Monthly Archives: July 2011

Pity the man cannot bowl…

I have never understood it until recently. And I am not sure I have understood it fully either.

But, there has always been something about the Indian cricket fan that used to irritate me. And in saying this, I am not excluding myself from this set of fans. Previously, I couldn’t quite understand what it was. But recently, after having moved back to India, I am beginning to understand what it is to be an India cricket fan!

There is so much imperfection around us in India.

Our buildings are mostly decaying. Even new buildings decay right before our eyes. We build airports but two years later, there are spit stains on the walls. We build, forget to maintain, neglect and forget everything we construct — unless someone hits us on the head over it! There is chaos and anarchy everywhere you look. Planes should not land amidst such chaos. Surely, not.

But planes do land. Our buildings, however old and decayed, stay upright… Mostly. We cope with the imperfections around us.

Governance in public life is almost non-existent; people in public life make a mockery of the people they govern. The construction of a metro line, about 20 years overdue, will take 10 years to complete and will bring the city to a grinding halt while it happens. Corruption is so endemic that there is more cynicism than trust. Government offices have masses of paper and masses of people that sip tea and coffee and (it would seem) do nothing.

But laws do get passed. The income tax department collects taxes. The banks function. Under the weight of tonnes of paper, people do sign masses of forms — in triplicate, no less! Things get done… Mostly. We cope with the imperfections around us.

Few roads are ever complete. Most of them have open and stinking drains, random blocks of stone or concrete are left behind — post-construction — in the middle of the road. There is always a pile of rubble to navigate around. If not that, there is a pile of garbage or multi-coloured optic fibre sticking out of unfinished pavement works. The pavements are mostly incomplete. So walkers spill on to the streets, causing more traffic chaos. Most roads are not sealed end-to-end, causing more dust to swirl around. And roads around us are decorated with pot holes rather than bitumen. Roads have little or no drainage. A minimal downpour leaves us yearning for a yacht instead of a car or a bike. And for those of us that walk, the spokes of our umbrellas point more to the skies than to the ground when it rains! Even our umbrellas are imperfect.

But we do get from A to B. We do use the roads. We do get to work and back… Mostly. We cope with the imperfections around us.

Our buses, which seem to be permanently on their last wheels and defy fundamental laws of physics! They should not be allowed to move. But they do. They too cope with the imperfections around us.

Our people defy time! None of us are on time for anything. Our watches show different times! Even the clocks on two adjacent government buildings show different times! But we cope. Time is also imperfect and we cope with it.

Our phones always ring. Even in a classical music concert in which the performer is striving for that perfect pitch. But we answer our phones. Talk loudly. The performers continue… And learn to cope with the imperfections around them!

We talk loudly and can barely hear each other amidst the cacophony of noises around us. We have a need to be heard over the blaring loudspeakers and the car honks. But we listen to each other… Mostly. We cope with the imperfections around us.

Our queues do not work although there is a queue for everything! Our queues are so haphazard that statisticians and mathematicians who study queuing theory need better models to understand how queues work in India! A professor I know at a famous Indian institute is studying “Non-standard Tirupati queues with chaotic service”. But we do “queue” for everything from tomatoes, to bread, to railway tickets to airline tickets to withdrawing cash. We expect that, by joining our body to the body of the person in front of us, we will somehow, magically, reduce the queue-size by one!

But, even through these imperfections, our queues seem to work. We cope with the person behind us that has stuck their smelly body to us so that they may live their hope that they will reach their destination quicker through their irrational coping mechanism! We have learned to cope with the imperfection in our queues!

Everywhere you look, there is trust deficit, cynicism, unnaturally unhealthy competition, a growing chasm between the haves and have-nots and a growing hunger for the haves to have more.

There are imperfections around us. Everywhere you look there are imperfections.

So much, that we expect our heroes to make up for the gaps.

We expect our heroes to be what we cannot be. We want them to help us fill the gaps that we cannot fill. They help us cope with the ill-placed fibre-optic cable that almost always trips us as we run to jump onto that bus that always seems to be full and almost always doesn’t want me on it!

We expect our heroes to straighten our umbrellas. We expect them to help us cope with our queues, in which we thrust ourselves and our bad body odour onto the person in front of us!

That is why it is hard to be a cricketer in India.

Not only do they have to score runs or take wickets, they have to straighten our umbrellas before their contributions are recognised. They help us cope with not only the imperfections around us; they help us cope with the imperfections within us too.

If they cannot be everything that is not, they just cannot be our heroes.

Our heroes cannot be imperfect.

It is a pity Rahul Dravid cannot bowl. If he could, perhaps he would have been a hero in his own country!

— Mohan

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If only…..

The daggers are out, the rifles are loaded, they are going for the kill. Most Indian media, a largely irrational fan base, highly insecure former cricketers of the successful and unsuccessful kind and many more have more or less dismissed this Indian team. The Lords mishap has become a catastrophic failure. Irrelevant statistics are being produced and reproduced to prove how the defeat was as predictable as anything could possibly be. All recent successes going back to as far as 2007 are forgotten memories, mere outliers.

Given a choice this could have all been avoided. India could have won Lords and subsequently the series (it is irrelevant what happens in the next 3 tests)if only:

1. India refused to play the first test. Hereafter India should only begin a series with a 2nd test.
2. Extended the IPL till such time that Sehwag was fit and arrive late in England.
3. Ensure that Zaheer Khan played at least two tests even if it was for some other country so that he was match fit.
4. Avoid getting Tendulkar to field on a cold day before he bats so that he doesn’t pick up a viral infection. Dhoni should have consulted the team doctor before fielding first.
5. Make sure Ishant Sharma doesn’t get to eat lunch when bowling. Starvation is better for a bowler than indigestion. Again, Dhoni should have consulted the team doctor at lunch before offering food to Ishant Sharma on the fourth day.
6. Ensure that Harbhajan Singh gets the first wicket of the innings even if it means manipulating the scoreboard. He needs to be in the mood to bowl well.
7. Dhoni should have kept a mobile device with him to continually monitor Sanjay Manjrekar’s tweets, Sunil Gavaskar’s tips on positioning slip cordons, Kapil Dev’s tips on bowling changes, Ravi Shastri’s cliches, Harsha Bhogle’s tongue in Geoffrey’s Boycott’s cheeks, David Lloyd’s wicket keeping tips, and Peter Roebuck’s axioms. The result would have been different.
8. Tendulkar should have asked James Anderson to bowl to him at the nets instead of his unknown marathi friend or Monty Panesar, that way, he would been better prepared to play swing bowling.
9. Tendulkar should have bought his property far away from Lords. That way, he wouldnt have takenthe pitch for granted. He should cut out strokes outside the off stump, towards mid wicket, square of the wicket, pull stroke, down the ground and attempt to play naturally. Anyways, statistics tell us that Tendulkar doesn’t score well in the second innings, doesn’t save games for india, doesnt win games for India, doesn’t bat till the end…
10. BCCI should have used its powers to ensure that Strauss did not get to play for Somerset. He found india out before the series began.

Now that Sanjay Manjrekar has decided to go England after all, Dhoni has apologized to Kapil Dev for making a mockery of test cricket, Sunil Gavaskar has confirmed that Ishant Sharma is a quick learner because he said “sorry” on TV and UB has withdrawn it’s ad ridiculing Harbhajan, India may very well take the series.

– Srikanth

StatsGuru and ‘The Vibe’

Arguments and cricket seem to go hand in hand. Even if you support the same team — or maybe, especially if you support the same team — there are always arguments when it comes to cricket.

Of all fans though, fans of Indian cricket are probably the most rabid when it comes to expressing their views on everything cricket. More often than not, debates commence with, “Player-X got into the team because he knows Y”, “Player-X is useless”. Most of these arguments end with “There is too much money in the game. If they got less money, they would play more responsibly”. Unfortunately, some conversations end with “Player-X must be publicly whipped”!

Previously, these arguments used to be supported by nothing other than hand-waves or hand-flaps. These were nice because such arguments soon turned into shouting matches. And such matches were invariably decided on the basis of who could shout the longest or hardest. One could stand by the sidelines and, from time to time, egg one of the participants on, and watch the resulting fun! Often these arguments were decided on the basis of some positional authority! For example, I have heard an argument end with, “I do not wish to say anything more out of respect for your age and because you are my mother’s brother!” [exit stage left]

There was a certain lack of structure, logic, science or method to these arguments. One could argue for days on topics of no real significance: Vishwanath was any day a better player than Gavaskar! Manoj Prabhakar should never have played the number of Tests he played! Tamil Nadu Ranji players like TE Srinivasan, V. Sivaramakrishnan and VV Kumar were constantly discriminated by the Bombay mafia! Ramnarayan was a better off-spinner than Venkatraghavan! Sadanand Vishwanath was the best ‘keeper in India ever!

Invariably, such arguments would constitute a series of assertions and nothing much more than that. There was a certain romance to these. “Aaaa! What raaa. You should have seen Sadanand move down leg side to take that ball that LS bowled raaa. Kirmani would never have been able to do it raaa. I am telling you wonly!”

Now how can one have a comeback to an assertion like that? We just cannot.

However, things have changed. Data is available today. Plenty of it.

Today, we immediately jump onto Cricinfo and pull out the stats! How many byes has Sadanand Vishwanath conceded? How many stumpings per session has Kirmani affected? How does ‘the number of leg-side catches that Kirmani has against his name’ stack up against ‘Alan Knott’s leg-side catches’, particularly when the former has an infected little finger on his right hand?”

Enter Statsguru!

Yes, today, most arguments involve the production of seemingly random extracts from Cricinfo’s Stats Guru.

In that sense, I do believe that StatsGuru is to Cricinfo what the Y2K was to the IT industry! The scaremongering around Y2K created a slew of IT jobs, where there were really none! Similarly StatsGuru generates site visits when there really ought to be few!

Don’t get me wrong! I am a great fan of StatsGuru and it is a terrific product. However, I must say that I am getting a bit tired of seeing these frequent delves into StatsGuru by arguing Indian cricket fans that produce a set of numbers about a players’ worth without the presence of an established and agreed hypothesis or methodology!

One of the best movies I have seen in recent times is an Australian movie called “The Castle”. It is a hilariously innocent story about a typically-Australian “battler” family — The Kerrigan family — that protests the compulsory acquisition of their home by Melbourne’s airport authority. In one of the many hilarious court scenes, the Kerrigan lawyer says that the acquisition is against the Constitution of Australia! That was a huge call by the struggling lawyer who has no real “angle” on the case and is there merely because he is a friend Kerrigan family! The judge presses on, despite her utter dismay, feigns interest, adopts a tolerant cloak, and asks which section of ‘The Constitution’ it violates. The lawyer says, “It is the vibe of the thing!”

Watch this utterly hilarious scene here!

Now that is the way to conduct an argument… Hand-flap and say it is “the vibe” and elicit a response from a Kerrigan somewhere who departs, saying, “Good on ya mate. That shut em up!”

There is a certain innocence and romance to such arguments.

Instead, StatsGuru has ruined arguments of this sort by Indian cricket fans who dive in to the (no doubt, wonderful) database on the mere assumption that a set of numbers can suddenly back any argument! The numbers are produced with neither a hypothesis or an agreed methodology. Arguments can, therefore, be easily carried on whether “Harbhajan Singh is completely useless” or “Harbhajan Singh is just as useful as Graeme Swann who, by virtue of his world ranking, is not useless, so Harbhajan Singh is not useless” or “R. Ashwin is the next best alternative to Harbhajan Singh and his performance after the first 25 Ranji games in his career is just as bad as Harbhajan Singh’s performance as a Test player in the last year and so Harbhajan Singh is very capable after all”.

StatsGuru has killed assertions. While that is somewhat sad, what has really happened is that StatsGuru has given most proponents a somewhat unnatural belief that their arguments are somehow based on science and logic!

A young lads mother’s older brother, who does not have access to the Internet, can no longer argue with his young nephew! The nephew has all the numbers from StatsGuru on his mobile device that is 3G-connected to the Internet, even though he may not have the model formalism or the hypothesis or the logic, or, more importantly, “the vibe”!

Sigh! Bring back the hand flaps! Bring back “the vibe” into arguments!

— Mohan

Dominica: Keyboard Warriors and Saints…

A Test Match that resulted in a draw also resulted in much discussion in newspaper columns, clubs, pubs and online media. I wrote my views on the match here. There have been a few articles subsequent to that including an excellent post by @sidvee, one by Minal, one by Sunny Mishra, a detailed analysis by “A Cricketing View” and a more recent one by Subhash Jayaraman. There have been many other blog posts by fans like me. The above list — which is by no means comprehensive — is a mere sample of the many blogs that have carried an article or two on the draw.

In my first response to the Dominica draw, I included a link to a wonderful article by Dileep Premachandran, in which he says:

“…The South African who went home after April’s World Cup win was adored by the players because of his eagerness to shield them from over-the-top criticism. He handed over the reins to a man many see as his coaching mentor, and the message emanating from the camp is clear. There will be no rocking the boat, no matter what the keyboard warriors think.”

I was fascinated by the use of the phrase “keyboard warrior”. The implication here is that “over-the-top criticism” necessarily emanates from “Keyboard Warriors”. Apart from “keyboard warriors” being a fascinating turn of phrase, its use got me thinking about the very essence, method, practice and sensiblities of critiquing criticism!

But first things first: What distinguishes the views of the “Keyboard Warriors” from the rest of view-peddler merchants?

Of Views, Warriors and Saints:

In my view, players are the only tribe that are not “keyboard warriors”! Everyone else has a view and they qualify as a prospective “keyboard warrior”. The only people who are exempt from the warrior tribe are non-players who merely “call” the game without a single opinion being stated or a single view being expressed.

My view is that there are very few view-less and opinion-free warriors these days. Everyone has a view. Hence, everyone qualifies as a keyboard warrior unless we wish to define a tribe called “Keyboard Saints”, who offer criticism and views that are distinct and differentiated from the “Keyboard Warrior” clan. Perhaps the use of the qualifier “over-the-top” in Dileep Premachadran’s implied definition is precisely that differentiation that we seek between the “Warriors” and the “Saints”.

However, who decides if it is over-the-top? And what is then, under-the-top or even just-on-top? Such qualifiers merely secure one result: it just encourages a mad rush to seize a higher moral ground.

There is no higher moral ground when it comes to the “warrior” tribe. In today’s world, all of us have views. All of us hang it out — in print media or electronic media or blogs, like this one. We are all “keyboard warriors”. There are, in my view, no “keyboard saints”.

In recent days, there are a few blogs/individuals that have rushed to claim that higher moral ground. An outing of such blogs would serve no purpose other than seeking a futile, needless and immaterial date with vituperative and obnoxious polemical responses!

A sports fan on a blog (or a writer in print media) expresses views. Indeed all fans (writers) express their views. None of the sports fans (or writers) played in the game that is being commented on. Yet, some of the recently crowned “Saints” have gone on to then say “How dare you question the intelligence of Dhoni? You are not out there in the middle, are you? The guy in the middle makes the decisions. Have you even played the game? How dare you ask the captain to be accountable for tactical decisions that he makes? Does their past record not count for anything at all? Have you forgotten the World Cup win already?”.

This is akin to telling a music fan with a view (or even a music critic): “What do you know about singing concerts? Have you even performed in a ‘chamber concert’, leave alone a free-concert, not to mention a top-level concert in front of an audience of 3000 discerning music fans and critics?”

Yet, we all admit views. We have views. We express them. A rush to claim a higher moral ground is a puerile exercise in futility. And this is because every view carries an irrefutable subjective element in it.

Yet, we have a distinction that has been drawn between “Warriors” and “Saints”. Maybe the key differentiator is “over the top”, which then needs to be defined, at the very least. Perhaps this is what Subhash Jayaraman calls “outrage bandwagon”.

Let us set this aside for a moment…

Intelligence and ability brought into question:

In the aftermath of Dominica, a view that has been expressed by the “Saints” is that the “Warriors” have brought into sharp question the ability and/or the collective intelligence of the Team India playing group and, particularly so, the Team India captain.

I can consider several examples from the past, where the current members of the “Keyboard Saints” club have criticized a player or a set of players. And I am not going to provide a blow-by-blow outing of these instances. As I said before, such an exercise will be needlessly polemic and would not serve any real purpose either in providing a deeper understanding or in furthering the current debate.

But let us take one example.

Dileep Premchandran, the originator of the excellently graphic “Keyboard Warrior” collective noun (I believe), has expressed his views too: on many topics, games and players. Let us take one specific example merely for purposes of illustration: In this article, the author sketches (in a very compelling manner) the reasons for India’s poor showing in the October 2009 Champions Trophy. In his opinion, Ishant Sharma and RP Singh bowled “hit-me dross, both with new ball and old”.

Now, that is an opinion. His opinion. It is likely that it is a valid/correct opinion.

However, was he at the ground, playing the match? Has he ever played? Can he even bowl a decent ball, leave alone a non-dross ball? Is he not bringing into question the widely applauded capabilities of Ishant Sharma and RP Singh? After all, the same bowlers delivered impressive wins just prior to delivering “hit-me dross” on that day/match. Had he forgotten that Perth spell when he wrote what he did?

Is he, therefore, a “keyboard warrior” who questioned, through his words, the inclusion of RP Singh and Ishant Sharma? More importantly, was it “over the top”? And if it was, who judges it? You? Me? Dileep himself?

I can pick similar examples of views and opinions expressed by members of the current members of the “Keyboard Saints” club. But as I said earlier, that would be wholly unnecessary. I have made the point I wish to make on the basis of the above example. Moreover, this is not intended as an “Us vs Them” debate.

Disclaimer: I admire Dileep Premachandran as a person. I respect him and what he stands for. I am a great fan of his writing and continually learn from him. The above was not intended to hurt Dileep Premachandran or his “brand”. It was merely used as an example to highlight a point. If I have hurt anyone — especially Dileep Premachandran — by providing the above illustrative example, this would hurt me more than it hurts them/him.

I cannot speak for all the “Warriors”. However, when I made the points I made about the draw in Dominica, my intention was not to call into question the collective intelligence of the playing group. I have no way of assessing this. And if I did say I could somehow measure the collective intelligence of the playing group, I would only be gratuitously dishonest (to myself).

Irreverence argument:

The “Keyboard Saints” have mounted the argument that the “Keyboard Warriors” have been irreverent to the playing group in questioning the draw-offer decision. After all, goes that “irreverence” line of argument, have you been blind to (a) the impressive set of results that have been delivered lately by these fine players, (b) the fact that we had a second-string team in West Indies, (c) the fact that rain robbed the team of a result in the 2nd Test.

I cannot speak for other “Keyboard Warriors”, however, when I made the points I made about the draw in Dominica, I did not ignore either (a), (b), or (c) above. They were just completely irrelevant. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

This team has made impressive strides. Of that I have no doubt. I, like other “Keyboard Warriors”, have painstakingly chronicled each and every stellar achievement of this impressive team. The team has a marvelous captain who is as mercurial as he is effective. I have written about his magnificent achievements in a long article that I recently wrote. I reproduce two lines from this article:

The World-Cup victory did not actually mean much to me! At the risk of being stoned to death by unforgiving Team India fans, let me state again that it would not have mattered to me if India had lost in the quarters or the semis or indeed, the finals [of the World Cup]. For me, it was a small — albeit important — step in a much more important journey. The road ahead for this team is hard and there are significant challenges as Dhoni takes this team from good to great. I am much more interested in seeing how this wonderful leader is going to take Indian cricket along that important journey.

And

I think back to that 8-1 field that started the journey of fascination that I undertook with [Dhoni]. I also look at everything he has achieved in the 2 and a half years since that day. I then say to myself, “With Dhoni around as a Level-5 leader, there is much hope for this Team India fan.”

I, like other fellow “Keyboard Warriors”, have also fought valiantly for the inclusion of young players and how we need to give them substantial rope. I have argued against employing use-and-discard, revolving-door-policies when it comes to players like Abhinav Mukund, Virat Kohli, M. Vijay, et al.

If I ignored all of the above views on Dhoni and the young players in Team India, when I made my comments on the draw-decision, I will have done nothing more than swing wildly from being “a mostly blind, but often one-eyed supporter of Team India” to a “rabid hater of the team”, all in the space of a nano-second! However, I grant that, to the “Current Saints” it may appear that I may have swung on an uncontrollable pendulum.

My point is that the irreverence argument is actually irrelevant!

There has to be a distinction made between criticism and insult, even if one is labelled by a “Current Saint” as a “Keyboard Warrior”. Criticism is allowed and does not make one a warrior. A personal insult should not be allowed.

However, In assessing whether a particular descriptor/adjective/description is an insult or not, we need to respond on whether “bowled hit-me dross” is an accurate descriptor or an insult!

The instant in time:

But ultimately, to me, it boils down to this…

At that specific point, when MS Dhoni, the playing group, the coach and others in the team made the decision to offer a draw, the following factors are irrelevant to me and to the draw decision: that India had played with a second-string team, that India will have won the series with a B-team, that India had won the World Cup, that India had beaten Australia in 2008, that India rose to become the number-1 team in Tests, that Dhoni may have worn a blue vest that day, that Harbhajan did not eat an apple that day… at that specific instant in time all of these were, to me, totally irrelevant.

India offered a draw because to Team India, on the balance of probability, they either (a) did not see any point in continuing because a win was just completely out of question, (b) they thought that by continuing they only risked losing.

That is a judgement call that the decision-group made. To which I am merely asking: “What is the worst that would have happened, had they continued and pressed for a win?”

I am merely talking about that specific instant in time when the draw decision was offered. At that instant in time, nothing else mattered other than intent. They made the call. The “Warriors” questioned that intent. Not the testicular fortitude, not the abilities, not the capabilities, not the impressive results, not the results achieved with a B-team, not the rain, not the honesty of the individuals involved, not the intelligence nor the eating habits or the clothes that the team was wearing (or not). Nothing else mattered.

What mattered to me was intent and nothing else.

What was brought into sharp focus at that specific instant in time — everything else being a constant — was just the question of intent, and nothing else but intent… Do the “Warriors” have a right to focus on this “intent”? By focusing on this intent, pray where is the focus on capability, ability or intelligence? Pray where is the focus on B-Team, or World Cup win or #1 in Tests?

The “Warriors” saw a perceived lack of intent at that particular instance in time, and questioned it using terms such as “Wimps” or “Gutless” or “Tail between legs” or “Rabbits in Headlights”. Remember only that instant mattered. Would “hit-me dross” be a better term to describe this lack of intent at that specific point in time?

My point is that there are no Saints or Warriors; just mad rushes to claim a higher moral ground from time to time. That said, I do accept the proposition that all of this focus has to be carried out without the presence of the “outrage bandwagon”.

And this is really the most important learning for me from Dominica…

— Mohan

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.]

Clutch Redux

A few months ago, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan (@sidvee) wrote an excellent article titled “Tendulkar and the ‘clutch’ question”. This was an exquisite essay, which recognized Tendulkar’s many virtues: his incredible longevity, passion for the game, hunger for the fight, impact beyond cricket, and his poise even when burdening a billion expectations. However, @sidvee’s article also states that Tendulkar’s performance in the “clutch debate remains partially unresolved”. Apart from this expression of thrust/hypothesis, one very minor gripe that I had with the article was that it was a somewhat convenient fence-sit, for most part.

A “clutch moment” is defined as one where an athlete senses the moment, pounces on it and imposes his greatness on the occasion. The end result is normally a victory.

This article was @sidvee at his very best. The arguments were excellently and passionately constructed. It even had a typo (“goosbumps” instead of “goosebumps”) to show us all that @sidvee was human after all. There were many comments from readers of this article. If the quality of an article is measured by the debate it generates, then this one certainly belonged in the top-drawer. There were also a few ripostes to @sidvee’s article; the best of these was one by Mahesh (@cornerd).

At first I thought I would not buy into the debate, for a variety of reasons. For a long time now, I have employed a wicket-keeper for any arguments on Sachin Tendulkar’s greatness. Occasionally, I would find myself in the thick of a virulent debate on Tendulkar’s greatness. The main reason for staying away from the “clutch” debate, however, was that the Sachin-clutch argument was old-hat to me. It had done many a spin around my block!

But then, I am not a great fan of a fence-sit either: a fence-sit gives the fence sitter nothing more than a sore bottom! So, I have decided that, after nearly three months, I will weigh in to the debate after all.

In a subsequent piece, @sidvee quoted from Stephen J Gould’s brilliant piece on Joe DiMaggio’s phenomenal 56-game hitting streak, in which the author comments on the nature of legend.

“A man may labor for a professional lifetime, especially in sport or in battle, but posterity needs a single transcendent event to fix him in permanent memory. Every hero must be a Wellington on the right side of his personal Waterloo; generality of excellence is too diffuse. The unambiguous factuality of a single achievement is adamantine. Detractors can argue forever about the general tenor of your life and works, but they can never erase a great event.”

The argument is that Tendulkar’s peers — Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh, Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Aravinda De Silva, et al — have faced and seized clutch moments. These moments have been recorded and recognized in their respective CVs. Meanwhile, the argument is that Tendulkar let his clutch-moments slip through his fingers.

Indian cricket fans will point to the fact that if India had won the Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1999, we may not have felt the need to have this argument. Tendulkar would have had his clutch moment on his CV. That moment would have been further augmented, ornamented and romanticized by virtue of the fact that Tendulkar battled through an injury to get India to within spitting distance of victory in that Test. We like blood. We like our sporting heroes to be gladiators that vanquish evil. The clutch is a much better clutch if the sportsman has morphine in his body or his jaw strapped by a bandage.

We willed Tendulkar to win that match for us. But he let us down! Tendulkar got out within sight of victory. India lost. The Indian cricket fan has not forgotten!

When we turn our focus on that heroic-tragic Chennai Test against Pakistan that India lost, few fans seem to remember that it was a low scoring match; that no team had crossed 300 in that match; that apart from Afridi, who had scored a second-innings century as opener, no other player stamped his authority on the game; that Saqlain Mushtaq bowled as brilliantly as anyone has seen him bowl; that the pitch was crumbling; that at 82 for 5 chasing 271, India was cooked already! It was against this backdrop that we must see Tendulkar’s epic effort. I do not wish to be a Tendulkar apologist. That is not his point. His record speaks much more than I can.

However, the point I wish to make is that the scorecard does not record the above details. The scorecard does not record the fact that Tendulkar first shielded and then battled Nayan Mongia through an epic contribution; often chiding him for taking undue risks; always encouraging him. Worse! The scorecard does not record the fact that, with 53 runs to get, Mongia departed to an ugly pull off Wasim Akram! By getting out, Mongia had said (like almost all Team India players of Tendulkar’s era had), “You do it on your own from here. I am out of here!” The scorecard does not record the fact that Tendulkar was in severe pain at that point in time. His back had given way by then. The scorecard does not record that, despite that pain, he chose to change gears and belted a few boundaries once Mongia got out (needlessly). The scorecard also does not record the fact that all it took was one single fatal miscalculation; one small error of judgment is all it took for Indian fans to label him permanently as a clutch failure! The scorecard does not record the fact that, when Tendulkar departed at 254, with 17 runs still to get, the Karnataka quartet of SB Joshi, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad could only get 4 between themselves! The fact that the Karnataka quartet disgraced themselves is forgotten. The fact that they collectively devalued Tandulkar’s efforts to get India to that point is also forgotten.

The point is that “clutch” is a difficult concept in cricket. It ignores the team. It ignores Nayan Mongia and the Karnataka quartet. It is agnostic to contributions (or lack thereof) from a team. It is a uni-dimensional and harsh measure. As @sidvee himself points out, it is impossible to compare greatness across different sport or indeed, different players in the same sport who play for different teams and in different eras. It is precisely because of this that I value Tendulkar’s centuries more than I value Ponting’s centuries; Ponting did not have to face McGrath, Warne and Gillespie! Clutch applies perfectly only to tennis players and golfers! They chart their destiny themselves.

Almost exactly a decade later — one month shy of a decade later — Tendulkar chose the same venue (Chepauk, Chennai) to “atone” for his earlier inability to close out a win. He stayed not out till the end, scored an unbeaten century and ensured that India won against England. This was an important win for the country’s pride, leave alone the team! This win emerged from the shadows of the 26/11 tragedy that had shocked a nation. I am told that there was not a dry eye in Chepauk. This could have counted as a clutch. But even this was contribution was not enough.

I suspect that most Indian fans are still not able to forgive Tendulkar for that 1999 game. As one reader said on @sidvee’s blog, Tendulkar constantly gets the short-shrift. We are quick to make Gods out of mere mortals, but we have a constant need for our legends to be nothing short of Gods — all the time.

I am not a big fan of “clutch” in team sport. It is all too individualistic. Even Roberto Baggio does not qualify as a clutch failure in my books. Yes, he fluffed that penalty shoot in 1994. But that ignores his teammates’ many misses during the game. I am not in favor of tagging transient acts of excellence as “clutch” in a team sport. If we did, we run the risk of calling Ajit Agarkar or David Warner as cricket geniuses (the logic here is that clutch suggests genius)! By the same argument, I am not in favor of tagging transient acts of lack-of-excellence as “clutch failure” in a team sport.

As Mahesh (@cornerd) says in his riposte, Tendulkar’s preparation for the 1998 series against Australia constitutes “clutch” to me. To me, clutch in a team-sport is not a specific instance in time. It must be demonstrated through sustained acts of (heroic) excellence for it to be a clutch.

And Tendulkar certainly has these sustained acts of excellence in his CV.

— Mohan