Deep Backward Point

Blog against the machine.

Permission to Suck

My twitter account has supplanted all else. The immediacy is like crack.

I feel the need to step back. Twitter is ephemeral, which is a good thing, but it is ephemeral, which is tragic. There is scant record of my prolific output save for a tweet count, and a dubious follower count.

So what is the solution. Procrastinator Joe says “I need to write more. If I only had the time.”

But time is a crutch and a well and a mistress and a slave and a master.

The real barrier to production is that we are precious and fragile and an unread, unloved tweet is easy to stomach but an unloved blog post—worst of all unloved by the author himself—is a harsh blow. Could we survive?

But we must. Give ourselves the permission to suck.

The image of this blog in my mind is too lofty to live up to. Let’s tear it down, and suck.

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Dear Fan, You Are Complicit

Dear fan,

Are you planning to watch the IPL this year? Cheer for CSK? Wear Royals blue? Howl at the auction and moan about your uncapped wonder?

Congratulations. You, my friend, are complicit in a great con. You are guilty.

The next time a spot is fixed, it’s on you. The next time an owner makes a shady side deal, it’s on you. The next time one of the game’s caretakers takes a gamble that’s not cricket, dear reader, you are responsible.

Every time the powers are asked about the sickness in the sport, they respond that we’re giving the people what they want. The people keep watching. The people want the spectacle and we give it to them.

You are the people. You are bought and sold and sold again. The BCCI sells you for a cent. Star Sports buys your eyeballs for pennies, and sells your soul back to Pepsi for a nickel. You are the decimal point in a spreadsheet.

The fastest way to reforming the IPL–and the BCCI–is empty stadiums and dropping TV ratings. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, then don’t watch. Just this year, at least this year. Don’t watch.

Send a message. Withhold your time and attention. It’s all you have.

I'm Mad as Hell

(Photo credit: duncan)

Cricket’s Labor Market

UFWFor the past week, as I’ve thought and read and written about the ICC F&CA position paper, a voice in my head kept say, “uh oh, Samir’s future is here”.

If you who haven’t read Samir Chopra’s seminal Brave New Pitch, but care deeply about the issues brought up by the ICC position paper, then stop reading my blog and go read Samir’s book.

Done? Good, I’ll take your word on that.

This morning, I remarked on Twitter that it was unfortunate that so little analysis had gone into the impact of the ICC F&CA position paper on the labor market.

What I really meant to say was that Samir had done the analysis in his book, but in the context of the position paper most writers were neglecting the players.

From chapter two of Brave New Pitch, “Patriots or Professionals?“:

Cricket’s modern dispute about sports as entertainment or business, about nation versus franchise, does not mask the fact that the cricket player needs to be paid for his services and treated as a professional, something the cricket world is yet to fully realize, especially when that tired old term of abuse, ‘mercenary’, gets trotted out, and whenever allegiance to the nation is questioned.

There is a widely held belief that a world dominated by franchise cricket is entirely undesirable–for fans, for players and for that amorphous blob, the game.

Well it may be bad for some fans– top quality cricket may disappear from some corners of the world. But really how bad could it be to remove the nationalistic sentiment from most top-level cricket?

Take it away, Samir:

The most positive outcome of cricket’s move away from a nation-based organizational structure to a city-based professional league might be an emotional detachment from the nation-based game. [..] The entrenchment of nationalistic sentiment in cricket is particularly visible when national character, or a particular nation-wide psyche or characteristic, is praised (or blamed) for success (or failure) in cricket[.]

The IPL, and other similar leagues promise the opportunity to appreciate cricket. Just the sport, without the baggage of where you were born, and whose father’s wars you are still fighting.

Not only that, as Samir points out in the book, the BCCI’s battle with the ICL showed that nationalism was a really shaky concept in cricket to begin with–“why a player owed a ‘duty’ to his ‘nation’ when playing cricket for a national board, rather than the more mundane responsibility an employee bore to his employer.”

Also, a franchise-driven sport may be bad for the game, depending on what format of the game you prefer. But I’m not so sure it’s bad for the players.

I don’t know what it is you do for a living, dear reader, but whatever it is, since you are affluent enough to be reading this, I think it’s safe to make the following assumptions about your job (unless you are self-employed, you blessed creature):

  1. In a normal job market, you are free to switch employers. Even across international borders.
  2. At appropriate times, you are free to negotiate better wages.
  3. Alone or together with your colleagues, you are free to negotiate better working conditions.
  4. Collectively, with people of similar occupations across a large region, you are free to form a union that will bargain on your behalf.

Together, these protections and freedoms make you an empowered employee who can often better her situation without fear of retaliation. Sure, some of these freedoms may be weak where you are, and others may be difficult to exercise.

Well, international cricketers often have none of these protections. There is a monopsony employer, who cannot be negotiated with, is often vindictive and will not bargain in good faith. Since the BCCI is the only employer of cricketers in India, then you cannot have a dispute with them.  (really, this is all in Samir’s book. You haven’t read it? What in god’s name are you still doing here?)

This is where franchise-based cricket (potentially) provides players with more leverage. There is an international market for cricket talent, and–as long as there is competition to the IPL–there are prospects of a competitive labor market. In the past, if KP didn’t get along with Flower, his career was over. Now he can prolong it through franchise play. Imagine if you could lose not just your job, but your entire career over a single petulant manager.

Many people read my Cricket in 2025 piece as a doomsday prediction, but I never intended it as such. In fact, the part I hope comes true the most is that players across the world would be free to choose employment based on where their skills were most valued, not on their nationality. Being an Afghan fast bowler is no reason to be poor.

If the ICC meeting this week ends up largely demolishing nation-based cricket, then so be it. I will weep for the loss of Test cricket, but it might not be a bad thing that venal national boards lose control over the sport.

All hail corporations with fair labor practices.


(Image Credit: UFW by Wavy1)

The End Game


Last year, I predicted the future of cricket in a post titled “Cricket in 2025“. The ICC F&CA position paper makes my speculative fiction not only seem more likely, but also optimistic. Big thanks to Freddie Wilde for inspiring much of what follows.


The position paper, drafted by Giles Clarke of England, Wally Edwards of Australia and N. Srinivasan of India, is about one thing . And one thing alone. Creating the most valuable package possible for the next television rights cycle (2015–2023). Everything else is subservient to this goal.

The consolidation of power, the culling of dead weight, the polishing of brass until it appears to perhaps be gold, are all designed to assure the suits at television stations that ICC cricket is a reliable product. It won’t break, you won’t have to return it, it won’t have faulty parts and it won’t lose its shine for eight years. Then you can come back, and we’ll give you a good deal on another one.

Corporations–and indeed all large systems–have external dependencies, and their products are only ever as good as their worst external partner. Microsoft depends on the hardware ecosystem, so every time your piece-of-crap laptop bluescreens, you’ll be swearing at Windows. The product of televised cricket depends on Bangladesh, so each time they put in a dismal performance at a showcase event, the suits at Murdochcorp say maybe we need to move our money to a more reliable product.

The position paper reduces the external dependencies of cricket as a marketable televised product.


The seven boards that (ostensibly) suffer as a result of the position paper have effectively been on welfare for some time now. From the point of view of the big three they are leeches on the game with poor money management skills at best and rampant corruption at worst. They take, and they take, and they take, and what do they give back? How much of the money would dry up if some of them just… ahem… went away?

You can only keep a deadbeat on welfare for so long before you have to cut them loose, right?

And so that’s what the position paper does. It puts the remaining seven teams on life support for eight years, hoping they either pull their weight or go away.

There is a weakness in all social welfare programs. It’s hard for marketworshippers to measure the benefits of social good, and some folks will always take advantage of handouts. One option is to remove or reduce all social welfare programs. The other option is to set a higher standard for receiving welfare (“if you want unemployment checks, you are going to have to attend re-education seminars”). This just filters some leeches, but not all. And still, the market will often refuse to recognize the benefits of social uplift.

In the end, you have to weigh the costs against the benefits. What kind of a world do you want to live in? Would you rather punish all the leeches, but also some of the deserving poor? Or would you let some people be leeches, because as a consequence, you are able to help so many who deserve (and need) it?

The ICC has no power to enforce fiscal discipline in the small-seven, and their incompetence is reducing the (perceived) value of the television contracts. And this is why the position paper is what it is. And this is why the position paper appears now, before the next contract cycle.

Part of the reason it’s catastrophic is that there is no escape clause, no democratic process to modify (or abolish) this power structure, and no accommodation of the fact that financial realities of the game may change. Dramatically. Rapidly. And the big three may no longer be the best, or the only, or the main players. The paper assumes the current financial reality is the final reality for cricket.

Another reason it’s catastrophic is that three men in foreign lands hold the fate of cricket in 100+ countries in their hands. If it makes “TV money” sense to drop tours to New Zealand this year– Giles, Wally and Srini have a teleconference, and boom, New Zealand is off the calendar. No appeal, no recourse, cricket dies in New Zealand. And so it goes.

And we haven’t even gotten to Papua New Guinea, or Nepal, or one hundred other teams who have suffered this fate in relative silence long before the position paper existed.

There is a sound reason for why the big-three would want to do this. But if we let the rich distribute wealth based on who they found worthy, we’d live in a very different world.

Or maybe that is the world we live in today.

End Game

But this document is not the end game. It is the opening gambit. We have now seen some of their cards, but by no means all of them.

This document is meant to serve a near-term deadline. If you are imagining the future of cricket based solely on the contents of this paper (Anand Vasu, “it’s not the end of the world“. No shit, sherlock.) you’ve only seen as far as the end of your nose.

In the short-term, the big-three make four main demands:

  1. We want to manage the money.
  2. We want veto powers.
  3. We want a larger share of the money.
  4. We want to scrap the FTP.

Everything else is collateral damage, including the relegation system.

I think the BCCI would happily walk away with a win on 3 and 4, dropping their demand of a veto. For now.

This document is a negotiating tactic, and it does not predict the future, but it does tell us the themes of their future. And the themes are thus:

  1. Defeat: Cricket will never meaningfully grow beyond the countries that currently play it.
  2. Resignation: The only growth that can happen is in the value of the product, not in the size of the market.
  3. Hubris: The cricket world is composed of makers and takers. To increase the value of the product, we need to lose the takers.
  4. Fear: Left to 10 bumbling boards, the money will diminish over time.

We don’t know the end game. In the past we only had hints. The position paper our first big clue.

(Image credit: Stephen Coles)

I’m mad as hell

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s cutting tests or scared of losing their contracts. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth; boards are going bust; players keep a gun under the counter; fixers are running wild in the street, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.

We know the sport is unfit to watch. And we sit watching our TVs while some commentator tells us that today we had fifteen T20s and sixty-three fixes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be!

We all know things are bad — worse than bad — they’re crazy.

It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go the stadiums any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my local team and my remote and my LCD, and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.”

Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.

I want you to get mad!

I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your Boards, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the coup and the corruption and the broadcasters and the gambling in the street.

All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.

You’ve gotta say, “I’m a fan, goddammit! My life has value!”

So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”


What I Didn’t Write in 2013

In 2013, between this blog and The Teesra, I wrote about 15 blog posts.

Half of my excuse is that I got busy. I had my second kid. This is not a sufficient excuse, since the most fertile period of this blog was a few months after I had my first kid.

The other part of the excuse is something I wrote about a while ago:

Conserve your outrage, dear empowered social media users. By giving it away too freely, you give those in power a reason to ignore you.

This is what I practiced. I made my words count.

I didn’t continuously rail against the failure of mainstream cricket media. I wrote one piece that I am especially proud of: “ESPNCricinfo Understands“.

I didn’t spend the whole year outraging about corruption in the game. I wrote one article that explains my new focus: “Cricket’s Second Problem“.

And there is one 2013 piece that I will cherish forever: Cricket in 2025.

There is one thing I did not write about because I just couldn’t: Sachin Tendulkar. First I didn’t know how I would feel when he would actually retire. And then, once I knew how I felt, I couldn’t write it.

Finally, I played cricket with my (then 2-year old) daughter for the first time in 2013. So nothing else mattered.


“ESPNCricinfo understands”

I’m old enough to remember a time when Cricinfo did very little first-hand reporting. Then there was a time when they did a lot of first-hand reporting, but never wrote about a developing story until it was confirmed publicly. These days, we get this:

The BCCI president N Srinivasan and his CSA counterpart Chris Nenzani have “in principle agreed” for India to play three ODIs, a warm-up game and two Tests in South Africa in December, ESPNcricinfo understands. [..] India is likely to start the tour with one-dayers. [..] some progress appears to have been made. [..] It is unclear whether the BCCI and CSA have reached an agreement. [..] There is understood to be a split in the CSA board.

Such tortured language. How do I separate what the author knows, from what the author thinks, from what he heard, from what he…

As a reader, here is what I want to know:

  • What is the author sure about?
  • What is conjecture?
  • What is from a first-hand source?
  • What, among these things, is the first-hand source sure about?
  • And finally, how well-placed is the first-hand source?

What I’m asking here may not be standard-practice in cricket journalism, but it is in high-quality journalism around the world. The last line (“there is understood to be“) is the worst offender– understood by whom? Amol Karhadkar (author), the source, people at the BCCI, people around the Cricinfo offices? Also, sources come in many flavors, with many personal agendas.

From Saturday’s New York Times:

“Self-censorship has become the most effective weapon,” said the editor in chief of a prominent publishing house in Beijing that publishes more than 300 foreign titles a year, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The above passage satisfies each one of my issues: I know enough to decide whether I should trust the source, and it’s a direct quote, so it separates the author’s opinion or conjecture from that of the source. I also understand that sometimes an anonymous source can’t be quoted, but can only be used on deep background. In my opinion, that should be rare and be used only when the author is ~100% confident in its veracity.

To be clear, I’m not against anonymous sources. They’re valuable, and I’m sure that without them, there is little that can be written about the BCCI. However, it’s valuable to remember that everyone at the BCCI has an agenda. Everyone. I’m willing to trust your sources, but treat the reader like an adult.

I don’t mean to pick on Amol Karhadkar in particular, but since most of these loosely sourced articles are about the BCCI, they are usually written by him (and Firdose Moonda).

And I’m not questioning the ethics of Cricinfo. They are stellar. I am asking Cricinfo to revise the style-guide (and policies) on anonymous sources.


1. I’ve often been asked why I go after Cricinfo when they’re hardly the worst offender. Well, it’s because I love Cricinfo, they have a very high standard and I hold them to it. I don’t read the worst offenders, they’re not worth my time.

2. I once asked a Cricinfo writer about these things on Twitter , and was told “this is how journalism works”. Thank you.

See also: National Public Radio Anonymous Sourcing Guidelines


When I was a kid growing up in Baroda, I used to mispronounce the word commentator as “commentraitor“. Must have been cute or annoying, at the time.

These days, it seems apt.

The best assessment comes from a third [commentator]: “It feels like I am working not on the game itself, but in the grand Indian cricket commercial.”

Cricket in 2025

In 2025, the cricket world has settled into a new equilibrium.

The Indian Premiere League, now in its 18th year, has shifted to the Indian winter. The tournament is now played from January to March, taking advantage of a cooler climate, no rains and, let’s face it, the financial reality of the county summer.

The IPL has the highest revenues, audiences, salaries and by the time the tournament gets to the playoffs, the atmosphere is electric and the competition is fierce. The quality of competition in the IPL has improved dramatically since the early years. After years of tinkering with the format of the tournament and of the T20 game itself, the organizers have crafted an enthralling competition. The designated bowler rule, which meant a six-wicket-per-side game where bowlers did not bat, led to a more even contest, with a strong role for top bowlers and higher premium on a wicket.

With a long history, local franchises are increasingly embedded in local folklore. Team names have changed to reflect a local flavor as well, shedding their anglocentric baggage.

Kids around the world want to play in the IPL. Kids in ghettos, from Haiti to Johannesburg, know that the only way out of their private hells is to hit hard or throw fast when the IPL scouts come to town.

But the truth is, while all the kids want to play the IPL for the money, the IPL stars really wants to play the English County League.

As an analogy, an actor could spend an entire career making good money in bit parts in superhero movies, but winning an Oscar gets you the acclaim, the legacy, and even bigger bucks in the next superhero movie. The IPL is The Avengers, the ECL is an Oscar.

And this is why the English county summer remains a prestigious venue to play cricket. The English summer is now an IPL-style Test tournament of private county franchises full of international talent. A player who can excel here and in the IPL, is the king of cricket fandom (not to mention endorsements).

The BCCI helps prop up the longer game because it buys legitimacy for their players and protects the not-insignificant market of  upper-middle-class traditionalists. Even after three decades, T20s are viewed as “a bit of fun” by a large segment, and while the skill levels have risen dramatically, its youth, sound, speed and colors are still a barrier to achieving elite legitimacy. The ECL allows contemporary players to legitimately be compared to past greats like Dravid, Bradman and Kallis, thus ensuring a legacy and brand that can be marketed at that level.

For this reason, the greats of the game continue to develop skills in both formats.

This structure has, in some respects, broken the “full member” control over the game. A talented rookie from a backwater comes cheap and is a marketing miracle. If only for a season. The IPL has players from every continent, and is broadcast live in every one as well.

Most domestic leagues operate in the shadows of these two marquee events, or in the September to December window, where they also compete with the few bilateral series that still exist. Many top internationals spend their time in the Australian domestic season during these months, for the weather, the beaches and to keep in top form. New Zealand has been entirely absorbed into this Australian system.

The Ashes in Australia start in this timeframe, while in England they compete for time with the county league. India plays Pakistan in Tests on occasion, though relations between the countries still make this unpredictable. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan field a team each in the Indian domestic Test championships. The IPL scouts appreciate this arrangement.

The ICC remains as a small body headquartered in Mumbai with the primary purpose of organizing inter-nation tournaments. Specifically, the 16-nation T20 World Cup and the increasingly out of place, yet great big party of a tournament, the 7-nation 50 over Cup. Both tournaments are organized during March or October, at either end of the 5-day season. An interesting side-effect of the dissolution of inter-nation cricket is that former full members can rarely field full-strength teams– their stars have franchise obligations– which makes for a more level playing field in ICC events. The teams formerly at the fringes of full member status are now on equal footing in these events.

Has the game improved for the better? It’s hard to say– more players from more countries are earning excellent wages, but fewer spectators around the world have access to top-level sport, except for the sponsored T20 exhibition world tours.

However, if you find yourself in Kensington Oval or the Basin or Malahide during the domestic, you will  be treated to a good bit of fun.

It’s not the good old days for sure. But the good old days weren’t that great either.


Netflix used to recommend movies and shows to customers based on how they rated other movies.

Five stars for Truffaut? Why don’t you try a Renoir?

Two stars to American Pie? Clearly you don’t want to watch American Pie 2.

Or do you?

Over time, Netflix discovered that ratings are “aspirational”. Our ratings reflect our best image of ourselves. They don’t reflect how we actually want to spend our time.

We may rate all Satyajit Ray movies five stars, but when we have a tight window of ninety minutes between when the kids went to sleep and when we really need to get to bed, we’re not going to watch Fellini. We’ll watch American Pie 2.

Test cricket is also, I believe, aspirational. If you ask the average person, they will want tests to exist, even if they don’t watch. For those of us that love it, our love for it is something that maintains our self-image. It is part of who we are.

This doesn’t necessarily mean we will stay up tonight to watch New Zealand play Bangladesh. It just means that we will sleep better knowing that we live in a world where New Zealand is playing Bangladesh.


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