My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.
Monday has long passed, and the immediate elation around India’s victory in the Twenty20 World Cup has abated. Yet, I still feel excited, and certain of the historical significance of this win. In 1975, when the first One Day International (ODI) World Cup took place, it seemed like a tamasha to everyone, a passing fancy. Today, it is a huge deal, and West Indies are inscribed as its first winners. I’m certain that the Twenty20 World Cup will be as important one day, and India will be remembered as its first champions. That’s quite something.
My excitement is not just about India winning. I am as charged up about Twenty20 cricket, though it is a format I was initially suspicious of, being a purist in love with the intricate and elongated dramas of Test cricket. My preconceptions about Twenty20 cricket have been—forgive the cliché, but I can’t resist this one—knocked for a six.
Yes, the Maharashtra government is giving Rs10 Lakh each to Ajit Agarkar and Rohit Sharma, and the Delhi government is handing out Rs5 lakh each to Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. This is disgraceful. If Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sheila Dikshit wish to use India’s victory to make a statement, they should spend their own money. All poor people in this country, from maids to chaprasis to cycle-rickshaw drivers, pay taxes every time they buy anything. It is ludicrous that their hard-earned money, coercively collected by the state, should be spent on cricketers with endorsements that are worth crores.
Salil Tripathi, via email, points me to a piece on Twenty20 cricket by Somini Sengupta that is a surprisingly atrocious piece of work—indeed, a classic example of a journalist tackling a subject without gaining adequate familiarity with it. Salil had commented on it on the SAJA list, and as I agree with all of what he said, I’m reproducing it here with his permission:
Somini Sengupta, whose work I usually admire, has written an unusually hastily-put-together piece about India’s victory in the Twenty20 World Cup cricket final in South Africa yesterday.
When you read this ... you will notice that it seems Somini has slept through the creation and rise of one-day cricket. Twenty-20 is the shorter form of one-day cricket; all the criticisms leveled on five-day cricket, as seen in her piece below, led to the creation of one-day cricket; that has neither died, nor is it dying. (The format of the ICC World Cup is a different matter). The sociological observations, about the rise of a new India, were all made when Sourav Ganguly took India to the world cup final in 2003, the post-liberalization, assertive India and all that; and Dhoni is not the first to go topless; Ganguly famously did it from the balcony of the Lords in London after India won the Natwest Trophy. So many of the observations in this piece remind me of things Amit Varma has been writing about on his blog, or Mukul Kesavan himself elsewhere, and, dare I say it, stuff I have written in WSJ in the past. And then, the unkindest cut, she calls Sreesanth a batsman.
Going beyond the immediate: how could the piece miss commenting on how India reacted after losing to Bangladesh (the same Dhoni’s home in Ranchi was stoned, and Zahir Khan’s restaurant was attacked); or, that the same Indian team gave a middling performance in England barely two weeks ago; and, finally, how the rise of cricketers from the smaller towns is because of greater leisure alternatives in the bigger towns (from which India traditionally selected its players)?
There are many other things wrong with this piece, but why enumerate the obvious? I’ve heard good things from common friends about the meticulous research Somini does, and sometimes journalists are given unexpected assignments on crazy deadlines, so perhaps there are mitigating circumstances. It’s a pity, though, that often journalists are remembered for one poor article, and a hundred good pieces before that are forgotten. I hope that doesn’t happen to Somini.
PS: Readers have written in asking about my reactions to the Twenty20 World Cup. As it happens I wrote a long post on it yesterday, but before publishing it, decided that it would make more sense to save it for my Thursday column. So it appears tomorrow.
Recently on a television show, I am told, you criticised the Indian Cricket League (ICL), and the players signing up with it, on the grounds that “they are in it for the money.” You found this reprehensible, clearly feeling that the profit motive was a bad thing. I wish to congratulate you on your beliefs. They were once shared by no less than Jawaharlal Nehru, who described “profit” as “a dirty word.” Indeed, I have heard that when he got angry at someone, he would abuse him or her by shouting, “You, you… you Profit!” But that could be apocryphal.
Mr Sidhu, allow me to express how much I admire your values. Shunning profit, as you surely do if your actions mirror your words, takes immense fortitude. You are always smartly dressed, with your turban matching your tie, despite buying clothes only from people who manufacture and sell them as a social service. When you eat out with your better half, who is also named Navjot and is therefore the better Navjot, you only eat at restaurants that were not begun to make a profit, but to help needy diners like yourself. Indeed, you buy no goods or services manufactured with the profit motive, and I really must ask you sometime where you shop. You also clearly accept absolutely no money for the entertainment you provide us on television, which is very kind of you. Your magnanimity has moved me.
After dinner he’s back in his room looking out the window. He’s supposed to be in his room doing his homework and he’s in his room all right but he doesn’t know what his homework is supposed to be. He reads a few pages ahead in his world history book. They made history by the minute in those days. Every sentence there’s another war or tremendous downfall. Memorize the dates. The downfall of the empire and the emergence of detergents. There’s a kid in his class who eats pages from his history books nearly every day. The way he does it, he places the open book under the desk in his crotch and slyly crumples a page, easing it off the spine with the least amount of rustle. Then he has the strategy of wait a while before he brings his fist to his mouth in a sort of muffled cough with the page inside his fist, like whitesy-bitesy. Then he stuffs in the page and the tiny printed ink and the memorized dates, engrossing it quietly. He waits some more. He lets the page idle in his mouth. Then he chews it slowly and carefully and incomplete, damping the sound by making sure his teeth do not meet, and Cotter tries to imagine how it tastes, all the paper points and edges washed in saliva, becoming soft and limp and blottered so you can swallow smooth. He swallows not so smooth. You can see his adam’s apple jerk like he just landed a plane on a foreign shore.
This is from Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which begins with the resonant line, “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful.” The prologue of the book, also published separately as a novella, recreates ‘The Shot Heard Around The World’ with some of the most evocative sportswriting I have read. Here’s the third para of that prologue, about people gathering for the game:
Longing on a large scale is what makes history. This is just a kid with a local yearning but he is part of an assembling crowd, anonymous thousands off the buses and trams, people in narrow columns tramping over the swing bridge above the river, and even if they are not a migration or a revolution, some vast shaking of the soul, they bring with them the body heat of a great city and their own small reveries and desperations, the unseen something that haunts the day—men in fedoras and sailors on shore leave, the stray tumble of their thoughts, going to a game.
What sentences! If only someone could write on cricket like this…
HCA president G. Vinod confirmed to the Hindustan Times on phone that the concerned players have joined the ICL. “Yes, the news is correct, the players have joined the ICL,” Vinod said.
“But they should have intimidated us about it before signing. It is a serious setback to us.” [My emphasis.]
Reading Indian broadsheets all my life has made me used to sloppy redundancies like in that first paragraph, but the next line is just, well, intimidating. And no, it’s not relevant whether the official being quoted actually said ‘intimidated’ instead of ‘intimated’, or the journalist misheard him—something like that simply shouldn’t get published.
As for the new developments in the ICL, I’m delighted by them. As I wrote in my piece, “What Indian Cricket Needs,” our cricketers need more choices, and so do cricket lovers. I hope the ICL is a success.
The mandarins at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) must be delighted. As the third Test between India and England gets under way today, India stand poised to win the series, already 1-0 up. This, the BCCI babus are surely telling themselves, will take the pressure off them.
After India’s early exit in the World Cup, immense scrutiny was directed at the cricket board. Such scrutiny is common—the Indian team often goes through crises—and the same solutions are advanced each time. “‘Corporatize’ BCCI,” say some, “hire a CEO.” “Do away with the regional system of selectors,” say others. Editorialists demand increased investment in domestic cricket, while some get micro and simply want to “punish the senior players and give youngsters a chance”.
All these sound splendid, but they treat the symptom, not the disease. The problem with BCCI lies not in its actions or omissions, but in its incentives. The tragedy of Indian cricket is that, at the moment, the incentives of BCCI office bearers are not aligned towards ensuring the good health of Indian cricket. Instead, they are aligned towards ensuring their own continuance in power. These two don’t often lead in the same direction.
History has a habit of punishing those that don’t take their chances.
That’s Geoff Boycott to Mike Atherton, and it seems especially apt in the light of how this India-England Test series is going. Allow me to quibble by pointing out that this alleged habit of History is not a compulsive one—India missed plenty of chances through last year’s tour to West Indies, but ended up winning the Test series regardless.
As my default mode is cynical, let me also add that History punishes everybody anyway. As John Maynard Keynes once said, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” Everything ends, so why bother taking chances, just go through the motions.
Or maybe I’m low today because my broadband is down and this dial-up is slow. With such mundane matters do existential crises reach a head. Maybe I’ll be chirpy again when the broadband’s back, who can tell?
Yes, I did write a letter to God before the fourth day of the Test. I wrote in that, ‘Tomorrow I will win the Test match for my country. I will be the one, God please help me.’ But it didn’t go that way. Well, maybe I didn’t write my name in the end and God thought it came from Zaheer bhai.
I don’t get it: if they can be witty, why can’t they be smart? Pah!
The Guardian’sComment is Free blog, for which I’m an absconding contributor, asked me to write a piece yesterday on the jelly beans incident in the Trent Bridge Test. I felt it had been blown out of proportion, and wrote up a piece that gives British readers, who may not have followed the Indian team’s progress over this decade, some historical perspective on our journey so far. The piece is called “It’s Not About The Jelly Beans.” There’s nothing in there that Indian fans won’t know.
I threw in a provocative last line just for fun. See the young lads jumping up and down in the comments there!
PS: I disown that picture. It is not me. I look nothing like that now.
As the first Test between India and England moved towards a finish earlier this week, one of my friends announced that he was singing Raga Malhar. This is a legendary raga that is supposed to draw rain from the sky. And indeed, rain fell. If causation could be established, my friend would be a national hero, for millions wanted precipitation.
Like most Indian men, I’m crazy about cricket. Like unrequited love, this passion often seems futile and self-defeating. It’s also mysterious. Why do we invest so much time and energy into following this sport and no other? Why is it the only sport that Indians excel at (relative to others, of course)? In a globalized world, can cricket survive?
... is my favourite sports blog at the moment. Lindsey covers cycling, and his posts on the Tour de France are crisp, sharp and insightful.
Despite all the doping controversies, the Tour is my favourite sporting event by a long way. Cycling is an elemental sport—the machines don’t make much difference, as man goes against man and the elements with not much else in between. These three weeks of racing test the body and the character more than any event in any sport that I can think of, and you can see the effort, the pain, the despair, the ecstasy in the faces of the riders as they ride, even on their bodies. It is pure sport.
And today’s the finest stage, where the hardest mountains loom. Back to television!
Sreesanth is an excitable fellow on the field but off it he believes in the calmer things of life. He had told TOI that the part-secret behind his recent success was transitional meditation. To put it simply, it means his guru (Pratyachch Mishra) meditates for him and helps him to stay positive.
I now realise that my belief in God was sports psychology in all but name.
—Jonathan Edwards, quoted in a story by Matthew Syed on how Edwards, once a devout Christian who used his faith to drive himself towards sporting excellence, became an atheist after he retired. Syed quotes him as saying:
It was as if during my 20-plus-year career in athletics, I had been suspended in time. I was so preoccupied with training and competing that I did not have the time or emotional inclination to question my beliefs. Sport is simple, with simple goals and a simple lifestyle. I was quite happy in a world populated by my family and close friends, people who shared my belief system. Leaving that world to get involved with television and other projects gave me the freedom to question everything.
Once you start asking yourself questions like, “How do I really know there is a God?” you are already on the path to unbelief.
It’s a fascinating piece, and Edwards is spot on when he says of the difficulty of coming to terms with the obvious absence of a higher power:
Just because something is unpalatable does not mean that it is not true.
Indeed, the thought of a world without God is terribly scary: It means coming to terms with your own mortality, and the fact that there is no higher meaning to anything. It isn’t easy, and I suspect it’s the reason why many atheists or agnostics take to religion as they grow older. It’s hard to accept how insignificant and impermanent we are. But we are.
Salil Tripathi has a wonderful piece in the Wall Street Journal today celebrating 75 years of Indian Test cricket, in which he writes:
What the British didn’t realize was that once introduced, cricket’s consequences couldn’t be predicted, nor controlled. Just as the introduction of railways in the 1850s not only sped up communication but also united India, and as Lord Macaulay’s “Minute on Education” not only taught simple English to clerks but also ideas of self-rule and democracy to other Indians, so cricket—with its notion of fair play—gave currency to the idea of justice and unity.
I agree about railways and English, but I wonder if we romanticize the role cricket played in India’s independence struggle. In my admittedly limited view, cricket began to play a role beyond that of an ordinary sport after independence—especially from the 1970s onwards—when we actually started doing well at it, and it served as a source of national pride when there were few others. Similarly, India’s post-liberalization assertiveness was mirrored in the Indian team that Sourav Ganguly and John Wright nurtured, with its refreshing aggression and self-belief. But I’m not sure that cricket’s notions of fair play have ever meant anything to more than a few elite Indians.
That quibble aside, it’s a lovely piece, and I’ve become a fan of Tripathi’s lucid prose—He’s both insightful and readable, qualities few Indian journalists have.
... John Buchanan? Prem Panicker is due to interview Buchanan, and will incorporate reader-submitted questions that he finds interesting. Almost a Web 2.0 interview, you could say, without the anarchy of a chat. Hop over to leave your suggestions.
And by the by, I’m quite delighted to see Prem blogging regularly on his own space. He’s a magnificent blogger, though he’s often been too busy running large teams of journalists to blog regularly. I’m going to watch that space.
I agree with Himanshu, and have an addition to make to his list of reasons: Kalam can continuously motivate his players by reading out his poems in the dressing room. There’s no way a batsman out in the middle would then want to return to the pavilion.
I also suggest that the BCCI give Kalam a large enough budget to conduct a space program on its behalf. He can then send some of our players to Mars, which would not be entirely a bad thing.
On the other hand, even a Mango would make a good coach.
At first, the British thought little of the attempts by their subjects to take to their national game. They sneered at the Indians’ clothes and their technique, a Bombay journalist remarking of some Hindu players, in the 1870s, that `their kilted garments interfered [when batting] with running, and they threw the ball when fielding in the same fashion as boarding school girls’. At this time the gulf, admittedly, was huge, so much that some early matches were billed as `Natives with Bats versus Officers with Umbrellas’. Slowly the Indians began acquiring proficiency, helped by their decision to discard the cumbersome dhoti for the cricketer’s flannel trousers.
Those, I am most certain, were the days. Though I am sure some of you would argue that our players still field like boarding school girls. Tsk tsk.
CNN-IBN reports that a “prestigious cricket club” in Chennai did not allow a civil servant to enter its premises because he was dressed in a veshti.
On a tangent, I wonder—and I know I can check this with two mouse-clicks, but it’s more fun to wonder—whether you’re allowed to play cricket in a veshti. Why should cricket only be played in trousers? Indeed, with a veshti, you could actually catch a ball between your legs without the risk of scraping the skin on your fingers. If you have a really long veshti, you could let it loose in the breeze while running a single, possibly ensuring that you’re inside both creases at the same time. And if you’re at the non-striker’s end, and your partner’s having a problem with the sightscreen, you could stand on your head.
I hope the BCCI takes this matter up with the ICC. The colonial hangover must go, and air must circulate.
A segment of animated footage promoting the 2012 Olympic Games has been removed from the organisers’ website after fears it could trigger epileptic fits. [...]
Charity Epilepsy Action said it had received calls from people who had suffered fits after seeing it.
Organiser London 2012 said it will re-edit the film. [...]
Emphasising that it was not the logo itself which was the focus of worries, [a spokesperson] said: “This concerns a short piece of animation which we used as part of the logo launch event and not the actual logo.”
Ya, right! There’s a horror film in this somewhere. Perhaps this is the return of the antichrist, only not in human form, for how banal would that be? Humans can be eliminated, but once such a logo is unleashed upon the unsuspecting world…
Sigh. Isn’t the logo above, unveiled recently for the 2012 Olympics, in a class of its own for badness? Have the gentlemen who selected this design never heard of the virtues of simplicity? How they must all hate the Swoosh.
And can you believe they paid £400,000 for this? (That’s about Rs 3.2 crore.) Pestilential parakeets plunder.
If Shoaib Akhtar did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. No, silly, not for his fast bowling, but for his magnificent quotes, which can liven many a dull day. Here, check this out:
I have been made scapegoat by calling me an ‘indisciplined’ player. Infact, there is no discipline in the whole nation. Look at our traffic that defies all rules and regulations, look at the way we rush for food in wedding ceremonies. When there was no discipline in the whole nation, how could Pakistan cricket team be a disciplined bunch as it has never been a disciplined team.
I can just imagine Shoaib starting his run-up to the food counter. Anyway, right after that, this gem of a man, this gift to humanity says:
Pakistan team does not need a coach at all, it needs a strong nerved and good captain.
Can we import Shoaib, please? Free trade? Since young Javagal retired, we’ve had fast bowlers who say immensely non-entertaining things in public, which defeats the purpose of their existence. We want Shoaib! We want Shoaib!
1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Scott Styris, 5 Mahela Jayawardene, 6 Kevin Pietersen, 7 Brad Hogg, 8 Lasith Malinga, 9 Nathan Bracken, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Glenn McGrath.
Cricinfo also has a WC XI here, and the only difference, besides the batting order, is that they’ve picked Shane Bond instead of Bracken. Well, I picked Bracken over Bond because big-match temperament matters to me: in New Zealand’s most important game of all, Bond failed to deliver.
There is much comment all around about how Australia’s domination is bad for the game, and how cricket needs a contest, and so on. I disagree. All of us want to watch cricket that is sublime, beautiful, invigorating. Australia have made that routine. There are few more joyful sights in the game than Ricky Ponting rocking back to pull or Glenn McGrath peppering the corridor, and Adam Gilchrist’s innings in the final will remain a cherished memory for me, on par with his two legendary innings in South Africa—even though it killed the contest.
Imagine, if you can, what would happen if this Aussie side was anything like the England side. You’d have your contest all right, but it would be so boring, so mediocre. Thank FSM for Australia, Steve Waugh onwards. Without them, cricket would be dead.
For once, I don’t think this will affect anything adversely. We will continue not winning Olympic medals and losing to Bangladesh in cricket. Since we’ve already given up on excellence, we might as well go the whole hog on equality. No?
A prosperous and successful plumber is an expert at plumbing. Someone who is a good source for accurate information on plumbing is an expert on plumbing. More generally, an expert at a topic is someone who has gained the most attention, praise, income, and so on via their association with the topic. But this may not be the best expert on that topic. He may have succeeded by not giving the most accurate information, but by telling people what they want or expect to hear, or by entertaining them.
We often rely on the heuristic of looking to an expert at a topic, when what we want is an expert on a topic.
Is this not a mistake our sports channels routinely make, hiring experts at cricket instead of experts on cricket? For example, I’d count the likes of Atul Wassan, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Chetan Sharma as experts at cricket, and Harsha Bhogle as an expert on cricket—and I think we all agree on who is a better commentator. Of course, there are some who are both experts at and on cricket, such as Richie Benaud and Sunil Gavaskar (when he’s switched on and is not on auto-pilot). But our broadcasters don’t care too much: they just want the experts at cricket because those people come into the television studio with the benefit of already being celebrities, and viewers crave familiarity. If they happen to also speak insightfully about the game, well, that’s a bonus.
Indian cricket has many problems, but imagine the following scenario: An investigative committee formed by the BCCI finds out that the reason many Indian players are unfit is pure ghee. On their time off, it seems, many of them eat food cooked in pure ghee, and as a result put on weight and become lethargic. It starts with Virender Sehwag, spreads to Sachin Tendulkar, and soon they all became pure ghee addicts and lost their vigour on the field.
The mandarins at the BCCI come up with an obvious solution: ban pure ghee! Or rather, ban the cricketers from having any food cooked in it, even in the off season. “Our cricketers are losing their focus on cricket because of pure ghee,” they argue. “We can only counter this with strong action.”
Don’t be taken in by all the activity that’s going on around Indian cricket. You’ll see movement all right, but it’s all headed nowhere.
PS: Of the glut of pieces out there on the subject, I recommend you read “The Real Culprits” by S Rajesh. It lays bare India’s shortcomings on the field of play. As for the dramas of the dressing room, we’ll never have the full story, though different versions of events will no doubt emerge. (You get a sense of Greg Chappell’s version of events here and here. Ian Chappell’s broadside against Sachin Tendulkar the other day now becomes explicable. Heh.)
Anyway, watch the dance if it entertains you. I’m not throwing any more grains.
Posted by Amit Varma on 06 April, 2007 in
This piece has been published in the April 2007 issue of Cricinfo Magazine. It was written the day before India’s loss to Sri Lanka.
Imagine a man, dressed respectfully, and a scruffy dog he owns. The man catches the dog and sets its tail on fire. And then, as the dog runs around frenetically, the man says smugly: “Look – mad dog.” He even sells tickets. He calls it: “The Mad Dog Show.”
Indian cricket is The Mad Dog Show. Indian fans are like that burning doggie. The media is the respectable gentleman. Every time I see footage of mobs burning the effigy of a cricketer, and the voice-over of an anchor droning sanctimoniously in the background, I am appalled by the hypocrisy. “That is a beast you feed,” I feel like screaming. For all their talk about crazed subcontinental fans, the crazed subcontinental media is no different.
If this is a leak by Chappell, then I really don’t see how he can continue to play a role in Indian cricket any more. Either you say what you have to say in public, or you deal directly with the board, and keep your report confidential. Playing games through the media is simply not on, especially when it is so blatantly done.
His allegations should be investigated, of course. But the substance in them is a separate matter from the issue of the leak.
The other night I caught a few moments of Viruddh, the much-advertised soap-opera starring Smriti Irani. It was awful: the screenplay was overwrought, the dialogues were cheesy, the characters were caricatures and the acting was hammacious enough to be beyond parody. “It can’t get worse than this,” I thought.
Devangshu Datta writes in Business Standard that India has begun a cricketing decline similar to the one it began in hockey. He writes:
The debacle against Sri Lanka re-emphasised that India is a cricketing generation behind in its approach. The Lankans planned the batting better and they bowled and fielded with far more sense as well as heart.
At least five teams—Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand—are now a clear generation ahead in terms of understanding cricket. Skill is not the issue—skill plus brains will beat skill almost every time. Will the intellectual gap ever narrow? The example of hockey leaves me feeling less than optimistic. Twenty years later, just as in hockey, India could be a fringe cricket outfit.
On one hand, I fear that the Ganguly-Wright years, with Dravid the best Test batsman in the world and Sehwag and Kumble and Harbhajan and Laxman all having their moments, might turn out in retrospect to be the pinnacle of India’s cricketing achievement. Once the Dravid-Tendulkar-Ganguly-Laxman generation is gone, we’ll be left with the likes of Yuvraj and Raina and Kaif in the middle order. I’m not looking forward to that.
On the other hand our younger players, brought up in an age of satellite television, might just turn out to have the values that Devangshu refers to embedded in their DNA. Our younger guys all field superbly and run well between wickets and are fitter than the past generation. Maybe the future isn’t so dark after all.
What do you think? Do read Devangshu’s column, and leave your thoughts here. Comments are open.
After reading my piece, “Don’t Punish Victimless Crimes,” and the follow-up post to it, my friend Devangshu Datta was kind enough to send me an old article of his on legalising betting. It’s a wonderful piece, and was first published in Business Standard, though they don’t have it online anywhere. With Devangshu’s permission, I’m reproducing some paras below the fold. Note that it was written in January 2001, but though the absolute numbers would have changed, the arguments and the macro percentages probably remain valid:
In my view, there are only two questions that need to be asked as far as Tendulkar’s retirement is concerned:
1. Is he still good enough to be in the Indian side?
2. Does he have the desire to play international cricket?
As long as the answers to both these questions are “yes”—and I believe they are at the moment—I don’t see why Tendulkar should retire. Comparing him to Brian Lara, as Chappell does, is pointless. Comparing him to his own past self, as Chappell also does, is equally pointless. If he’s good enough to be in the current side and wants to play, he should carry on.
If only Sachin’s brother would now write a piece on Greg Chappell. Fun, no?
A common thought being expressed these days is that the Indian cricket selectors should be as ruthless as the Australians. See how they ended Steve Waugh’s ODI career, we are told. See how Michael Bevan was given the boot, and how Ian Healy wasn’t allow a farewell Test at his homeground. And so on.
There is a crucial difference to be noted between India and Australia, though. Australia have enormous bench strength. They could fire Healy because Adam Gilchrist waited, sack Michael Slater because Justin Langer was around, let Mark Waugh go because Damien Martyn had been kept out for too long. Outstanding talents like Stuart Law and Matthew Elliott and Stuart MacGill, who would have played a hundred Tests in any other country, spent ages waiting in the sidelines. If Mike Hussey and Brad Hodge played for any other team, they’d be international cricket veterans by now.
India, on the other hand, have a problem of who to bring in, not of who to leave out. Indeed, a common criticism against Greg Chappell in the last year was that he tried out too many youngsters. And now some people want to sack all the seniors. Strange.
Indeed, I count myself lucky as a fan of Indian cricket that players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman happened to be in the same team for so long. A couple of years from now, they may all be gone. I’m sure a couple of youngsters may step it up a level and surprise us, but I’m nevertheless already feeling nostalgic on behalf of my future self.
That is not to say that if our big guns don’t perform they should be kept on indefinitely. But let’s be realistic about the options we have at any given point in time. And let’s not keep comparing ourselves to Australia. That way lies self-delusion.
I see Nandigram in the same light as the horrific events in Gujarat. Yes, the number of deaths is less but it is the state machinery that went out to hunt the minority. In Gujarat, it was the Muslims, here they were poor peasants. Show me the difference? Both are minorities.
Ayn Rand once said, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual.” But some minortities, of course, are more equal than others. My thoughts on Nandigram are the same as my thoughts on Singur, which I’d expressed here.
Last link for this post: Old pal Rohit Gupta, who now calls himself DJ Fadereu, is writing a book, of which the first chapter can be downloaded here. If you like it, he is asking you to donate money that will help him write more of the book. I like the model: doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani.
Who owns cricket in India? That is a difficult question. Legally, only the BCCI can put out a cricket team that purports to represent India. So who owns the BCCI, and who is it accountable to?
The BCCI is not owned by the government, and so is not accountable to taxpayers. The BCCI is not a public limited company, and so is not accountable to shareholders. The BCCI is, effectively, controlled by the regional cricket associations, whose interests are entirely different from that of the cricket fan or cricket player, and which are similarly accountable to no one.
So if the BCCI is not accountable to us, is there any way by which we can make them get their act together? My answer to that is an emphatic “Yes”.
You see, sporting bodies throughout the world have a similar effective monopoly over the sport, and enjoy a similar absence of direct accountability. What keeps them efficient then? Competition does. In most other countries, cricket is not the only popular sport. If English cricket is mismanaged, and the team starts to decline, the fans will watch more soccer. In Australia, they’ll watch more Aussie rules football. Or rubgy league. Or hockey. And when they do that, the cricket board makes less money. Eventually, if the board doesn’t get its act together, the fans will turn away completely. Because that possibility exists, we see that the cricket boards in those countries are actually quite efficient.
In India, though, there is virtually no competition to cricket. It is the only sport that people watch in large enough numbers for it to matter commercially. The BCCI knows that regardless of how well it runs the game, millions of people will still tune in to watch India play. Who is responsible for giving them that sense of complacency? You and I.
Why do we spend our time—and remember that time is money—on watching hours and hours of unsatisfying cricket? How many of us complaining about India’s performance in the World Cup will switch their TV sets on when India play their next series? Do we not need to get a life, and watch something else? The only way we can hold cricket administrators and players to task is by voting with our eyeballs. Nothing else will work. Only commerce matters to our administrators, and the money in cricket comes because we watch the game.
So the next time India disappoints you in a cricket match, don’t whine, because the power to make a difference is in your hands. It’s the remote control.
I’m travelling for the rest of the day, and won’t get to blog much. Before I go, a couple of quick thoughts on the India-Sri Lanka game.
One, why do so many Indian fans have such a strong sense of entitlement? They behave as if they were entitled to a win, as if they paid good money to see a film, went into the hall, and were shown a film with a different ending than the one they were promised. This is not cinema, dramatic as it is. This is sport. Shit happens. No one betrayed anyone. One team played better than the other on the day, that’s all. Having said that…
Two, it was clear that India weren’t merely unlucky, but were simply not good enough to win the World Cup. The reasons for this have to do with preparation, not ability. Contrast our fielding with Sri Lanka’s. Contrast the number of dot balls we faced with how Sri Lanka did. These don’t depend on the vagaries of the day, but on how well one prepares for the event.These two things are the most tangible reflections of a coach’s impact on the team. I don’t see how even Greg Chappell, if he is honest with himself, can deny that he has failed.
But here’s the thing, O Crazed Fans: it was not a wilful failure, but a human one. Chappell certainly wanted India to progress as much as any of us did, and he and poor Rahul Dravid must be terribly gutted now. There is certainly cause for us to feel disappointment. But anger?
And that brings me back to my first point…
(Comments are open.)
Posted by Amit Varma on 24 March, 2007 in
“The subcontinental cricket fan,” writes Mukul Kesavan, “is a lazy, pampered know-nothing who thinks he owns the cricket teams that he supports.” Kesavan compares the Barmy Army to subcontinental fans:
Why are they [the Barmy Army] different from desi couch potatoes who never leave their rooms, never exert themselves except to find their remote controls and yet treat every Indian defeat as a conspiracy against the Nation Recumbent? They’re different because India is a nation of losers: its teams win at nothing but cricket. Two, because cricket fans from outside the subcontinent have generally played some outdoor sport, they have some practical experience of how difficult competitive sport is. If you’ve never played cricket and if the reason you watch it is because it’s on television, your expectations are radically different. You’re a voyeur: the sort of person who watches other people do it. It is a ‘virtual’ condition, unmediated by experience or empathy.
Well, I must point out that finding the remote control can sometimes be quite a testing sport. In my living room, as I look around me, I see cushions, stuffed toys, books, newspapers, magazines, handkerchiefs, DVDs, CDs, a discman, a mobile phone, a laptop, many wires and a blanket lying around. I suspect Kesavan has a tidier living room, and has clearly no understanding of the skill and endurance that goes into finding a remote control, especially when a particularly irritating commercial is on. Compared to that, Dravid’s got it easy.
No, but Kesavan is spot on about most subcontinental fans, and I’ve expressed my own thoughts on this in my essay, “Do We Really Love Cricket?” As we speak, I am at work on my next essay, “Do We Really Love Remote Controls?” On reading Kesavan’s piece, I am forced to conclude that perhaps we don’t. Alas.
And yet, quite apart from the human tragedy of Bob Woolmer’s death, it is a thrilling World Cup, a few matches earlier than one would have expected. I can barely wait for Friday’s game between India and Sri Lanka.