Deep Backward Point

Blog against the machine.

Tag: India

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.

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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.”

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

Why Indian Fans are on KP’s Side

On Twitter, Indian cricket fans (and fans of Indian cricket) are largely on Kevin Pietersen’s side in his battle against the ECB. Here is my theory why.

I want to preface this by saying:

  1. This is a theory.
  2. Since it is a theory, and it might hit close to home for many people, I don’t expect everyone to accept this theory as explaining their feelings on this matter. Even if the theory is true. Instinctively– and perhaps reflexively– we may discount this theory purely because it says some uncomfortable things about how our minds work. Having said that, I accept that the theory may be wrong.

In the summer of 2011, England comprehensively beat India over the course of four Test matches and a handful of limited overs engagements. India was significantly disadvantaged through injuries and the unavailability of players, but to be fair, they were also outplayed.

The combination of the English press and the English Cricket Board, however, continued to make the point that the English system for producing a cricket team was, in fact, inherently superior.

Now this may have been true– the truth is, we will never know for sure. However, this was not a message palatable to Indian fans at the time. Especially since the much-maligned Indian system had until recently produced a world-beating team in Tests and One Day Internationals.

In addition, this message was coupled with the common attacks about too much cricket, IPL as devil-incarnate, the lack of preparation for “transitioning” the senior players, your players are fat, with unmanaged injuries and on the other hand–

–Look at the professional, perfectly managed English team that Andy Flower rules with an iron fist and a heart of gold. Marvel at our perfection, for we will be the new dynasty in Australia’s place.

Indian fans did not take kindly to this message. And Indian fans took note of the members of the press most stridently pushing the all-hail-andy-flower-ecb-is-singularity message.

This summer, the ECB is locked in a battle for its relevance against Kevin Pietersen. And the English press has largely fallen in line with the ECB, serving as their mouthpiece, dropping leaked tidbits when requested. You scratch my back, I scratch yours, KP was a Saffer anyways.

Schadenfreude time.

The English establishment– and specifically certain characters we remember well from last summer– has continuously upheld and sold the English system as perfect and “professional”.

In the KP story, we see how and where this is not true. We see how and where the narrative of a perfect English system breaks down.

And we enjoy it.

At the same time, Kevin Pietersen alone among all English Test cricketers plays a brand of cricket that is (sometimes abhorrent-ly) referred to as a “subcontinental” brand of cricket. I say this with no disrespect to English batsmen, but KP is the least English of English batsmen.

His style of play would not stand out so much among say an Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan line-up. But among the English, he is positively alien.

And we appreciate this.

Also, KP is an iconoclast. India is a country of one billion iconoclasts. In fact, India as a country is united by one thing and one thing alone– to rail against the man. KP is an honorary Indian.

Sorry, make that Delhi Daredevil.

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.^^

You Have Got to Be Kidding Me

India will travel all the way to South Africa for a single T20 match on the 30th of March. Nagraj Gollapudi writes:

The Twenty20 takes place three days after South Africa finish their tour of New Zealand with three back-to-back Tests. It is also a week after the end of the Asia Cup, and five days before the start of the IPL in Chennai.

In a recent episode of the podcast CouchTalk, Gideon Haigh suggested that this match was a you-scratch-my-back-i’ll-scratch-yours gesture.

And they’re calling it the Mandela Cup. If I was Mandela, I’d start some uncivil disobedience right about now.

Stop Praying for a Whitewash in Australia

I follow politics– U.S. politics– quite closely. In the two years preceding the 2008 election, you could say I followed it more than anything else.

In politics, broadly speaking, there are two types of people– the partisans and the ideologues. The partisans fundamentally want their party to win, and will give up on smaller points of ideology. The ideologues support a cause, and will oppose everyone opposed to their cause, regardless of party affiliation. Obviously, there is overlap between the groups depending on the cause.

Over a long enough time scale, neither side is obviously right. The partisan can claim to shoot for the 80% good solution instead of waiting for 100%, keeping the big picture in mind, and positing that the only way to effect change is by winning elections. The partisan votes for the team that is mostly like them.

The ideologue favors building movements, affecting public opinion. They may largely vote for a particular party, but this is by providence, not by design. The ideologue may be pure in intentions, but also may have the effect of sabotaging long term gains for ideological purity.

The partisan, on the other hand, may do the opposite. He may sabotage short term gains for electoral success. The mental calculus of the abominable partisan goes something like this: “I hope the economy tanks by November, so the ruling party loses and my party wins.”

And this is where we switch to talking about cricket.

Venkat Ananth, the writer for Yahoo! Cricket, has been beating this particular drum for quite some time now:

Four months ago, when Indian cricket should have been introspecting for its failures in England, the BCCI had two clear options – one, to bite the bullet, conduct a thoroughly honest review of everything wrong with Indian cricket and introduce correctives to fix the inherent systemic flaws; or two, to remain firmly in denial as if they never happened.

He launches in to an epic rant on every popular criticism of BCCI and the Indian cricket establishment. I agree with much of it, disagree with some.

Until he gets to this bit (emphasis added):

Lastly and more importantly, I hope that India gets whitewashed in Australia. Call me unpatriotic (and I’ve defended a lot of that tripe in the past), but quite honestly, that could be the best possible result for Indian cricket’s long-term interest, in my view.

So let me get this straight, dear partisan friend. If India end the series on 2-2, coming from behind to win the last two tests in what would turn out to be the most dramatic series in recent memory, you would be unhappy.

Thank you, I have no further questions.

The thing about partisans is that they need the world to fit their narrative. If the economy tanks by November, Obama is toast. So if you oppose Obama, you may end up hoping the economy doesn’t improve. In 2004, catching Saddam Hussein was viewed as a political victory for George W. Bush. As a partisan opposed to Bush, you may wish Saddam had not been captured. For all the wrong reasons

These are wishes (and people) removed from reality, but they pervade our political process.

The weird thing about Mr. Ananth’s article is that what he ultimately wants is an ideological victory– for the BCCI to change to suit his ideal. And it’s a worthy ideal.

But he’s willing to give up the present. He’s willing to give up on short-term victories, on short-term miracles. He’s willing to give up on the grind. Like a comic book villain, he wishes for short-term devastation, so that he can build a new world order.

If I ever wish for an Indian loss for the greater good, dear reader, I give you the permission to slap me sideways.

219

438 is just a number. So is 400*. And 99.94.

As is 219.

The running meme is that Tendulkar is God, and he’s made as good a case as any for divinity. In my book, however, he’s more the chosen one than an actual God.

Sehwag, on the other hand. I could make a case for Sehwag.

But I won’t. Sehwag is no God.

No. Sehwag is a prophet. Sehwag is a way of life.

I wanted to show you the scale of this record. What 219 means. It took 26 years to go from Viv Richards’ 189 to Sachin Tendulkar’s 200. Gradual– 11 runs over 26 years. A year later, Sehwag blew the record out of the water by 19 runs. Tendulkar’s 200 was like breaking the four minute mile. Once others believed it could be done, they smashed past it.

Take a look:

Highest Individual ODI Scores Over the Years

Highest Individual ODI Scores Over the Years

In Which Mr. N. Srinivasan Interviews Mr. N. Srinivasan

Here at Deep Backward Point, we are very proud to bring you the first in our series of interviews with the power players of the world of cricket. Today, you are in for a special treat.

Our interviewer for the day is Mr. N. Srinivasan, renowned businessman and owner of the IPL champion Chennai Super Kings.

He will be interviewing Mr. N. Srinivasan, the Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Let us begin:

CSK owner Mr. N. Srinivasan: Good morning, sir!

BCCI Secy Mr. N. Srinivasan: Good morning.

CSK owner Mr. N. Srinivasan: My you are a handsome gentleman.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: So are you, if I say so myself.

<awkward pause>

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Ahem. So let’s begin. How did you get involved in cricket?

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: I’ve always been a great lover. Of the game. What a sport it is. Chess is my favorite sport.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Chess? Two part question: one, did you mean cricket? And two, is chess a sport.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Err.. yes, cricket. Cricket! That’s right. Jolly good sport. Chess is for.. err… nerds.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: But you’re also the president of the All India Chess Federation, right?

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Nerds, I tell you! Golf. Now that’s a real sport. As President of the Tamil Nadu Golf Association, I always say-

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: You mean cricket.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Ah yes. The one where you swing at balls. That one.

<awkward pause>

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Don’t look so smug. How did you get interested in.. err.. cricket.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Well, I’m really a businessman. Got cement running through my veins. Really, a heart of cement– that’s what you want in a man. So anyways, a good friend of mine runs the BCCI– err, that would be you— and you told me they were selling some IPL teams and they would be a good investment for the company. So we put some money in to buy a team.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: That’s it?

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Yeah. And I always wanted to see Dhoni dressed in yellow.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Well of course!

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: And that was it. I don’t know why everyone thinks it’s a shady deal. It’s not like you benefit from this.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Of course not! I am an office-bearer in the BCCI.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Right. And I’m a simple managing director at India Cements.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Exactly, just a little managing director. Nothing more.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Err.. well, I’m the vice-chairman too.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: VICE chairman. VICE.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: And our.. that is, my father started the company.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Minor detail.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: And it’s not like I can do anything financially inappropriate with CSK. The BCCI would rake me over the coals, like Kochi and Punjab.

BCCI Secy Mr. N. S.: Well, I’d never let that happen.. honest.

CSK owner Mr. N. S.: Shush!

<tape goes silent>

Earlier on DeepBackwardPoint: