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My Friend Sancho

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.


To buy it online from the US, click here.


I am currently on a book tour to promote the book. Please check out our schedule of city launches. India Uncut readers are invited to all of them, no pass required, so do drop in and say hello.


If you're interested, do join the Facebook group for My Friend Sancho


Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.


And ah, my posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.


Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Category Archives: Sport

Playing For The Boy

When Rohit Brijnath is on song, he’s a heck of a writer. His latest piece on Sachin Tendulkar is wonderful, and I love the way it ends:

What does Tendulkar play for? Team, himself, pride, records? Maybe he plays because part of him is just a boy who finds himself when bat meets ball. Maybe he plays because of a boy agog in the stands. Maybe he has summoned this last reservoir of energy to show a kid, now old enough to understand, why, for 18 years, the world has made such a fuss about his father.

Read the full thing.

(Link via Prem Panicker.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 November, 2007 in Journalism | Media | Sport


Sachin Tendulkar is a Buffalo

In the WTF story of the day, Bejan Daruwala, speaking to Rajesh Pansare of DNA, suggests a cure for Sachin Tendulkar’s “nervous 90s”:

It’s well known amongst the astrology community that Sachin Tendulkar is a Taurus and that numbers 3, 6 and 9 apply to him.

But according to Chinese astrology, Tendulkar is also a Buffalo, a cousin of the bull — and these two systems combined make him a Double Bull.

The Bull is steadfast, a sign of strength and consistency. The weakness of Bulls and Buffalos is that they get into a rut and often cannot think out of the box, something which applies to Tendulkar. [...]

Because he is a loving and faithful husband, to get out of his nervous 90s, I would suggest that Tendulkar follow four steps:

1. Sleep in the lap of his wife and tell her to love him sweetly and gently

2. Cook his own mutton cheese burgers and eat them

3. Have a terrific bath

4. Jump in his Ferrari and go for a drive

There is no indication on that page that this is a joke of some sort. It reads like a parody, but Daruwala always reads like a parody of himself. Anjali Tendulkar, of course, must be befuddled at what Sachin means when he asks her to love him “sweetly and gently.”

“What do you mean, sweetly and gently,” she could respond. “How else have I been loving you all these years? You can cook your own damn mutton burgers from now on. And take a bath, you’re stinking—now wonder Dada likes to run you out.”

(Link via email from reader Gokul. Earlier posts on superstitious nonsense: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 November, 2007 in Old memes | Astrology etc | Sport | WTF


Pink Balls and Red Ribbons

Rediff reports:

The colour of balls used in the English one-day game could change from white to pink if trials by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), guardians of the laws of cricket, prove successful.

They are also planning a dress code that will make it mandatory for all cricketers with long hair, such as Mahender Singh Dhoni, to wear a red ribbon on their head.

Ok, fine, I made that second line up. But not the first one.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 November, 2007 in News | Sport | WTF


Isn’t it Ironic…

... that after Sachin Tendulkar declined the captaincy ostensibly so that it would go to a younger man, it ended up going to an older man?

Still, I think both Tendulkar and the selectors made the right decision. Whatever the stated reasons, Tendulkar probably declined the captaincy for the same reason that Rahul Dravid gave it up—the baggage that comes with the job isn’t worth it. We’re all better off having him focus on his batting. As for Kumble, an under-appreciated giant of the game, he both deserves it as a reward and can do justice to it as a responsibility.

More from friends: Prem Panicker gives us the background to Sachin’s decision; and Anand Vasu writes:

This is no “parting gift” to Kumble in the evening of his career; if anything it is handing him a tough job at a time when, given all the circumstances, he was the best man for the job.

Tough job. Best man. I agree on both counts.

PS: The succession isn’t inevitable, by the way. If MS Dhoni has a bad run of batting form in Tests, and India start losing because of not getting enough runs on the board, the team management might be tempted to ask Dinesh Karthik, already in the side as an opener, to keep wicket, so that they can play a specialist batsman in place of Dhoni. If that then becomes the settled combination, who succeeds Kumble? Yuvraj Singh emerges as a candidate—but only if he’s in the side. Such excitement.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 November, 2007 in India | Sport


Sreesanth the Actor

The quote of the day comes from S Sreesanth:

I know I am handsome but all the actresses can wait.

Sreesanth said this while responding to questions about a possible film career. Frankly, the only film I’d like to see him in is one where he’s locked inside a room with Andre Nel and Andrew Symonds, and there’s no one to shout “Cut.” I’d pay to watch that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 October, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | News | Sport | WTF


“Given Enough Time…”

Tim Harford is asked, “Is there an economic justification for cricket’s superiority?” Here’s what he has to say.

(Link via email from Anand Krishnamoorthi.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 October, 2007 in Economics | Sport


Gentle Symonds, Leering Sreesanth?

S Sreesanth’s behaviour has been quite over the top recently, but nevertheless this piece of reporting by Peter Lalor is outrageous:

If Andrew Symonds wasn’t such a gentle fellow, India’s Shanthakumaran Sreesanth’s nose would probably be plastered all over his leering face.

The Hindu and occasionally Christian bowler can thank all his gods that the secular Queenslander is a man of peace and tranquility.

There are different kinds of tough guys: you can be tough and dignified, and you can be tough and boorish. Sreesanth falls in the second category, and with such poor reporting, so does Lalor. But at least Sreesanth’s a sportsman, and adrenalin flows and one gets carried away, which makes his behaviour understandable though not justifiable. What’s Lalor’s excuse?

(Link via email from Mahendra Shikaripur, who blogs about it here.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 October, 2007 in Journalism | Media | Sport | WTF


How to Popularize Cricket in America

My friend the uber-journalist Salil Tripathi, reacting to my column this morning, The Twenty20 Age Begins, writes in:

One area worth exploring is whether cricket will finally break through the great wall of indifference in America. This version is so close to baseball, and in some ways, has greater guile and variation (compared with baseball, but not with the longer version we love) that it just might get Americans interested. Those who have seen it, and don’t like it, usually complain about the lack of action and the eternal nature of the five-day and even one-day version. These games are shorter than a standard baseball match, and with more action. I saw two baseball matches this year, one in Boston and one in San Francisco, and even saw Barry Bonds, the steroid-enriched world record holder; and all he does are hoicks. Compared to that, Yuvraj’s six sixes were far more elegant.

Oh yes they were. And Barry Bonds can’t do the delicate glance to fine leg, the artful late cut or the back-foot cover-drive, all strokes of great beauty that, contrary to many expectations, are not alien to the nature of Twenty20 cricket. Let’s take ‘em on!

Update: Arun Simha writes in:

An additional aspect that may be of commercial interest to the organizers is that the game of cricket offers a 360° view of the game, thus enabling oval or circular stadiums to be built. In other words, you can fill the entire ground. This is unlike baseball, where seating is limited to the areas behind the “foul lines” and directly in front, in most stadia.

More importantly, the 6-ball overs offer a predictable slot for advertisers on TV every 5 minutes or so, again, unlike baseball.

That said, this game will only make inroads where there exist a substantial mass of emigres from the cricket playing nations.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 September, 2007 in Sport


The Hardest Kind of Politics

Quote of the day:

We are not trying to win the elections, we are trying to have elections.

That’s Garry Kasparov, the greatest chess player ever, who is engaged in his hardest game yet—against Vladimir Putin, who has the equivalent of eight queens to begin with. Can Kasparov win?

If you’re interested in both chess and politics, as I am, I recommend you check out Kasparov’s book, How Life Imitates Chess. I found it immensely fascinating for his explanation of how his early matches against Anatoly Karpov taught him lessons that he is now using against Putin.

(First link via Instapundit.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 September, 2007 in Freedom | Politics | Sport


The Twenty20 Age Begins

This is the 33rd installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

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.

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 September, 2007 in Essays and Op-Eds | India | Sport | Thinking it Through


The BCCI Inbox

Humongous hilarity howls!

(Link via email from reader R Mahajan, who found it here.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 September, 2007 in Sport


Where Your Taxes Go: 25

The Indian cricket team.

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.

(Link via email from Jitendra Mohan. Where your taxes go: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24. Also see: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

My essays on taxes and government: Your maid funds Unani, A beast called government, A Business Proposal.)

Update: Speaking of endorsements...

(Link via reader Surendra.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 September, 2007 in Economics | India | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | Sport


Sreesanth the Batsman?

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.

Meanwhile, here’s an old essay I’d written about India’s relationship with the game: Do We Really Love cricket?

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 September, 2007 in India | Sport


The State of the State

My buddy Rahul Bhatia messages me a newsflash he’s seen on CNN-IBN:

PM expresses concern over welfare of people’s welfare.

Indeed, the problem with India is that we are more concerned with the “welfare of people’s welfare” than with people’s welfare. If you know what I mean.

*  *  *

In other Rahul Bhatia news, the man has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal about the ICL and the BCCI. He had earlier written an editorial for Mint on the subject.

More: My take on that subject, “What Indian Cricket Needs.”

Prem Panicker’s post, “Cry Havoc.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 August, 2007 in India | Journalism | Media | Politics | Sport


Dear Navjot Sidhu and Hu Jintao

This is the 28th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

Dear Navjot Sidhu

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.

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 August, 2007 in Economics | Essays and Op-Eds | Freedom | Letters | Sport | Thinking it Through


Eating History, Writing Sport

This is a such a wonderful paragraph:

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…

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 August, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | IU Faves | Sport


Intimidation in Indian cricket

The Hindustan Times reports:

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.

Also in HT: “Cop thrashes rogue MLA.”

(First link via email from reader Praveen.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 August, 2007 in Journalism | Sport


A Sense of History

WTF Q&A of the day:

Cricinfo: Where does this victory rank in India’s cricket history?

Virender Sehwag: It is number two in my eyes, behind the series victory in the West Indies in 2006.

Sanjeev Naik, who sent me the link, points out that Sehwag isn’t exactly known for his knowledge of cricketing history. But still…

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 August, 2007 in Sport | WTF


What Indian Cricket Needs

This is the 26th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

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.

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 August, 2007 in Economics | Essays and Op-Eds | India | Sport | Thinking it Through


History the Punisher

Line of the day:

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?

(Link via email from Rahul Bhatia.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 August, 2007 in Personal | Small thoughts | Sport


Sreesanth writes a letter to God

Remember how Sreesanth had outsourced his meditation. Well, at least he writes his own letters. His latest gem:

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!

(Link via separate emails from Sanjeev Naik and Bongo P’o'ndit.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 August, 2007 in Sport | WTF


On Trent Bridge and jelly beans

The Guardian’s Comment 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.

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 August, 2007 in Sport


Team India?

Prem Panicker reveals what ‘Team India’ is all about. Heh.

That said, of course, we’re rocking in the Trent Bridge Test. Now if only our batsmen can do the job…

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 July, 2007 in India | Sport


Will cricket decline in India?

This is the 24th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

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?

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 July, 2007 in Essays and Op-Eds | India | Sport | Thinking it Through


Joe Lindsey’s Boulder Report…

... 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!

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 July, 2007 in Blogging | Sport


Michael Vaughan as India would like him

image

I fear we won’t see this again for the rest of the summer, though.

(Pic from BBC, link via Jitendra Mohan.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 July, 2007 in Sport


Sreesanth outsources meditation

WTF lines of the day:

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.

Such facilities! There are more details here.

One wonders mischievously: Will he next want someone to bowl for him as well?

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 July, 2007 in Sport | WTF


Quote of the day

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.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 June, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Sport


The consequences of cricket

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.

Also read: “Do We Really Love Cricket?”

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 June, 2007 in India | Sport


Is there something you’d like to ask…

... 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.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 June, 2007 in Blogging | Sport


Chandu Borde takes over

Two cricket links for the day:

One, Chandu Borde has been appointed the manager of the Indian cricket team.

Two, for no reason at all, out of the blue, I remember this old post I made back in January. Apropos of absolutely nothing.

Every circus needs quality clowns. Why should Indian cricket be denied?

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 June, 2007 in Sport


The next Indian cricket coach: APJ Abdul Kalam

Now that Graham Ford has turned down the chance to coach India’s cricket team, who should the BCCI turn to? Himanshu Gupta writes in to suggest APJ Abdul Kalam’s name. His reasons:

1. Abdul Kalam can give inspirational speeches (not like mangoes), so he can do a better job of India coach rather than Graham Ford who was supposed to give speeches only to players.

2. He’ll write one bestseller book: Indian cricket team in 2020. Revenues will give the BCCI huge financial strength and money through legal avenues.

3. He’ll make Dhoni realize that there’s more to cricket than growing long hair by giving him sufficient competition.

4. A coach’s job can’t be scrutinized through RTI. So, as is obvious, Abdul Kalam also will love to have this job.

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.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 June, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Politics | Sport


Lionel Messi and the Hand of God

If Lionel Messi can remind us of the best of Maradona, he can also remind us of the worst of Maradona. Here:

On a tangent, if God existed and had a hand, She’d have a finger in every pie. We’d all be buggered then.

So maybe…

(Link via email from Prabhu.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 June, 2007 in Sport


“Natives with Bats versus Officers with Umbrellas”

Quizman emails to respond to my post, “Cricket and the Veshti,” and points out that DB Deodhar used to play cricket in his dhoti. He also points me to a historical piece by Ramachandra Guha which contains this passage:

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.

Update: Reader Shastri points me to this picture.

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 June, 2007 in India | Sport


Cricket and the Veshti

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.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 June, 2007 in News | Small thoughts | Sport


Olympics logo in epilepsy controversy

I wrote yesterday about how bad the 2012 Olympics logo was, even if it did resemble Lisa Simpson giving head. Well, now BBC reveals:

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…

(Link via email from Prabhu.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Sport


Worst logo ever

image

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.

(Link via email from Aspi Havewala, who also points me to a discussion on BBC here.)

Update: Anon Tipster points me to Tim Worstall’s revelation that the logo shows Lisa Simpson giving a blow job. The two gifs below, created by Theo Spark, illustrate that and go a bit further.

london-copy.gif

Olympics2.gif

Now I like it!

Update 2: Scribbler points me to Andrew Orlowski’s post on how the BBC, showcasing user-generated logos, ran a parody of the infamous Goatse on their website. Heh.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 June, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Sport | WTF


Discipline? Who needs discipline?

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!

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 June, 2007 in Sport


My 2007 World Cup XI

I have a piece up on Rediff with my 2007 World Cup XI, with reasons and suchlike. To give you just a listing, here’s my XI:

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.

Comments are open. What’s your 2007 World Cup XI?

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 April, 2007 in Sport


Death, taxes and Australia winning the World Cup

The list of the inevitable grows.

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.

(Comments are open. Whaddya think?)

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 April, 2007 in Sport


Reservations in Indian cricket

I’m not kidding: Caste-based selections are being planned in Punjab. Who knows where this will end?

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?

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 April, 2007 in India | Sport


The two kinds of cricket experts

Robin Hanson writes:

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.

Also read: “Television and cricket.” “Do we really love cricket?

(Thanks to Rajeev Ramachandran for bringing my attention to Overcoming Bias.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 April, 2007 in Journalism | Sport


Diego Maradona 1986. Lionel Messi 2007.

Everybody’s comparing the two goals you see below. And yes, Messi’s goal is beautiful. There is one reason, though, why Maradona’s was far more special: Context.

Still, beauty is beauty, no?

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2007 in Sport


“We’re suckers”

“We’re suckers and we should break our addiction,” writes Martin Kettle in the Guardian about football. Could be said about cricket also, no?

Matches like this one make it hard to break the habit, though. Just one more drag, you think, and then no more.

And then you’re floating!

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 April, 2007 in Sport


Don’t regulate either ghee or endorsements

This piece first appeared on Rediff.

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.”

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 April, 2007 in Essays and Op-Eds | Freedom | India | Sport


The dance of a headless chicken

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 India | Sport


Cricket and The Mad Dog Show

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.

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 April, 2007 in Essays and Op-Eds | Journalism | Sport


The Great Indian Soap Opera

A headline on NDTV says: “Chappell unhappy with senior players.” Read the story, worrying stuff.

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.

But I’d forgotten about Indian cricket.

Update: Chappell denies it.

Meanwhile, I was watching NDTV a while back and one of their anchors, while chatting with Ajay Jadeja, said: “I can assure you that our source is very reliable.” Hmmm.

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Sport


First hockey. Now cricket

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.

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 March, 2007 in Sport


Three percent of GDP

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:

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 March, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | India | Sport


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