Author Archives: mohankaus

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast — Episode-3 

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast (Episode 3), where Mahesh Krishnan Paddy Padmanabhan, Vish Krishnan and Mohan Krishnamoorthy ramble on about the India V Bangladesh Test match, Ashwin’s 250 wickets, BCCI v Supreme Court and other cricket stuff.

The third episode of our once a fortnight cricket ramble is here. Have a listen…

I3j3 Cricket Podcast Episode 3

Logo Credit: Sooraj Ramachandran

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast — Episode 2

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast (Episode 2), where Mahesh Krishnan Paddy Padmanabhan, Vish Krishnan and Mohan Krishnamoorthy talk about Kohli’s evolution, the England-India ODI series, Bangladesh cricket and a few other things that only 3-4 other fans care about.

The second episode of our once a fortnight cricket ramble. Have a listen…

The i3j3Cricket Podcast Episode-1

Sachin Tendulkar and the Bharat Ratna Arguments

This article first appeared in the DNA Digital on 18 November 2013 

Last Saturday, November 16, on the day that Sachin Tendulkar retired from international cricket, the Government of India announced that he (along with Professor CNR Rao) would receive the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour bestowed on an Indian citizen.

Before 16 December 2012, the award was for “exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of public service of the highest order”. On that day, it was changed so that it could be awarded “in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour”.

It was no longer restricted to exceptional individuals in art, literature, science and public service. The field was broadened to include “any field of human endeavour”. It was also ‘watered down’ to include performance as well as service. Cynics argued then, with some justification, that that the policy was altered to accommodate (arguably) India’s greatest cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar. Under the previous statement of the policy, he could not be awarded the Bharat Ratna.

In my view this alteration was partially right. There is no reason why the award could not be for “exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature, Sport and Science, and in recognition of public service of the highest order”. I did not like the addition of ‘performance’ to the criterion. Aakar Patel — and many others — did not agree with the rewording. Patel wrote in the Live Mint on 27th January 2012, that the award is poorer for the re-wording: “Deploying the forward slash communicates something pedestrian, not heroic.”

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The debate on the rewording of the policy has been reignited, as expected, after the announcement that Tendulkar would receive the Bharat Ratna. The timing of the announcement by the Government was cheekily uncanny. Just hours earlier, Tendulkar had made a heartrending speech at the Wankhede stadium on the conclusion of his last and 200th Test match. Perhaps for the first time in his playing career, this intensely private man allowed fans into a space that he and his family had guarded extremely ferociously for over 24 years. Through the medium of TV, radio and the Internet, he entered our homes and talked about his views and thoughts and shared a few anecdotes. He inspired, touched and provoked many that saw or heard what was arguably the most beautiful retirement speech. Across India and in many other countries, grown men and women wept as we heard Tendulkar speak from his heart, of the many people and organisations he owed a depth of gratitude to. Many more wept as we watched him walk up to the pitch, bend down, touch it and then touch his heart. He had paid his last respects to the arena that he gave so much to, gained so much from. We cried as he shed a tear. On social media, many adults wrote to say that with his retirement, their childhood had ended, for much of this childhood was seen through Tendulkar’s exploits on the cricket field.

On the day Tendulkar made that speech, even the most hostile cynic did not have a voice that was loud enough to protest the decision to award him the Bharat Ratna.

By the next morning, though, the naysayers began their rhetoric: ‘Kapil Dev deserved it more’, ‘Dhyan Chand should have received it too’; ‘Vishwanathan Anand should have got it too’, ‘Why give it to a professional sportsman, especially one that has earned so much money from the game’, ‘Public servants like E. Sreedharan deserve it more’. ‘M. S. Swaminathan should have got it first’, they said.

And then, Patel’s article started making the rounds again.

Patel says that the new wording waters down the stringency and rigour of the Bharat Ratna award. He argues, “The critical words “towards advancement of” have been dropped. Salman Khan performs exceptionally in his field. Does that qualify him to be Bharat Ratna? According to the new rules, it does.”

And Patel is right.

But does that mean that Tendulkar should not receive the award even if we retain the original “towards the advancement of” clause? No. There has been no player who has had the combination of “elegance, balance, poise, grace, technique, focus, determination, power, dominance, imperiousness, confidence, occasional arrogance, consistency, longevity, awareness and performance at the highest level in every theater he has visited and played in.” There is no doubt in my mind that Tendulkar has served the Indian team in a manner whereby he has worked towards the advancement of the game at the highest order.

Patel disagrees. He writes: “In any case, the Bharat Ratna isn’t a glorified man of the series award. When we give someone the Bharat Ratna, we honour ourselves. We hold up the person as an ideal of true greatness. As a model Indian, Tendulkar may not be the person to hold up in front of your children. He resembles a middle-class opportunist who will take advantage where he can find it.”

I’ve often felt upon reading Patel that he lives in a different India from the one I live in. Patel does cite three well-worn cases in his substantiation of the opportunism he sees in Tendulkar: the Ferrari tax-exemption case, the addition of a gym to his house and the reporting of a car accident in 1999.

Patel’s presentation of the Ferrari tax-exemption case ignores the fact that Tendulkar is well within his rights to seek a tax exemption on his Ferrari. Moreover, once he received the gift (with or without the exemption), the car is his. He can do with it as he pleases unless there is a clause in the gifting that prohibits a future sale.

As a tax payer and a citizen of the land, he has a right to seek permission to build a gym in his house, even after his plans have been already submitted. It is up to the government of the day to receive the case, examine it and provide such permission if it thinks that that is the right thing to do. Perhaps Tendulkar did employ a lobby group to influence the government’s ruling. Such tactics are perfectly legitimate in any functioning and vibrant civil polity.

Tendulkar’s sensitivity over the car accident in 1999 is also perfectly understandable, especially given the loud, sensationalist, high-pitched and TRP-hungry media, in which Patel plays a significant part.

In a 24-year-long sporting career, Tendulkar has played with almost no blemish against his name. He has always been a servant and a student of the game. He hasn’t been fined for either dissent or abuse even once in his immensely long playing career. His longevity and contributions to the game are unparalleled. He has been, at times, compared to the great Don Bradman; probably the greatest cricketer ever. Even if we ignore that as unnecessary hyperbole, Tendulkar has been mentioned in the same breath as Bradman, Gary Sobers, Vivian Richards and Shane Warne — some of the greatest players to have played the game. He himself has always talked about being a mere custodian of the game and has always talked about the game being much bigger than him. Unlike Viv Richards or Shane Warne or Gary Sobers, who had their occasional transgressions and peccadilloes, Tendulkar has played longer and emerged with an untarnished reputation. His career has been about integrity, pride and absolute fidelity to the fundamental tenets of the game.

If Tendulkar cannot be the person to hold up in front of children as a model citizen, I am not sure we have any in India from any walk of life: sport, art, science, politics.

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In a country that is utterly bereft of role models and heroes, Tendulkar has crafted a career without a single blotch and stood as a beacon of hope and a giver of pleasure.

The award to Tendulkar has also rekindled the sport versus art debate.

Like art, sport also seeks permanence. Most sportspeople and artists are engaged in the pursuit of excellence; in something that is more than the ordinary and banal. Although some sportspeople, and perhaps artists, are motivated by the bright lights, possible financial rewards, popularity and glamour — especially at the more popular end of their endeavour — most of them, at least in their formative years, are fuelled by a burning personal desire to drive themselves towards excelling in the domain in which they are rewarded with exceptional talent. And in that sense, they are self-focused because they seek to explore the unknown — either within themselves or as part of a larger creative endeavour.

Ed Smith, in a lovely articlein which he cites the magical beauty of Sachin Tendulkar’s wristy flick to midwicket, tries to answer if sports is indeed an art. He concludes that sport is more than a mere craft. Sport can be experienced at many different levels. Just like the arts.

Yes, sport may not enable us to find cure for diabetes. Unlike literature, sport may not enable us to understand the impact of a series of Russian famines. Unlike a painting, sport may not enable us to transcend the ordinary and peek into the realm that we cannot understand. Unlike a musical composition, sport may not provide us with the ability to see how frequencies may be interwoven together in complex arrangements. But sport, like art, science and literature is enduring. Exemplary sportsmen make contributions on a different canvas and seek the same permanence that artists seek. We live in a world where excellence demands sharp focus. As a result there is less of a chance of finding a Greek javelin thrower, with javelin in one hand and a paint brush in the other. Sport uplifts the soul as much as art can. Just talk to people who like to watch the Tour de France or long distance running or endurance sports like the triathlon. The narrative there is about straining, stretching and extending the limits of human endeavour so that we may understand more about ourselves, our fears, and the limits of our abilities.

Let us return to Patel and this simplistic argument he offers: “Kumar Gandharva took apart the gharana system, transformed the culture of Hindustani music and was also given the Padma Vibhushan. Tendulkar hit cricket balls. Many cricket balls, and very far. But Bharat Ratna?”

Allow me to alter the sentence: “Tendulkar lit the hearts of a million people through making many runs continuously in the most trying circumstances. A whole generation of Indian cricketers and Indian sportspeople wanted to play with pride, poise, productivity and promise like Tendulkar, who was a beacon of integrity and hope when India suffered agonizingly through the match-fixing crisis that paralyzed the sport in the late 1990s. Kumar Gandharva just sang notes. Many notes, and beautifully, But Bharat Ratna?”

For the record, I adore Kumar Gandharva’s music and his contributions. I developed the above parallel argument just to demonstrate how facile Patel’s argument is.

There can be no doubting Tendulkar’s contributions. The impact of his work is harder to measure, but there are statements of impact that can be made. Most kids would say that they want to bat like Tendulkar. Everywhere I have watched the game, he has been a draw card. People come to watch him play. He has been cheered on most international arenas he has played in. Audiences at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Lords’ and Antigua anticipate his arrival at the crease and cheer him as much as the crowds at the Wankhede, the Eden Gardens or Chepauk do. Just as many aspiring musicians wanted to sing like Bhimsen Joshi or M. S. Subbulakshmi, almost every cricketer of the next generation wanted to play the game like Tendulkar — not only in India, but around the world. Yes, Tendulkar never found a cure for AIDS nor did he advocate world peace, but neither did Bismillah Khan.

There is no doubt that Tendulkar is a popular choice. But he is, in my view, a clear example of how not everything that is popular is necessarily of lesser value. His contributions transcend the many divides and boundaries we have in our complex and layered society: rich/poor, urban/rural, haves/havenots, high-caste/low-caste, popular/esoteric, aristocrats/plebiscites. And his contributions to his field have an unmatched endurance.

In the past, the Bharat Ratna award has been handed out to recipients as though they were recognition for favours (not contributions) rendered. For example, 23 of our 41 Bharat Ratna awardees are politicians. It is easy to see why the prestige and uniqueness of the award itself has been sullied.

By giving Sachin Tendulkar the Bharat Ratna, my view is that the award has, once again, gained credibility.

— Mohan (@mohank)

God and the Argumentative Indian

This article first appeared in DNA on 11 Oct 2013 in two parts: Part-1 and Part-2

I once had the opportunity to travel from Mumbai to Singapore with Raj Singh Dungarpur. He was on his way to New Zealand as a representative of the BCCI at an ICC meeting. During our conversation, I asked him what his best decision was. Almost before I could finish my question he said, “Selecting Sachin Tendulkar to play for India,” and added with a twinkle in his eye, “although if you had seen him play as often I had, it wasn’t really a risky decision. It was bold, but not risky. And mark my words, any investment in Tendulkar will always pay off.”

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Raj Singh Dungarpur, Akash Lal, Ramesh Saxena, Gundappa Viswanath and Naren Tamhane selected a young, bright-eyed, squeaky-voiced, curly-haired teenager to represent India in Pakistan. A young and determined 16-year old Sachin Tendulkar played against a tough Pakistan team on 15 November 1989; a Pakistan team that had three genuine pace bowlers (in Wasim Akram, Wakar Younis and Imran Khan) and a world-class leg-spinner (in Abdul Qadir).

Almost twenty four years after that bold decision, Tendulkar will retire from International cricket after having played 200 Test matches.

And in these 24 years, almost as often as we have heard the chant “Saaaaaachin Saaaaaachin” we have also had Tendulkar embody the very essence of the argumentative Indian. Rahul Bhattacharya captures this beautifully in his piece “Man-child superstar” in which he writes:

“If the strokes are flowing, spectators feel something beyond pleasure. They feel something like gratitude. The silence that greets his dismissal is about the loudest sound in sport. With Tendulkar the discussion is not how he got out, but why. Susceptible to left-arm spin? To the inswinger? To the big occasion? The issue is not about whether it was good or not, but where does it rank? A Tendulkar innings is never over when it is over. It is simply a basis for negotiation. He might be behind headphones or helmet, but outside people are talking, shouting, fighting, conceding, bargaining, waiting. He is a national habit.”

*****

Tendulkar never promised us that he would lead India to victory in every match he played. Yet, we wanted him to. No. We expected him to. No. We made him mortal if he did not. We expected more from Tendulkar than we did, from even our politicians.

Tendulkar never promised that, at 40, he would produce the fluent strokes he played when he was 28. Yet, we always expected ‘the Tendulkar of old’ or ‘the Tendulkar of 1998’. We could, of course, purchase a DVD of the famous ‘Desert Storm’ series and see that Tendulkar of old. But that wasn’t enough. It was as though even time stood still when we evaluated Tendulkar. We could not accept an ageing Tendulkar and watch the Tendulkar of now. For the argumentative Indian, if Tendulkar did not reproduce his shots from 1998, he did not deserve to be in the team in 2013.

Tendulkar himself never promised us that all his centuries would be made in ‘winning causes’. Yet we expected his centuries to always result in India wins (or else those centuries wouldn’t count, or we labeled him a selfish cricketer).

Tendulkar himself never claimed he was God. But, we made him God and then the rest of us brought him down. Bit by bit.

In the end analysis though, in a country that is somewhat bereft of (sporting) heroes, Tendulkar, the hero, has outlasted the argumentative Indian, crafted a career without a single blemish and stood as a beacon of hope and a giver of pleasure.

Perhaps that is the mark of (his) greatness in the Indian context. Greatness in sport in India is perhaps not defined by the heady confluence of elegance, balance, poise, grace, technique, focus, determination, power, dominance, imperiousness, confidence, occasional arrogance, consistency, longevity, awareness and intent. He has been all of that over a long career. He has had all of those qualities over an extensive and distinguished career. Perhaps greatness in the Indian sporting context has to be marked by violent disagreements on the very essence of that greatness; what exactly that greatness is about. His greatness should have been automatically assured. Yet in India, Tendulkar has always polarized opinion. And that, perhaps, ought to be the accepted definition of greatness in a country that needs heroes but is equally eager to tear them down and ‘cut them down to size’ every now and then.

*****

Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement from all forms of cricket on Thursday, 10-10-2013. The fact that he had always worn the Number 10 India jersey may have had something to do with the timing of his retirement on this day. Or maybe it was the TEN that prefixed his surname which, in turn, may have earned him the number 10 jersey early on in his career.

The one other date that may have worked better for him — from the point of view of the numbers — would have been 10-10-10. If he had retired on 10 October 2010, he may have retired some five years too early. Indeed, on that very day, he was 44 not out at Bangalore against the visiting Australians. He went on to make a beautifully crafted 214 in that match. If he had retired on 10-10-10, we would have also missed his majestic 146 that he made at Cape Town on 4 January 2011. That Cape Town knock was his last Test century although, after that, he did come close to the 3-figure mark on a few occasions: a 91 (against England at the Oval in 2011) a 94 (against West Indies in Mumbai in 2011), a beautifully crafted 73 (against Australia at the MCG in 2011) a 76 (against England at the Eden Gardens in 2012) and an 81 (against Australia at Chennai in 2013).

So, on 10-10-2013, he has, in my view, retired two years too early. I say that although I am confident that my view is going to be questioned quite soundly and ridiculed significantly.

But that is what you get when you have an opinion on Tendulkar. There is no middle ground. You are either pro- or anti-Tendulkar. He polarizes opinions like no other champion players does (particularly in India).

As Siddhartha Vaidyanathan says in a post on Tendulkar, “What pains me is how a large part of discourse on the Internet is so limited to black and white. You are apparently either for Sachin or against him. If you question his place in the side, you are a moron who has no right to express an opinion or an ignorant bum who has never held a bat in his life or someone with a vested interest.”

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For all talk that he didn’t care about numbers and statistics, numbers did seem to matter to the man; or at least to the people around him who had a stake in him — and many did. So the choice of 10-10-2013 to announce his retirement was possibly deliberately crafted and carefully constructed like the 241* he made in Sydney in January 2004.

Numbers may not have mattered to the man, but they did to the industry around the man. And there is an industry around the man; an industry that seems filled with brand merchants, product architects, advertising honchos and people who launch things.

Perhaps I ought to have said ‘there was an industry around him’.

I would, if I can bring myself to talk about God in the past tense.

I cannot. At least, not yet.

Numbers did seem to matter. He worked hard to get to that 200th Test. Whether he did so because he wanted to, himself, or because of the people who had invested in him who had a vested interest in prolonging his career, we will never know. But it had been an open secret for far too long that he would play on until his 200th Test and that that 200th Test would be played in India. Indeed, it was the worst kept secret in the Indian cricket landscape; an environment that seems to have a steady growth — and not a decline — in innuendo and secret handshakes and less and less of assured planning and fact.

That his retirement in a home series was engineered so blatantly by his cricket Board just makes the cricket world sit up again and wonder at the beast at the ICC table that we Indian fans have created; the ogre that we continually endure and support.

*****

So how did you feel when you heard of the news of Tendulkar’s retirement?

Me? Although I sensed, since the start of this year that Tendulkar would retire after his 200th Test and even though I was prepared for the announcement, I felt a numbness when I heard the news. I cannot imagine an India Test team without Tendulkar. I cannot quite bring myself to accept that someone else will now walk in at the fall of the second wicket.

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There was always a calm sense of assurance that Sachin Tendulkar would walk to the middle at the fall of the second wicket; that he would walk down the pavilion steps (or ramp), look skyward, squeeze his eyes, walk purposefully to the wicket, take guard and perform his pre-stance box adjustment routine.

That was assurance. It gave me comfort.

And I cannot yet bring myself to accept that the now famous and always assuring pre-stance box-adjustment routine will now be replaced by the vigorous bat twirl and ‘inside of the helmet visor wipe’ routine that belongs to Virat Kohli.

That acceptance may happen too, only because it must.

Tendulkar had given me — and many others like me — much joy in the 1990s when India got routinely thrashed all around the world. He gave me cause to celebrate because of the way he played the game. His cricket was simple, uncomplicated and beautiful. His cricket was untainted and joyous. His cricket was pure.

I had watched with admiration and pride as he grew in stature: he was first a kid playing in the midst of grown-ups, then a boy, then a lad, then a man and then, a God in his country and then, a statesman in world cricket. He did not want to be a God, mind you. We made him God. And the same people who made him God cruelly called him Endulkar in 1996 2006 when he was going through a rough patch, as all human beings must (and do).

But that was us fans. This God did have clay feet. Sometimes.

In the end, however, there was only one constant. He had always played the beautiful game with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm. He only wanted to play. He knew no other life.

*****

I had watched him score 119* in Manchester. Yes, that innings that really announced his arrival on the world stage. I was in England in those days. A few months later, I moved to Australia and there, I watched every ball he faced when he made 148 in Sydney in January 1992 in the company of Ravi Shastri. But more importantly, a month later, I watched in awe, with pride and a growing sense of admiration as he braved the pace of Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Paul Rieffel, Mike Whitney and Tom Moody when he made 114 in Perth. I had watched the young boy grow up to be a man and then, a legend. All in the space of 18 months. During that defining Perth innings, a boy wonder had become a man. That is, to date, the best innings I have watched Tendulkar play.

Or is it?

Was it that 241* in Sydney in 2004? Or the 111 in Johannesburg in November 1992? Or the 177 in Nottingham in 1996? Or the 169 in Cape Town in 1997? Or the 155* against Australia in Chennai in 1998? Or the 155 in Bloemfontein in 2001? Or the 193 in Leeds in 2002? Or the 194* in Multan in 2004? Or the 154* in Sydney in that Test in 2008?

There are too many wonderful knocks to list. But talk about the best Tendulkar innings always polarizes opinions, like talk about the man himself. And that is what you get by having an opinion on Tendulkar. There is no unique answer. Was that 241* his best or was it that 194*?

Perhaps that is the point about greatness. We can’t quit agree on what constitutes greatness, although there can’t be much doubt on greatness itself.

*****

And then there were the endless debates on whether Tendulkar played for himself or for his team. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan wrote on “Tendulkar and the ‘clutch’ question”  in which he quotes his friend Jay, who said: “Most fans agree on what is a big game and what is not. There comes a time during these big games when most fans smell the moment, the moment when the game is balancing on the finest of threads. I have seen Tendulkar occasionally sense the moment and pounce on it, imposing his greatness on the occasion. But I feel I’ve seen him not seize these moments more often.”

Perhaps these arguments would never have happened if Tendulkar had finished the game off and won that Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1999. What that ignores is that there were a whole bunch of players who could have stayed with and helped a bruised Tendulkar win that game for India.

Perhaps these arguments won’t have happened if Tendulkar hadn’t skied that McGrath bouncer in the 2003 World Cup final. What that ignores is that it was perhaps because of Tendulkar that India even reached the 2003 World Cup final.

Perhaps…

But that is also an integral part of Tendulkar’s greatness in a country that is only now getting used to thinking about greatness in cricket. Fans have to either criticize his 136 in Chennai against Pakistan for what he did not do, or celebrate it, for what he did.

*****

Many will say that Tendulkar had extended his stay; that he ought to have retired from all forms of the game on 2 April 2011. But he continued playing all three forms of the game after that day. It was not his responsibility to select himself in the team. To play was his choice; one we must always respect. He had earned it. But did we respect him? No. Arguments raged notwithstanding the fact that, of the four member middle-order who have retired in the last four years, India has only found stable and able replacements for Rahul Dravid (Cheteshwar Pujara) and VVS Laxman (Virat Kohli). Four years after his retirement, India still does not have a steady replacement for Sourav Ganguly after trying out Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, S. Badrinath, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja. All of these have only had mixed success.

Yet, we were keen to disrobe God although it was clearly the duty of the national selectors to have a chat to the man and talk to him about retirement — that is, if they wanted to replace him.

Did he overstay his welcome? No. As I indicated earlier, in my view, he still had a year or two of Test cricket left in him. The team has already seen the departure of Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble and perhaps Sehwag and Zaheer Khan. These days, a team that loses all of its stalwarts in one fell swoop is called Australia which thought — somewhat arrogantly — that there is an endlessly rich talent pipeline that affords selectors the luxury of a brutal revolving door.

National sporting teams need to carefully nurture talent and this needs the hands of an artist and not the axe of a wood-chopper.

Of course, Tendulkar’s place in the Indian team has never really been questioned (even in 1996) except, perhaps marginally, in the last one year or so of his career. Tendulkar still seemed to love the game and every time he took the field, seemed to play the game with the same zest that I saw in Manchester some 22 years ago. And he can still hold that 2-down spot.

In his retirement announcement, Tendulkar says, “It’s hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it’s all I have ever done since I was 11 years old.”

His job was to play. He knew nothing else.

*****

So, the debates will continue to rage. And I had one within 5 minutes of his retirement announcement. I thought that his best shot was the straight drive to a fast bowler. A colleague said it was the upper cut over the slips, back arched, eyes focused on ball, neck slightly inclined. Yet another said that it was the back foot drive through the covers. Another said it had to be the casual flick through deep square leg.

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We could not arrive at a meaningful conclusion. Perhaps one is not necessary.

We moved instead, to a discussion on his best innings ever. 241*, 194*, 111, 177, 155*… An hour later, with no conclusion in sight, we moved on to his best ODI innings ever. And so the night meandered on.

When an international sportsperson plays for as long as Sachin Tendulkar has, it is hard — nay, almost impossible — to pick out one specific shot, one specific innings, one specific moment. All of them were perhaps equally brilliant. All of them were crafted carefully. But more importantly, all of them were played by a young, enthusiastic, curly haired lad who loved the game, loved playing for India and wanted nothing more than to give pleasure to the people who watched him play.

Today, a day after the announcement, the numbness is gone. The sadness is gone. I only feel pleasure. Pleasure that I watched it all — from 1989 to 2013. Pleasure that I argued about him. For him. Pleasure that he enhanced the appreciation I have for the game. Pleasure that he was there as a beacon of hope  in 2000, a time when the match-fixing saga raged; a time when I thought I would abandon my support for the game I loved so much because I had learned that some of the men who played the game had played it to line their own pockets.

But then God was there. He did not know how to cheat or how to throw games. He could not be procured. And in the end, his love of the game is really the measure of his greatness. He played for the team always. He played for the fans who loved the game always. Throughout his life, he lived cocooned in the warm comfort of his home or on the cricket field. He knew of no other life other than cricket.

Meanwhile, the arguments will continue unabated…

— Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)

The author is an unabashed fan of cricket, tweets at @mohank and blogs at http://www.i3j3cricket.com and mohankaus.blogspot.com


Whose resource is it anyway?

The game I love is being slowly and systematically destroyed in India and I need the key destroyers — the BCCI, in my view — to answer one simple question: Whose resource is it anyway?

Events in the last few weeks, in particular, have only highlighted the rot that set in many years ago. Now, dark clouds of extreme doubt and utter cynicism hang over everything to do with cricket and the BCCI.

Slowly. Relentlessly. Definitely.

If this sounds like doomsday, it probably is. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan (sidvee) writes about it. Harsha Bhogle writes about it. Prem Panicker writes about it.

Players have been trapped for spot fixing IPL matches. A Bollywood actor is being questioned. Several bookies have been arrested. An IPL team CEO is also being questioned for apparent questionable links. The ICC has pulled out one of its elite umpires from standing in the Champions Trophy. We do not know why, but in this climate of extreme cynicism, we have to assume the very worst; that the net has dragged in even a former ICC ‘Umpire of the Year’.

The IPL looks utterly fixed at the moment, although another expletive starting with the letter F and ending with the letter D would seem rather appropriate too.

Let me declare my cards: I do not like the IPL now. In fact, I detest almost everything it stands for.

I watched the IPL with much interest in its first season, and I loved it. I was a fan of this novel format because it was franchise cricket that brought together the best players from the world for a cricket carnival that  lasted a few weeks. It propelled hitherto unknown players onto an international stage. It gave an opportunity for young Indian players to rub shoulders with some of the greats of the game. And it provided financial security to a very large set of players. This was exactly what Indian cricket needed, I thought. I even devoted some of my own research time to develop a better algorithm for scheduling the IPL (a publication on this is currently under review).

Moreover, much like Suhrith Parthasarathy, I wasn’t about to dismiss what seemed like an exciting concept without giving it a fair go. I genuinely believed that we would see new technical expertise being developed as a result of this craze. And there are people who will say that the IPL in particular — and the T20 format, in general — has indeed contributed to cricket in a technical sense. I was drawn immediately to the novelty of the IPL concept: a heady cocktail of entertainment and cricket that showcased Indian talent on the world stage in a genuinely exciting manner. I also enjoyed the stroke making as much as I did, the routine public floggings that bowlers received.

Then, as with many things in life, the novelty wore off. Unlike many things in life though, what I noticed was that apart from greed, there was a distinct lack of permanence or a cogent narrative to the IPL that I could see. After every ugly season, I only remembered the stench. I realized that the IPL was nothing but an instrument that fueled the insane greed of a few people; such an instrument only has hands and eyes on the cash-till. It operated in a totalitarian regime which ensured that people were either in or marginalized as they fed what appeared to be an insatiable greed. Everything else, other than the cash-till was made insignificant.

Goose. Golden Egg. Rinse. Repeat. 

Such a greed machine always gets things very very wrong. I have nothing against commerce. But when commercial greed takes utter precedence over values and permanence that a sport ought to strive for, then everyone loses: the game, the administrators, the players and the fans. In the IPL, over time, cricket became almost secondary. In a relentless pursuit of TRPs, the TV station which had paid the BCCI a lot of money for rights to broadcast IPL games  had no choice but to adapt to stay afloat. Cricket took a back seat. We got an extremely noisy television studio where the more loud one got, the better it was. We had dancing girls in the studio. Soon, short skirts, noodle straps and Bollywood glitterati were thrust into our faces at every opportunity. The after-match parties were talked about, advertised and sold.  All of these defined the show more than the cricket on view.

Unsurprisingly, everything started to go pear shaped. With each passing episode, a lecherous greed seemed to grip the IPL. More games, more teams, more timeouts, more advertisement revenues, more players, more parties, more betting, more muscle flexing, more dancing girls, more sponsors on every inch of space, more money being siphoned off, more greed, more conflicts of interest, more being shoved under the carpet, more carpets being procured, more band-aids to cover up gaping holes.

More, more, more, more, more, more, more of everything except cricket.

I have no problems with glitterati, dancing girls, noodle straps and parties. I hate that all of that, wrapped up in a ‘more, more, more’ culture has taken precedence over cricket.

And in a culture that focuses on the cash-till and one in which more is actually less, are we surprised that a few players were led astray by exhibiting the seemingly ceaseless greed of their masters?

I am not at all surprised.

Today, the IPL represents a painfully tortuous mangling of everything I have loved about this game. Like Prem Panicker, I fell a sense of loss, a bereavement: “The abiding sense of loss that is a direct consequence of being deprived of something dear to me.”

Some people I talk to say I have a choice. They say I can switch off from cricket for the two-month period that the IPL is on and read books or watch old DVDs of movies I need to watch.

No.

To those that say “If you do not like it, do not watch it,” I say ‘I just can not do that’ because the IPL uses resources that belong to me. And to you. And you. And you too.

I would switch off if it was the now-defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL). The ICL used its own resources: grounds, players, coaches, administrative machinery.

Not the IPL. As a fan of Indian cricket, I have a vested interest in the IPL because it uses resources that ‘belong to me’. The BCCI is entrusted with the task of managing these resources through a license to operate, provided to it by the ICC. The resources are the grounds, the nurseries, the administrators, the practice pitches, the groundsmen, the district competitions, the representative leagues, the Ranji Trophy, the Irani Trophy, the umpires and the players that have all been bred by the game you and I so love.

So, to those that say “If you do not like it, do not watch it,” I say, “If you want me to switch off from the IPL and if the IPL is truly a market-led initiative, then get your own resources.”

Until then, I need to know the answer to this simple question: Whose resource is it anyway?

If it is mine, then I have a say. Please hear it: Clean up the darned beast. And now.

— Mohan (@mohank)

Come to India, we will show you

India lost 0-4 to England in England 2011 through poor preparation, a wrong team, a sudden and indescribable inability to play the seaming ball, injuries and overall fatigue. Oh! And the opposition played brilliantly too.

India then went on to lose 0-4 to Australia in Australia. Injuries and fatigue could not be blamed for that loss. India had prepared reasonably well too. One or two players had warmed the bench right through the tour — somewhat surprisingly and with some inflexible obstinacy on the part of team management. But overall, the touring party was perhaps the best that India could have fielded. Yet India had lost. Badly.

The captain, Dhoni was blamed for his wrong selections. Dhoni was also blamed for his ultra-defensive field placings. ‘Rift’ remained a recurring refrain. Aging seniors in the team were blamed. Two of these seniors subsequently retired.

The team spoke in many tongues on that disastrous tour of Australia. In one of the one-day games, Dhoni achieved a victory with a few balls to spare and with many hearts in mouths. In the press conference after the game, Gautam Gambhir, who had scored 92 in that game, said that the game ought to have been closed off in the 48th over itself. On another occasion, Dhoni responded to a team selection issue and indicated that some of the seniors were too slow and cost the team 20 runs on the field. Sehwag responded to that statement with surprise.

All was not well with the team. Or so it appeared.

Mohinder Amarnath, the then chairman of selection committee, wanted Dhoni removed as captain. The BCCI President, N. Srinivasan, vetoed that decision. Much band-aid was needed, and applied. Much sand-papering was needed, and performed. Much shoving-under-carpet was required, and accomplished.

India looked to rebuilding a tired, aging and weary team that appeared unready for transition. Just as everything else, we do not plan a transition. It just happens. We are like that only. Some felt that the transition process had already been delayed. Yet, India had the perfect opportunity to rebuild at home over a one year period. And India did that through a mix of worthy retirements and good luck through injuries and bad form. Slowly, but surprisingly effectively, under the watchful eyes of a new selection committee headed by Sandeep Patil, the team transitioned.

Ishant Sharma had sledged David Warner in the Perth Test of the Australia series: “Come to India, we will show you,” he had said. Gautam Gambhir, the then team India opening batsman, issued a similar challenge to the Australians and added that India had to prepare “rank turners” for visiting teams. Gambhir and Ishant Sharma betrayed a defensive mindset. They also provided much fodder for the Indian press corps that visited Australia with the India team. The press was more interested in blood, blame and bludgeoning than they were in understanding what exactly was going on with and within the team.

Gambhir was right in asking for “rank turners” to be prepared. I am not sure why there is much disdain for “dust bowls” and “rank turners”. I haven’t heard too many people say, “Disgraceful pitch. Look at that bounce and lateral movement on day-one itself,” but have heard many a person say “What a disgrace! Turn and bounce on day-one itself?” Spinners are as much a part of cricket as pace bowlers are. The game, particularly in Australia, needs to embrace spin as much as it does, pace. Words like “dust bowl” and “pitch doctoring” have been used as pejoratives for far too long in our game. There is nothing wrong with a turning track.

And so, a few turning tracks were prepared to welcome the Australian team. The visiting Australians did not have the skill or the capabilities to cope with the turning ball. Suddenly, the shoe was on the other foot.

The captain, Clarke, was blamed for his wrong team selections. He was also blamed for his somewhat strange captaincy decisions. ‘Rift’ remained a recurring refrain. Immature juniors in the team were blamed.

The point is that just as India needs to prepare more seaming tracks for the domestic Ranji Trophy competition, Australia has to prepare spinning “dust bowls” for some of their domestic games. Dust is not hard to find. And a bowl ought to be available in Australia. Several of the leading talents in the Australian team were badly exposed after coping very poorly with spin, and this showed in Australia’s poor returns from the series.

When India toured England and Australia, there was a sense that there were a few players who had been left behind who ought to have made the team. There were certainly a few players who warmed the bench during those two tours who, perhaps, ought to have got a game. Injury and fatigue plagued at least one of those tours. The real worry for Australia is that the team that they brought over to India was probably their best team. It is likely, therefore, that the rebuilding process will take just that little bit longer for the Australian team.

This is not to say that India has rebuilt the team completely. No. The work has just begun. And as Sameer Chopra says in his blog article, “I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions about the future of Indian cricket based on one series win, at home, against a team undergoing a transition of its own. South Africa, at home, awaits. But the presence of young batsmen who show a hunger for runs, spinners who show aggression, and most importantly, a winning feeling whose memory will, hopefully, stick around and provide some wind beneath their sails in that land. On its pitches, against names like Steyn, Morkel and Philander, there is sufficient cause to hope that no more inversions of this present score lie around the corner.”

A stern test awaits this Indian team now. However, the 4-0 win over Australia was no ordinary feat. And it was delivered by captain M. S. Dhoni leading from the front in the first Test of the series. In his forceful wake came telling contributions from M. Vijay (16 Tests), Ravichandran Ashwin (16 Tests), Cheteshwar Pujara (13 Tests), Shikar Dhawan (1 Test), Ravindra Jadeja (5 Tests), Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (4 Tests), Virat Kohli (18 Tests) and Pragyan Ojha (22 Tests) and Ishant Sharma (51 Tests). This was a significant series win achieved by the above nine players with a total experience total of 146 Tests between them; one in which a particular player with an experience of 198 Tests hadn’t really contributed much.

Barring the introduction of Ajinkya Rahane, most of India’s selection decisions were good and more importantly, paid off. Will Rahane get the benefit of doubt? Subash Jayaraman thinks he should not. That apart, the right players were picked at the right time. And the right players were dropped at the right time. It would appear that this team now responds to the captain much more than the team which represented the worrying transition between 0-8 and 4-0.

I wish India was heading to South Africa next week; a tour that will separate the men from the boys, wheat from chaff. But we have to endure the IPL and a stunning array of meaningless ODIs before India goes head to head against South Africa. And it will be a while yet before we can say “Come to India, we will show you,” as the next domestic Test series is some time away…

— Mohan (@mohank)