Tuesday, July 31, 2012

England seeks better excuses from India

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England’s cricketers’ open admission of defeat and humiliation in the Oval Test at the hands of South Africa has the ECB more worried than the defeat itself.

Opinions sources within the ECB reveal that the ECB has reached out to India’s seniors and are seeking a comprehensive “Excuse Management Framework”. ECB have long held India’s seniors in very high regard in their ability to deflect criticism and carry on as if a victory is just ‘around the corner’.

When approached, the BCCI rejected any such request from the ECB. Although they did add that if the ECB wants the services of its senior players, the ECB needs to make a written request and subject to finding sponsors, the BCCI would be happy to oblige as long as no review of the framework is mandated.

However, we have in our possession a scribbled piece of paper titled ‘India’s Excuse Strategy – By Seniors’, presumably because BCCI rules prohibit any cricketer from owning any electronic device, email account or internet access because all of those can be error prone and ‘even the manufacturer’s cannot guarantee a 100% up time’. However players can own ‘Twitter’ accounts and tweet as long as every tweet is submitted to BCCI in writing for approval.

The scribbled piece of paper which appears to bear distinct handwriting of 4-5 Indian seniors; a couple of which seem to be written by the left hand according to hand writing experts; has a disclaimer that “The framework is proven to work for India and India’s cultural sensibilities. To anglicize it, the ECB must seek advice of cross cultural experts”

The paper goes on to list the following ‘better practices’ in ‘excuses for prolonged failures’

The basic principle of successful excuse generation is to deflect criticism, get into denial mode and work hard to do nothing different

  • Blame it on the bowlers – Bowlers have a specific task to win matches. Take 20 wickets. Any defeat can be easily sold to the public as a bowling failure because it is very easy for them to visualize the short coming.
  • Create an illusion of infighting – Nothing distracts an Indian from defeats than their favorite cricketers squabbling over non existent issues
  • Send junior players to front the media…this way, statements can be denied and the juniors become the face of the defeat
  • Bank on History – Every defeat is an opportunity to remind your countrymen of past glory. A loss is not the time to make forward looking promises like the English did after Oval; rather it’s a time to look back and connect the public with past wins.
  • Confuse the media – Make long winded statements to the media, never answer any question directly…Add “as far as we are concerned…”, “Its’ not about xxx…it’s about yyy”. [Fill in the blanks as appropriate]
  • Highlight one irrelevant thing as the difference between you and the superior side – E.g. the Kallis - Amla partnership was the only difference between the 2 sides at Oval. Notice how subtly the blame goes to the bowlers
  • Media Blitz – On one hand keep blaming the local media, but make sure key individuals are the cover story of international magazines. Praise from foreign publications eases the pain of humiliation like nothing else
  • Luck and Fate are valid reasons – ‘It’s just not our time’ works like a charm. Our time usually comes in home series’. Have someone lovable make this excuse. We had Sehwag explain the role of ‘bad times’ and look we were not held accountable for our humiliating performances as a batting team in England and Australia. What's more there is anticipation that we will win our next 3 home series’…
  • State the obvious in a profound manner – E.g. It’s a game someone will win and someone will lose. People are generally polite and don’t ask the follow up question as to why it’s only our team that loses all the time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Humiliation as Retribution

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This morning I wrote an apology letter to BCCI. I apologized on Gol's behalf for being too harsh on Sachin. I also apologized that we criticize selections and BCCI's ham-handed attitude and treatment of cricketers. Within seconds of sending that e-mail, I received a note saying a check for $50 was in the mail for me. I rejoiced. My legacy was going to be safe. I am receiving those $50 for attending a selection camp in Karnataka to play for the varsity team. My association with BCCI has now been preserved in posterity. Golandaaz too will be getting a check (much bigger than mine). And he will share it with me or at least I expect him to. Money is everything.

The saga of Kapil's rehabilitation has been troubling me big time. Indian cricket has not produced a lion-hearted cricketer before or since Kapil Dev, with the possible exception of CK Nayudu perhaps. For all his strategic shortcomings, Kapil was the one who would take the bullet on his chest for the team. He was forever the last hope, the one that wouldn't give up without a fight and would take the fight to the opponents. He was the last with old-fashioned, rugged, salt-of-the-earth values. None of that urban sophistication and rationalization. He failed more than he succeeded in his methods perhaps, but we loved that about him. Even when he launched the ICL, we believed his sincerity. Not once did I think that he was doing it for money or fame. I didn't agree with him being appointed coach of the team Indian team, because he did nothing more than give "do better" speeches to a team short on talent and tactical nous. But Kapil was always larger than life. After all, Wisden/Cricinfo had annointed him as the Indian Cricketer of the 20th Century.

Watching him be humiliated and reduced to this underscores what is wrong with BCCI in particular and India in general. We have lost our moral compass. We have given up trying to understand what human dignity even means. Humiliation as retribution is normal for those in power as is groveling to curry favor for the layman. The excuses are many, but worshipping money and power has become so common place that talking about morality makes everyone laugh. My country of birth with its oligarchy and kleptocracy has been bankrupted of the ideals upon which it was built.

Most people would wonder why I'm making such a big deal out of this. This is normal daily occurence in India. Corruption is endemic and lack of empathy and moral rectitude is commonplace. For some reason, this hurt because cricket to me is a passion like no other. Despite the BCCI being overtaken by commercial interests, I held hope that sportspeople would stand firm. That the very spirit that leads sportspeople to achieve excellence would also lead them to take the BCCI back. Kumble's election as president of KCA warmed my heart like nothing else. I'm not one who naively believes that cricketers will be the best administrators. Just like government of the people, for the people is the best form of government, I believe cricket administrators coming from the ranks of cricketers is the fairest form of administration. I nuture the feeling that had the BCCI been run by cricketers, we would not have these controversies around match-fixing, player contracts, IPL vs test cricket, DRS and the like. Because cricketers will decide for cricket and the cricketers. They would likely put both these first and the money making part would take care of itself.

I have always believed that the administrators should be the servants of the sportspeople, never the other way around. The selectors are not doing cricketers any favors by selecting them. The players are doing the country a favor by putting their bodies, minds and souls at it's service to bring it fame. They are the ones risking failure and humiliation so that their team and their country achieves distinction. Years from now, no one will remember the names of everyone that played the 2011 World Cup final for India. But we will all know that India won the 2011 World Cup. Who remembers the magnitude of the innings played by Yashpal Sharma or Sandeep Patil from 1983, other than the most rabid fans? Both probably don't care about their relative anonymity compared to the pride they feel that they won the country a world cup. It's that selfless spirit that is evident even in the most selfish of cricketers and other team sportspeople.

But Kapil wasn't angling for an administration job. Kapil represented all of us that feel that the BCCI has gone too far in flexing its muscle. That the BCCI has bullied enough and that there was going to be one person that would not bend no matter how much pressure was brought to bear. But much like a mafia threatens, cajoles, buys and ultimately breaks it's enemies, Kapil has been bought. And for whatever reason, the fight went out of the warrior. Those of us who admire the spirit of Rana Pratap who held out against a mighty emperor, to defend a principle, despite having no chance at all are dismayed. And the big bad BCCI has declared victory. But this is a huge defeat for Indian cricket and perhaps world cricket. This signals to all those potential lion hearts out there that the BCCI wants only poodles. India's surrenders in the test arena is no coincidence. And there are going to be many more, until the goose that lays these golden eggs is dead. This is yet another sad day for Indian cricket.

Monday, July 23, 2012

South Africa v England

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A summer ago, a team, bruised and battered by the IPL, came to defend its No.1 status in Test matches. A well-rested and purposeful English team humiliated India’s batsmen, toyed with its bowlers and left the team making excuses that stun its ardent fans even to this day. The England team left the India team in disarray and destroyed its unity - Unity that had resulted in a number one ranking and a World Cup.
South Africa arrived in England as the putative number one team. A team that was prone to choking and perennially flattered to deceive. Graeme Smith was the bad boy among cricket captains and struggled to earn respect for his captaincy and batting. Much like Ganguly arrived in Australia in 2003 with a team that was hopeful, yet not expected to give the mighty Australians a run for their money, Smith’s team too was expected to give a tough fight, but probably not win.
In a matter of a week, the world has changed. England was seemingly invincible at home. Anderson, Broad and Bresnan were masters of the conditions in England. With the wettest summer on record, the conditions favored them. English batsmen were in form with all of them doing well, with the possible exception of tyro Bopara.
Morne Morkel’s improvement into a strike bowler from a stock bowler has probably played a large hand in South Africa’s bowling performance. Morkel enjoyed the IPL like never before and carried on. Vernon Philander, a huge find for South Africa, did not give anything away on his maiden tour to England. Imran Tahir who is bringing much needed balance to the South Africa attack is reasonably effective. And Dale Steyn, the fiercest of competitors, master fast bowler, the best since Dennis Lillee, in my book, when it comes to text book fast bowling, delivered like he always has.
England may have fancied their chances after extending their first innings to score 385 on the back of Cook’s brilliant hundred and Bell and Prior’s resilience. Graeme Smith, however, knew that if there was ever a time to show up, this was it. Watching him bat is somewhat painful. He is ungainly and brutal. He played a Matt Hayden-like innings (from 2001). It wasn’t all easy when Anderson was fired up getting Peterson. The ball was moving some and Anderson and Broad were effective. But Smith and Amla slowly bled the English bowling out. When South Africa were finished after the epic from Amla and the master class from Kallis, all talk of variety, pace and penetration of the English attack was over. Broad was delivering pies at a pace that would have made Madan Lal look fast in comparison. Anderson’s heart was nowhere to be seen and Bresnan, trying hard was helpless because his heart is not matched by his talent.
Pakistan had exposed England in UAE, but no one thought there would be a repeat in England. What South Africa has perhaps shown us is that India was vastly over-rated when they arrived in England. And a 4-0 thrashing shows how badly India is off the rails and needs to rebuild and ready a team for the new order in test match cricket. Clinging to an aging icon and a formula from early 2000s, India, will likely not even win matches at home anymore. They might blame bowlers, but its aging batsmen are not putting up runs.
Hashim Amla is playing at a level that only Rahul Dravid and Mohammed Yousuf have attained in recent times. He too, like the other two, is modest, studious, and reflective and channels his intensity into his batting. He came in early and made it count. He may never get an opportunity to score another triple hundred, but for sure, the way he is batting, he can score test cricket’s first 500. His concentration, desire, serenity, endurance and technique are all worthy of praise. His humility has an endearing quality to it.
Dale Steyn delivered the death blows to a demoralized English batting line up in the second innings a day after another South African Ernie Els won the British Open. England seemed to have an endless line of batsmen and South Africa had only three (not including Smith). But the shoe is on the other foot now. With Amla and Kallis immovable, what will England’s plan B be? Can they breach through these guys and test AB, Duminy and the rest?
The second test match is going to tell us if the England team is real. It’s going to tell us whether the spirit of 2005 is still around. South Africa have showed up in style. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Players to get 'Hardship Allowance' to represent India

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The BCCI today announced that all cricketers selected to play for India will get a 'hardship allowance' to cover for the inconvenience it may cause them for having to play any cricket outside of the IPL.

What is most generous about this new compensation announcement and something bound to 'warm the cockles of the heart' of domestic cricket fans is that this allowance is extended to even players who are forced to play in the Ranji Trophy much against their dream of only playing the IPL.

Explaining the latest bout of generosity from the BCCI, N Shrinivasan, owner of the Chennai Super Kings and the president of the Board said...

"It tears my heart to see our young and budding entertainers like Sachin Tendulkar who are forced to play for India purely as cricketers when there are millions to be made by playing private leagues across the world.  We believe no amount of money can compensate for the sacrifices these brave hearts make but this is a small gesture from"

His words seem to suggest that the BCCI will now allow Indian players to play in Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. However he was non committal about that.

"As far as we are concerned no leagues like the IPL exist.We are yet to receive any thing in writing" he said

Initial feedback from the players however was discouraging.While no one was willing to speak 'for the record', it is understood that unless the allowance was greater than the IPL contract values, it is unlikely to create any incentive for players to sign up for the inhumane, arduous and extreme effort fullness of playing for ones country.

Meanwhile Statsguru, ESPN cricinfo's engine for all sorts of statistics will launch a new version of their engine for India's cricketers. Fans can now track each players earnings. Both domestic and foreign. Home and away.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Formidable England

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With Australia short on talent, India counting its dollars aloud, Sri Lanka without Murali, and Pakistan never away from the ‘self destruct’ button, England and South Africa remain the top two sides in Test Cricket today.

It will be harsh to discount Pakistan given their recent record but to expect something sustainable, logical and reasonable from them; all prerequisites for success in Tests;  is asking for too much.

The last time South Africa were in England in 2008, they were a better side than England. This time the South African side looks even more strong with Philander and Imran Tahir added to the side. England however have been quite something else since regaining the Ashes; the 0-3 humiliation to PAkistan notwithstanding. The world’s best batting line up, the world’s best spinner and the world’s best wicket keeper batsman; they are all English. Well not technically but they all play for England. Add to that the bowlers who are quite capable of consistently taking 20 wickets in home conditions, and England look real formidable.

I would rate England and South Africa equal in terms of bowling but bank on England’s batting to score a win or two; although England must dread the havoc Philander, Steyn and Imran Tahir can cause. I guess South Africa’s bowling can engineer a win at least

South Africa’s worry has got to be the balance of the side and the work load of AB DeVilliers. Technically having AB keep makes their batting look strong but strength in numbers when the conditions favor the bowlers isn’t a safety net. In fact whether AB can keep as well as Boucher could have in English conditions must be a worry

Then there is Jacque Kallis’s less than satisfactory record in England. He averages less than half his career average in England.

In sum, I will continue to bank on England. Though these days, to bank with the English is criminally foolish.

Prediction: England 2 South Africa 1

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gavaskar criticizes BCCI for scheduling a series with Pak during lunch breaks of Eng series

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Former India captain and the recipient of BCCI’s one time benefit payment, Sunil Gavaskar has heavily criticized the BCCI’s decision to host Pakistan for a series of ODIs and T20 matches to be scheduled during the lunch, tea and drinks breaks during the India v England Test matches just before Christmas, later this year.

Following his criticism, there is general anticipation among experts that Sunil Gavaskar will be asked to return his benefit payment and will be offered no amnesty whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Sachin Tendulkar has announced that “no one can tell me what to do during lunch breaks” and has made himself unavailable for the games to “extend his career”

Harsha Bhogle, BCCI’s cheerleader-in-chief has applauded BCCI’s business acumen in drawing crowds to Test matches. Even if 5% of the crowd linger after the ODI and T20 action is over at the end of each lunch interval…”That’s 5-10 thousand people more that would watch Test cricket; even if unintentionally”.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni known for his balanced responses to the media, said that he would rather spend the time for breaks in the dressing room or his hotel room. However since that is unlikely to be supported by the BCCI, he will have to retire from Test cricket at the end of this year to sustain his body to the rigors of BCCI scheduling.

The British press had a field day being both appalled and humored by the arrangement of a series during breaks. Predictably, Ravi Shastri said that the English are jealous of India, the IPL and India’s #5 position in the ICC Test ranking.

Meanwhile the Bangladesh Cricket Board is in talks with the BCCI to hold a T20 only series with India during strategic breaks of the T20 matches between India and Pakistan.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sachin's Privilege

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Preference of formats to extend one’s playing career seems fair.

With so much cricket played; although 90% of it these days seems mundane; choosing to specialize in, or concentrate on, 1-2 formats is logical. In fact I believe over time, if Test cricket is allowed to flourish; cricket will probably evolve into something like Track and Field or Swimming where excelling in one format will logically mean sacrificing others for an individual cricketer

A Marathoner also actively participating in sprints is unheard of; only because training and preparing to excel in both involves vastly different, sometimes contrasting techniques; I assume.

The route that Sachin Tendulkar has taken to extend his career is queer and might I say a privilege that only he has an entitlement towards.

Technically he has not retired from any format.

He simply decides based on his own personal priorities which tour he will play and which he will skip. That he factors in what’s best for India and not just himself can only be assumed.

Having played for 22 years for his country, scored billions of runs and helped his team win prestigious matches, series’ and tournaments including the world cup, he is clearly a legend and will have privileges not accessible to even other greats.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, too has asked for rest from cricket and has skipped an important tour to Sri Lanka only recently. However with Sachin, having not retired from One Day Internationals and not in possession of the excuse of having played ‘too much cricket’, he has decided to skip the Sri Lankan ODI / T20 tour.

One can only then assume that the tour is in direct conflict with his personal priorities.

What exactly must a cricketer achieve to earn this privilege? The privilege, that is, to choose his assignments to extend his own interests from the game.

Is 75 international centuries good enough? Or 20 years of non-stop service to the game?

In an interview over at cricinfo, he cites the fact that the Sri Lankan tour clashes with the school holidays as a reason. Its not too much cricket, its not the format that he does not wish to play; rather it is something as simple as ‘he would rather be at home with his children’ than represent his country.

Last year, it was the IPL and a date with Roger Federer over a tour to the West Indies.

Can Virendra Sehwag get the same privilege? Did Rahul Dravid get that?

Then comes this exchange in the interview

Cricinfo: You have pretty much ticked all the boxes - part of a World Cup-winning squad, India winning series abroad... A phase for you to now go out and just enjoy yourself and nothing else

Sachin: Yes. Even while doing that - playing cricket in various countries - I had fun, but when you win it gets even sweeter.

You take a lot of pride in playing for your nation. I have that terrific feeling and privilege of playing for India for the last 23 years and it's been a fantastic journey. I have no complaints at all. There have been ups and downs, and it makes you a better and strong person, it teaches you so many things in life around cricket, just as a person.

Admittedly, Sachin has never allowed himself to truly let himself ‘go’ in interviews and while I cannot accuse him of being dishonest his responses in interviews are too dumbed down, generic, cliché rich and apolitical and rudimentary. But surely never having won a Test series in Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies and Australia which is nearly half of the entire Test cricket playing world is a huge void in his legacy.

There are far lesser cricketers who have been part of teams that have achieved more. Ricky Ponting, Jacque Kallis come to mind but surely there are more. Vivian Richards, Steve Waugh…

Individual records, yes, but when it comes to what India has achieved with Sachin in the team, its got to disappoint even him.

True, he has mostly been part of a less than formidable teams over the 20 odd years. However to say that there were no disappointments or agree that he has achieved ‘everything’ and will play as long as he enjoys the game is flaunting his humility so blatantly on his sleeve that he is beginning to sound arrogant and irrelevant.