Deep Backward Point

Blog against the machine.

Category: Column

Aspirations

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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Why the BCCI is Culling the Tour to South Africa: a Hypothesis

Somehow, for the season 2013-14, the home series are only 24 days[.]
— Sanjay Patel, BCCI Secretary, 3rd October, 2013

Somehow.

The more I read and think about this, the more I feel that the BCCI is using the CSA spat as an excuse for increasing revenue for 2013. The following is conjecture riddled with facts:

  • BCCI revenues are down year-over-year (year ending March 2013). I read the BCCI’s annual report so you don’t have to. There are other interesting details in there, which I’ll write about soon.
  • On March 31, Bharti Airtel’s contract as title sponsor for the Indian team’s home series expired. Airtel declared that they would not be renewing their contract with the board.
  • BCCI switched treasurers in May (Savant for Shirke) after the spot-fixing scandal.
  • Airtel had a three-month period where they could negotiate an extension. Airtel declined.
  • By July, they started realizing their 2013 International calendar was a piece of crap– revenue-wise– since there were no major home series. They also needed to sweeten the deal for whoever would replace Airtel (or for Airtel, if they chose to extend). So they told Cricket South Africa that they have “concerns” over the schedule. This, in my opinion, is the equivalent of a kid who doesn’t want to go to school tomorrow, so plants the seed in their parent’s mind that they have a tummy-ache, so that the next morning, when they fake a full-blown ‘flu, it doesn’t seem so out of the blue.
  • In the meantime, they got in touch with West Indies and New Zealand about filling the calendar. As soon as West Indies agreed, the BCCI went public with their reservations.
  • It’s a simple play for additional revenue– for themselves and their “stakeholders” (TV broadcasters). The new calendar satisfied Star India– so much so that they bought the Title rights this week for home games as soon as the new calendar came together. Star makes out nicely, since they already own the broadcast rights. Talk about financial eggs in one basket.
  • The five additional West Indies games net the BCCI 10 crore rupees from Star, not to mention higher broadcast revenue. In fact, the whole thing works out as a sweetheart deal for Star, more than anything else.

And so it stands.

Somehow.

I don’t claim this theory is original, but I do believe that the Lorgat story is a convenient red herring not the main show. It allows the BCCI to embarrass Lorgat, make a strong demonstration of the extent of their power and, oh by the way, increase their revenue.

You cannot tell people who are heavily invested that there will be no activity this year.
— Harsha Bhogle, 6th September 2013

(See also: BCCI Income Nosedives)

500 India rupee notesImage by Ravindraboopathi

In the World of Tamashas, There is No Room for Half-Measures

2013 has been an especially bad year for the BCCI’s image, with the IPL corruption, Haroon Lorgat and Tim May. I believe it is a tipping point in cricket’s relationship with India.

Gideon Haigh writes the kind of in-depth state-of-affairs article that few do the research, have the ability or own the cojones to write.

In the hundred years and more that authority emanated from Lord’s, cricket was run along the lines of an English public school, at least as defined by Lytton Strachey: anarchy tempered by despotism. Under the economic dominion of the BCCI, the world is converging on the opposite model: despotism tempered by anarchy, the anarchy coming mainly from within India itself.

Sharda Ugra zooms in, elaborating on the despotism—how BCCI came to own the media message surrounding Indian cricket.

The Gavaskar-Shastri duopoly was a beginning. As revenues skyrocketed through the IPL, BCCI set up its own independent TV production unit. This new team (partly cannibalised from Neo Sports/Nimbus who owned the TV rights to cricket in India until 2012) even purchased its own outside broadcast vans. Ownership over Indian cricket was to be established at every level.

Ugra talks about how the BCCI controls the message on TV (by producing broadcasts themselves, employing the commentators, and supplying them with a list of taboo topics) and controls player access.

There is another aspect of this that Ugra touches on lightly, but is worth highlighting. A threat of punitive action has a chilling effect, for sure. But on the flip side, withholding rewards can also have the same effect.

Last year, the BCCI paid large sums of money (at the time ~$13 million total) to former Indian cricketers, to “honor” them. This is great, and shouldn’t be belittled. However, everyone was entitled to the money, except Kapil Dev. Because Kapil Dev had been involved with the ICL, and had not “accepted amnesty”. Had not groveled sufficiently.

The message was clear: stick to the BCCI line, and we’ll make you rich.

Srinivasan: Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.

There is considerable power in controlling future earnings of all international cricketers of your country. These are your current and future  columnists, TV pundits, coaches, IPL consultants and newspaper rent-a-quotes. It’s a powerful lobby to have on your side (or at least not against you), perhaps the most powerful of them all.

Haigh (via his reading of James Astill’s recent book The Great Tamasha) sees this to its logical conclusion—where the ICC will shrink in power, and the IPL will grow to fill the vacuum. A sport produced by the BCCI for the Indian market. With feeder leagues around the world, I suppose.

Finally, Russell Degnan sees this future and zooms out:

If the BCCI wants to control cricket then they have that option. They have the market strength and sufficient control over the major stars of its biggest market to pursue that end. But [..] [c]ricket’s biggest threat won’t come from the internecine fighting amongst the boards; it will come from globally dominant sports that have better products to sell. And cricket, great sport that it is, has a rubbish product to sell. Over-long events, uncompetitive structures, no context to fixtures, lack of media access to players, incoherent last-minute fixturing and an obsession with local appeal over the total package.

What if the great tamasha (spectacle) that you are trying to capture in a bottle isn’t that great after all. In the world of tamashas, there is no room for half-measures. “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers“.

During the recent England-Australia ODI series, much of my cricket-obsessed timeline was tweeting about soccer. I was half-kidding when I wrote this tweet. I have no time for soccer. But most of the world does, and soccer has a great product to sell.

Footnote:
How many writers besides Haigh could write the following in Cricinfo?

Morale-boosting tributes from selected kiss-ass courtiers – congratulations, Mr Shastri, on a Sardesai Lecture that had it been delivered in North Korea would have brought a blush to the cheek of the Dear Leader!

It’s not an idle question. There are people who could write it, but not on Cricinfo, because they work for Cricinfo. There are people who could write it, but not on Cricinfo, because they are not published on that large of a platform. And there are people who couldn’t write it, because they share a paymaster, a green room, a studio with the courtier himself. Or wish to in the future.

Ashraful

On the 12th of February, 2013, during the Bangladesh Premier League, I wrote the following article accusing Mohammad Ashraful of match-fixing.

I never published it, because it’s a serious allegation that shouldn’t be made without clear evidence. Here is what I wrote:

Let me present to you the following, without comment.

On February 12, Barisal Burners played the Dhaka Gladiators in the Bangladesh Premier League.

Dilshan opened with Mohammad Ashraful for Dhaka, who were already through to the next round.

After 10 overs, Ashraful had scored 16 off 23.

He was batting with Shakib Al Hasan.

Here is what happened in the 11th over, per Cricinfo:

Hamid Hassan to Mohammad Ashraful, OUT, short delivery and played to point, Ashraful called for the run and hesitated in the end, Shakib responded to the call and left his crease, and easy run out at the bowlers end, Ashraful what have you just done?
Shakib Al Hasan run out 8 (9m 2b 0x4 1×6) SR: 400.00

Immediately, Mohammad Isam, Bangladesh’s Cricinfo correspondent on Twitter:

A little while later, Ashraful ran himself out.

The YouTube video that I had a link to is now gone, but if you ever find a video of Match 38 of BPL 2013, Shakib’s run out is worth watching.

Cricket’s Second Problem

I am fighting a battle within myself that pushes me away from the game. Until ten years ago, I used to follow many sports: NBA, F1, tennis, and cricket. As life intervened, and I found myself with less time, I consciously culled the list down to cricket.

These days, it feels as though cricket is consciously culling me from its fans. The relationship between fans and the game has been perverted at every opportunity. The quantity of quality cricket in 2013 is perhaps the lowest in decades. Add to that the latest reminder of the depth of corruption in the game, and I’m almost ready to give up on the game all together.

Almost.

There is only one central relationship in professional cricket, and that is between the players and the fans. All other systems exist only to support this relationship– the administration, the media, the infrastructure, everyone else. This is the assumption behind everything I am about to write, so if we disagree here, we may disagree on everything.

I have been writing about cricket for more than two years now, and complaining about it for even longer. And while there are a million different issues I could chase down, almost every complaint about modern cricket can be traced back to this one fact: the support systems of cricket are getting in the way of the sacred central relationship between player and fan. And the reason is hard and soft corruption.

Hard corruption is obvious. It is cricket’s first problem. It’s usually illegal, and involves money changing hands to the detriment of the player-fan relationship. See also: Sreesanth, Butt, Majola, SLC, LKM. It is a problem of enforcement and of perverse incentives. And it is a problem that, for now, I consider beyond my power to fight.

But, let’s talk about soft corruption. Or “corruption” in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money, that it can’t even get a clear and simple issue right.*

The incentives of the media and the administrators of cricket are not aligned with the fans and the players. This is soft corruption. Often legal, but always perverse. Media rights, the role of media, influence peddling, ICC and board power, sponsor and broadcaster power, conflicts of interest and revolving doors, the bastardization of the game.

This is cricket’s second problem. But it’s the only problem that we, the alternative media, can meaningfully fight.

From this point forward, this blog is dedicated to the issue of soft corruption in cricket. Blogging against the machine.

Previously on DeepBackwardPoint.com:

Read the rest of this entry »

The 1992 Indian Cricket Team and Things That Blow My Mind

Look what I found in my basement:

The cover of the card

The cover of the card

 

Signatures of the Indian 1992 World Cup Squad

 

I got this card for writing a letter to the team. It reminds me of when I was 12, and what cricket (and this card) meant. So many things to talk about here:

  • Recent chief selector Kris Srikkanth is still around.
  • No photograph of Tendulkar, but there’s a signature.
  • Manjrekar and Shastri are now in the commentary box.
  • The bowling attack isn’t half-bad for the time: Kapil Dev, Prabhakar, Srinath, Raju, Banerji, and Shastri as proto-Yuvraj.
  • But the batting reminds me a lot of 2012. A lot of aging stars, about to be shown the door: Shastri, Kapil, Srikkanth. And a few batsmen who we thought were the future, but didn’t pan out: Amre, Kambli, Manjrekar. Who would have thought back then that the real hidden gem of this team was Srinath?
  • Remember Jadeja’s catch from this World Cup? Now seeing Jadeja and Azhar’s names just makes me sad.
  • Prabhakar’s name just makes me angry.
  • And Kiran More’s name reminds me that we used to repeatedly walk past the Benetton store he owned in Baroda just to see him.

But most of all, the thing that continues to blow my mind is that Sachin Tendulkar is STILL PLAYING CRICKET today!! I was 12 and now I’m 33, but Tendulkar will walk out to play a Test match in Nagpur tomorrow morning.

This was a great World Cup, even though India didn’t do very well. Nine teams and most were quite good. Even Zimbabwe punched above their weight. And everyone played everyone else in the first round.

Oh, one more thing. Raju with a bat is just funny.

We’re Humbled

Humble Oils

Humble Oils (Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass)

India stand at the brink of the kind of defeat that an entire generation of cricket fans in India has never seen. And while Ashwin could still pull a Headingley today, we don’t have a Bob Willis to bulldoze the English batsmen.

Sid Monga for Cricinfo, in his day four match report.:

It was fitting that the [Barmy Army] “band” drowned out the despondent Indian contingent in the stands, putting in place the jingoistic advertisements put together by the host broadcasters, which ridiculed English people.

Well played, Sid. Arrogance is grating, but you can get away with it as long as you’re winning.

In July 2011, after India lost the Lord’s Test, I wrote an article titled “We’re Arrogant” fighting against the rhetoric from the English media:

No kidding, we’re arrogant. We were arrogant at Lords, and not because Ganguly screamed shirtless for the members in red and gold jackets. We were arrogant because two 20-year olds had just chased down 326 in your backyard. In the erstwhile home of cricket.

We’re not arrogant because we’re jerks. We’re not arrogant because we bought this place. We own this place. And we own it because we win.

And now, we no longer win. And while I am yet to see evidence of humility, we have been humbled. On the plus side, the most exciting era in recent Indian memory is just over the horizon. It has been “just over the horizon” for some time now. If we get past denial, and recognize that this is an era of transition. Of experimentation.

As Tank said to Neo, “it’s an exciting time. We got a lot to do. Let’s get to it.”

Project Management Euphemisms to Fix New Zealand Cricket

Ross Taylor was pushed aside as captain of New Zealand after serious disagreements with coach Hesson. And Taylor has made himself unavailable for the next series. The long and short of it, from Andy Bull:

Taylor has been been stuck in an internecine squabble over the captaincy with Brendon McCullum ever since Dan Vettori stepped down. Hesson worked with McCullum at Otago for six years, and ever since he took over from John Wright as head coa ch last August he has made it all too obvious whose side he is on. The panel that appointed Hesson to his position included Stephen Fleming, who still draws a lot of water in Kiwi cricket circles, and just happens to be McCullum’s manager and business partner.

New Zealand cricket is in trouble and the current disagreement with Ross Taylor isn’t even the biggest part. It is, however, the most recent and most public symptom of what has brewed for some time.

The problems in New Zealand cricket are systemic. New Zealand Herald has produced a special report called “The Shame Game” for a week now outlining all the problems and figuring out if there is a way out. The solution is introspection, and rethinking the boardrooms as well as at the grassroots of the game.

On the other hand, here is a paragraph from Brydon Coverdale’s article on the current crisis in New Zealand cricket:

After the miscommunication, it will take some serious man management, and execution of plans, for Hesson to get everyone back on the same page.

I haven’t seen such a dense package of euphemisms since I  last watched Office Space. This is the kind of thing that would work if this was a call center where the biggest problem was that they were getting rid of the coffee machine. Seriously.

Are Cricket-Bloggers Special?

Yes.

Why We Write, continued

Matt Becker, the midwestern cricket-blogger who at times seems like my intellectual twin, wonders if cricket bloggers are a special breed. Are we non-competitive and helpful to other bloggers? More so than bloggers in other domains? And if so, why?

Becker:

Something about cricket writing touches nerves with people, and for some reason it attracts phenomenally talented writers, and for some reason those writers want to promote other, less talented, writers, instead of simply ignoring them or even worse actively dissuading people from reading them.

I started writing on the Internet in 1998, when we just called it “writing on the Internet” instead of blogging, and we were all webmasters. And over the last 14 years, I’ve blogged about Star Wars, technology, tech policy, film, Apple, and oh, I must be forgetting some other topics.

But rarely have I found the sense of community, camaraderie and the general rising-tides-lift-all-boatsiness that is common among cricket-bloggers.  Like Matt said, it makes me keep writing.

Twitterati

Before Twitter, blogging was very different. To build a community, or participate in a community, you had to go to forums or be a good citizen in the comments of other people’s blogs. In short, you had to build a reputation on other people’s territory before they came to yours.

It often felt like I was blogging in a vacuum. Do people read what I write? Why? What do they think when they read it? How do I find other like-minded people who find my obscure hobby interesting?

These days, with Twitter, if you’re good, consistent and focused, it’s a level playing field and the community is all in one place. And the live nature of sports (and the 24-hour nature of cricket) makes it a perfect match for Twitter.

Since cricket doesn’t have an audience the size of soccer or isn’t as media-rich as some American sports, the Twitter cricket community is of a manageable size. It’s not rare to have a meaningful, short conversation with the Editor of Wisden or an Editor at Cricinfo or your favorite blogger.

The currency on Twitter is “sharing cool stuff”, so naturally it’s a great community of people who will go out of their way to share your stuff. As long as it’s cool. The niceness of cricket bloggers that Matt Becker refers to is largely a niceness of cricket tweeters.

Deep Backward Point would have no readers without Twitter. Sana Kazmi tweeted a link to one of my early posts. Jarrod Kimber saw it and linked to it. A few more people started following my tweets. And the rest was history.

A few months later, hours after I posted my first Willow TV story, Subash (The Cricket Couch) sent me a direct message on Twitter that he wanted my phone number so we could talk about the story. I had been writing for more than a decade and nobody had ever wanted to call me about something I wrote. That turned in to the Boredwani podcast.

Later, I was invited to join The Sightscreen team because of a single tweet of mine that Minal responded to. (Someday I hope to follow through on the contents of that single tweet.)

Twitter is where this blog gets its traffic from. It’s where I formulate my ideas. It’s where I’m challenged and encouraged. And it’s where my people live. And I’m convinced that’s how it is for the cricket blogging community.

Money, Money, Money

When I was writing about Apple, or even Star Wars during the prequels, competition was intense. You wouldn’t send traffic to your competition. You still see this play out regularly in the tech blogosphere (e.g. engadget, gizmodo, theverge)– they will re-write each other’s stories, and barely give credit. Bloggers in other fields worry a lot about losing rank on Google, which results in less traffic, revenue and relevance.

Here in cricket-land, since readers don’t translate to money, we’re not really competing for readers. We can send our readers away in the hope that if we send them somewhere cool, they will come back.

It is our gift and our curse that cricket is a small sport. At Internet scale, the number of people who are interested in reading non-mainstream articles on cricket is minuscule.

The advantage is that the community is manageable and no money to be made.

The disadvantage is that there is no money to be made. Yet.

Undiscovered Business Model or No Business Model

There are no independent cricket bloggers who make real money without going mainstream. Those who have turned this in to a full-time gig have done so under the banners of ESPN or media-conglomerate-du-jour. There is no business model to support what we do.

But perhaps that will not always be true. Maybe there is a future where money flows in to the amateur, alternative media producers.

I know I have some ideas. And I hope others do to. And when it happens– if it happens– I hope we can keep the good parts of what we have now.

Did You Get a Copyright Notice from BCCI on Twitter?

I was recently asked for advice on how to respond to a DMCA takedown notice from Twitter. I wrote an email to this person, and thought the advice was useful enough for other people to put up here on the blog.

I AM NOT A LAWYER. I DO NOT PLAY ONE ON TV.

All of this is advice that I would follow, based on years of reading and blogging on the subject at my other blog. In fact, it is advice that I have had to follow, as explained later in this article.

Sidebar: What is a DMCA Takedown Notice?

Here is what happens. Let’s say the BCCI owns copyright to video of the England Vs. India Test series. Someone posts a link to a pirated stream on Twitter.

The BCCI has employed a company based in Bangalore to monitor Twitter (and other sources, I suppose) for links that infringe copyright. When this company finds infringing links, it sends a DMCA takedown notice to Twitter to have that Tweet removed.

The United States passed a law in 1998 called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This law contains what is called the “safe-harbor” provision, which protects a service provider (in this case, Twitter) from monetary damages from infringing activity of its users, as long as the provider (Twitter) meets certain conditions.

One of the conditions is that if Twitter receives a DMCA takedown notice for infringing material, they must remove it. As long as they promptly remove it (and comply with other conditions), they can’t be sued for copyright infringement.

More on the DMCA: something I wrote in 2008 on the 10 year anniversary of the law and of course, the EFF.

Now that you “understand” the DMCA

So you received a DMCA notice from Twitter with the subject: “We’ve received a DMCA notice regarding your account”? Tough.

Perhaps this is what happened:

  • The tweet has a link to a pirated stream.
  • Someone at BCCI searches for these links and sends a DMCA takedown notice to Twitter
  • By US law, if Twitter receives a DMCA takedown notice, they must remove the content.
  • So Twitter removed just that offending tweet and notified the users.

If it’s a standard DMCA notice, you don’t have to respond. I suppose if a Twitter user is in violation repeatedly, their account could be suspended. But if this is just a one-off thing, and you know that the link was pirated, there’s nothing more to be done.

Now, if one strongly believed that the tweet was not infringing copyright, there are ways to fight it. But it’s hard to win, because people like us can’t afford legal fees and the law (DMCA) heavily favors the large companies that own copyrights.

I have tried to fight it for my short documentaries on YouTube, which use short clips from Hindi films, but have had no luck getting them reinstated. My videos are definitely fair use, and protected under US law, but the DMCA is a terrible law that has no legal recourse for the little guy. (Sidebar: when should you fight a DMCA notice? When your content is Fair Use.)

But my real advice is: don’t provide direct links to pirated content in public forums.

DMCA is bad law. It’s been bad for 14 years. But your public link to pirated content? Let’s not pretend that was a great idea either.

Cricket rights around the world are a complicated matter. Being smart about what you post on the Internet is not complicated at all.

References:

  1. The Electronic Frontier Foundation on the DMCA
  2. My article on the 10 year anniversary of the DMCA
  3. Chilling Effects has a searchable archive of DMCA notices. Search for “cricket” to see scores of BCCI notices.
  4. Twitter’s Policy on DMCA Notices