Daily Archives: 11 July 2011

Clutch re-redux: The Team India Fan wants more…

A day after India drew a Test match at Dominica against the West Indies, I still feel a sense of unease. Yes, a series win is a series win is a series win. However, I feel the same sense of disquiet and deflation that I felt after that 2007 drawn Test at The Oval against England.

A few days back, when writing on Sachin Tendulkar in the context of the clutch debate, I wrote that I was not in favour of clutch being applied to an individual in a team sport. However, I am a fan of “clutch” for a team. A great team has to cease these moments. India failed her clutch moment at The Oval in 2007. In my view, the team completely by-passed a clutch moment again at Dominica.

And that saddens me.

This team has been brilliant. Of that I have no doubt. I have sung the teams’ praises and paeans, just as anyone else has. I have been a vociferous supporter of this team. I am fan of this team. I have endured this teams’ vulnerabilities. I have tolerated her failures with poise. I have celebrated her recent successes with grace and dignity. I have been one-eyed about her failures. I have often been blind to her faults.

In that period, I have been a vociferous supporter of the principle that Team India Fans should learn to put up with the teams’ faults; that fans have to learn to be patient; that fans have to give the team rope.

But there comes a point in a team’s journey when the fan senses a clutch moment and wills the team to take that leap: A leap from being just ordinary, to being good, to becoming great. The point here is that India’s best victories have been back-to-the-wall victories. The Oval and Dominica presented the team with an opportunity to seize the moment, to make a difficult choice and become the enforcer at that point in time when opponents are sizing each other up. In my book, Team India was, instead, tentative. India opted for the soft option and did not become the enforcer. Great teams dictate the pace. And clutch moments like these become a habit. Just ask Rod MacQueen, former coach of the Wallabies and one of the most inspirational motivational speakers I have heard in my time. More on that later.

There has been much written about the Dominica result already by Andy Zaltzman, Samir Chopra, The Cricket Couch, A Cricketing View, et al. Team India coach, Duncan Fletcher has defended the draw offer too.

There are valid arguments in all of these pieces. All of these arguments are acceptable and accepted… I do have a bone to pick with the way Kartikeya Date makes the point in his conclusion, but to focus on chips and shoulders, would be to miss the forests from the trees.

Let us just accept that all of these points are valid and move on.

As Subhash Jayaraman says in his piece, this draw-offer has dominated social networking sites and online fora. He records that Twitter users have used labels and phrases like “Gutless”, “Wimps”, “Running with their tail between their legs” and such to describe the team. He continues that, “It is wildly inaccurate and highly melodramatic.” He also points to the melodrama of a Cricinfo commentary response that called the Dominica result “A black day for cricket”.

I will be the first to admit that I was also a tad melodramatic in the manner in which I expressed my initial disappointments online. I take that flush on my chin.

I will also post two Tweets that I posted just minutes before the draw decision was offered:

The more I see Rahul Dravid bat, the less I like the thought of him hanging up his boots/bat although it is, I know, inevitable.

This line will be eaten up for breakfast by VVS… #RememberKolkata (in response to Bishoo’s negative line)

***

There are people who are comfortable with the draw offer and argue their point vociferously. I admire them. I accept their points.

I am, however, not comfortable with the draw-offer. For me, a great team would have seized that moment. For me, greatness calls for the team to undertake such flights. And these aren’t flights of fantasy.

The chase was difficult. If it were easy, you and I would have been playing the game! We were not and we are not. Bishoo was bowling a defensive line. If he was bowling trash, you and I would have smashed him for fours! We were not playing. And Bishoo was not obliged to bowl an attacking line either!

For the record, I do not buy the ODI/T20 line of argument either that suggests “a run-rate of 4.5 runs-per-over is easy in a T20 game, so why not in a Test match?”. Those calculations matter diddly-squat in a Test match.

My line of argument is actually quite simple. I am happy for it to be called simplistic too!

Of the three results that were possible, a draw was the most probable result. I accept that. In my view, although an Indian loss was (remotely) probable, an India win was, it could be argued, more probable! And to support this argument, just take a look at the Windies’ bowling: If the West Indies thought they could win, why was Bishoo bowling a leg-stump line?

I readily accept all the arguments that have been mounted in favour of Dhoni offering a draw. However, I have no no idea why he would not go for a win, however minimal the chances of success.

A good team will take a 1-0 result. A great team ought to strain every sinew and aim for a victory with the tenacity of a pit bull terrier. I have aspirations for this team to take that journey and be a great team. Like Samir Chopra I will this team to “respond to [new] challenges”.

If India had lost 3 wickets in 5 overs in the process of going for a win, do we really think that the West Indies could bowl this Indian team out and claim victory (in, say, 10 overs)? Remember that on the same pitch, Fidel Edwards had batted for a little over 2 and a half hours with almost no sign of discomfort!

And finally, the fans… They had turned up in large numbers, for the first time in this series. Did the draw decision leave them short-changed? Yes. Are both captains to blame? Yes. Were the captains playing within the rules of the game? Yes, they were. But that is not my point. The fans had come to see an exciting finish. The team that was more in control will have offered the draw (assumption here). The team that had most to gain from the escape of a draw acepted it.

The team faced a clutch moment. The team did not cease it. I am disappointed. Perhaps India wasn’t ‘ready’ at the Oval in 2007. As @sidvee put it in a Twitter conversation I had with him as the draw action unfolded: “Dravid had the weight of history to contend with in ’07…[ed.]” Here in Dominica we did not seize it either!

That said, I agree with Subash Jayaraman’s conclusion. He says:

“As fans, we often tend to think we know and understand things a lot better than the athletes playing the sport. It is quite easy to get in to that vortex and start questioning the character and testicular fortitude of players who had sacrificed a whole lot and surpass tremendous competition to get to where they are. I am not insinuating that the fans shouldn’t question the actions of their teams but to fundamentally doubt the players’ characters that have brought us wins, trophies and covered us in vicarious glory, is a little extreme. It would help us, and the team as well, if we can stay away from such “outrage” bandwagon.”

This is remarkably well constructed and put across in a seriously acceptable and emotional manner. It comes across as an honest and fervent plea, even to one who is still upset that the team stumbled at the altar of greatness. I accept the sentiments totally.

But then, this is the essential dilemma, for team and her fans. As John Eales, one of Australia’s greatest ever Rugby Union captains, says in his column:

Sporting teams and sporting cultures also fulfil one of the most basic of human needs – the longing to belong. Sporting clubs have some of the strongest brands in the world – fans want to be a part of the “team”. Think Manchester United, the Chicago Bulls, the All Blacks, or even the Sydney Swans. They provide an emotional connection between the people and the sport and supporters go to extreme lengths for their clubs.

Yes there was hysteria. But perhaps the Team India fan has evolved! Today’s Team India fan wants more from his/her team. The fan has evolved. It is not merely enough for India to rock up on the park and make up the numbers! That India will. The fan knows that. It is not merely enough that India puts up a good show. Her fans know that India will do that. That is a given! It is not merely enough for India to make it a good fight. Team India fans know now that that will happen. Good teams do that. And Team India fans know that the team is good.

The fan has evolved today. The bar has been set higher. The fan now wants India to play forceful cricket, attractive cricket, dominating cricket. This requires the evolution of a killer instinct that Steve Waugh’s team had. This requires the embracing of clutch moments like the one presented at Dominica.

There are points in time in every teams’ journey, where it stumbles. If we ignore the initial hysteria of the stone-throwers and the admirable tenacity of those who defend the team, there is a lesson there for everyone. And I take this from Rod MacQueen, one of the greatest Rugby coaches Australia has ever had (and coach of John Eales’ team): “The very essence of success is facing up to mistakes. If you cover up failure with excuses and secrecy, you’ll never succeed because you are not facing reality. The teams you see continually coming up with excuses are those same ones that don’t go on to achieve.”

I am a fan. I just want my team to achieve. And in my view, not trying hard enough to achieve yesterday at Dominica was a mistake that must offer a new learning for all of us as we undertake this important journey along with our impressive team.

– Mohan

Update: Dileep Premachandran completed his wrap of the West Indies series for The Guardian after the above post was written. Like many others, he has asked Keyboard Warriors (like me) to get a grip!

Google confirms that DRS will be 100% by 2050…

[Disclaimer: All characters/institutions named in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.]

The decision review system (DRS) has dominated cricket conversations in the last few weeks.

People in India feel victimized by the people of the world. BCCI represents India more than the government does. BCCI is India. And BCCI has been painted as bullies by the rest of the cricketing world. We Indians do not like the world saying to us: “There is a bully in every gully“.

We just want a say in how DRS will be implemented. We are completely and utterly outraged by the anger showered in our direction by the rest of the cricketing world. Outraged! To have a say in matters that affect us is our birth right.

We just want a say in the DRS. Forget corruption. Forget treasures in temples. Forget the rains in Mumbai. Forget the traffic snarls. Forget the flyover and metro-construction rigs that make our every day lives a mess. Forget scams. Forget fast-unto-death protests. Forget this weeks’ new high-profile entrants into Tihar Jail. All of that is irrelevant.

The people of India want a say in the DRS. They just want to be heard!

They want to be consulted in matters that could significantly alter their lives. Is it a system? Is it a protocol? What is a protocol? Why can’t umpires be allowed to just do their jobs? Why do we need incompetent umpires? There are lives at stake, you know? Not just careers, but lives. We must and will be consulted. How dare the ICC proceed without a due consultation process? We won’t be steam-rolled!

The debate has been intense…

We, in the i3j3 editorial office, think that the DRS is not ready to be implemented. And rightly so. Our hypothesis is that we are at least 40 years from DRS being adopted fully by the ICC.

And that is because we declared as a nation that will either have the full DRS with all its many bells and whistles or nothing at all. You see. It is all very simple. In India, if we decide that we do not like the bathwater, then we do not believe that the baby ought to exist in it either! We applauded the BCCI because we thought they were onto something by insisting that the bathwater should be thrown out with all its contents!

Neat!

“Nice trick that”, said the famous Ravi Shaft-Tree, who otherwise observed spamming the Twitter accounts of unsuspecting Twitter users.

By adopting a Boolean approach and insisting on the 100% rule, the BCCI cleverly warded off all pro-DRSers.

We at i3j3 wanted to do an investigative report on the efficacy of DRS. We first wanted to understand the views of BCCI. We wanted it from the horses’ mouth. Directly from the media officer of the BCCI.

However, the BCCI does not have a media office or a functional website. Whattodo? How do we get to the BCCI? Who do we ask?

Sensing my sorrow, my neighbour’s driver said to me as I entered the elevator, “Not to worry, sirrjee, I have a contact at the BCCI,” he said.

We just needed a story. We had the angle. We had the hypothesis. We just wanted the ‘contact’. We jumped at this vital lead from my neighbour’s driver.

We got the number and rang this ‘contact’.

“You see mister! Who do you think you are, hah? What do you think of yourself, you impertinent fellow. You can’t just thrust things on to us. Tell me, I say? What is the modality? The modalities have to be worked out fully before you can thrust things upon us!”, this ‘contact’ thundered.

I wanted to say to the ‘contact’ that I was a mere struggling journalist and that I was not thrusting anything on anyone, although I did acknowledge to myself in my weak moments — of which, there have been a few lately — that, I do have my sights set on Pooja Taneja from the office.

I was also wondering what a “modality” was! ‘Perhaps it is a new statistical measure?’, I thought to myself! What is a modality?

But the ‘contact’ carried on: “We will not be ridden roughshod over,” the ‘contact’ spluttered!

I reached for my dictionary. ‘What is a roughshod, and how does one ride it?’, I thought to myself! This ‘contact’ was good: modality, roughshod… All in the space of a minute! Impressive!

But this ‘contact’ did not afford me any thinking time and pressed on, “Technology has to be proven before it is adopted by the BCCI. We are all about quality. We believe in quality in everything we do,” said this ‘contact’ as I choked on my sprig of celery.

The ‘contact’ was the cousin-twice-removed of a spokesman of a media group whose door-man was, once upon a time, the security guard of a neighbour of Kneel-And-Run Shaw.

No one knows what Kneel-And-Run Shaw does, but we knew that he flies in and out of BCCI meetings every week.

I was told that, after the departure of the guy that everyone popularly referred to as Lakme (some fellow who answered to the initials LKM) KAR Shaw was the new ‘it’ in BCCI. So, I was glad that I had gotten to within spitting distance of the KAR Shaw.

That’s how the business of ‘contacts’ works in these parts! You get what you get. But the trick is to always make the ‘contact’ look bigger; larger than life!

I decided to ask the cousin-twice-removed of a spokesman of a media group whose door-man was, once upon a time, the security guard of a neighbour of Kneel-And-Run Shaw, a few searching questions:

We asked her, “Who is KAR Shaw?”

“Good kwoschen. Even he doesn’t know sometimes!”, was the immediate answer. Very deep and philosophical, it was.

However, I was distracted. I had never heard, “kwoschen” used before; I had only heard the mild variant, “koschen”, thus far. This ‘contact’ was really good, but was also distracting me from the main game!

“But, what does he do?” I persisted, refusing to be thrown off my path. Indeed, I had asked my question even before the ‘contact’ could complete her previous answer. We are from the “We watch and learn from Arnab” school of journalism, you see!

“He flies in and out of meetings,” was the immediate answer. Nice.

“One final question, sir! What’s his view on DRS?”, we pressed.

[In an obviously angry tone] “First, I am ‘madam’ to you and everyone else! Second, when I asked your kwoschen to Shaw, he retorted ‘What is DRS?’, and asked, ‘Will it give us 100%?’ and then added, ‘Whatever it is, we do not want anything that is less than 100%. Wokay?’. So there you have it. That is the official view. And by the way, remember the most important words: modalities, roughshod and 100%. Now, go away!”

All of this was a week before the ICC meeting in Hong Kong.

Were we, therefore, surprised to see that the DRS did not get up in its full form at the ICC meeting? No.

The BCCI always has two important unwritten rules for every operation: (a) ‘We need 100%’. (b) ‘We must ensure there is enough fat in the system’

Just take one look BCCI office bearers to know that (b) is automatically satisfied. Cheenu, Shukla, Manohar… Lots of fat in that system. You know what I mean.

BCCI also likes every thing to be 100% — their 100% and only theirs!

Just ask Lakme. The IPL yielded 100% profits. Lakme was immediately embraced by the BCCI. And you know what happens when big guys in tight-fit suits embrace someone so lean and fit? The thin guys get squeezed out of the embrace.

That’s what happens.

So tight was their collective embrace of the IPL, that poor Lakme was squeezed out. Lakme, once a poster-boy, is now just a poster! He is now no longer part of the BCCI.

So, given the above, our reckoning is that the DRS will be acceptable to the BCCI by 2050. Maybe. Just. Maybe!

We decided to develop our newly-acquired investigative, Arnab-style approach by ringing technology experts in the country.

My milkman had a contact in Google. So we rang the Google office and asked them for their views on DRS.

“Will the DRS technology be 100% accurate by 2050?”, we asked, pleased as punch with the sharp, leading question — sorry, kwoschen — we had framed!

“Well of course”, said the Google spokesperson! He giggled. And paused…

We were forced to say, “Hah! Nice one. Obviously, a Dhoni fanboy. Nice. Very nice!”, accompanied by an eye-roll that would have pleased Amir Khan! Luckily this was only a ‘con call’ and not a ‘VC’. (Yes! We are tech buzz-word compliant too!)

The Google guy continued… And once these techies start, you can’t stop them. So, as we furiously took notes on this speaker phone enabled con-call, Google-techie rattled on:

“Well of course, DRS will be 100% accurate by 2050. By then, we will all have, completed the production and roll out of “G! Nano Dots”. R&D on the “G! Nano Dots” project has commenced already and everything is on target for a 2050 roll-out. This will solve all DRS problems and will be 100% accurate. “G! Nano Dots” will be everything you will ever need. It will also double as your mobile phone. “G! Nano Dots” will be popularly referred to as G-Stop. It will do your weekly shopping too. It will organise your flights. It will even buy a plane or acquire a new partner for you, if you need these. Moreover, it will ascertain if you need a new plane, a new job or a new partner. It will also be used to make calls at the speed of thought. All you need to do is think, and these thoughts will be transmitted to the intended recipient of the thought. G-Stop would run an advanced version of Android. Android, G-Stop… You get the cute innuendo, don’t you? Hahaha! Well of course! And it will be sold by Google, which will, by then, own more than 67% of the thoughts in the world! For Google, it would have been a natural progression from G+ to G- to G* through to G-Stop!”

Phew! All in an American accent!

We asked the G-techie, “So how will G-Stop (or G.) assist cricket?”

“You see. The developers of G. are all based in Tumkur — rising costs in Bangalore caused all Google work to be outsourced to Tumkur. Actually, the G. specifications have been written mainly with an eye on the cricket-mad market. All other technology benefits like shopping, phone calls at the speed of thought, thought-capture technology, avatar encapsulation technology, teleporting and other technologies were needed for the cricket application. The fact that they have other business applications is completely incidental.”

We persisted with the G-techie, “You still have not told us. How will G-Stop (or G.) assist cricket?”

We were thoroughly confused by then!

“Verr verr Simple. All cricket fans will need to do is just sit in front of their TV screens. The G. will communicate to the umpire whether they think the ball was out. The umpires’ G-Stop will take all thought inputs into consideration. It will also automatically eliminate all conflicted thoughts. For example, if Aniruddha Srikkanth is playing, Daddy Srikkanth’s G-Stop will be auto-disabled. The ump’s G-Stop will arrive at a final decision. All modalities have been worked out. We even have the tagline for G-Spot: ‘No one can ride roughshod over us’!”

“It is a winner! It is going to be a killer app!” I yelled.

G-Techie said, “We know that! But how are YOU so sure?” he asked.

I nodded knowingly. With Shaw, G-Stop and a 100% technology that includes modalities AND roughshod, it can only be a winner! We are certainly in safe hands. 2050, here we come…

– MoGun

[Disclaimer: All characters/institutions named in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.]