Monthly Archives: August 2011

India’s Cabinet Shoots Down Cricket Reform Bill

Sad news from the increasingly dysfunctional Manmohan Singh government:

A proposal to regulate national sports federations was overwhelmingly rejected by the Union Cabinet on Tuesday with several ministers criticizing the sports development bill as deeply flawed and designed to vest sweeping powers in the sports ministry.

One of the ministers who voiced the “power grab” criticism was — no surprise — Sharad Pawar, who in addition to overseeing India’s agriculture (nearly a fifth of India’s economy) also finds the time to lead the BCCI and the ICC.  But he was not alone: Arun Jaitley (an opposition leader, but, crucially, also the head of Delhi’s Cricket Association); Praful Patel (a bigwig MP and head of India’s football federation) and C.P. Joshi (highways minister and, of course, head of Rajasthan’s Cricket Association) all joined in to scuttle the bill. They know power grabs when they see one.

Now, obviously a bill doesn’t prove its merits by its opposition.You can read a summary of the main features of the bill here. I’m not privy to all its details, but it did seek to expand the representation of athletes in India’s sports federations and prevent some meddling from the sports ministry. It also would have required the BCCI to comply with some annual audits. I didn’t expect this bill to pass, or even come close to passing, but I now have an appreciation for how difficult it will be to remove the political element from Indian sports.

Where Does A Fast Bowler Get His Speed?

The New York Times has posted a great video detailing how a tennis player gets speed on a serve. It’s illuminating to see all the different parts of the body work together to send a wee tennis ball hurling across a net. Does anyone know if a similar explanation exists for fast bowling? I’d like to see the run-up broken down into segments. At the very least, it’ll give me perspective on Ishant Sharma’s latest injury, which sounds just terrible.

“I have a ligament tear in my left foot, and there is also a bone impingement in my left ankle. Surgery is the only way out. But if I undergo that now, my foot will be in plaster for about three months and the rehabilitation in all could take about 6-8 months.”

Bone impingement? Good God! If you haven’t seen it already, read this earlier post on cricket injuries and the ethical obligations of a fan.

The Price For Modern Cricket

When Duncan Fletcher signed up to be India’s coach, he did so in part because he felt the country’s cricket administration had modernized over the past decade. He didn’t go into details — at least not in print — but I imagine he was referring to the BCCI’s growing appreciation for the business of the sport, or its introduction of a contract system for players.

But read Rahul Mehra’s list of suggestions for the BCCI. The recommendations, composed during an extended legal battle with the sporting body, are by turns illuminating and depressing. (Some may have been enacted since Mehra began his crusade in 2000). Like:

1. The offices suck: “The BCCI’s current head office is in a ramshackle state, containing just three computers and no proper toilets.  In the cramped office sit eight huge steel cupboards used as a dumping ground for official records and trophies, rarely if ever retrieved once stored.”

2. The National Cricket Academy is a mess. “The main problems with NCA are its short duration, the academy only operates for 5 months in a year, and an inadequate system to monitor players after they leave the academy.” (The facility is also shared with a local state association, so it’s not completely under the purview of the BCCI.)

3. State Association elections are crazy. “Our State Associations in India have electorates comprised of members of social clubs, many of whom are not directly involved on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis either in a local cricket club’s administration or the State Association’s administrative functioning.  As a result, elections have become an exercise in vote bank politics and gift-giving, as opposed to referenda on cricket policy within a state or region.”

When people talk about “modernity,” they mean a new model that relies less on the personal, and more on the administrative. It’s less face-to-face and more systematic. Amateurs are thrown out; professionals with competence proven by academic degrees or accepted norms designating experience are in. No doubt, modernity presents a whole range of new problems — e.g., it may ruin the variety and diversity of cricket — but it also should ensure that privileged elites protected by tradition and patronage are sidelined by a more skilled meritocracy.

So this is what is at stake, people. This is what we want when we see a team lose 4-0 to England. Can it happen?

Meet Varun Aaron, the Next Man To Lose His Pace

No season of Indian cricket is complete without the emergence of a false pace Messiah. The routine is so well-known now that it might as well be etched in the Ten Commandments: “Thou Shalt Worship A False God.”

Behold the lengthening list of prophets: Munaf Patel; L. Balaji; Irfan Pathan; A. Nehra; R.P. Singh; Ishant Sharma; S. Sreesanth; V.R.V. Singh…When they first emerged, all boasted talents usually seen in men from across the border. Sheer pace; killer yorkers; unbelievable swing — all possilbe reincarnations of previous greats like Akram and Waqar. And then, one by one, they fell away, either because they couldn’t maintain the fitness level required at the international level (V.R.V. Singh, e.g.), or because they don’t want to expend the effort (Munaf Patel, e.g.), or because the system discards them (Irfan Pathan, e.g.), or because they decide they want to become a “smart” bowler like Zaheer Khan (briefly, Ishant).

Well, meet the latest shiny new guru on the street: Varun Aaron, from the land of Jharkand. Watch this video of his action and his speed, if only so you can tell others why you believed in him in the first place:

And so far, the ritual is going according to script: We have evidence that he regularly clocks above 140km/h. We have a quote in Cricinfo wherein he swears never  to compromise on pace. We also have a light first-class record that suggests he hasn’t been truly tested by the rigors of the game (though he did impress on a recent trip to Australia). I can’t believe anymore. Why can’t India groom fast bowlers? Is it because we just don’t care about the bowlers, compared to the batsmen? Or is it because we don’t appreciate that fast bowlers are delicate creatures that need to be extensively trained and looked after? What is it?

How An Indian Cricket Fan Can Get Through The Day

There’s one comfort in losing to England: you know they have been here before. Not too long ago, the Australians handed a 5-0 whitewash to the English in a much more important series (in terms of cultural and historical significance) than this one.

Why does this matter? When teams lost to the Australians, there was only bitterness left to be had. For boys of my generation, the Australian hegemony was complete, seemingly permanent and the only constant in the game. Losing to them was a rite of passage. They alone knew the rules of alchemy, and you could either resent or appreciate the way they conjured their spells. Losing to the English, however, is different. We know they are mortal. We know that in the space of a few years, they went from receiving that whitewash to handing out this one.

And so, a new logic of equality works in cricket now. It goes like this: “If they can do it, so can we…” It’s a line the Australians would never let you utter; so comprehensive the gap between you and them. The English should enjoy their current triumph, but they have yet to climb to Australian heights. There’s a line from Ecclesiastes they’d do well to remember: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri Need To Be Stopped

For those who missed it: Right after the English team festooned themselves in champagne and confetti, Star Cricket cut to a nice little chat from Bhogle/Gavaskar and Shastri. Bhogle begins by noting that Tiger Pataudi, whom the series is partially named after, did not get to give his trophy. He said it as an aside, and moved on quickly to the main question:  Did anyone really think 4-0 was on the cards? Does it accurately reflect the difference between the teams?

Gavaskar and Shastri, always ready to notice the slightest breach of protocol as evidence of a giant conspiracy to defame India’s good name, begin the rant. First, Gavaskar says, it was ridiculous to see a legend like Pataudi treated in such a way. If you’re going to have a series trophy, there should be one series trophy. Why have an nPower trophy and a Pataudi trophy? At this point, we’re already way into the weeds of a very, very silly debate, given that the Indian cricket team has just done more to defame good Pataudi’s name than anything the presentation ceremony may have done.

But then, the rant takes an inspired turn: You know, people always say the Indians have commercialized cricket, Gavaskar continues. They complain about all the things the IPL commentators say — DLF maximums and what not — but look at Stuart Broad. When he went to pick up his medal, he was wearing the nPower cricket cap, not the English one. Now, realizing he’s about to enter stormy waters, given his own recent dalliance with sponsors and conflicts of interest, Gavaskar steps back and says, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Sponsors are good; they pay for things; if they want us to say things they way they want, we should respect that. But the double standards are just ridiculous.

Then, literally for 3 seconds, Harsha Bhogle just stared at the screen, paused, and said, “O.K. On the cricket itself…” Why was Gavaskar’s rant inappropriate? 1) I’m sick of elaborate presentation ceremonies. They usually detract attention from the cricketers themselves and have become an elaborate advertisement for authorities/politicians/etc. This one was no different, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter. Pataudi should just be glad the series was named after him. 2) This is after a 4-0 drubbing. Why try to salvage your pride by making silly symbolic protests? 3) Why bring up the IPL or sponsorship or “double standards” at all? What was Gavaskar’s point — that money rules us all, but only the Indians are honest enough to admit it? Is that really a point to make now?

Feel free to add the many reasons the rant was inappropriate in the comments section.

Are All Cricket Boards Awful?

1. Devanshu Mehta excerpts Peter Della Penna’s profile of the United States’ cricket association. It doesn’t look pretty.

2. Somehow, Sri Lanka’s cricket board managed to end up $60 million in debt after the 2011 World Cup. That’s right: they organized the premier event of international cricket and somehow didn’t make any money off it. That takes true skill. The solution:

Austerity measures in the wake of Sri Lanka Cricket’s (SLC’s) royal bungling of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, which saw the island’s cricket board in more than $60 million in debt due to budget overruns, now includes junior level district coaches being used to man ticket counters during the ongoing ODI series against Australia.

3. The BCCI, ready to appear as if it has received the message from the current series against England, is now trying to schedule an additional warm-up game on the Australia tour. Why is this a problem? Well:

India have a full series – three Tests and five ODIs – against the visiting West Indies pencilled in between October 29, when they end a home series against England, and that match in Canberra [in December].

Just brilliant. Sandwich a pointless series against a third-rate team we just played against right before a Test series that may be the last one for some of your greatest — the greatest — batsmen ever. Three freaking Tests?

Give Me A Reason To Watch The Oval Test

Is there any reason to watch the Oval Test? The specter of the whitewash is a faux-drama; even if England lose or draw this match, they will have made the same point a whitewash would have. That is: the English team is really, really good, especially at home, and India is exhausted.

I suspect the stakes for Dhoni are higher; if he can pull off a victory, he can at least swash away the clouds gathering around his captaincy. But that’s not exactly the best-case scenario for an Indian fan. If you’re playing the long-game and your vision and strategy extends beyond next week, then you should be lobbying for a 4-0 whitewash. The harder the drubbing, the more space to reformers have to make their case that radical change is needed.

Already, we are seeing signs of such a movement. Cricinfo reports that Anil Kumble — now head of the Karnataka Cricket Association — is lobbying for change:

ESPNcricinfo has learned that Anil Kumble, who attended the meeting as president of the Karnataka Cricket Association, strongly suggested the BCCI review the performance of the national side in England in a rational and clear-sighted manner, particularly when it came to issues of player burn-out and overuse. The quantity of cricket some of India’s players have been involved in since the start of the year has been pointed to by several analysts and ex-players as a possible reason for India’s dismal performance in England.

A 4-0 result will align the interests in a proper way: the players will be angry and press for change; the fans will be angry and press for change; the businessmen running the BCCI will fear for their product and accept change. Of course, it’s more likely that India will lose/win, the fans will move on as soon as the ODI series begins, and India will go on to play and win against the West Indies later this year. And on and on we go.

The Odd Sensation Of A Series Loss

Has it really been since August 2009 since India lost a Test series? Have I forgotten what an Indian loss even feels like?

Faced with a possible 4-0 whitewash, Indian fans have to contemplate two separate problems: 1) Was the last year or so a dream? Was it a mirage? When India’s detractors said the team wasn’t all that; the bowling attack was weak; the performance in South Africa and Australia so-so — were they right? 2) What does the future hold? This brings up two sub-questions. One, when the Fab Three retire, is the Indian backbench thin? Two, will we see not just the end of India’s greatest batting generation, but the end of a worldwide batting trend? Imagine a cricketing world without Ricky Ponting, J. Kallis and Chanderpaul. Will bowlers finally return to the scene?

Here are my (very tentative) answers: 1) India never truly performed to its potential. Over the past year or so, I have tried to overcome my Nervous 1990s Attitude and adopt a default position of believing in the Indian team’s abilities. There have been many moments that justified this shift (Napier is a good example), but the evidence wasn’t overwhelming. The truth is that India never played to win series; they played to win (or draw) Tests. I tried to deal with this issue by saying that the Indians played “meh” cricket — a style that implied superiority but never rubbed the opposing team’s nose in it. This may have been naive on my part.

2) Looking at the Emerging Players Tournament, I see more than a few acceptable replacements. Pujara, Badrinath, Vijay, the Tiwarys, Pandey — these guys could be part of a solid batting line-up. The same with the bowling department: Vinay Kumar, L. Balaji, R.P. Singh, Irfan Pathan (oh, Irfan!). But all these players need to be given time and guidance to prove themselves. Look at England’s approach: not too long ago, Alistair Cook was widely considered to be a failure and worked out. Ian Bell was considered beautiful fluff. J. Anderson was thought to be a one-swing wonder. Stuart Broad was fighting for his place in the side before this series. Kevin Pietersen had been out of form for a while (and the same with Andrew Strauss). But each was given some time and string to work things out. Some were sent back to county cricket, others were dropped. (Strauss even played a warm-up game before the India series.)

My point? Once promising players have been identified, India’s think-tank needs to look after them. That means asking some of them to give up an IPL season and spending time in England or Australia. That means keeping tabs on everyone’s injuries and fitness needs. That means giving each player specific guidelines and telling them how to improve. (I thank Samir Chopra for discussing some of these issues with me.)

Watching A One-Sided Test

By this point, my worst prediction is coming true. India are well on their way to a comprehensive defeat. That much is known. But a much tougher assignment looms: how should cricket fans approach a one-sided Test? The greatest thing about the Test format — the amount of time allocated to a game — can also be its biggest liability. We know how this Test will end, but I suspect most die-hard Indian cricket fans will still gear up the illegal cricket stream and watch the game secretly at work (if I’m a representative sample, anyway).

Well, there are some possible delights: a) Sachin Tendulkar could finally come to the, er, party, as Ravi Shastri would say. b) Actually, any number of batsmen — Sehwag, Gambhir, Laxman, Raina — could come to the party. Some fine knocks are due, and they might as well involve taking the shine off Stuart Broad. c) The last man standing figure, aka The Chanderpaul. One man holds fort while everyone around him loses his head. This man alone — who will it be? — makes the losing battle worth watching. d) A few tailenders — Sreesanth? Kumar? — decide to bosh the English bowlers around for a bit. The fun lasts for only 15 minutes, but for that brief period, India relish their final moments as the No. 1 Test cricket team in the world. There’s fun and innocence on display. Not a care in the world.

And then, it’s over. India’s dominance comes to an end, and the knives come out.

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