Monthly Archives: June 2012

Indian cricket Paes for its dilemma!

It has been brought to our notice that in the last few days, several new developments have occurred behind the scenes that will rock Indian cricket in the immediate future. In particular, news has emerged that India players have placed new and unusual demands to the board in response to the lack of publicity they have received in the last few weeks. Sources within 100km proximity of these players indicate that the players are frustrated that other sports of little value to India (meaning tennis, badminton, chess (is that even a sport?)) have hogged the limelight. We at i3j3 can with nearly 1% certainty say that there is a probability that some India may more than likely come out with the following individual demands:

1. Sachin Tendulkar will only one day internationals for India if he is allowed to practice with a bowler who is unlikely to play on the opposing side but knows the opposition’s bowling strengths.
2. Gautam Gambhir will only play if he is given the vice captaincy and Virat Kohli is only considered after Virender Sehwag is given a chance.
3. Virat Kohli will only play if he is referred to as a youngster and Rohit Sharma remains his idol without ver getting a chance to play test cricket.
4. Manoj Tiwary will only play if Laxmi Ratan Shukla is not given captaincy of Bengsl in his absence.
5. Harbhajan’s Singh will only play if R. Ashwin is dropped from the side.
6. Zaheer Khan will only play if his hairstyle is not commented on by Ravi Shastri but is okay if commented on by Harsha Bhogle.
7. Rohit Sharma will only play if Virat Kohli does not consider him his idol and he is allowed to throw his wicket away at least once every two games.
8. V.V.S. Laxman will only if Rahul Dravid will play so that he can discuss quality of modern constructions at first slip.
9. Rahul Dravid will only play until he retires.
10. Dhoni will only play if players place no demands and he can ride his motorcycle at night.

I3j3 is committed to only posting updates to this list as when it’s readers predict future unrealistic scenarios.

The BCCI is extremely concerned that no cricketer has yet written an earnest open letter criticizing it on its administrative capabilities. It has hired Institute of Mathematicsl Sciences in Chennai to solve this complex problem and provide a Mathematicsl solution that it can take to ICC to oppose Duckworth Lewis. Maybe they need a super beta prostate. Math Sciences has demanded that India Cement sponsor this study and that the results be only interpreted by N. Srinivasan. Mr. Srinivasan has requested K. Srikkanth to be his spokesperson.

Updates to follow at infrequent intervals as determined by the mathematical model developed by Duckworth Lewis.

– Srikanth (inspired by twitter posting by Sanjay Subrahmanyan)


Cheekakai- A revolutionary new product.

For those who don’t dare…to MAKE them dare.

A (suggested) New Schedule for Ranji 2012-13?

In an earlier article on this blog, we suggested an altered group structure for the Ranji Trophy. The suggested new structure involved 4 Divisions A, B, C and D with 6, 6, 7 and 8 teams respectively.

In this piece we attempt a schedule for this new Ranji structure with a view to (a) ensuring feasibility of the schedule, (b) comparing it with Ranji-2011, so as to enable for effective comparison with the existing system.

Group-A: 6 Teams. Each team plays the other 5 twice (once at home and the other away). Thus, a total of 30 games in 10 “rounds”/weeks.

Group-A’s schedule :-

Group-A Schedule

Group-A, match start dates: 1-Nov, 8, Nov, 16-Nov, 23-Nov, 30-Nov, 7-Dec, 15-Dec, 26-Dec, 3-Jan, 10-Jan

Group B: 6 Teams. Each team plays the other 5 twice (once at home and the other away). Thus, a total of 30 games in 10 “rounds”/weeks.

 Group-B’s Schedule :-

Group-B Schedule

Group-B match start dates: 1-Nov, 8, Nov, 16-Nov, 23-Nov, 30-Nov, 7-Dec, 15-Dec, 26-Dec, 3-Jan, 10-Jan

Group-C: 7 Teams. Each team plays the other 6 once (either at home and the other away). Each team plays 4 of the other teams a second time (home or away). Thus, a total of 35 games in 12 “rounds”/weeks.

Group-C’s Schedule :-

Group-C Schedule

The team listed in the 1st column plays the teams in the 2nd column only once.

Group-C match start dates: 19-Oct, 25-Oct, 1-Nov, 8, Nov, 16-Nov, 23-Nov, 30-Nov, 7-Dec, 15-Dec, 26-Dec, 3-Jan, 10-Jan.

Note that because of an odd number of teams in Group-C, one team has a ‘bye’ each round. Thus, games in this group start 2 weeks prior to the season for the other groups.

Group-D: 8 Teams. Each team plays the other 7 once (either at home and the other away). Each team plays 3 of the other teams a second time (home or away). Thus, a total of 40 games in 10 “rounds”/weeks.

Group-D’s Schedule :-

Group-D Schedule

The team listed in the 1st column plays the teams in the 2nd column only once.

Group-D match start dates: 1-Nov, 8, Nov, 16-Nov, 23-Nov, 30-Nov, 7-Dec, 15-Dec, 26-Dec, 3-Jan, 10-Jan

Ranji Trophy “A” playoffs

The top four teams from Group-A compete for the Ranji Trophy “A” (or premier league).

[ W(Gx) is to be read as Winner of Game x, and L(Gx) is to be read as Loser of Game x]

Ranji Trophy “A” Playoffs

It starts on 8th, after other knock-out phases (scroll down) are done. Sole match to end the season.

 Ranji Trophy “B” playoffs

The bottom two teams of Group-A and the top two teams of Group-B compete in a playoffs series.

AR1 and AR2 are the teams that are facing relegation to Group-B for the next season while BP1 and BP2 qualify to play for promotion to Group-A in the next season. Note that BP1 and BP2 may have been in Group-A in the previous season too. This will be an eliminator style Qualifiers. The two eliminated teams will play in Group-B next season, while the two finalists will play in Group-A next season.

Ranji Trophy “B” Playoffs

Ranji Trophy “C” playoffs

The bottom two teams of Group-B and the top two teams of Group-C compete in a playoffs series.

BR1 and BR2 are the teams that are facing relegation to Group-C for the next season while CP1 and CP2 qualify to play for promotion to Group-B in the next season. Note that CP1 and CP2 may have been in Group-B in the previous season too. This will be an eliminator style Qualifiers. The two eliminated teams will play in Group-C next season, while the two finalists will play in Group-B next season.

Ranji Trophy “C” Playoffs

Ranji Trophy “D” playoffs

The bottom two teams of Group-C and the top two teams of Group-D compete in a playoffs series.

CR1 and CR2 are the teams that are facing relegation to Group-D for the next season while DP1 and DP2 qualify to play for promotion to Group-C in the next season. Note that DP1 and DP2 may have been in Group-C in the previous season too. This will be an eliminator style Qualifiers. The two eliminated teams will play in Group-D next season, while the two finalists will play in Group-C next season.

Ranji Trophy “D” Playoffs

Comparison with Ranji-2011/12

The Ranji Season 2011/12 featured a total of 86 games that spread over a total of 12 weeks. In contrast the suggestion above includes a total of 151 games, spread over 17 weeks.

Our suggestion above makes for a tighter season that is quite feasible (in terms of season scheduling). It allows for stiffer competition, particularly in Groups-A and B.

In addition, given the relegation/promotion battles, there is an element of interest for at least 16 of the 27 teams in the competition. The schedule suggested above indicates and proves feasibility. It is up to the BCCI to adopt it immediately.

-Mohan (@mohank) and P. Bharathram (@bagrat15)

Changes to the Ranji Trophy… Not enough

The BCCI’s technical committee, which included former players, Saurav Ganguly and Roger Binny — along with ‘special invitee’, Anil Kumble — recently recommended an overhaul of the Ranji Trophy, India’s premier first-class tournament.

The Ranji Trophy currently has 27 teams divided into 2 Divisions; one called Elite with 15 teams and the other, the Plate, with 12 teams. The Elite league is split into two groups, one with 8 teams and the other with 7. The Plate league is split into two groups with 6 teams in each. A collection of teams from these groups then fight it out at the knock-out stage of the Ranji Trophy competition. The people who decided on this current structure either had a lot of fun, smoked a rare kind of weed or had a gun stuck to their heads (or all of the above)!

Thankfully, the BCCI’s Technical Committee suggested an overhaul of the Ranji structure. They have recommended the scrapping of the Elite and Plate divisions and have suggested a rearrangement of the 27 teams into three groups of nine each. I am sure the BCCI will come up with imaginative names for these three groups although PlateCup and Saucer are my initial offerings.  This is certainly not a bad suggestion by the Technical Committee. Indeed, I campaigned for a somewhat similar restructure nearly 5 years ago.

In my view, this current overhaul is a step in the right direction; but it not quite enough. There are several reasons why this is just not enough, in my view:

  • The Premier Division should contain fewer teams that play each other more often.
  • There is no reason for constructing the knock out competition in the manner suggested unless one is worried about elitism and a complaint from Ram Guha about the lack of adequate representation for the down-trodden.
  • The Ranji Trophy, the primer inter-State tournament in India and the tournament from which India gets to harvest the next generation of talent, lasts a bit over 2 months! The Sheffield Shield involves fewer teams and lasts close to 4 months.
  • There are way too many domestic tournaments that need to be squeezed into the calendar: Challengers, Corporate Cup, Irani Trophy, Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy, and the IPL.
  • The pitches should be result-oriented and the points should reward risks and outright wins far more than it currently does.

We have to assume that a league with less than 27 teams is just not feasible. Ideally, the league should have no more than 14 teams in two Divisions of 7 teams each. However, let us accept that, for a variety of political reasons, a league with a fewer number of teams is just not possible.

The best players in the competition ought to play more games against the best opposition. The reason why Australia produces a string of excellent quality players — especially bowlers — who appear to be International match-ready is, in my view, because of the intensity of the battle at the highest level. Australia’s Sheffield Shield has just six teams that play each other home and away.

In addition, the Ranji League ought to see many more result oriented pitches. Home and away games must be the norm. A 9-team league does not provide the luxury of structuring a home-away type competition.

The Technical Committee also made recommendations aimed at providing greater incentives for outright wins in the league matches. The current suggestion is that outright wins will be worth six points (as opposed to the current five) and the bonus point system (for ten-wicket wins or innings victories) will remain. This is not enough in my view. I agree with Aakash Chopra on this suggested change. A team that wins ought to get a purse of Rs 15 Lakh (a lakh per player) and teams that draw ought to receive just Rs 1.5 Lakh, say (ten thousand per player). We might then see teams behaving differently. The reward that is on offer might see teams take on different kinds of risks. I also think that the points system ought to be tweaked much more in favour of a win. I would have made a win worth 10 points.

The current model that has been suggested by the Working Committee is that

  • Nine teams from the three Divisions play each other once only.
  • The 3 top teams from Division-A the 3 top teams from Division-B and the 2 top teams from Division-C play in the knockout phase; a phase during which players from the remaining 19 teams twiddle their thumbs and prepare for the IPL!

There is no real justification for having a knockout stage constructed in this strange manner unless we want to (a) satisfy the romance of another Rajasthan happening, (b) give Aakash Chopra an opportunity to write another book and/or (c) keep Ramachandra Guha from picking up his pen once again in a show of anger at the lack of democratic representation!

The real problem I have with the suggestion that is on the table is that it does not promote a drive to excellence as much and as hard. It just does not go far enough in my view.

A different model:

I would like to see the BCCI Technical Committee consider a totally different model though:

  • Split the current 27 teams into 4 Divisions: Div-A (6 teams), Div-B (6 teams), Div-C (7 teams) and Div-D (8 teams).
  • Each team in Division-A and B play each other at Home and Away (a total of 30 games in A and B played over 10 ’rounds’ or a max of 10 weeks).
  • Teams in Division-C play each other once and 4 of the teams again (schedule constructed in much the same way as the IPL-4 schedule was constructed) thereby resulting in a total of 39 games in C played over 10 ’rounds’ or a max of 10 weeks.
  • Teams in Division-D play each other once and 3 of the teams again (schedule constructed in much the same way as the IPL-4 schedule was constructed) thereby resulting in a total of 46 games in D played over 10 ’rounds’ or a max of 10 weeks.
  • The top 4 teams from Division-A (A1, A2, A3, A4) play for the Ranji Division-A Finals in an AFL-style (IPL-style) finals series where the winner of the league stage gets two bites of the cherry to appear in the Ranji-A finals.
  • A5, A6, B1 and B2 play an elimination-style B-Finals series to decide: (a) The Ranji Division-B Winner and Ranji Division-B runner-up. These two teams will be A5 and A6 in the next year’s Ranji Trophy. The losers play in Division-B for the next season.
  • B5, B6, C1 and C2 play an elimination-style C-Finals series to decide (a) The Ranji Division-C Winner and Ranji Division-C runner up. These two teams will be B5 and B6 in the next year’s Ranji Trophy. The losers play in Division-C for the next season.
  • C6, C7, D1 and D2 play an elimination-style D-Finals series to decide (a) The Ranji Division-D Winner and Ranji Division-D runner up. These two teams will be C6 and C7 in the next year’s Ranji Trophy. The losers play in Division-D for the next season.

In the above format, each team plays the same number of games in the league stage. The league games happen over 10 rounds and the finals series for all four Divisions would involve 3 games (or 3 rounds). So, the overall competition would take 13 rounds or just under 3 months. In the model that I have suggested above, as many as 16 of the 27 teams are involved in the knockout phase of the competition. This retains interest in the competition. This continues the engagement and interest in the results. And the relegation/promotion battles ensure that there are result-oriented matches.

Yes, this makes the Ranji Trophy last a bit longer. But, in my view, this would add to the flavour of competition – particularly in the A and B Divisions.

The best players need to bubble through the system from the best teams. A (limited and controlled) free auto loan calculator movement of players between teams will ensure that we see the best players play for the best teams. The Ranji Trophy should be about the best players being identified, nurtured and prepared. The suggestion made above has a greater chance of identifying such talent than the proposal that is currently on the table.

I would like to see the Irani Trophy, Deodhar Trophy and the Corporate Cup scrapped. These serve no real purpose in my view. In its place, if the format suggested above is adopted, at the end of the season, each Division selects its best players. Players from Division-A, Division-B, Division-C and Division-D teams (respectively) could play a revamped Duleep Trophy; one without ‘zones’. The same 4 teams could play a revamped Challenger Trophy too with teams named Division-A, Division-B, Division-C and Division-D (instead of red, blue, green and yellow).

And that would be it. Oh yes! And I would scrap the IPL too…

— Mohan (@mohank)

IPL – A Corporate Governance Success

Contrary to the beliefs and outcries from critics of the IPL, I have concrete evidence that the IPL is a successful corporation that demonstrates values and practices that meet and exceed global standards in corporate governance. I have tested the practices of the IPL against ISO 31000 (an objective science based international risk management standard developed through global consensus amongst 4 right wing ideologues from Australia and Japan and three Canadian Sycophants) and found them to compliant on all fronts. In the rich tradition of corporate governance consulting, I give you the top 10 reasons for why I believe IPL is an inspirational story for corporations worldwide. These reasons have been determined based on a scientific analysis of data collected from highly subjective, opinionated, and prejudiced minds of experts. Here goes:

1. Environmentally Conscious – Large open spaces were seen in stadiums left by partially constructed stands. These provided for fresh air and enhanced the architectural beauty of the grounds.
2. Diversity in the Workplace – The DD vs CSK playoff game was a case in point. Sunny Gupta moonwalked into the side as a like for like replacement (brown replacing brown) and was a shining light in IPL’s diversity practices. Additionally, a black guy was brought in place of a white guy who was dropped because a brown guy was injured. Balance of color was restored.
3. Work Life Balance – Players were provided flexible working hours and vacations for getting married, getting divorced, standing in political elections, becoming MPs, shooting ads etc. etc.
4. Social Responsibility – What’s his name who kept wickets and opened the innings for KKR in the finals and score 80 odd runs, was picked up from the streets and given a job when no one else would even care for him.
5. Strong Mentoring Program – Cheteswar Pujara was provided all the necessary tools and forums to talk to players very familiar (read folks from South Africa and India even if Chris Gayle was seated a couple of chairs away) with West Indian pitches even if he did not get to play an IPL game. Look at the outcome, Pujara has just won a game for India A against West Indies A.
6. Eliminating Age Discrimination – If Brad Hogg’s success story as a cricketer turned commentator turned IPL hero is not inspirational enough, I am not sure what is. Dermot Reeve, who last played for Warwickshire in the 16th century and was a successful commentator this year is gearing up for a season with Pune Warriors next year. I am 43 and happened to played with Harsha Bhogle in my childhood. Do I have a shot?
7. Fostering Innovation – Players were encouraged to employ innovative methods to supplement their earnings and were rewarded handsomely for advancements in Fix Laws of Probability and game theory.
8. Zero Tolerance of Sexual Harassment – CSK’s zero tolerance policy was in full effect as players were able to successfully avoided any untoward advances made by Suresh Raina on and off the field. His string of failures was an added advantage as he did not have much to cheer about anyway. Luke Pomersbach’s faith in India’s justice system and his subsequent settlement was removed from the evidence as it was deemed as an outlier.
9. Commitment to Regional Cooperation – The bailout of CSK by Deccan Chargers and Royal Challengers Bangalore was clearly an evidence of a bond and cooperation between regional partners that is unparalleled.
10. Producing Strong Leaders – The fact that the finals was played between two teams with the two best leaders in the game is a testimony. Their faith in high value employees in Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan certainly paid off! Or did it?

– Srikanth

IPL and the free markets delusion

If I was given $10 for every time I was sold the narrative that IPL is a triumph of free markets and capitalism, I would have retired by now. Since I have been given this lecture by so many people, some eminent and some not so eminent, I started taking the whole notion a bit seriously. I thought of the IPL as a great idea. Maybe if I can raise enough capital, I can even think about setting up my own league and give IPL a run for its money.

While I was doing my groundwork for the venture, I came to know that only BCCI and its subsidiary associations can sell cricket in India. The last time someone else tried it, it was clinically destroyed, it seems. But sticking to the true principles of free markets, BCCI did offer a one-time amnesty for players who had taken part in that even-If-I-say-the-name-I’ll-be-in-trouble league. It seems to be a new brand of free markets, this.

So, there’s only one seller of cricket in India, and by virtue of being the sole seller, BCCI is also the only buyer of cricketing skills as well.  That sounds like as far away from free markets as possible. Hang on, apparently I am missing the point is what I am told. At a macro-level it may be some strange concoction of monopoly and monopsony, but come a level further down and you’ll see capitalism in all its glory.

In a moment of inspired genius, BCCI reduced the number of teams from 28 (as is the case in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy) to 8 (eventually 10…er…9), stripped them of all its players, and allocated them to various cities. Then, it invited the poster boys of Indian capitalism to come and split the teams amongst themselves. That’s it. The masterstroke. Suddenly, an auction made Cricket richer than ever before. In a matter of few hours, Indian Cricket was assured of a little more than $720 million. Forget the invisible hand; this was wealth creation by pure magic. No, the wealth creation had nothing to do with the large number of foreign players being allowed to play in a domestic tournament in India for the first time, or that all the Indian superstars who were otherwise too busy or too tired to play domestic T-20 leagues were brought back to where they started. It is all because of the auction.

But what did this rich people’s club actually pay the millions of dollars for? An intangible idea called a city franchise for which they will put together a team and represent that region over 10 years. And then? Players are auctioned off to the highest bidder to help them put together a team. So, is the player the seller of his skills or is he himself the commodity here? If he’s the seller of his talent, does he have a choice to say ‘no’ to the highest bidder, for whatever reason? No. Either you are in IPL or not. Within that, there’s no choice. So, he’s a commodity. I am glad I am not part of a similar job market.

Let us look at it from the perspective of the franchise owners. How enterprising can they get with their teams now? The biggest source of revenue, the broadcast rights, is centrally auctioned off by IPL (BCCI), and a part of that is distributed to all the franchises on a fixed ratio – must be a tribute to Nehruvian India, I guess (Take that Mr. Guha, that emphatically establishes the ‘I’ in IPL). So, it doesn’t matter what team you pick in the auction, how many superstars you have, how much you succeed on the field, and thereby how much you contribute to the TV audience/revenue, your share is fixed.

It doesn’t stop there. There is a cap on a team’s budget for spending on players too. Ask why? Because IPL has the noble objective of creating an evenly contested league – oh, wasn’t IPL supposed to be a celebration of Capitalism?

So, IPL will sell its title rights, franchise rights, broadcast rights, the fours, the sixes, and all the other centralized rights to the highest bidder, but the players have to bear with a budget cap enforced on their employers. There are further caps on uncapped Indian players, defined catchment area for each franchises, an RBI priority sector burden styled requirement to carry a certain number of U-22 players as well. So, outside of private ownership and big money, there is not a semblance of the principles of free markets in IPL. And big money as such has nothing to do with free markets, but it’s a convenient narrative fallacy in India, because of the correlation between our stupendous increase in living standards and opening up of the economy in the early nineties.

In fact, we haven’t even come to the point of sustainability of the revenues yet. There’s hardly any due diligence done on the franchise owners. While you may know the faces that own teams, there is little detail available on the legal entities behind ownership. What about loyalty? How long will fans throng the stadium and rally behind their teams, if the players are completely shuffled every 3 years? And the conflict of interest is so obvious that it’s funny to even point it out these days. There were 8 teams, then they made it 10, then they threatened to knock out 2, and eventually knocked out 1 – and then one team threatened to walk out, only to come back soon after.

More than half the advertisements are illegal as per the laws of the land, and the entire empire of IPL is built on the foundation of broadcast rights sold by factoring in the illegal advertisement revenues too. There are reports from IT Department every 6 months about the scrutiny of some IPL transaction or  the other. If a Fund manager had taken on so much risk to earn the kind of returns that the IPL franchises do, he would have been stripped of his previous year’s bonus, leave alone being rewarded for his current performance.

It is not my contention that sports bodies should operate in a free market framework. I am merely pointing out that not every excess in IPL can be refuted with the logic that it’s the market’s choice.  And wealth creation can’t be the only objective of a cricket body. Yes, IPL makes money. But why? At what cost? What is the motivation for honorary members to work towards maximizing the revenue of an organization in which they have no stake? Which economic theory explains this relationship? I understand the CEO of a publicly listed company trying to maximize shareholder’s wealth, but why, a society with members working for charity?

What is the point of Cricket? Why does it exist? Does it exist to make money, or should it make money to exist? If it exists to make money, why would it waste premium real estate on an activity with such low returns? They could have knocked down the Wankhede/Brabourne stadium and built sky scrapers instead – the annual revenue of that alone would have exceeded the BCCI surplus from all its international cricket, IPL and the champions league put together. So, clearly it should make money for its existence and not the other way around.

BCCI may be a not-for-profit society, but that only means profits can’t be taken away from the society, not that it shouldn’t aspire to make profits. So, how much money should it make? Not just cricket, any sport, should strive to make as much money as possible without diluting the ecosystem. Is IPL doing that? A glance at the TV screen while the IPL is on is enough evidence against it. It  is raping the senses of its patrons. The richest cricket tournament ever provides the least pleasurable viewing experience to its audience. Players are being put through a punishing schedule year after year. It sucks two months out of the already packed calendar from international cricket, which puts the larger game in jeopardy. Is the money that it makes so important for IPL to put its patrons, its resources and the game at large through such a tumultuous time?

What does it do with the surplus generated? Does it have projects to invest it? Is it developing the game at all? Show me a semblance of it. We haven’t invested in projects out of the surpluses earned in the pre-IPL days, so, what are we going to do with the additional funds? If it’s just going to be earning interest in the bank account, why come so close to crippling the entire system for that? The last year’s annual report shows an actual surplus of INR 118.76 crores against a budgeted surplus of INR 11.56 crores. What’s the point of overshooting budget by more than a 100 crores and yet leaving your patrons with an annoying viewing experience, and pit players against a punishing schedule and enticing money?

Any sport has to have enough surplus to reward its players handsomely, invest in development projects, treat its patrons well and give them the best possible experience. And on top of it, the sport needs to build an adequate buffer for a rainy day. Beyond that, it need not (dare I add, it should not) exploit every inch of commercial potential at all; and surely not if it hampers any of the primary objectives. For instance, Wimbledon’s surplus last year was a little more than two times that of IPL. Hypothetically, if you have to sell IPL and Wimbledon in the market today, would Wimbledon fetch only two times the price of IPL?  Would the amount of surplus even come into the picture? So, even from an economic standpoint, the name of the game beyond a point is valuation, and not surplus.

That is the essence of managing sports: Money-making is only incidental to the larger objective of building a fine, credible, healthy, and financially sustainable ecosystem. Now, how does one explain this to BCCI, if they don’t understand it already?

— Mahesh  (@cornerd)

The IPL, mouth-clamps and resources…

On 24 September 2007, Sreesanth took a catch at short fine-leg at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesberg (South Africa); a catch that would change the world of cricket…

The catch and its ramifications

In 2007, India had exited the World Cup ODI tournament in the West Indies in the group stages. After that, India was without a coach. A (near) octogenarian accompanied the team as its coach/manager on a tour of England, at the end of which, the captain resigned.

India then traveled to South Africa to take part in a form of cricket that its cricket board did not like; a form of cricket that it submitted to quite reluctantly. It was also a form of cricket that was ‘invented’ by the England Cricket Board (ECB) in England; an organisation with which the BCCI shared a cold relationship of mutual distrust. Even when the Indian Cricket League (ICL) organized its own rebel T20 league in the few years prior to 24 September 2007, the BCCI merely tried to use its power to kill the hapless ICL. At that stage, the BCCI hadn’t embraced the T20 concept. It had looked at T20 with suspicion; it was just an easy way into cricket for the ICL crowd. Instead of developing a robust counter-strategy, it thought of ways to kill the ICL. It had no strategy of its own with respect to the shortest (and newest) form of the game.

But on 24 September 2007, that one catch triggered wild celebrations in far-away India. A battered team had recorded an unlikely victory.

Within days of that catch, Lalit Modi introduced Bollywood and India Inc to instant cricket in much the same way as Nestle introduced coffee to the Nescafe bottle. And in exactly the same way as traditional coffee drinkers looked at Nescafe with elitist distaste and disdain, Modi had created a chasm in cricket. The face of Indian cricket was to change irrevocably and irreparably. Modi had been trying to introduce the BCCI to India Inc and to Bollywood for ten fruitless years prior to that catch. However, apart from negotiating TV contracts, team endorsement contracts and cursory note-takings of a relationship or two between a player and a Bollywood actor, the BCCI hardly paid attention to Modi’s detailed business plans involving India Inc and Bollywood… for 10 years.

Sreesanth’s catch changed it all. In ten days…

A crony capitalistic ‘property’ 

The BCCI swung into action. In Modi, it found a man desperate for transformation; a man who sensed the opportunity to get rich fast; a man who could smell money from afar. Modi used this form of cricket — a ‘product’ — to create a great ‘property’. Suddenly, it was no longer a game, no longer a sport. It became a ‘property’ which could be used to deliver maximum value to investors in that property. But it was still cricket. At least, that was what many of us thought it was.

Within a few months of that victory, the Indian Premier League was established. Modi was a seriously driven, passionate, possessed man. He knew property when he saw it. The IPL was his baby. He drove it to ‘success’, and what a success it was.

He distributed licenses like a benevolent dictator. He got a few big business families in India behind cricket. He drew Bollywood in. He got his cronies from the BCCI in. He even got his own family members in. Licenses (or part licenses) were distributed to people within the BCCI, for he needed them to be on the bus. It was, after all, far better to have the corrupt and powerful in the tent pissing out than having them outside trying to piss into it.

The IPL construct was brilliant in its deviousness. It was presented as a package that was driven by market forces; a property that worked within a free-market. In reality, it was a form of crony capitalism that operates forcefully in India — and more importantly, within the BCCI. The structure provides the the team owners the unquestioned ability to print notes at the rate of knots. It is likely that all teams have healthy returns on their investments — although some of the later teams were hugely over-valued and could struggle as a result. However, the very same crony capitalistic free-market construct can be a double-edged sword. Such a distasteful form of market arrangement admits — no, necessitates — intentionally ambiguous laws, rules and regulations, which could be arbitrarily enforced at any point in time. In such intentionally corrupt systems, it is precisely this arbitrary knife that hangs over the head of the actors, which gives the regulator (in this case, the BCCI) its decidedly hefty and totalitarian power. The distinct possibility of having such ambiguously interpretable laws suddenly brought down upon a license holder makes it necessary for these actors to stay in the good books of the benevolent landlord.

A crony capitalistic edifice was carefully constructed in which dissent was tolerated like a mosquito on an arm. With a wave of the hand, a dissenting voice could be dismissed. Friendships were rewarded, as was good press. The property purchased the voices of two former players who pimped their positive vibes from the commentary box. As one of these purchased voices might say, Modi “left no stone un-turned”. The more powerful the pseudo-market got, the more powerful the organization became. If you were good you were deemed to be on the bus. If you were not, you got left behind, like Kapil Dev and Kirti Azad. These two players represented India with much distinction (they were World Cup 1983 winners) but were the only two who were not (recently) rewarded for past services. They expressed dissatisfaction with the BCCI and the IPL property. Kapil Dev even had the temerity to associate himself with the rebel ICL league and had refused to apologize for that “indiscretion”.

A wonderful ride nevertheless…

But a lot of us were taken in by the mystery of the IPL: The setup of the league, its teams, team names, the player auctions, catchment areas, under-19 players, overseas players, player-limits, salary-caps. Bollywood, entertainment, cheerleaders, parties, sponsors; all of it. This was setup to be a wonderful ride.

too was taken on this ride; this beautiful journey fueled by Modi’s drive, passion and vision. Like Pied Piper, he led me through the streets of Hamlyn. I was a totally willing lab rat in his magnificent experiment. For the first two years, I followed the IPL. I defended it. I wrote about it. I started to form allegiances with Royal Challengers Bangalore and with Chennai Super Kings; pledged some loyalty to the Delhi Daredevils and sometimes to the Mumbai Indians. I did not like the other teams.

I liked it less when Brendan McCullum hit that ferocious century in the very first IPL game. I loved it when Dhoni hit a six against Punjab Kings XI in a game in Dharmasala. I loved it when… Wait! Those are the only two events/episodes from IPL games that I actually recall from its five-year history.

But I followed the auctions and I watched the games. I appreciated the fact that the IPL gave an opportunity to a young player like Abhinav Mukund or Ajinkya Rahane to share the dressing room and learn from greats such as Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. I appreciated the fact the IPL gave an opportunity to a fringe player like Saurabh Tiwary or Rahul Sharma to bat against or bowl to the best players in the world — even if it was for just a few overs. The IPL had caused a general lifting of fielding standards and situation awareness, especially among developing players. I acknowledged that the IPL provided a comforting blanket of financial security to players such as K. P. Appanna, Shadab Jakati, Abhishek Nayar, Rajat Bhatia, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Venugopal Rao. Players like them would have little hope of a Team India cap and the mega endorsement deals that go with it. I did appreciate all of that. At one level, I still do!

I followed end-season player movements carefully. I cheered from the sidelines when, in the face of political pressure from the Government in India, Modi uprooted the 2009 edition of the IPL and, within weeks, organised the tournament in South Africa. I remember being somewhat wary that a lack of connect in South Africa might kill the property prematurely.

But was I wrong or what. If anything, the property became hotter now as it demonstrated a connect that went beyond India

Decadence and the prisoner’s dilemma

I think that was where my affair with the IPL ended. After the very next edition of the IPL, I stopped caring about this property. It became the land-deal that had gone sour; that building that reeked of decadence; a house that spoke to ill-gotten wealth. For me, it was as if, suddenly, the IPL talked more to after-match parties, sex, sleaze, gaudiness, cheerleaders and “match-fixing”, than it did, to cricket. It talked to an India that I did not wish to be familiar with. It talked to a rabidly zealous “India shining chest thump” that I found acutely disconcerting.

And at the end of that year, Modi was sent packing. He took on a key minister in the government. The minister lost the battle, but won the war. Modi had become “too big for his boots”. His wasn’t a mere fall from grace; he was made to run like a common thief. He knew too much and had become too powerful to let go, but too powerful stay. An example of the prisoners’ dilemma was being played out in front of our eyes. Would the BCCI rat on him, thereby risking open disclosure of the organizations’ underbelly? Or would Modi rat on th BCCI, thereby exposing his own shady deals in the friends-and-relatives setup that he himself had orchestrated? In the end, in what was a necessary deviation from what Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher (the two mathematicians from Rand Corp, who had posed the prisoners’ dilemma as a game-theory problem in 1950) had envisaged, Modi blinked first in the game of brinkmanship. He chickened out and chose to run. Since then, he has been running from land to land.

As knives were sharpened, people who were hitherto Modi’s friends and co-plotters at the BCCI, suddenly appeared to become wiser. They suddenly looked like professors in a laboratory. The brashness was replaced by a denial-led defiance. A few of them even wore glasses and started carrying papers and briefcases with them, hurrying between meetings about the property. One of the members of the governing council — sadly, no more — even admitted to being asleep at the wheel while Modi ran rings around the council. The charismatic leader had run too far ahead and had left behind a mess. These suddenly serious IPL people started glancing at governing council meeting reports, minutes and balance sheets. Admittedly, there was more flurry than activity, more bluster and brawn than benefit and brain. People peddled fast just to stay still.

Questions were asked, but mainly of Modi’s remaining interests and vestiges. Efforts were made to slowly dismantle these remains.

The very ambiguous elements that provided the firmament its inordinate ability and flexibility to grow at a phenomenal pace were used to weed out Modi’s remnants.

And then, when it appeared the show was once again on the road, the wheels started to fall off again. One IPL team that had started badly remained inadequate; it collapsed. Two other IPL teams were taken to court by the BCCI. Another IPL team stormed out of a player auction process in protest; it threatened to take the BCCI to court because it played less matches than it thought it would. One IPL chairman went. Another was wheeled in; a politician. Wings were clipped. But it pays to have powerful people in cricket who are also in politics.

…but the property survives

Carpets bulged with files brushed underneath them. The IPL could still be protected. The goose that sat on the property could still, definatly and gleefully, lay big golden eggs again.

Band-aids were purchased, sand-paper ordered.  The after-match parties were officially stopped. Yet they continued, although they weren’t advertised as before. India still shone, or maybe just shimmered surreptitiously. The cheerleaders were asked to lengthen their skirts — but only by a millimeter.

The rot still remained, the property survived and the party continued.

But to me, the property had become akin to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). The WWF is a hot property too. It is a charade; a made-for-television event that embraces celebrities and entertainers. I admit the WWF drama is completely make-believe, unlike the IPL. Despite my irreverent allusions to IPL-match-fixing on Twitter, I refuse to accept that IPL results can be fixed. As a friend of mine, who is connected to the IPL says, “It is hard enough to get three Indians to agree to something. How are you going to get a team full of Indians and the owners to agree to fixing an entire match? It is an NP-Hard problem” So, while I am not stretching the WWF-IPL analogy as far as allusions to predetermined and preordained results, the point I am making here is this: in the absence of an acceptable narrative, nuanced movement and rich context to the sport, to me, the IPL (like the WWF) had become no more than a spectacle that I might watch occasionally.

The cricket that is played might be serious and the fact that I no longer like it should not take away from it. I accept there is plausible merit in the cricketing arguments. Heck, I made these arguments when I still enjoyed the property.

…but what are the owners’ responsibilities?

However serious the cricket, my sense is that that is unlikely to be relevant to the owners of the properties. It should not, if they only worry about the IPL teams they operate.

To me, the proof of the owners being keen on the game’s development at a fundamental level would be if each IPL team and owner adopted three Ranji teams and paid for and funded the development of the talent in these from their profits.

That is the bedrock of talent the IPL draws from. It costs real money and voluntary resources (like coaches, umpires and ground staff) to nurture talent in these cricket nurseries. The resources in these Ranji teams belong to you and to me. Yes, to us ordinary fans. These are the resources the IPL teams employ, use and/or destroy.

If I were the owner of an IPL team, resource-nurturing would not matter much to me. They are nurtured elsewhere and supplied automatically as a result of a team’s license. The market argument construction, therefore, indicates that there need not be any strategic investment that is made into talent pipeline development. Manchester United has to develop its talent and nurture it. They invest in their talent nurseries. That is where their talent pool is developed. The IPL owners invested millions of dollars into the properties on behalf of their investors. As any responsible investor will do, they would (and do) seek maximal returns on their investments; the more, the better. Their objective is to grow the property and exit it at a time appropriate to them.

And this makes sound business sense. The IPL remains one of the fastest growing sports properties in the world. Wonderfully organised, it is Indian in every sense of the word. It showcases a facet of India to the world. A friend’s son in Somerset is a fan of Mumbai Indians. Another’s daughter in Cairns is a keen fan of Chennai Super Kings. These kids have never been to India. One of them wants to travel to India in 2013; not to see the country, but to see IPL games. India had arrived on the world stage through this unique property. As a nation, India was in the process of creating a Manchester United and a Barcelona in our times. Indeed, Harsha Bhogle has already tagged the five-year-old Chennai Super Kings with a greatness that is equivalent to Barcelona!

My heart ought to swell with pride. After all, here was an Indian creation that was making a mark on the world stage. Except it doesn’t; it makes me angry.

Dominica and annus horribilis

The frame of a decadent IPL was further colored by my anger at what happened in Dominica, July 2011. Within sight of a victory, the Indian team offered a hand-shake. The Test match ended as a draw. The team members retired to the comfort of their hotel rooms.

It is quite likely that the team management genuinely thought the target was improbable. But to have given up without effort talked of a deeply-rooted problem. The players’ bodies had been brutalized by IPL4. It appeared to me the players had lost their will to play, leave alone fight. IPL-4 commenced within a week of the World Cup. The players had hardly had the time to rest and recuperate, leave alone celebrate the World Cup win. A massive IPL tournament — the biggest yet, in terms of duration and size — followed. Within a few days of IPL4, an under-par, ill-prepared and fatigued India team went to the West Indies to play. Several key players were either injured or fatigued. This was hardly the right preparation for what was to be the most important year for Indian cricket; a year in which India would meet a resurgent and ambitious England in England (always a tough proposition); a year in which India would play a grueling series in Australia (again, a tough hill to climb).

The meta-narrative that plays constantly for me is that an under-prepared and fatigued team shook hands in Dominica and then lost the plot completely: India lost 0-4 in England and 0-4 in Australia. The first-placed team in the ICC Rankings slipped up in its quest for greatness. It had, once again, become an ordinary team. The team had slipped, in my view, because of the fatigue and injury brought on by IPL4.

The IPL owners are not to blame. They will want more and more form the resources that they share with mea stakeholder in the Indian Test team. My interest is in the Test team. This is not a snobbish interest or an elitist tone. I like the narrative, the context and the lazy frame that a Test match offers. I still remember the tension surrounding that 97 or that 241. I respect the right of an IPL fan to like and celebrate the narrative of a T20 game. Sure, but why use my resources? Get your own!

Yet, after Team India had had a disastrous 2011, instead of conducting an inquest into it immediately, the BCCI focused its attention on yet another IPL episode. A long tournament ensued: More chest-thumps; more ‘India Shining’; more talk of expanding the IPL by playing T20 with ICC Associate Nations; more games; more money; more dancing girls; more fatigue. Oh! Along with a statement that a report on the 0-8 loss “may be requested” from the coach. A report was not “at hand”, nor did they say that it “will be requested”, but only that it “may be requested”!

This was a further example, if one was needed, that the BCCI totalitarians did not care about anything other than money.

Suspicion of the totalitarian regime

Suddenly, here I was, looking at the IPL with suspicion and distaste. Wherever I looked, I saw a seediness to the IPL. The property was all about show-business, glitter, discotheques, sex, peanuts and money; nothing else. It was also eroding away my resources.

I could no longer bear the cheerleaders that I had tolerated until then. I would previously assure myself that this was another way of introducing new audiences to cricket. The DJs had become irritating. The din had become shrill. The pre-game TV show became more plastic and false. I could no longer stomach the feeling that a bowling machine could easily replace a bowler in this product of the game. I could no longer stand the seediness of the after-game parties the players were forced to participate in. I could no longer tolerate the brutalization of the sports-person’s frame (mind and body) by this property. I could not bear to see the petty-mindedness that arose from a palpable ill-treatment and a definite restriction of trade of uncapped Indian players. I could no longer tolerate the betting and the spot-fixing charges, nor accept the harmful effects that the IPL may be causing to the long-term health of the game in India. I could no longer tolerate the conflicts of interest and crony capitalism that shrouded this property.

I first became an IPL-agnostic. When I saw the effect the tournament was having on the Indian Test team (neither a product or a property), I disliked the IPL.

Debunking the free-market argument

In most of my arguments with IPL fans, the argument that is forwarded in its favor is the money it makes and the lifestyle it affords the players that come within the welcoming and comforting umbrella of the property. After all, it is a product that effectively monetizes everything from sixes to fours to post-match parties.

The IPL is a monetary success. Of that there is no doubt. But at what cost and with the help of whose resources is this success delivered? And this is just one of the many flaws of the market argument in favor of the IPL. If you want a real market argument, I will point to the construction of a monopoly that was created through the forcible closing down of the ICL. A free-market ought to have recognized that as anti-competitive conduct; it ought to have allowed the IPL to compete with the ICL. The free market argument is, therefore, fundamentally flawed. The ICC, through BCCI influence, restricted the right of the (shared) resources to trade and move freely between the IPL and ICL. The BCCI reestablished its dominant position in the market and continued anti-competitive practices by seeking a closure of the ICL. It does not operate in a free market environment. And this worries me.

Dissent without a mouth-clamp

An atheist has a right to live with the choices he or she makes. But with the BCCI standing at the pearly gates, asking for my religion certificate, I have no choice but to pick up a discarded Bible. While the BCCI has always been that way, the IPL has made it more so. Previously, the BCCI was one organization that pitted its might against others at the ICC table. With the IPL it is also able to also pit overseas player against other Boards that do not toe its line. I detest this vehemently and am powerless to do anything about it.

But at least I can voice my dissent, unlike others who are either in BCCI’s employ — either directly or implicitly — and unlike those that recently received a mouth-clamp along with a dole. And for what it is worth, I will continue to voice my dissent, even though I am unlikely to be heard in the cacophony that is the IPL.

— Mohan (@mohank)