Sunday, April 29, 2007

Said and done

I was going to rave and rant about the World Cup, in general, and the final, in particular. But a couple of writers, much more proficient and poetic than I, beat me to the punch and I agree with all that they have to say:

It was a shoddy tournament from start to finish and I am not just talking about the actual cricket on display.

How horrible is it that the players know more about the rules and the spirit of the rules than the guys who impose them? Commercial interests have taken over cricket and unless the two find a happy medium the long-term lure of the sport will be severely damaged.

To quote FG, "And that is all I have to say about that."

Get connected

The World Cup is over (or rather the ICC World Cup West Indies 2007 - to give its offically-sanctioned name).

My thoughts on the farcical nature of the tournament may be material for a later blog post, but for now here are a few must-read links:

I watched this innings (except from 95 to 119 when I stepped out for just a few minutes to pick up lunch). I enjoyed every ball. The pitch was not a great one to bat on. One look at how the rest of the batsmen scored will tell something about its true nature. Adam Gilchrist relies more on hand-eye coordination than technique, so as SC pointed out to me yesterday, the type of pitch does not matter to him, how the bowler bowls does. Chaminda Vaas was taken to the cleaners early on and the tone was set for the blitzkrieg.

Glenn McGrath exited the stage with the lights shining very brightly on him. In the future when people talk about people who timed their retirements perfectly, Glenn McGrath has to be on top. Not near the top but on top of the list. How do you top winning the Ashes 5-0 with the last wicket and then signing off a 3rd ODI World Cup on the trot with the Player of the Tournament honours and a wicket with the second-last ball of your career? Year in and year out, for more than a decade, he has been one of the pillars of his team. A couple of years ago, I wrote about him on my blog. He has only enhanced my impression of him in the interim.

Take a bow, McGrath, and thanks for the memories.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rowing up a creek?

First the basics:
A new, independent cricket league is going to be formed soon in India called the Indian Cricket League (ICL).

In typical BCCI fashion, the members promise to take their time assessing the threat and taking appropriate action against it.

For an overall description of the implications and fallout's of this announcement read this article by Jayaditya Gupta.

Finally, to round it off, for a detailed description for the inspiration (no doubt) and the confidence behind this move read this article by Gideon Haigh on Kerry Packer and his rebel league in the 1970's.

My take on this:
The ICL will not succeed in India, not in these times, at least. Would I like them to? Yes, if only for the fact that the BCCI runs cricket (not just Indian cricket) like a kingdom, bowing only (and repeatedly) to the clout of money. The BCCI is the richest board in the world and it is this fact that will undermine the ICL, which is trying to market itself as an ancillary rather than a breakaway league.

To be successful the ICL needs to have players who are in their prime, playing excellent cricket, and capable of representing India on behalf of the BCCI. By joining the ICL the players will have signed away their chances of playing for India. The International Cricket Council (ICC) will recognize only one cricket board per nation and they will not slay their golden goose by cutting ties with it. So in the absence of any "official" status the ICL will only function as a private venture where the biggest carrot that can be dangled in front of the players is money. Unfortunately, market economics being what they are currently, players who represent India (or rather the BCCI) are enormously rich. Joining the ICL will not enhance their income. If anything their income will decline appreciably, especially if endorsement deals do not follow.

Kerry Packer succeeded because the money he paid was more than the players would make otherwise, the television product Channel 9 put out was ahead of its time, and the quality of play was far superior to the one the viewers got to see in the traditional ICC-sanctioned tours. The ICL may try to corner the Twenty20 market but the real money is in ODI's and Tests. In fact, Test cricket would have died a slow death had it not been for the fact that television companies can show ads, periodically interspersed with cricket, for 5 whole days as opposed to just one. So how exactly is the ICL expected to survive in the current scenario?

Some of my friends have said that the Indian fan is tired of the shenanigans of the BCCI and the players and will gladly watch a rebel league. I don't think so. I have already blogged about how fickle I think these "fans" are. Trust me, the Indian team will visit Bangladesh in a few weeks, a couple of players will gorge on the bowling (remember there are no run rates to worry about so they can bat as slowly as they want to), reclaim demi-god status, and the BCCI will go back to its money-minded ways while the ICL will drum up some initial support by harnessing has-been's (such as Jadeja, Mongia, Sriram), and could-have-been's (such as Powar, Ratra, Chopra), and stumble through a season or two. Then the BCCI and the ICL "will come to an agreement" to merge and more mega-bucks will be negotiated with Zee Sports for a TV contract and the golden goose will go on laying eggs. The rabid Indian fan will be oblivious to the bits of egg splattered all over his face and will go back to rooting for the team on a good day and burning effigies on a bad one.

I would love to eat my words but, sadly, I just do not see that happening.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Speaking his mind

Greg Chappell has probably never met a microphone he did not like. One of his best qualities is also his worst one - the man likes to talk about what he does and why he wants to do it. Consequently, he is everyone's favourite whipping horse these days.

He talks in great detail in this interview on a variety of issues (the interview is on three pages so click on the links at the bottom of the page to get to the other two pages). He has this interesting tidbit to share about Suresh Raina:

He is a complete package, for god's sake. You guys didn't do him a good turn by comparing him with Sachin Tendulkar after he had played one or two brilliant knocks. However, if you look at Sachin's record in his first 30-35 ODIs and compare it with Raina's you will not find much difference.
So is that true, you ask?

Well, I did some research and found that after 30 and then 36 ODI's (which is how many Raina has played so far) this is how the two stack up:

After 30 matches:
29 innings, 825 runs, 77 highest score, 31.73 average, 7 50's.
23 innings, 553 runs, 81* highest score, 30.72 average, 3 50's.

After 36 matches:
34 innings, 1075 runs, 81 highest score, 35.83 average, 10 50's.
28 innings, 612 runs, 81* highest score, 26.60 average 3 50's.

We do know that Raina slumped towards the end of his tenure with the Indian team, but otherwise his stats do seem to match Chappell's claims.

Bhogle's musings

Harsha Bhogle raises some pertinent points and suggests a solution for the ills that plague Indian cricket at the moment. I do wish he had gone beyond speaking in generalities and actually named the person he feels can lead Indian cricket towards some semblance of normalcy.

And here he talks about the six issues that must be addressed before that afore-mentioned person can show us the light (I guess).

Runs in ruins

Do you know the real reason why India lost the World Cup?

For the best answer, click here. Statistics sometime do tell the real tale of the tape.

Fan frenzy

Most Indians do not really care about cricket. Deluding ourselves into believing that cricket is akin to a religion in India is just not worth it. I doubt that the Blue Billion is really a notion except in some ad campaign manager's imagination. More realistically, the really avid fans comprise a few (hundred) million, at best. Among these few million, the actual cricket fans are even fewer. If Indians really cared about cricket the Ranji trophy would be played in front of packed houses and people like Yashpal Singh would be household names.

No, most Indian cricket fans are just followers of cricketers, most of them spoonfed by the media (click here for Amit Verma's take on this). And even within the cricket team, the glamour boys are the Indian batsmen. That's it. Anil Kumble is shunted in and out of the team but no one even murmurs that the greatest wicket-taker in Indian cricket history - ODI or Tests - has been given a raw deal. But drop a Virender Sehwag and people will remind you of the glorious 309 he hit to defeat our arch-rivals.

But to say that Indians are the only ones who are like this would be a mistake. Today, when a bowler gives less than 50 runs in a 10 over spell he is considered to have done his job. That should tell you a lot about the priorities of the ICC in terms of making sporting wickets. People want to see sixers and fours, they say. Really? I think they have made people believe that they want to see fours and sixers.

Sunil Gavaskar would not have been able to maintain his place for long in the current set up. He would have been considered too slow. Ironically, Bapu Nadkarni would have been revered as a hero, even though he is a bowler.

Ah! If you do not know why Bapu Nadkarni would have been revered but do know who Gavaskar is then you probably have been following cricket spoonfed to you in this "golden age of batting".

I rest my case.

Sports Guy talk

Bill Simmons, the self-proclaimed Sports Guy, has a regular column on You can read his entires as they appear on the webpage but to access them after the fact, in the past you'd have had to subscribe to the network itself, something I never did.

(If you have never heard of the Sports Guy or are unaware of his style of writing be prepared for some over-the-top comparisons and mind-boggling statements. If it is not your cup of tea I would recommend you don't spend much time on his site).

But now all of his old columns, rants, and mailbag sessions are available in a comprehensive archive.

My favourite mailbag of his has to be the time he debated whether Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro was the most influential and important actor of the last 30 years (scroll to the very end of the mailbag and you will find the elaborate breakdown).

Along the same lines is his debate on whether Cheers or Seinfeld was the better sitcom.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Paper trail

On a less serious note, Google is offering a new service to all Gmail users - mailing you paper print-outs of your emails right to your doorstep.

Before you debate the merits or demerits of this service, do note that they first offered this service on the first Sunday of the month in 2007, two days ago!

The Agony and the Anguish

Peter Roebuck is one of my favourite writers - cricket or otherwise. His latest column is filled with hurt and anger and is, surprisingly for someone who relies on contacts for his living, very hard-hitting and blunt.

I am not going to place excerpts of that article here as I feel it should be read in its entirety or else the message will be get lost in the text. It is said that the best way to highlight an issue is to propose an extreme solution, and by getting others to refute it, engender a discussion that previously was not even contemplated. Maybe that is what Roebuck is trying to do here.

Either way it is time to wake up and smell the roses, as decayed as they may be.

The iconic Swede

I never really got to see Bjorn Borg play at his prime until recently (thanks to but his name has always conjured up images of icy-steel nerves and tremendous mental reserves, ironic in a man who could not take the pressure any more and retired at 26. His biggest contribution to me was how he popularized the sport in Europe, leading to the Swedish invasion (Stefan Edberg in particular). So when I come across an article that discusses him in detail I can't help but smile and post the link to it here.

By the way, the most impressive stat for me is that he was 33-0 in Davis Cup singles matches! Talk about playing for your country. Some of the Indian cricketers could learn from this.

In the month of madness

A long time ago, I had blogged that we have unrealistic expectations of the Indian cricket team. In that post I had written: The Indian team is not a great team that frequently underachieves. Rather it is a merely good team that occasionally overachieves. I am not surprised that they team is back in India and the players are waiting for the axe to drop.

When talking about Indian cricket these days the name of the game is to find a scapegoat, someone to blame for the early exit from the World Cup. Instead the key question should be why we lost. Until we sit and think about it there will be a lot of finger-pointing, pointless effigy-burning, character assassinations, and free-flowing advice (on the lines of it being time for people to retire).

Mud-slinging is not something new and sadly the main reason for all the melodrama is to obfuscate the main issue. Prem Panicker, on his blog, has an extended discourse on how this is achieved and what it has done for the people involved in the mess.

Elsewhere, Mukul Kesavan, writes about it in some detail here. Here is an excerpt that rings really true.
No one will ever agree on why we got eliminated because every interested party will set his causal explanation in a different time frame.