Deep Backward Point

Blog against the machine.

Tag: Cricket

The End Game

Risk

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.

Product

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.

Welfare

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)

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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.

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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 »

Soccer is in Trouble (and so are we)

You know Soccer, right, the sport where commies chase the ball? It’s in trouble. Brian Phillips reports on the large scale match-fixing for Grantland:

Right now, Dan Tan’s programmers are busy reverse-engineering the safeguards of online betting houses. About $3 billion is wagered on sports every day, most of it on soccer, most of it in Asia. That’s a lot of noise on the big exchanges. We can exploit the fluctuations, rig the bets in a way that won’t trip the houses’ alarms. And there are so many moments in a soccer game that could swing either way. All you have to do is see an Ilves tackle in the box where maybe the Viikingit forward took a dive. It happens all the time. It would happen anyway. So while you’re running around the pitch in Finland, the syndicate will have computers placing high-volume max bets on whatever outcome the bosses decided on, using markets in Manila that take bets during games, timing the surges so the security bots don’t spot anything suspicious. The exchanges don’t care, not really. They get a cut of all the action anyway. The system is stacked so it’s gamblers further down the chain who bear all the risks.

In a way, we’re lucky there hasn’t been enough cricket played to make this viable. I think.

With the proliferation of T20 leagues, especially in countries with underground gambling, sketchy law enforcement and a dysfunctional judiciary, match-fixing in cricket is only going to get worse. At the same time, the England and Australia often market cricket as though it’s a sport purpose-built for betting.

Cricket Australia is reviewing whether this is a good idea. And the ECB works with Betfair to monitor the betting markets.

But in my mind, it’s a question of when, not if, cricket will face it’s next major betting scandal.

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

Yuvraj: the Third Act

In February, with more hope than logic, I predicted a third act to the future blockbuster Yuvraj: The Film.

The third act has begun.

Yuvraj Singh: at the beginning of the third act

My Team

I wanted to tell you about my team. I have two of them.

Maybe you have a team too. In fact, I’m pretty sure you do.

I’m not talking about the team you follow. Sure “India” is my team, but this is not what I mean. “India”, as a cricket team, is an amorphous concept stretched across time and space1.

When I say my team, I mean a specific team, from a specific point in time that will always be my team.

Like I said, I have two.

During the 2003 World Cup, it seemed like destiny that India would win. That they should win. Of course, we hadn’t considered the competing destiny of the Australians, but at the time, if there was ever an Indian team that could have won a World Cup, this was it.

The batting lineup: Tendulkar, Sehwag, Ganguly, Dravid and Yuvraj.

The bowling lineup: Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, and Srinath.

This was a championship team. Unfortunately, so was Australia.

This was also my team. And it wasn’t my team because they were good. It was my team because I had watched this team grow up, as I grew up. Every player on the team debuted after I started following cricket. This really was my team. Nine years later, my fondest cricket memories are of this group.

And one other.

I’ve written about this before briefly, but in the early ’80s, as a kid growing up in Chicago, I didn’t know much about cricket. What I did know was that my father and his friends would talk politics on Sunday, and then suit up for a friendly game of cricket. And then we’d all go for Indian food.

That was before Gavaskar came to town. Some time around the year 1985, a team of Indian international players fresh off their World Cup win, came to Chicago to play an exhibition game. That evening, there was a meet-and-greet with the players over dinner. My father told me about Sunil Gavaskar, the greatest that had ever played the game. And then I met him.

In late 1985, we moved to India. I spent eight months watching cricket and playing cricket before I started school. This is, literally, all I did. My cousins were Shastri devotees. Yes, kids. In 1985, much of India was devoted to Shastri. With good reason.

The 1986 Indian tour of England is my earliest memory of international cricket, and it mostly stems from a poster from Sportstar magazine of Vengsarkar at Lord’s2. Vengsarkar was my new favorite player in the world, replacing Gavaskar3.

That batting lineup had Gavaskar, Srikkanth (Anirudha’s father), Amarnath, Azhar, Vengsarkar, Kapil, Shastri.

The bowling lineup had… err.. Kapil, Amarnath, Maninder, Chetan Sharma, Binny (Stuart’s father), Madan Lal and Shastri.

Ok, so the bowling wasn’t one for the ages, but we beat England 2-0, so there.

In any case, this was my first team in any sport, ever.

And 2003 may have been my last team.

Sure I love the current Indian team but these kids will always be… kids.

Some day, I’ll tell my kid about Tendulkar. And we’ll start all over again with her.

1I’d argue India as a country is also an amorphous concept stretched across time and space. But that’s a topic for another time, and another blog.^^
2SportStar was better than SportsWorld, because SportsWorld wrote too much about non-cricket sports, and SportStar had better posters. But in a pinch, either would do.^^
3In the pre-Tendulkar era, my favorite cricketer would change every few months. Some players who have been on the list: Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Kapil Dev, Chetan Sharma, Azharudin, Srikkanth, Shastri.^^

Ballsiness

Of all the popular numbers, miles per gallon is a bit of a liar. It doesn’t say what many people think says.

Take three cars. The Honda CR-V gets 20mpg, the Honda Civic 30 mpg and the Insight gets 40mpg. So the Insight is 10 better than the Civic. The Civic is 10 better than the CR-V. Simple, right?

Wrong. Let’s flip the number around to gallons consumed per 100 miles. Now the CR-V costs 5 gallons to get to 100 miles, the Civic 3.3 and the Insight 2.5.

The Insight is still better than the rest, but not by as much. When judging about cost-effectiveness, the gallons/100 miles is a better number.

What you hold constant at 100 matters. Holding the number of miles constant at 100 is a better way of understanding performance, because it maps well with reality– your commute distance, the distance to the mall and the number of miles you will drive in a year are largely constant. So what you really want to know is how many gallons of gasoline will it take you to get there?

Of course, car companies want you to dream about where you can go on a tank of gas

Now let’s take the Strike Rate in cricket. It tells us how many runs a batsman would score if he faced 100 balls.

This is a very useful number. It tells me that if I had a team full of Sehwags (ODI SR: 105), then we would make 315 per 300-ball ODI. And since Sehwag averages 35, a team full of Sehwags would get to about 315 for 9 in 50 overs.

In T20 Internationals, a team full of Sehwags (T20I SR: 152) would make about 183 per 120-ball match. And since Sehwag averages 23, it would be 183 for 8 in 20 overs.

This is a useful number because the number of balls is a constant in limited overs cricket. This makes comparisons proportional. A team full of 70SR would get to 210 in an ODI, 60SR would get to 180 and 80SR would get to 240.

Of course, we could flip this around, the way we flipped the miles per gallon.

The new flipped number would be the number of balls it would take for a batsman to get to 100. Let’s call this new stat ballsiness.

As in, how ballsy is Sehwag? For Sehwag in ODIs, the number of balls he takes per 100 runs is 95.23. So the answer is, very ballsy

In general, this is useless. There is no purpose in holding the number of runs to be scored as constant, because the overarching reality of limited overs cricket is limited overs.

But a few recent tournaments have turned this assumption on its head. The catalyst? The bonus point.

To recap, in the recent CB Series in Australia and the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, a team could get a bonus point by scoring at a run-rate that was 1.25 times their opponent. So if Australia bat first and score 200 in 50 overs (RR: 4), then India would have to chase it down in about 38 overs (RR: 5.25) to get the bonus point.

Now we have a situation where the number of runs to get is a constant and you are trying to minimize the number of deliveries taken to get there. So our new flipped number– balls per 100 runs, ballsiness— becomes useful.

Now, (a team of) Sehwags would chase 201 runs in about 31.5 overs.

Virat Kohli (ODI SR: 85) has a ballsiness of 117. So a Kohli XI would chase the same target of 201 in about 39.1 overs.

Jonathon Trott (ODI SR: 78) has a ballsiness of 128, so a Trott team would chase the same target in about 43 overs.

*

So what’s the meaning of all of this? Not much really, except to stimulate some thought. People talk about Moneyball all the time, but fans can’t understand many of the newly invented statistics. Like the Duckworth-Lewis method, these new-fangled statistics add barriers between the fans and their game. My idea is to think about ways to think about numbers that improve our understanding and our discourse.

My other idea was to force you to imagine a team full of Trotts.