Monthly Archives: November 2011

The betting scandal

So, it is prison time for Asif, Butt and Amir.

Cronje got away with it. Sure, he was banned from playing Cricket and all that…and he had to live with the shame of doing what he did, but he effectively got away with it. So did Salim Malik.

Azharuddin got away with it too. Again, he was banned for life. And for some unknown reason, the ban was lifted a few years later. Although he never played cricket again, he went on to become a Member of Parliament – just don’t ask me how.  Seriously, the thought of a major national party in the country to even consider having him as a candidate seems so wrong. Yet, they picked him and the people even voted him in. I just don’t get it.

This time it is different. The three players involved will get jail terms and match bans. Asif is nearly 29 years old – he is past his prime and with enough indiscretions under his belt I don’t think we will be seeing him in the cricket field again. I don’t think Salman Butt would ever play cricket again either. Both their cricketing careers are over. Good riddance. But of course there is a chance they may get involved in some other facet of the game like so many others before him – like a coach perhaps. Again, this seems so wrong and should that even be allowed?

We all know that if you do the crime, you have to do the time. But if you do the time, should you be forgiven and allowed to get back into the game? Take the case of Amir, for instance. Once he has done the time behind bars and completed his ban, should he be allowed to play for his country again?

In a way I feel sorry for the bloke. Just in his teens; coming from a poor family background and playing for his country. Imagine walking into the dressing room and seeing all his idols over there. Forget being a teen, people twice his age would be in awe of the moment. And yet – these same people convinced him to bowl a no-ball for a few thousand quid….and almost ended his career.

Flash back to 2000

Back in 2000, when the first major betting scandal hit Cricket, I was standing in Victoria Market in Melbourne, when someone walked up to me and said in jest – “Hey, aren’t you an Indian bookie?” I retorted – “Of course, I am. who do you think paid Shane Warne and Mark Waugh?” The conversation ended with a few laughs, but it did get me thinking back then – Who is the biggest offender? the bookie offering these cricketers the money to throw the game or the cricketers who accept it. The corruptors or the corrupted? I know it is almost impossible to forgive the cricketers – the people who we place so much trust in; the men in white who have specially been selected to represent the country they play for; the players who the kids look up to as role models.

On the other hand, the corruptors are these unknown people in the background who do this for a living – they have no morals anyway, and all they care about is making a quick buck.

I had made up my mind back then that the biggest offender is the player who accepts the money. They already get enough to play cricket, not to mention the sponsorships and the adulation of people around them. If they are greedy for more, then they need to be given the biggest punishments – court sentences and bans from cricket that suit the crime.

Fast forward to present day

In the case of Amir, the corruptors weren’t some unknown bookie, but his captain and the lead bowler in his team. People he would look up to for advice. The courts in the UK have taken all this in to consideration, and the jail sentences reflect that, but it highlights how important people who are in a position to influence others, should be incorruptible. Maybe every new member in the team should be assigned a mentor, who is not part of the team – a retired player perhaps, someone the newcomer can turn to for advice. 

The challenge is then to find these retired players who aren’t incorruptible and have strong morals. One could argue that if the captain of the team can be corrupted, what chance does a retired player have. But I do believe that they aren’t that difficult to find. Good honest people are the majority, IMO – not the other way around.

Young players also should be given a good induction program. when they start their career. Maybe as soon as someone is selected to play for their country, the board should run an induction program educating the new comer on aspects of betting, drug use, how to handle press and other soft skills. Surely, with the kind of money cricket is making, this would be money well spent.

Questions

I want to finish off this post with a few questions –

  • Do you think people who’ve done the time should be allowed back into the game? (Think of Amir as an example)
  • Is spot fixing a lesser of a crime than match fixing? And should the sentence for these crimes be a little bit more lenient?
  • If the exchange of money had taken place somewhere other than England (say Dubai, or Karachi), would the players have gotten away with it?

Would like to know what you think?

-Mahesh-

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The fan continues to be short-changed by the BCCI

I am writing this a few weeks after I watched an ODI game at the Wankhede Stadium between India and England.

In the months and weeks preceding the game, I had had many arguments with fellow cricket tragics in Mumbai about facilities in some of the new stadia in India and about how the game’s administrators in India, the BCCI, treat the game’s key stakeholder: the fans.

The BCCI has been in an immensely fortunate position since the early 1990s: Fortunate because it suddenly discovered that it had a significant and substantially large fan base; Fortunate because these fans collectively delivered the BCCI a significant power base in World cricket. Through the suddenly discovered fans, BCCI discovered TV licensing rights. It discovered money.

I say ‘discovered’ rather than using a term more definite, concerted, understood and coordinated because, in my view, much of what the BCCI does appears to be serendipitous. The BCCI gives me the impression of an organisation that is continually in search for a needle in a haystack but continues to find the farmer’s daughter there instead!

The BCCI has not been accused so far of having a coordinated and well articulated strategy for exploiting the distinct advantage it has — a large, devoted and unshakable fan base. Nor is it in any danger of being accused of having a strategy to develop or grow its fan base. The fan base just exists. And fortunately for the BCCI, today, this fan base is still growing.

One can condone BCCI not taking care of its fans if it shows leadership in other spheres — particularly at the head table of the ICC. On balance, I would not say that it does. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rather haphazard, seemingly disorganized and somewhat myopic thinking by the BCCI. The organisation’s stance on the “whereabouts clause” in the WADA dope testing regime is one of them. Another example of leadership — albeit somewhat ineffective for a while — was BCCI’s stand on the DRS. The BCCI was not at the head-table providing opinion and thought leadership. Instead it had its office bearers mumbling their way through immature explanations and ill-thought out rationalizations. BCCI’s paid commentators said that the rest of the world was against India because of “envy”! There was no one from the BCCI putting out a cogent and articulate argument against the DRS. Once again, the thought leadership was absent on this issue — an issue on which BCCI, perhaps, had a legitimate objection. Perhaps the BCCI didn’t know how to construct a cogent argument. Perhaps the BCCI could not be bothered. Perhaps the BCCI lacked the wherewithal to make a convincing argument.

Today, the BCCI is a powerful organisation. It is a monopsony (thanks to @sumants for this reference). It operates in a market condition in which goods or services or talent are offered by several sellers (players with skills) but there is only one buyer for these skills. When ICL came into the picture, BCCI was able to move the ICC to not provide the ICL with a license to operate. This is a powerful position to operate from. It is also a position that ought to force the monopsonist to act with utmost care and phenomenal responsibility.

The bar must be significantly high.

It is not BCCI’s fault they are the largest and most powerful member of the structurally inefficient ICC family! But neither is it, in my view, to their credit that they are the largest and most powerful! You and I have delivered this power to the BCCI. Today, it just is the most powerful voice at the ICC table. It is also not BCCI’s problem if the representatives from Sri Lanka and Pakistan (say) just nod the same way when the BCCI nods. But inevitably power gives the powerful member a few strings at the end of which one often finds the heads of puppets. So it becomes important for the power wielder to use that power judiciously.

Of course, other boards around the world are guilty of lining up to the BCCI for their own advantage. An example is the motion for a 10-member 2015 World Cup, where the joint Australia-NZ idea was mooted and proposed by the BCCI at the ICC meeting. Witness also the cunning ECB plan of an ICC permanent presidency — again being proposed by the BCCI. Favours will have been traded prior to the BCCI putting up such nonsensical contrivances. But in the end, the BCCI did put up these motions expecting everyone to nod the way it did.

On the 10-member World Cup issue, CA and CNZ placed a gun on BCCI’s shoulder and fired. So the appropriate question is whether BCCI should have allowed CA and CNZ to place a gun on their shoulder to fire — in exchange for another favour elsewhere. Similarly on the permanent presidency issue, the ECB was allowed to place its gun on BCCI’s shoulder to fire. While the “conniving followers” cannot be totally absolved in these (and other) episodes, it is true that the BCCI provided the shoulder.

So one can quite understand the collective urge to paint BCCI as a “permanent bully”. And of course, there are several examples to support a theory that it has become quite fashionable for opinion-makers to blame BCCI for all ills in cricket today. Soon, we might even start blaming BCCI for world poverty, hunger, the political problems in pockets of the world, Arjuna Ranatunga’s excessive weight and Merv Hughes’s mustache!

But it is often BCCI’s behaviour at the head table that gives rise to this collective tendency to yell “BCCI Bully” before an issue is even properly addressed/investigated. The DRS is a wonderful example of just this. The irrational fear is that if BCCI opposes an issue, it will remain opposed.

The BCCI has to show exemplary leadership — and I make no compromise on this requirement, knowing full well that the non-leaders are not innocent rabbits either! There are political moves that are constantly made! We cannot ignore the expediency in deal-making by the “followers of the leader”. To ignore these moves would be to sacrifice completeness. To do that would be to sacrifice opinion integrity. To do that would be to compromise honesty. But more importantly, to do that would be to widen the trust-chasm and the trust-deficit that exists in the cricket world today.

We, the fans, need to be tough on our expectations of BCCI because cricket journalists and opinion-makers in India are, in my view, rather weak. Few journalists in India can criticize the BCCI. This most powerful organisation controls access, accreditation and privileges and frowns on negative press it receives from anyone in the press lobby. As a result not much is written against the BCCI in the press. Press folk value their accreditation privileges too much to talk out against the many BCCI-inflicted atrocities. There are easy routes to take. And on most issues, despite the sore bottoms they might acquire as a result, a fence-sit is convenient for most press folk in India.

I expect to be flamed by my friends on Twitter and elsewhere for this criticism of the BCCI. But I expect the BCCI to be extraordinary citizens at the ICC table and extraordinary governors of the game at home. I am not convinced that they are either. I expect the BCCI to move motions at the ICC with extreme caution and utmost wisdom. I expect the BCCI to show a level of governance of the game in India that is the envy of the world. The BCCI falls short on both counts.

Oh! And what about the game itself on 23 October 2011?

The tickets were ridiculously priced. I could not purchase the cheaper tickets online. I had to trot to a window in South Bombay to purchase tickets. I did not. I got the tickets through someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who then got tickets for us through someone they knew! Is this the way tickets ought to be sold in 2011? I do not think so.

The face value of the tickets we got was Rs 2000. The fact is we got these for cheaper than the face-value. But that is neither here nor there. The tickets were priced at Rs 2000, which is approximately AUD$45. In other words, these tickets were almost as expensive as an ODI ticket at (say) the MCG. My experience was nowhere close to the many lovely experiences I have had at the MCG or the SCG or Adelaide Oval.

Although there were only about 5,000 fans in a stadium that could hold 35,000 (or thereabouts) it took us several security checks — each one more cursory and more unnecessary than the previous check — before we could get in to the ground. This may not be BCCI’s fault. However, I would expect BCCI to be involved in discussions with the several agencies involved in streamlining these totally obtuse and completely irrelevant entry procedures. We were “security checked” by 6 different sets of people within a 100m distance. Each security group performed a job that was worse than the previous group. The final check was performed by a group that was hired by the BCCI (or so I was told). This was the worst check performed of the lot. I did not see the point of such entry procedures performed in a quality-vacuum and a trust-vacuum. The job was, at best, perfunctorily performed by a bunch of people who wanted to be inside the ground rather than outside it. It was a frustrating experience on what was a hot, humid and sultry day. As a result, what ought to have been a 5 minutes procedure took us over 45 minutes to get in.

We could not take mosquito repellents or hand sanitizers or sun screen lotions into the stadium. That may be fine if we could purchase mosquito repellents or hand sanitizers or sun screen lotions inside the stadium. We could not. Did we need these inside the stadium? That is not the point. Players apply zinc cream on their faces. Should spectators not?

The seats were clumsy, dirty and just bad. The toilets were incredibly bad. Sure. The facilities are better than they were some 10 years ago. But that cannot be an excuse to charge Rs 2000 and continue to short-change the fan.

I have watched games at various venues in England (The Lord’s, Oval, Leeds, Wembley, West Ham, The Kop, etc) and Australia (The MCG, The SCG, The Adelaide Oval, Rod Laver Arena, etc). I never felt as unwanted as I was at the Wankhede stadium. I was irrelevant to the BCCI. I felt that I was interrupting the BCCI from its enjoyment of the game. Is this what we ought to be accepting from the premier organisation in the game? I don’t believe so. Am I alone in feeling thus?

— Mohan (@mohank)

Ps: This post was motivated by (a) an email exchange I had with Gideon Haigh, (b) a long Twitter discussion I had with Sumant Srivathsan (@sumants) and (c) a Twitter discussion I had with Shrikant Subramanian (@Homertweets)

On why I found Harsha Bhogle’s choice strange

Harsha Bhogle is a respected and much-admired journalist and commentator on Indian cricket. He gave up a promising career in advertising to write about cricket, talk about cricket on the radio and call cricket on TV. He hosts TV shows on cricket and is, along with Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, recognized as one of the significant voices of Indian cricket.

Harsha Bhogle started commenting on cricket when he was just 19 years old. From an early age, he shunned hyperbole and cliche for substance, a studied approach, sharp wit and an articulate demeanor. That approach defined him. After a stint at All India Radio in Hyderabad, he was invited by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 1991-92 to call the Australia-India series on ABC Radio in Australia. I had just arrived in Australia and was immediately taken by this young, warm and welcoming voice of Indian cricket. Since then, he was a regular in all of India’s tours to the Antipodes. His repartee with Kerry O’Keefe is a significant part of the Australian summer whenever India visited. His banter with Geoff Lawson would always be precise and insightful — quite appropriate, given that Lawson is a qualified optometrist!

I appreciated the poise and equanimity with which he called the hot-potato series in 2008. Tempers were flaring and emotions were high. I am reasonably confident Harsha Bhogle would have been presented with many an opportunity to lose his cool in that hyper-charged environment. But he managed to keep his head above water at all times. He retained his composure and his objectivity as that series progressed. His stock grew.

He has called many Test matches and ODI games. In fact, he has called every single World Cup since 1992 – either for radio or for TV. Harsha Bhogle has also covered all IPL seasons since the 2009 edition of this Twenty20 party. (He was associated with the Mumbai Indians side in the inaugural episode of the IPL.)

He has also written a few books on cricket, including a biography of Mohammad Azharuddin

The point of this short sketch of an impressive career in cricket is to establish that Harsha Bhogle is a respected commentator who has been closely associated with the game for over two decades. In that time he would have seen a substantial amount of “good cricket”. One has come to expect a healthy dollop of balance and objectivity in his articulations. He is as lucid as he is sharp. He also comes across as an intelligent person who thinks carefully about what he writes and says.

I may not always agree with what he says. I do not need to. But I accept that he has a good cricket ‘sense’. After all, he has seen — and called — some exceedingly good cricket. I also accept that he is not given to bursts of emotion-laden hyperbole. It is highly likely that for him that cycle stand in Patiala does not matter; a tracer bullet is a distraction; that sorry comment about statistics and mini-skirts is an inappropriately quoted and abominable irritant.

All of the above is preamble and context to the sense of disbelief I had on reading last week that the one single DVD that Harsha Bhogle will carry with him to an island would be a DVD of India’s triumph in that 2007 World Championship T20 final.

If I had to be abandoned on a deserted island with a DVD of just one match, it would have to be that T20 World Cup final and…one other game that I must have watched around a hundred times, in various instalments over the years—the NatWest Series final in 2002.

Let us be clear about this. Harsha Bhogle says that he will take one DVD containing one match (the WCT20 win by India) and also says that he has watched a replay of the Natwest 2002 Final over a hundred times.

The article that we read was an ‘edited excerpt’ of a conversation. So one does not really know what the full conversation was. More importantly, one does not know what was left out. I am going to assume that the edited excerpt does not deviate significantly from the conversation itself. At the very least, I can make the assumption that the edited excerpt did not destroy either the context or the substance of the many choices Harsha Bhogle makes in this piece. It is a fair assumption to make because Harsha Bhogle has not issued a rejoinder in the week after the piece was published.

Harsha Bhogle makes a few clear choices. He says that he has seen a lot of good cricket. He says that Perth 2008, Leeds 2002, the NatWest ODI Final 2002, Kolkata 2001 and the 2007 World Championship T20 final were excellent, thrilling and substantial; each for a specific reason. He articulates his reasons extremely well and very lucidly.

Yet, he indicates that he would take that T20 Finals win as the only DVD. These boilerplate choices are fraught with danger. In an email exchange with the lovely K. Balakumar (@kbalakumar on Twitter) he said questions like “… Which one song will you take on your trip to moon … are questions asked for an emotional and rhetorical value. And the answer too is mostly emotional.”

I agree that the emotional quotient in the 2007 win was high. It was a win against Pakistan. And that too in a final of a major ICC tournament. Enough said.

But really? Despite the incredibly high emotional quotient, a T20 final is the one DVD that Harsha Bhogle would take with him? After all, here was a man who has seen so much good cricket. Here was a man who was not given to extreme bouts of reckless emotion even during MonkeyGate.

My sense of disbelief at Harsha Bhogle’s choice has nothing to do with forms of the game. It has nothing to do with notions that one form of the game is somehow superior to another form.

Yes, I do like Test cricket. No. I do not think it is ‘superior’ to other forms of cricket (mainly ODI and T20). But I like Test cricket. I like the intensity and the rhythm of Test cricket. I like the balance that Test cricket affords between bat and ball. Test cricket uses a canvass that is broad. On this canvass, it affords, commands and allows the narrative to unfold in a lazy and yet intensely dramatic manner. I like the time flexibility that Test cricket affords. Time seems to be somewhat irrelevant to the unfurling of the Test Cricket narrative. That is what I like about Test cricket.

So far, none of what I have said constitutes a “superiority” based argument of this form of cricket that I love and adore. It is true that my sense of involvement in the T20 and ODI script is far less than it is in Tests. But that is not because of a position that is based on skill-superiority, nor is it based on a position that emanates from an elitist snobbery.

Quite the contrary really.

I do like the intensity of the ODI/T20 drama. But my sense of involvement in these forms is far less than it is in Test cricket. That position emanates more from preference for the Test cricket narrative rather than superiority of the form. And this is precisely why Dominica depressed me. This is why it would not have mattered to me if India had lost either the T20 World Championship in 2007 or even the World Cup in 2011!

Mind you, I celebrated both victories vociferously and loudly because I am a fan of Team India and her players. But I celebrated Kolkata, Leeds, Multan, Mohali and Perth much more than I did the two World Cup victories. I was depressed for days on end after the disaster that Dominica represented to me.

On Harsha Bhogle’s choice, I had a suspended sense of disbelief.

I agree that these deserted-island-choices are often difficult and one must always take the result with a pinch of salt, or even sand (if you will forgive the needless pun).

And of course this is Harsha Bhogle’s choice and not mine! It is his article. Not mine. Nor should I expect that his choice mirrors mine. My problem, therefore, wasn’t his actual choice. It is more to do with how dramatically his choice seems to have diverged from what I would have expected his choice to be. In that sense, again the existence of that unmet expectation gap is my problem, rather than his. That said, I cannot imagine that a man who has watched that much drama would chose the WCT20 as the only DVD he would take.

In a sense, Harsha Bhogle was making a categorical judgement that the World Championship T20 win was better than Kolkata 2001 or Perth 2008 or even Mumbai 2011! Now this exposes a stunning limitation of the boiler-plate — and hence my dislike of these. But my approach to such a severely limiting exercise would be to not participate it such exercises! And if I do, I would justify/explain/rationalize my choice succinctly and adequately.

“Hang on. He did justify. He did rationalize his choice,” you will say.

Yes, he did justify his choice of the WCT20 Final DVD over Kolkata 2001 or Chennai 1999 or Natwest 2002 or Mumbai 2011.

And even if I accepted his DVD choice as one that was shoe-horned by the uselessness of the boilerplate, it is his justification of that choice that I really abhorred.

He says that he would take that DVD with him because “…India won against all odds. I wasn’t expecting anything. There was a sense of discovery about the whole format. No one knew where T20 was going to go. And as it turned out, one magical decision by M.S. Dhoni to throw the ball to Joginder Sharma and one moment of madness by Misbah-ul-Haq changed the future of T20 cricket. For if India hadn’t won that World Cup, T20 would never have become big in India. But it did become big…and the rest is history.”

Harsha Bhogle talks with passion about the many lovely games he has witnessed. In his closing he talks about the India v Pakistan Test match in Chennai in 1999 where the (knowledgeable) Chennai crowd gave Pakistan a rousing reception after Pakistan had beaten India in a close/tight game.

Yet, the only DVD he will take with him on a desert island is that of a T20 game because if India hadn’t won T20 would never have become big in India! Like that is a badge of honour that one should wear proudly on one’s lapel. It is this aspect of Harsha Bhogle’s choice that I find abhorrent.

Let us not forget that it is this very form of the game that causes most cricket fans most concern today! The DVD choice comes at a time when we are all concerned about the proliferation of T20s, the burden that it places on players, the country-versus-club debates that it generates, the immense conflicts of interest inherent in this form of the game in India (where commercial realities are brought into sharp focus maximally). Harsha Bhogle has, himself, agonized painfully over many of the issues listed above. On the club versus country debate, he first went one way and then, after the disaster that England 2011 represented, seemed to go the other way.

This agonizing flip-flop by one the voices of Indian cricket was brought into focus precisely because T20 had “become big in India”.

Yet, that is precisely the reason behind his choice of the DVD!

So Bhogle’s choice did not worry me. It is the justification/rationalization of his choice that stunned me. If I found his DVD choice somewhat shallow it was not because of the format, but because of its justification!

— Mohan (@mohank)