largely due to India's brand) just so that a Test match is played in Bangladesh that 300 people watch. 

  • "If you do not agree to our proposal, we will walk away from ICC tournaments". Essentially the BCCI is saying we don't need ICC tournaments. You need India to participate in ICC tournaments. Remember the 2007 World Cup. India crashed out and suddenly all interest in the tournament evaporated. Even in bilateral series's, outside of the ICC ambit, why do you think we don't see a repeat of the 2002 New Zealand tour? Because it does not make financial sense to beat India in a Test in 2 days. You cannot make money in an ICC tournament or a bilateral series, unless India lasts long enough

I won't criticize the BCCI for wanting to do what administrators have always done. Ensure more and more profits. To blame just the BCCI for this unjustified. Criticism by Mike Atherton against the Big 3 for wanting greater control over the ICC is rooted in noble ideals without much understanding of the practicalities as seen by the BCCI. If the BCCI feels that the ICC is limiting its potential to earn revenue and if the ICC can offer no counter incentive; then the current arrangement, where BCCI has more control over the global game; is the most realistic.

Where else have there been examples of organizations giving up control over something as lucrative, for the "greater good"? 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The KP Mess



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England have become the running joke for players all over the world. From amateur cricketers to roadside tyros to full time pros everyone is scratching their heads trying to figure this out. If performance isn't the criteria what is? England's message seems to be, "you are part of the team if you are a middling semi-performer but obedient."

The finger has to be pointed at Andy Flower. He seems to believe in his own coaching style over the talent that his players have. England lost in Australia only because KP played poorly. What that means is that the rest of the players' contribution is immaterial. To turn a match around, England needed KP to step up. If Flower, Cook and Prior couldn't motivate KP to deliver their sorry asses need to be thrown out. To blame KP for the series loss while hanging on to proven non-difference-makers like Tim Bresnan et al shows just how much England's administrative head needs a collective brainwash or a flush down the toilet.

The world is welcome to sympathize with Jonathan Trott who was persisted with though he was suffering from stress related illness. For the life of me, I can't figure out what's taboo about this illness. Players are left out from the side for having the flu, a toothache and delhi belly. Why did Flower and company knowingly include a player that was suffering from a far bigger condition than any of these. Shouldn't the finger of blame be squarely put on Andy Flower for backing an unfit player while trying to "tame" a proven match-winner? Trott left the team early and Flower had no real back up plan.

I've ranted often against self-absorbed administrators who seem to think that they have the power of God to turn mediocre players into super-stars. For every player that one or two good coaches do seem to turn around, they destroy several others. When are they going to realize that it's about the players and trying to get the best out of them? KP has a good 3-4 years left in him and he's going to ply his trade in the IPL and sundry leagues. Andy Flower may think that he has won a victory, but all he's managed to do is to set England back by 2-4 years.

Australia showed the way when they got rid of "homework" Mickey and rehabilitated both Warner and Watson. The results were astounding. England on the other hand pandered to Andy Flower and paid the price. They continue to genuflect to his "genius", not realizing that he is way past his prime. To give him KPs head as a parting gift is a huge tragedy. For all his "accomplishments", Flower remains just another ego-maniacal ex-player who is too full of himself.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The 'Draw' at the Wanderers



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When Faf Du Plessis was brilliantly run out by Ajinkya Rahane with 16 runs still to get at the Wanderers yesterday, I thought India had decisively inched ahead of South Africa. During the entire Test match, while South Africa kept coming back; India for the most part seemed ahead of South Africa. Having been in a position of advantage for a longer duration and having Faf Du Plessis run out with 16 still to get, I thought India would be more disappointed at not having won this Test. 

At the end of the ODI series, however, had anyone offered a draw to India at Wanderers, I am sure India would have gladly accepted. 

South Africa on the other hand after the ODI series, would be very disappointed with a draw at the Wanderers. However, Once India's bowlers, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara put India into a position of authority in this Test by the end of the 4th day; South Africa may be more relieved with escaping with a draw. Of course there must be a sense of disappointment at not having enough left to force a win. even while AB De Villiers and Faf Du Plessis put South Africa to striking distance of a win, at no point I felt South Africa could go for a win without taking risks.

Even after tea time when both Faf Du Plessis and AB De Villiers were batting so well, there was far too many runs and quite a bit of time still left for India to bowl South Africa out. South Africa could ill afford taking any risks. By the time the target had reached touching distance, they were just one wicket away from exposing Imran Tahir and a severely handicapped Morne Morkel to India's fast bowlers.

I can understand why South Africa did not go for the win and settled for a draw. Victory for them was never really possible without risking a loss.

Once South Africa started playing for the draw, what surprised me was that India too did not try to force a win. The last overs bowled at Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander didn't have any balls that looked like balls to take a wicket. The bouncers and short balls at Steyn were way too harmless and the intent was to go along with South Africa's desire to draw the game.

Perhaps, India reflected on how far they had come from the ODI series and assessed the draw positively given how heavily underrated they were to even put up a fight against South Africa. 

Ultimately the first Test of the series ended up being engaging affair and through out the Test I was wondering what Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Gautam Gambhir, and Virendra Sehwag must be thinking. For far too long we were sold the story that only batsmen of that caliber can compete on foreign pitches. In England, Australia and South Africa. Gambhir had us believe that somehow career averages count for runs in matches in progress.

That a young team on their maiden "away" Test arrested the 8 consecutive away losses was in it self uplifting. A win at the Wanderers would have been one of India's greatest away wins. Bigger than Adelaide 2003. 

Why were we holding back these young players and why were we clinging on to players well past their prime who were delivering loss after loss?