Monday, December 17, 2012

Competence can be found but what about loyalty?

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I would like to see Dhoni given a chance to run his own team. A team wherein he is the undisputed decision maker. A team where he does not have to worry about the legends who inadvertently command more respect and influence on decisions than he does. 

It is one thing to be captain. Quite another to be a Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid.

I think he will do well if he is the undisputed leader of the team. 

He was man enough to lead a side wherein almost everyone was his senior, either in age or length of career. Even Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virendra Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh had played a good 5-6 years of cricket for India when Dhoni was made captain.

While he initially enjoyed the fruits of superlative individuals  in his team, once the IPL started encroaching on national interests and priorities got jumbled up, none of the seniors stood up to support him. They had their own money making ideas over the fate of the national team.

Sachin Tendulkar and co. were more interested in negotiating with the BCCI a deal wherein they will get compensated if they were to miss the IPL while playing for India, than to discuss with the BCCI how to protect the National team's interest. 

That became only Mahendra Singh Dhoni's problem.

Team India's culture that allows leadership shy cricketers to play 'just as a player' means the team has many leaders who demand a share in its success but only one that can be held accountable for failures. 

Its fine to assume and say that Sachin Tendulkar is a great influence on the team. Its fine to assume and say that the 'dressing room benefits from his vast experience'. How does one measure the effectiveness of these contributions. How much of India's recent poor performances can be attributed to Sachin not doing his job as a mentor? 

Its tough and probably harsh on SachinTendulkar to be asked the question. 

But that is precisely the problem with having so many non performing seniors in the team, who are held to no accountability when the times are bad.

India's lamentable record warrants changes. Also warrants a hard look at Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

But India's problems are not problems of competency. Its an issue of attitude, priorities and loyalty to national interests. 

Ever since Lala Amarnath scored a 100 on debut against Douglas Jardine's English team, there haven't been many periods where India have been without great batting talent. India may feel that replacing Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar will be impossible, but neither is such talent a prerequisite for winning nor is it prudent to believe that there is no talent waiting to be found. 

Talent will be found. Both batting and bowling.

What we need a solution for is how to balance the IPL with national interests. A problem Sachin and other seniors have become a part of.

No captain can lead India again with honor and distinction unless the national game is given priority. Its not the losing that hurts its the mortgaging of India's national team to the IPL by the seniors that rankles. 

To hold Mahendra Singh Dhoni alone responsible for that and expect that somehow Virat Kohli can fix that is delusional.

Monday, December 10, 2012

England In India: Questions in the middle of an ugly series

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Who is winning the series?

Are there any positives for India?

For starters there is no infighting like when England lost to South Africa or when Pakistan plays. Although I won't call it a complete positive. I think it makes me quite uncomfortable that the team is so united in humiliation. I smell something fishy. 

Secondly, as bad as they have played, the series is still not lost. 

Thirdly, the best fielder in the series is Indian. Don't trust what you hear about Sehwag's careless running and Gambhir's poor signalling, that led to the match starting horribly for India. While all that is true, it was triggered by Samit Patel's brilliant effort on the boundary line. 

And Finally Zaheer Khan did not break down as we had incorrectly predicted. In our view he is in the top 56 of the fittest bowlers in the world 

How will the series end?
With Sachin Tendulkar not retiring.

No seriously, what's the prediction?
The series will end with the Pakistan circus series as a 'fresh start'. 

Is Naseer Hussain right to call India's cricketers 'God-like'?
Yes. But it must be tough being Naseer Hussain. Last year he called them donkeys and got criticized. This year he calls them God-like and he still is unlikely to win fans. My advice to Naseer is them salesmen or entertainers. It will strike a chord.

Why do Indian cricketers and coaches bother to speak to the media?
With the express intent to launch an assault on people's intelligence. I think in their minds we have brains the size of Gautam Gambhir.

How good is England really?
Once they investigate why they lost in Ahmedabad, they can build on the series result.

Who is to blame for India's losses? Bowlers or Batsmen?
This one is easy - Batsmen. You need good bowlers to win consistently. You need good batsmen to draw matches consistently. But matches are almost always lost with poor batting. It means you are not good enough to draw. In fact the weaker your bowling, your batsmen have that much less to bat to force draws.

Who is more angry Sachin-ists or Sach-atheists?
Sachin's fans are more angry. Just based on personal experience, I get a lot of (okay may be one or 'You...Sachin hater' type greetings from well wishers. I don't know of anyone who is angry with Sachin fans. Perhaps its proof that Sachin is not God after all. People who don't believe in God are not called God-haters so why this venom against people who no longer believe in the 'Sachin Story'...Just like traditional atheists I just don't believe Sachin should exist in the team. The rest are free to enjoy and experience his existence. Stop being angry with me. I am as stupid as you are.

If there is one lesson in this series for India what is it?
Next time a visiting side arrives, please give adequate practice to Indian batsmen against visiting spinners. When you are this bad, tour games are opportunities for home teams as well. Think outside the box.

Can things get any worse for India?
Yes, If they win at Nagpur

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dirty Picture: The Indian Story 2011

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(A post reproduced from almost exactly a year ago...)

India started 2011 in the most enviable position. Ranked #1 in Tests and with a legitimate chance of winning the World Cup. With tours to the West Indies, England and Australia lined up, I truly believed India had the resources and the motivation to extend their supremacy.

The year began well when Greame Smith; possibly  out of respect to Virendra Sehwag; chose not to force a series win and India gained much needed respect for drawing a Test series in South Africa with a win in the Durban Test.

Then India and Mahendra Sing Dhoni delivered one of the most memorable performances in World Cup history by lifting the World Cup under the most intense pressure any home team is likely to face, possibly in any sport. Barring a freakish loss to South Africa, India were hard to beat throughout the entire tournament. Against the lesser teams they did just enough and they beat every other past World Cup champion as the tournament progressed - a fact that made this World Cup win that much more sweet.

In April 2011, to be an Indian cricket fan meant... bragging rights and endless hope

Then we had the IPL; something like 28 minutes after Mahendra Singh Dhoni clubbed the World Cup winning 6; although the break seemed a little less than a tea break in a Test match.

Leaving the player auctions aside; the IPL generally is a good thing. For the game in India. For business. For the players; both Indian and foreign. But sometimes its benefits are overstated and the disruptions it causes in the short term are ignored, denied and wished away.

2011 was a good example of that. The negative impact of the IPL's 2011 edition to India's standing as a Test nation cannot be denied. There is no doubt in my mind that had we rested our Test team after the World Cup, made national cricket a priority, sent a full strength team to the West Indies, had adequate practice games in England, the results would have been vastly different.

But as the IPL progressed and player after player revealed injuries deep into the tournament, our fears for the worst started to emerge. Suddenly England and Australia seemed daunting tours because it was evident that even the greatest of our great cricketers had completely succumbed to and enslaved by the politicians, corporations and film makers that run the IPL.

Test Cricket was no longer the focus of India's leading cricketers and for the BCCI, maintaining India's #1 standing in the format suddenly had no business case. Whatever sound bytes that were uttered around Test cricket being the ultimate; was mere lip-service. 

From West Indies - April 2011 to Sydney - January 2012, the sum of all fears; the disruption caused by the IPL, ageing batting line up, injuries, conflicting priorities and hectic scheduling; all amounted to something far greater than the sum of the parts and Indian cricket spiralled uncontrollably, but not unexpectedly into mediocrity. 

Helping it along the way were the men who run, play, and sell Indian cricket. They insulated themselves so much from the visible problems that to them every set back was occasion for an excuse and doing nothing became the only solution. Cobbled together the actions, in-actions, decisions and in-decisions paint an extremely dirty picture.

Here is the story line as we saw and captured it in our posts...

Sachin Tendulkar decides that IPL is more important than a tour of the West Indies. Of course the Ambani's had a say in this but if Sachin cannot be backed to put country before club, why even fool ourselves into believing that between club and country, country stands any chance. Under the guise of 'I want to spend more time with my family', Sachin Tendulkar skipped the entire tour of the West Indies and while a Test was on, was seen prominently in the most repulsive set of images I have seen in 2011. Flirting with Roger Federer @ Wimbledon when he should really have been giving his all to help India win all Test matches on the West Indies tour.

2011 is the year Sachin Tendulkar became just another cricketer.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads India to an expected win in the first Test on the West Indies tour. Then he takes the mike in the post match press conference and delivers perhaps some of the the most arrogant and unsportsmanlike responses to questions by any Indian captain. He creates a babel of words around his love for hotel rooms and makes personalized comments against a specific umpire.

India never won another Test away from home in 7 more tries. 8 if you consider Sydney as well.

Then in the 3rd Test at Dominica Dhoni actually believed that India would lose 7 wickets chasing 90 odd in 15 overs. As the year progressed that belief turned into reality many times over as India's famed batsmen failed to routinely cross 300.

Emotionally exhausted after the world cup, physically spent after the IPL and after a tour of the West Indies which many cricketers viewed as a voluntary social service, India arrived in England foolishly believing that they can compete. 

They could not.

Just as we predicted.

Pre Series, we predicted a 0-2 loss which after Lord's was down graded to 0-4.

Why men like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virendra Sehwag, and Zaheer Khan did not do more to come better prepared left me with a sense of betrayal. What value do these seniors bring to the team if they are unwilling to influence priorities and make a stand and instead simply be content to play the 'We are victims of the system' card. 

A 0-4 performance was engineered by a total failure of the middle order and a green bowling attack. And yet no one took accountability for the disaster. India sold the humiliation as a 'one-off'. Perhaps the first instance of a whitewash which was successfully but ultimately wrongly; attributed to a perfect storm of minor events.

There is no known instance of the #1 ranked cricket team getting white washed. India became that team. The miracle wasn't the whitewash it self, rather it was the consummate ease with which the media bought the pathetic excuses; mostly conjured up from thin air and occasionally from the back sides of players and administrators.

We did not buy it. We called it a spectacular betrayal and called for the seniors (Sachin, in particular) to make way for the next generation

Rebuilding had to start post-England. Although realistically we knew India's cricket setup is not designed for such proactive measures. When Sachin played in the first Test in the home series against the West Indies, following the England tour, we said, he has played one Test too many.

India moved on. Settling yet again for celebrations of personal milestones. It was like the 90s all over again. Only this time celebrating personal milestones seemed hollow. That Dravid had a prolific year as a batsman meant nothing because India kept losing. We did not buy the world cup narrative that finally Sachin had achieved everything in his career. No. Far from it. It will always be a painful reminder that in spite of having the luxury of playing as part of the world's best team, he will retire without having won a Test series in Sri Lanka, West Indies, Australia and South Africa.

A 100 100s may have meant something more in the 90s not any more.

Greed and Insult
The BCCI like many boards, have sold far more than they think with the TV rights to corporations. That fact was exposed when England toured India for a series of 5 ODIs immediately after defeating India 0-4 in a Test series. 

The series had no context in a cricketing sense.

From a dollars perspective, it was perhaps necessitated because of an ODI series abandoned in 2008 after the Mumbai terror attacks.

The sponsors packaged it as a 'Revenge Series'. It was a direct assault on the intelligence of the common fan. They responded by staying away.

Irreversible Mediocrity
After the England ODIs West Indies visited India for a full tour even at home, India embarrassed themselves by failing to chase a sub-300 score against a friendly West Indies attack. The embarrassment however was not felt, so its wrong to call it an embarrassment. So let's call it plain denial. By now India's cricket team had miraculously insulated itself from any criticism and taken an ostrich-like approach to introspection. England was sold as 'bad luck' and every defeat or non-performance was drowned as a statistic in the face of meaningless personal milestones including the nation's quest for Sachin's 100th.

There was a time when there was legitimate pride in individual achievements and milestones. Gavaskar's 10,000th run was truly historic. The joy of Gavaskar's 29th Test 100 lasted for months. It didn't matter that we lost the Test Series 0-3 to the West Indies. Kapil's quest for his 432nd was laborious but with international Test wins scarce, the pursuit of the goal seemed wholly acceptable to most except probably Javagal Srinath.

For brief periods men like Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and Ajit Wadekar had the skills to create winning teams from superlative individuals but it wasn't until Saurav Ganguly that India learnt how to win consistently. While the nation still celebrated Sachin's milestones during Ganguly's era and it continued to overshadow India's achievements; against the backdrop of Sachin's achievements was India's growing supremacy in Test Cricket.

In 2011 as the wins dried up, there was nothing to hold on to other than the personal milestones of Sachin, VVS and Dravid.

When the Australian tour came, India continued to live in denial. Expecting wins when England and West Indies had shown that the core team was far too obsessed with managing their own career extensions than deliver wins or think about what's in India's long term interest.

Unwilling to trust assurances from VVS Laxman and Dravid, once again we predicted a 0-2 trashing. It confirmed to us that India's seniors are now completely out of touch with reality and had an over sized estimate of their capabilities.

Disrespect, arrogance, betrayal, greed, and insult resulted in India embracing mediocrity. Inventing excuses along the way. To us, it is evident that the rot is irreversible. We need a new team. When a number one ranked team filled with all-time greats loses 6 in a row; something drastic needs to be done.

Looking ahead
India needs to shed its obsession with Sachin Tendulkar. Without any fault of his own, he has succeeded in taking us back into the 90s where humiliating losses are swept under a carpet decorated with individual achievements.

India needs to rebuild. And if Sachin, Rahul and VVS do not agree, their agreement should be deemed unnecessary. They need to be dropped (asked to retire) not because there are better players waiting but because we need to invest in players who will give us new wins again; may be not in the next few year but shortly after that.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Harvard University announces new course for the study of Sachin's Retirement

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The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University has just announced a new one-year Masters degree in Journalism to begin in Fall 2013 solely dedicated to the study of Sachin Tendulkar's retirement. The department of Labor Statistics, in a just released report had estimated a severe need for journalists that can cover the field of Sachin's retirement. The report said that by the year 2030 the world's print and online media combined, would need 10,000 journalists who can cover the fast growing field.

The program will be offered by the prestigious university beginning the Fall of 2013

The Harvard University Program seeks to create graduates who can achieve the following

  1. Present both sides of the view of why Sachin Tendulkar should not retire
  2. Apply Bollywood's tactic of producing mediocre movies under the garb of 'escapist cinema' to Sachin Tendulkar's situation...he is the hope of a nation, he makes people happy, etc, etc and such emotional nonsense
  3. Use of Satsguru to analyze Sachin Tendulkar's slumps to show how each of them have been temporary
  4. Argue endlessly about each of his bowled dismissals to hide his obvious struggles against the balls he manages to survive
  5. How to get artificially excited each time he breaks his own record
  6. To research, discover, unearth, manufacture new records from existing performances that can never be surpassed by Cook, Amla, etc
  7. To deal with emerging trends in arguments that favor his retirement and devise opinions to reject them

As course Prerequisites, a degree in cheer leading is a must

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Art and the Artist

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Playing cricket is perhaps very different from playing music. However, good cricketer is probably a good artiste much like a good musician. A good cricketer appreciates the honor and applause of his excellence much like a musician perhaps does. The motivation to please and be appreciated must rank quite high. Both these motivations are noble. However, when the audience stops appreciating one’s music, does one stop playing? Or does a poor player continue to play music though he knows that his notes are flawed?
Both are difficult questions to answer. An artiste true to his art form and one that finds art to be a spiritual pursuit might choose to stop playing when he is not striking the right notes. He might choose to do so despite audience clamor for more. He might view playing music despite flaws as being akin to blasphemy. Yet others might continue to provide happiness to their dwindling numbers of fans. Several aging rock stars and bands come to mind when I think of this scenario. And yet more artists, actors and sportsmen come to mind when I think of those who left the scene leaving only a memory of pure and high class.
Sachin Tendulkar’s continuing saga led me to think about this. I find it hard to justify my desire to push him into retirement. And I also find it hard to believe that there are people who are willing to continue to listen to bad music. Lata Mangeshkar is a great example of someone who sang past her prime and diminished herself in the eyes of many. Yet there were equal or more numbers of people willing to forgive these musical flaws for a chance to keep listening to her.
When fans are devoted to the musician rather than the music, this is likely to happen. But then there’s probably nothing wrong in being devoted to the musician instead of the music. We bloggers may state an opinion and take sides but that’s it.

Maybe this is why we see the division among cricket fans between those that want Tendulkar to continue playing and those that want him to retire. Tendulkar fans may be less interested in the success of the team when he has not contributed. Maybe they care less about watching cricket when he is not playing. Maybe they find other batsmen like Cook and Pujara boring in comparison. I have no idea. I'm simply speculating.

And those that truly desire that Indian cricket evolve into its new avatar quickly, so that we know whether they can go head to head once again with the elite teams, may be wanting him to retire. There is a huge amount of interest in people to see Pujara, Kohli and others play. The crowds at Mumbai and Kolkatta bear testimony to that.

And so it goes on and on....

The interesting thing is that neither side is wanting the selectors to axe him. In that there appears to be a consensus. That the man of such huge accomplishments must be given the space to call time on his career.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ricky Ponting Retires

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It is tough to comment on Ricky Ponting's retirement without mentioning the non retirement of the big white elephant in the room - Sachin Tendulkar.

It is safe to say however, that were Ricky Ponting Indian, his recent slump in form would have been brushed aside as a minor early-career slump and he would have at least given a decade more to compile largely meaningless 100s and assemble 3 more Ashes losses.

Fortunately he is Australian

It is easier to envision someone breaking Sachin Tendulkar's records. There may never be another Ricky Ponting however

From an Indian point of view, I was never sure what was more pleasurable. Beating Australia or beating Ponting. To see him lose and struggle as a batsman in India early in his career was a special treat.

There was no question of liking him even though I did feel that the Australian media was unnecessarily too critical of him during Sydney 2008. I don't even think Ricky Ponting cared whether he was liked. 

Many batsmen, after a good innings talk about how they simply responded to the match situation. In most cases its just a standard line batsmen say but it was only Ricky Ponting who I felt embodied that. Even among his peers there were far more destructive batsmen than him. Sachin Tendulkar (before he became just another cricketer) and Brian Lara come to mind. Only Ricky Pointing however, I felt, started every innings by answering the questions, "What do I need to do to win the game from here?".

It was a luxury neither Sachin nor Lara had. Ponting did and he made it count....

As Sachin's career has meandered with no specific goal in mind other than perhaps some perverted sense of personal gratification, Ponting sought gratification in wins. He would afford to, given the weapons he had around him.

One day, however it is easier to envision someone breaking Sachin Tendulkar's records. There may never be another Ricky Ponting however. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

If Sachin Tendulkar were the curator at Eden Gardens

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If Sachin Tendulkar were the curator at Eden Gardens, how would he respond to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's suicidal request to deliver a spinning track for the 3rd Test...

  1. No one can tell me what type of pitch I should make
  2. I will let my pitch do the talking
  3. I need a month to spend time with my family (Roger Federer)
  4. The day I feel like making a spinning track, I will
  5. All pitches are the same, the turn and spin is created by the media.
  6. All of the above
  7. None of the above