The Great Indian Soap Opera

A headline on NDTV says: “Chappell unhappy with senior players.” Read the story, worrying stuff.

If this is a leak by Chappell, then I really don’t see how he can continue to play a role in Indian cricket any more. Either you say what you have to say in public, or you deal directly with the board, and keep your report confidential. Playing games through the media is simply not on, especially when it is so blatantly done.

His allegations should be investigated, of course. But the substance in them is a separate matter from the issue of the leak.

The other night I caught a few moments of Viruddh, the much-advertised soap-opera starring Smriti Irani. It was awful: the screenplay was overwrought, the dialogues were cheesy, the characters were caricatures and the acting was hammacious enough to be beyond parody. “It can’t get worse than this,” I thought.

But I’d forgotten about Indian cricket.

Update: Chappell denies it.

Meanwhile, I was watching NDTV a while back and one of their anchors, while chatting with Ajay Jadeja, said: “I can assure you that our source is very reliable.” Hmmm.

First hockey. Now cricket

Devangshu Datta writes in Business Standard that India has begun a cricketing decline similar to the one it began in hockey. He writes:

The debacle against Sri Lanka re-emphasised that India is a cricketing generation behind in its approach. The Lankans planned the batting better and they bowled and fielded with far more sense as well as heart.

At least five teams—Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand—are now a clear generation ahead in terms of understanding cricket. Skill is not the issue—skill plus brains will beat skill almost every time. Will the intellectual gap ever narrow? The example of hockey leaves me feeling less than optimistic. Twenty years later, just as in hockey, India could be a fringe cricket outfit.

On one hand, I fear that the Ganguly-Wright years, with Dravid the best Test batsman in the world and Sehwag and Kumble and Harbhajan and Laxman all having their moments, might turn out in retrospect to be the pinnacle of India’s cricketing achievement. Once the Dravid-Tendulkar-Ganguly-Laxman generation is gone, we’ll be left with the likes of Yuvraj and Raina and Kaif in the middle order. I’m not looking forward to that.

On the other hand our younger players, brought up in an age of satellite television, might just turn out to have the values that Devangshu refers to embedded in their DNA. Our younger guys all field superbly and run well between wickets and are fitter than the past generation. Maybe the future isn’t so dark after all.

What do you think? Do read Devangshu’s column, and leave your thoughts here. Comments are open.

Three percent of GDP

After reading my piece, “Don’t Punish Victimless Crimes,” and the follow-up post to it, my friend Devangshu Datta was kind enough to send me an old article of his on legalising betting. It’s a wonderful piece, and was first published in Business Standard, though they don’t have it online anywhere. With Devangshu’s permission, I’m reproducing some paras below the fold. Note that it was written in January 2001, but though the absolute numbers would have changed, the arguments and the macro percentages probably remain valid:

On Ian Chappell and Sachin Tendulkar

Ian Chappell thinks Sachin Tendulkar should retire. Sigh. Such comments will fly back and forth in the next few days. I hope Sunil Gavaskar will be in the thick of it, just for fun.

In my view, there are only two questions that need to be asked as far as Tendulkar’s retirement is concerned:

1. Is he still good enough to be in the Indian side?

2. Does he have the desire to play international cricket?

As long as the answers to both these questions are “yes”—and I believe they are at the moment—I don’t see why Tendulkar should retire. Comparing him to Brian Lara, as Chappell does, is pointless. Comparing him to his own past self, as Chappell also does, is equally pointless. If he’s good enough to be in the current side and wants to play, he should carry on.

If only Sachin’s brother would now write a piece on Greg Chappell. Fun, no?

(Comments open.)

As ruthless as the Australians?

A common thought being expressed these days is that the Indian cricket selectors should be as ruthless as the Australians. See how they ended Steve Waugh’s ODI career, we are told. See how Michael Bevan was given the boot, and how Ian Healy wasn’t allow a farewell Test at his homeground. And so on.

There is a crucial difference to be noted between India and Australia, though. Australia have enormous bench strength. They could fire Healy because Adam Gilchrist waited, sack Michael Slater because Justin Langer was around, let Mark Waugh go because Damien Martyn had been kept out for too long. Outstanding talents like Stuart Law and Matthew Elliott and Stuart MacGill, who would have played a hundred Tests in any other country, spent ages waiting in the sidelines. If Mike Hussey and Brad Hodge played for any other team, they’d be international cricket veterans by now.

India, on the other hand, have a problem of who to bring in, not of who to leave out. Indeed, a common criticism against Greg Chappell in the last year was that he tried out too many youngsters. And now some people want to sack all the seniors. Strange.

Indeed, I count myself lucky as a fan of Indian cricket that players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman happened to be in the same team for so long. A couple of years from now, they may all be gone. I’m sure a couple of youngsters may step it up a level and surprise us, but I’m nevertheless already feeling nostalgic on behalf of my future self.

That is not to say that if our big guns don’t perform they should be kept on indefinitely. But let’s be realistic about the options we have at any given point in time. And let’s not keep comparing ourselves to Australia. That way lies self-delusion.

(Comments are open.)

India can still play in the Super Eight

Anand Ramachandran tells us how. Heh.

Other random links I’ve come across this morning:

A couple of posts about Nandigram by Somnath Batabyal and Yash Jain. Somnath makes an interesting point:

I see Nandigram in the same light as the horrific events in Gujarat. Yes, the number of deaths is less but it is the state machinery that went out to hunt the minority. In Gujarat, it was the Muslims, here they were poor peasants. Show me the difference? Both are minorities.

Ayn Rand once said, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual.” But some minortities, of course, are more equal than others. My thoughts on Nandigram are the same as my thoughts on Singur, which I’d expressed here.

Last link for this post: Old pal Rohit Gupta, who now calls himself DJ Fadereu, is writing a book, of which the first chapter can be downloaded here. If you like it, he is asking you to donate money that will help him write more of the book. I like the model: doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani.

How to change Indian cricket

Who owns cricket in India? That is a difficult question. Legally, only the BCCI can put out a cricket team that purports to represent India. So who owns the BCCI, and who is it accountable to?

The BCCI is not owned by the government, and so is not accountable to taxpayers. The BCCI is not a public limited company, and so is not accountable to shareholders. The BCCI is, effectively, controlled by the regional cricket associations, whose interests are entirely different from that of the cricket fan or cricket player, and which are similarly accountable to no one.

So if the BCCI is not accountable to us, is there any way by which we can make them get their act together? My answer to that is an emphatic “Yes”.

You see, sporting bodies throughout the world have a similar effective monopoly over the sport, and enjoy a similar absence of direct accountability. What keeps them efficient then? Competition does. In most other countries, cricket is not the only popular sport. If English cricket is mismanaged, and the team starts to decline, the fans will watch more soccer. In Australia, they’ll watch more Aussie rules football. Or rubgy league. Or hockey. And when they do that, the cricket board makes less money. Eventually, if the board doesn’t get its act together, the fans will turn away completely. Because that possibility exists, we see that the cricket boards in those countries are actually quite efficient.

In India, though, there is virtually no competition to cricket. It is the only sport that people watch in large enough numbers for it to matter commercially. The BCCI knows that regardless of how well it runs the game, millions of people will still tune in to watch India play. Who is responsible for giving them that sense of complacency? You and I.

Why do we spend our time—and remember that time is money—on watching hours and hours of unsatisfying cricket? How many of us complaining about India’s performance in the World Cup will switch their TV sets on when India play their next series? Do we not need to get a life, and watch something else? The only way we can hold cricket administrators and players to task is by voting with our eyeballs. Nothing else will work. Only commerce matters to our administrators, and the money in cricket comes because we watch the game.

So the next time India disappoints you in a cricket match, don’t whine, because the power to make a difference is in your hands. It’s the remote control.

(Comments are open.)

India’s loss to Sri Lanka

I’m travelling for the rest of the day, and won’t get to blog much. Before I go, a couple of quick thoughts on the India-Sri Lanka game.

One, why do so many Indian fans have such a strong sense of entitlement? They behave as if they were entitled to a win, as if they paid good money to see a film, went into the hall, and were shown a film with a different ending than the one they were promised. This is not cinema, dramatic as it is. This is sport. Shit happens. No one betrayed anyone. One team played better than the other on the day, that’s all. Having said that…

Two, it was clear that India weren’t merely unlucky, but were simply not good enough to win the World Cup. The reasons for this have to do with preparation, not ability. Contrast our fielding with Sri Lanka’s. Contrast the number of dot balls we faced with how Sri Lanka did. These don’t depend on the vagaries of the day, but on how well one prepares for the event.These two things are the most tangible reflections of a coach’s impact on the team. I don’t see how even Greg Chappell, if he is honest with himself, can deny that he has failed.

But here’s the thing, O Crazed Fans: it was not a wilful failure, but a human one. Chappell certainly wanted India to progress as much as any of us did, and he and poor Rahul Dravid must be terribly gutted now. There is certainly cause for us to feel disappointment. But anger?

And that brings me back to my first point…

(Comments are open.)

The desi cricket fan

“The subcontinental cricket fan,” writes Mukul Kesavan, “is a lazy, pampered know-nothing who thinks he owns the cricket teams that he supports.” Kesavan compares the Barmy Army to subcontinental fans:

Why are they [the Barmy Army] different from desi couch potatoes who never leave their rooms, never exert themselves except to find their remote controls and yet treat every Indian defeat as a conspiracy against the Nation Recumbent? They’re different because India is a nation of losers: its teams win at nothing but cricket. Two, because cricket fans from outside the subcontinent have generally played some outdoor sport, they have some practical experience of how difficult competitive sport is. If you’ve never played cricket and if the reason you watch it is because it’s on television, your expectations are radically different. You’re a voyeur: the sort of person who watches other people do it. It is a ‘virtual’ condition, unmediated by experience or empathy.

Well, I must point out that finding the remote control can sometimes be quite a testing sport. In my living room, as I look around me, I see cushions, stuffed toys, books, newspapers, magazines, handkerchiefs, DVDs, CDs, a discman, a mobile phone, a laptop, many wires and a blanket lying around. I suspect Kesavan has a tidier living room, and has clearly no understanding of the skill and endurance that goes into finding a remote control, especially when a particularly irritating commercial is on. Compared to that, Dravid’s got it easy.

No, but Kesavan is spot on about most subcontinental fans, and I’ve expressed my own thoughts on this in my essay, “Do We Really Love Cricket?” As we speak, I am at work on my next essay, “Do We Really Love Remote Controls?” On reading Kesavan’s piece, I am forced to conclude that perhaps we don’t. Alas.

(Link via SMS from PrufrockTwo.)