Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Fall of the Legends

India played its first One Day International in 1974. At the start of the 1983 World Cup, in 9 years, India had participated in just 40 (yes, forty) ODI's, winning just 12 of them. In the 25 years since then, India has played 645 ODI's and counting!

What happened in 1983? Well, on June 25th, Kapil Dev raised the Prudential Cup! Everyone who watched that match (and the number of people who did watch that match surprisingly increases every year) remembers what they were doing when India won the World Cup. That event changed how much cricket would be played in the future, resulting in the World Cup leaving the shores of England and migrating to the Indian sub-continent.

So why has the BCCI not actively tom-tomed that event this past year? When you can have silver jubilee celebrations for the most mundane things, why did the BCCI pass up such a golden opportunity to rake in some more money through the sale of memoribilia and memories? Ah, you see, the answer lies in the fact that Kapil Dev, today, is persona non grata as far as the BCCI is considered because of his active involvement with the ICL. The BCCI is willing to cut its nose in order to spite its face as long as it means not recognizing the ICL.

Here's an analogy. How would you feel if, in 25 years, the BCCI pretends as if MS Dhoni does not exist and that the Twenty20 World Cup win did not occur?

Saying it like it might be

Osman Samiuddin discusses one of the ramifications of the IPL - the alarming decline of standards in the commentary booth.
What, someone joked during the IPL, is the difference between those dancing by the boundary downstairs and those in the commentary box upstairs? Only that those downstairs have nicer curves.

This is what it had come to. The brief for the men in the box was narrow - to make sure only one message got out: come what may, the IPL was God, Lalit Modi was Moses, and there wasn't a rest of it. To speak was to hype, but only if it came with the right sponsor. Each six was a "DLF maximum", each critical point in the game a "Citi moment of success". Ravi Shastri, Arun Lal, Ramiz Raja, Sunil Gavaskar and the rest didn't call matches, they sold brands, blindly promoting the IPL (and anything else that came their way).
One reason being touted for the breatheless plugging of the IPL is that with the action happening so fast, there isn't much time for the commentators to discuss strategy. Strange how that logic does not seem to apply to the players when they goof up, does it?

Mother tongue

When I call my parents in India, I usually do so in the daytime (nightime in India). For years and years, after the general introductory chit-chat, the topic of discussion has usually turned to books recently read, internet sites recently visited, and occasionally, TV shows being watched.

Then came the IPL...

Say what you will about the IPL (and I can say a lot of things against it) it changed the way TV was watched in millions of households in India for 45 days. My mother would tell me about feats that batsmen had performed, wickets that bowlers had taken, catches that fielders had snared, required run-rates, chances of making semi-finals, strategies that should be adopted, and even the fact that the cheerleaders in the ICL were superior to the IPL - everything was up for discussion!! The Deccan Chargers laid an egg but it did not matter to my parents who had a blast with the tournament.

But before Lalit Modi sprains his neck patting himself on his back, here's the catch. My parents were EVEN MORE excited about the ICL, to an extent because the Hyderabad Heroes were winning it all, but mainly because they cared more about these players, because of their pariah status. Alfred Absolem took 7 wickets in just four overs for the Heroes, but like the fictional Bhuvan, his feat may forever be consigned to the scrap heap, to be conveneintly forgotten in time.

So the winner here is not the IPL - it is Twenty20 cricket. Consuming just 3 hours (when the captains stick to the prescribed over-rates, that is) in the evening, it is the perfect length and compresses a lot of action in that time. What's not to like about a format that encourages interest in the game? Well, the proverb about the goose that lays the golden egg comes to mind.

Lalit Modi is already touting the idea of having two IPL seasons in one year. He will do well to read up on some economics, especially the Law of Diminishing Returns.

And so it ends...

When the IPL began in India I had decided not to follow it (reasons detailed here).

CricInfo decided that the game of cricket was far superior to the (not-so) hidden agendas of the BCCI head honchos and covered the event as best as it could. Their motivation, as eloquently described by Sambit Bal, the editor, can be summed up in this paragraph from the article:

We will live with the restrictions. You may keep us out of cricket grounds, but you can't take cricket out of us. Boycotting the IPL is not an option for us. Our commitment to cover cricket is absolute, as is our obligation to you. We are not blind to the significance of the IPL, which could be a seminal event in cricket, for better or worse. We will try to bring you every game with the same rigour and depth you have come to expect from us. Please bear with us if some matters like photographs are beyond us.

No one is bigger than the game. Administrators will come and go, but as long as cricket is around, Cricinfo will be here to cover it. That's a promise.

I did not follow the IPL for most of its duration, except to read about it in articles by columnists that I follow regularly (notably Peter Roebuck and Harsha Bhogle). One article that caught my attention was by Michael Atherton, the erstwhile captain of England. He touched upon the potential connection between Major League Baseball and the IPL.
Are Rajasthan Royals the Oakland A's of cricket? Devotees of excellent sporting literature will need no introduction to Moneyball, a terrific yarn about how the A's, a relatively low-budget baseball team ($41million - about £22million - to spend on players counts as low budget in American sport), consistently outperformed their more illustrious and wealthier rivals by dint of the unorthodox coaching methods of Billy Beane, their general manager.

Having read Moneyball, I can see where Atherton was going with this article. But the Rajasthan Royals differ from the Oakland A's in one BIG way - they won the championship. For all the success that Billy Beane has had over the years, maximizing the talents of his lowly-paid team, he has not been able to continue the success into the playoffs. In the playoffs, possibly because the "stars" are more immune to the increased pressure, the big guns win it all. Occasionally, a smaller-market team pulls it off, but rarely does that team sustain its success.

A lot of credit will go towards Shane Warne (it will get increasingly romanticized with time) as it must, but had they lost the final (which they barely won off the last ball, mind you) then the highest-paid player in the league - MS Dhoni - would have walked off with the crown.

There is, indeed, a fine line between being the GOAT and the goat.

The woods were lovely, dark, and deep

I undertook a 2,850 mile road trip that took almost two weeks to complete. It would have been much shorter had it not been for a long detour I had to take due to weather-related events.

Being in the car, on the road, watching the miles drift away is as close as I get to feeling totally free and relaxed. For most people, driving is a necessary evil. For me it is a release. Especially long drives on the Interstate. I have to take another fairly long drive again in a couple of weeks. I am looking forward to it...

Hopefully, by that time the Mississippi will have receeded a bit.