Author Archives: mohankaus

As the world laughs, IPL Saints and IPL Warriors argue

World Champions in cricket to laughing stock of cricket.

That statement represents Indian cricket’s journey over the last 20 months; the Indian cricket team has slipped from being World Champions in the 50-over format of the game and in Test cricket, to being a laughing stock of world cricket. India has not been playing good cricket for well over eighteen months. That is known. At the Eden Gardens in Kolkata last week, the team played terrible cricket.

But there is more to being the laughing stock than just ugly cricket.

***

The power that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) wields in world cricket is delivered by its impressive fan base. The fans weather rotten conditions — and  abject treatment from stadium officials — to watch the game at ill-equipped grounds in India. The fans often endure a breathlessly unceasing series of advertisements (and sometimes the verbiage of boisterous and clamorous anchors) to watch the game on television sets across the globe. The fan supports the game and continues to provide power to the BCCI, which, in turn, continues to stretch the boundary conditions of the blind commercial greed envelope that it holds — mostly triumphantly.

It is not the BCCI’s fault that they have this power and this advantage at the global decision table. It is not to the organisation’s credit either that they continue to tear into the game at every level. And despite their best intentions, they do.

There is a growing view around the world of cricket that the BCCI is a self-serving organisation that does not have the best interests of either world cricket and/or (more sadly) Indian cricket. Gideon Haigh develops this thesis compellingly in his lovely book, “Sphere of Influence”. Others have been more vocal in expressing more or less this view of the BCCI and the way in which it runs (er, ruins) cricket in India; and the way in which it throws its weight around in world cricket. I do not subscribe to that view entirely, merely because the BCCI has been allowed to be a “bully”.

***

When the Indian team was performing exceedingly well, it is likely that this perceived bullying built up envy and resentment in cricket communities around the world. But, all of those negative views were ignored or brushed aside mainly because the team performed well and was well-served by strong and impressive individuals in it like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble and Saurav Ganguly; virtuous men of integrity, probity and repute.

Most of them have now exited, stage-left. And with them, the results went too. Today, the envy and resentment in several cricket communities around the world has given way to Indian cricket being a bit of a laughing stock.

India may still win the last Test against England in Nagpur to square the series. There is much pride at stake. India does not easily lose series at home; and that too by huge margins. But the scars inflicted by England at the Eden Gardens will, I believe, remain for a long time.

We accepted when the team lost badly in England and Australia. We accepted when the team scrapped to secure wins at home against New Zealand and West Indies. Today, the team does not appear to have the ticker to win even in home conditions.

The exit of Ganguly, Kumble, Dravid and Laxman exposed the strange functioning of a selection committee. It is not easy to replace experience overnight. The replacements weren’t ready. That is to be expected. Teams — even good teams — go through peaks and troughs. However, the better teams bounce out of the trough through review, introspection, reflection and honest self-examination.

Instead, what we have seen is consistent denial, a plethora of weak strategies, weak policies and an unsure domestic competition. The nature and the number of tweaks to the domestic structure over the last few years suggests a lack of clarity about the role that domestic cricket plays in India. The domestic competition has been tinkered with much more in the last few years than Shahid Afridi has retired.

***

After India had won the World Cup in April 2011, a handshake in Dominica started the slide. Cricket fans were polarized into two groups: the Keyboard Warriors who criticized the Dominica handshake and the Keyboard Saints who were calm and dispassionate in their understanding of the handshake. The saints nodded wisely and poured cold water over the warriors in a bid to calm them.

Since the Dominica handshake, a succession of humbling defeats against England and Australia were hard to fathom. The few hard-fought wins against West Indies and New Zealand at home provided a smokescreen that concealed a malaise that probably ran deeper. What hurt most was this recent capitulation against England — at home!

Today, many of the then saints have become warriors and the warriors have all but given up on the team.

At the start of this important journey, the team stood on the cusp greatness. A ‘clutch’ moment was discarded. The team now stands on a perilous and unhealthy ledge.

The saints and warriors, meanwhile, continue to fight: over the IPL and its impact on the team’s slide from greatness to near obscurity.

***

In my view, the IPL has had a major role to play in this decline. I am an IPL Warrior.

The IPL Saints will point out that the tournament was first played in 2008. India became the number 1 Test cricket side only in 2009. The IPL Saints will argue that the IPL may, therefore, have had a positive impact on the Test side. The other argument that the IPL Saints normally put forth is that other teams like South Africa, Australia and England have T20 tournaments too. Moreover, players from these countries play in the IPL too. Yet, these three teams have reached higher rankings in the last 18 months and play better Test cricket than India has. Hence, they will argue that there is no real correlation between the IPL (and other domestic T20 variants) and the national Test team performance. Finally the IPL Saints also argue that India has more domestic cricket players and can, hence, support an IPL competition without the concomitant burn-out risk to players in the national Test team.

Wrong.

The ‘strength in numbers’ argument is as lazy as the one that goes “India is a country of over 1 billion people, why can it not win even one Olympic Gold medal?”

In terms of physical stresses, we just cannot easily compare players from Australia and South Africa to Indian players. That argument does not carry easily. Firstly, people from different cultures have a different structure and make up; Indians work and train differently. Indian players approach the game differently. We aren’t renowned for the intensity of (and focus in) our training. We lack the excessive reliance on science in our training methods. That is very much an occidental approach. Teams from Australia, England and South Africa rely on focus, agility, physical strength, team discipline and ‘playing for each other’. It runs in their blood. Indians rely more on hand-eye coordination, hand speed, timing and silken skills. In that sense, we are more VVS Laxman than we are Rahul Dravid.

The IPL does therefore, in my view, stress out players from India differently. The length, the duration, the intensity and the incessant nature of the competition takes a great toll on the bodies and minds of players from India. The fatigue was apparent in Dominica. It was obvious in the 0-4 loss to England. Since then, I believe the team just lost it completely. I cannot explain the 0-4 loss to Australia in any other way. I am unable to come to terms with — leave alone explain — the loss at Eden.

The arguments will continue; and they must. The team must introspect and reflect. So must the board and we fans. For example, we still do not know if a report on (and review of) the 0-8 loss was even commenced.

The time for change is now. A loss at Nagpur ought to commence it. A win at Nagpur may only provide band-aid that will serve to delay change for a while longer…

— Mohan (@mohank)

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MS Dhoni seeks bounce and spin

So, cricket returned to Indian TV screens. And how! Some of us will say that cricket never left our homes. However, the preceding three months had seen a ODI series against Sri Lanka — Yes! We needed those like Cherrpunjee needs rain, thanks — and a lengthy series of T20 games. To me, these were months of intense dullness, induced by games that lacked substance or context. Indolent indifference and unbearable ennui resulted. 

It was therefore refreshing to see a cricket match unfold like cricket should; the match told a story of aggression, calm maturity, deceit, courage, disintegration, foolishness, bravado, determination and perseverance.

It was also a story of one captain’s despair even in victory.

This was a story of Sehwag’s aggressive return to ‘form’, although in his case I am not sure what the word ‘form’ even means. His art defies form and sometimes, a consistent narrative. We can’t be certain that a lack of runs worries the man, just as it is hard to ascertain whether the accumulation of a substantial number of runs makes him any more content or confident than he already appears to be. He smiles benignly through pleasure and pain. We too must, perhaps.

This was a story of a young man’s calm maturity. Like Rahul Dravid before him, Cheteshwar Pujara appears to be the sort of guy every girl would want to take home to meet her parents. One girl already has, and the parents have apparently approved. It is inevitable that Pujara, Che as he is referred to by his growing legion of fans, will be compared to Rahul Dravid. Pujara presents a compelling case against genetic cloning; it would seem that this is just not necessary! The score was 1-134 when Pujara started his innings, which meant that he was able to play freely and without much pressure; at least initially. His calm maturity was evident however, after four wickets had fallen for 283 runs. He held the innings together after that point and slowly accumulated his runs with Yuvraj and Ashwin. In the end, it was hard to believe that he had made as many runs as he had; he was surreptitiously effective.

The post match analysis seems to have omitted one significant point in the game when Jonathan Trott seemed to claim a catch after he had virtually slept on the ball. It is hard to believe that this professional cricketer didn’t know he had grassed the catch. It was as funny as it was, in my view, an atrocious piece of gamesmanship. I can’t imagine Harbhajan Singh, for example, getting away with a professional foul of that sort. The match referee, however, turned a blind eye to it.

This was also a story of Altastair Cook’s courage, Kevin Pietersen’s disintegration and Ian Bell’s foolishness. Cook showed tremendous application in both innings. The England captain would have watched in agony as Pietersen and Bell, his illustrious teammates, lost the plot through a combination of foolhardiness and needless bravado. In the absence of effective technique to combat the turning ball, instead of application and patience, we saw brain fuses from Bell and Pietersen. But in both innings, Cook played with enormous pride and resolve and this will have given the England camp some comfort. There is nothing worse than a disintegrating captain of a team that loses badly. He might be boring to watch, but Cook is certainly emerging as an extremely determined and effective a player.

This Test match wasn’t as bad for England as the scorecard will have us believe. With a better team balance and greater application, England can bounce back in this important series. And I feel they will.

And talking of bounce, much of the post-match commentary was around MS Dhoni’s call for different pitches. Dhoni has been on the case of Indian curators for well over a year now. He was disgusted by the pitch that was provided to the visiting New Zealand team in Hyderabad and Bangalore in July this year. Yesterday, of the Motera pitch, Dhoni said, “I don’t even want to see this wicket.”

He then went on to say, “There wasn’t enough turn and bounce for the spinners. Hopefully in the coming matches we’ll see the wicket turn, right from start, or as soon as possible so that the toss doesn’t become vital. What we want to see is two good sides competing against each other with the toss taken out of the equation.”

After the match, Dhoni was criticised for his statements against pitches. The Times of India, in its opinion section adjoining the piece on the pitch, inferred that Dhoni “seems to be letting the thirst for revenge get the better of his cricketing sense”. Right. ‘This criticism of pitches is becoming a pattern with Dhoni’, some people yelled on late-night TV chat shows. ‘We must prepare sporting tracks’ yelled someone else. On another TV show Maninder Singh just yelled.

What Dhoni has asked for seems perfectly reasonable to me. What we want to see is turn and bounce on a wicket. Further, his point is that it should be fine for a wicket to turn right from the toss so that the toss does not become as vital as it currently is. If the match then ends in three days as a result of this turn and bounce, it must be down to the incompetence of the players and nothing else.

There is a nuance to this argument too and that is that no one questions a pitch if it starts bouncing and seaming from the first ball. So why question a pitch just because it is bouncing and spinning from the first ball? I think this is a fair point that deserves a patient hearing. Further, what he seeks is consistent and true bounce. Dhoni says, “What you don’t want is ridges in the wicket and then one ball hits your head and next, your toe.”

Teams from England and Australia have come to expect car loans for single mothers and pitches that turn in India. My sense is that the words ‘dust bowl’ and ‘rank turners’ have become disparaging in our vocabulary because of the disdain imputed through their repeated usage. However, that is the nature of wickets in India. The soil conditions dictate that wickets will turn. To ask for anything else (or to artificially provide anything else to visiting teams) is akin to hating Paris because it does not have the Sydney Opera house.

–Mohan (@mohank)

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 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)

BCCI’s criticism-tolerance and the role of critics…

By Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)

There is much to dislike about the BCCI… there is much to like about Harsha Bhogle

The bully

I am not a fan of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) or of the way it functions. Many journalists, writers and opinion-makers (I will use these terms interchangeably to mean “opinion influencers”) around the world appear convinced that the BCCI is a self-serving organisation that does not have the best interests of either world cricket and/or (sadly) Indian cricket.

This might be an inaccurate view. This might be a view that is highly unfair on BCCI. However, it is a view. And there appears to be a growing number of people in the world who hold this view.

When writers from around the world express their strong anti-BCCI views, they often need to brace themselves for a subsequent attack from a (largely) Indian fan base. This often includes a trivialising — either of them or of their views — by millions of cricket fans from India who think that this criticism of the BCCI is equivalent to a criticism of India. Many of these critics are easily (and lazily) labelled as racist by the chest-thumping flag-bearers. We can only cringe when these critics are attacked mercilessly in the comments section of the anti-BCCI articles they write. India and the BCCI cannot be criticized.

Some of these opinion makers from around the world are possibly wrong (at worst) or ill-informed (at best) in their criticism of the BCCI. Many of them are, in my view, right.

There is much to dislike about the BCCI.

The BCCI, rightly or wrongly, has an image of a ‘world cricket bully that goes around throwing its weight and thumping tables’. Some of this perception is justified. Some of it is about the “old world” worrying that the “new world” will use its new found power tastelessly and wrongfully.

However, perceptions have a way of becoming realities.

My perception is that the BCCI worries about money more than it does, about the state of the game; that the BCCI worries more about the size of its coffers than about how it is perceived by the rest of the cricketing world; that the BCCI concentrates more on the power that comes from the money it generates than it does about using that money to develop the game; that the BCCI thinks about the monetary value of the broadcast contracts it signs more than the quality of the broadcast; that the BCCI thinks more of the size of its audience viewership-base than it does about the audience itself; that the BCCI worries more about the fans that it has today than it does about caring for the sustainability of the game; that the BCCI worries more about today than it does about tomorrow; that the BCCI constantly plays victim than it does leader; that the BCCI craves praise more than it tolerates criticism.

The undeniable fact is that the BCCI is the most powerful member of the international cricket fraternity. It provides the ICC with more than 60% of its revenues. With that comes power. As a prominent and respected Australia-based writer once said (by email): “Of course, it is not BCCI’s fault that they have power at the world cricket table. Nor is to their credit!”

What I would like to see from the BCCI is that they use that power sensibly; that they show exemplary leadership. What I would like to see from them is an open, accountable and transparent organization that shows the world how cricket ought to be run. There were many things wrong about the way the English Cricket Board , in collusion with Cricket Australia, ran the game of cricket in the period leading up to 1990. In the early-90s the BCCI accidentally bumped into a television contract. The world of cricket changed. Irrevocably.

The past wrongs are undeniable. However, the BCCI has an opportunity now to show how the game ought to be run differently; an opportunity that BCCI is, in my view, ruining.

Critics, journalists and opinion-makers

So, it has to be the responsibility of Indian journalists to question, explore, attack, inquire and constantly seek honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency from the BCCI.

However, we also know that most journalists and opinion makers in India will find it hard — no, make that almost impossible — to be critical of (or take a stand against) BCCI. The organisation controls accreditation, passes, access and hence, the privileges that journalists enjoy. There are few independent voices in Indian cricket — voices that do not care about either access or privilege. And without access and privileges, a journalist is as useful to cricket as slurry is to shoes. The BCCI runs cricket in India like a feudal landlord would, his/her land. Access and privilege are traded for good press and praise.

It is impossible for critical views to be aired in an environment like this. Some respectable voices are paid by the BCCI — we know of at least two such cases. Good press can be (and is) purchased. Good press can be purchased for cash; lots of it.

I cannot think of anyone other than Kapil Dev and Bishen Bedi who have, in recent times, criticized the BCCI openly. The former was ‘disenfranchised’ as a result of his ICL involvement. The latter seeks no favors or privileges and has always been his own man. The rest dabble in nothing but banal clichés and platitudes.

Enter Harsha Bhogle

It is impossible for even a respected and learned voice — like Harsha Bhogle (for example) — to be harshly critical of the BCCI. Even if the criticism is accurate, justified and backed up with significant analysis/data, it is almost a foregone conclusion that such critical opinion will be dealt with the same equanimity as a hand would, an irritant mosquito. The hand that feeds just cannot be tarnished. Clarity and objectivity become the loser.

Harsha Bhogle is a respected and responsible commentator. He has contributed strongly and with remarkable integrity, over a 20 year period, as one of the most learned, mature and responsible voices in Indian cricket. He is an inspiration to a generation of aspiring sports journalists, TV anchors and TV commentators in India. One such aspiring young journalist and TV anchor once said to me that his career objective was to be “The next Harsha Bhogle”. He was inspired by this simply-stated, challenging goal.

Today, Bhogle is to commentary what Sachin Tendulkar is to batting. Just as it is impossible to imagine an Indian team without Tendulkar, it is impossible to imagine a commentary box without Bhogle in it. He is the “go to” person when Indian cricket sound-bytes are required by the BBC or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). And rightly so. His body of work precedes him. His body of work speaks of passion and suggests vast knowledge, tremendous impact and signifcant contribution. He is an honourable man.

A tête-à-tête with Harsha Bhogle

I got into a brief (and somewhat heated) tête-à-tête with Bhogle on Twitter a few days ago (Sunday 13 May 2012). The exchange was captured by Nicole Sobotker.

It was an exchange and not a debate or an argument, for Twitter does not provide the proponents with either the time or space for engaging in genuine understanding — leave alone augmentation — of perspective or context. However, it appeared as though it was an argument. For the sake of this piece, I will call it a debate.

The debate stemmed from an article in the Times of India. In it, Anil Kumble raised questions on India’s dismal overseas Test record in 2011-12. The report, quite alarmingly, stated that the BCCI is “likely to” request the Team India coach to submit a report on the dismal record. So let us get this right. The coach’s report has not been submitted. The report has not been requested. The report may not be requested. It is only “likely” that a report may be asked for.

Bhogle reacted to the above report with surprise. He wrote, “so anil kumble is told duncan fletcher will submit a report after his vacation. this is may, the last of 8 tests lost was in january”.

Extremely valid. But hardly surprising. In the intervening period, we had a few ODIs and immediately after that, the IPL distraction commenced. It distracted BCCI from 0-8. It distracted the players from 0-8. I believe it may have distracted Bhogle too from 0-8.

I responded to Bhogle saying that the article was hardly surprising to me considering that everyone that ought to care (including him) “have been busy with the utterly draining madness called the IPL”.

Bhogle asked if everything he had “said in England and Australia while the Tests were on is (now) forgotten.”

Evidently, yes!

The BCCI, who need to listen, had forgotten, The IPL is their balm. It enables them to forget. It enables cricketers to forget. It enables fans to forget. It enables “serious voices” in the media to forget.

In my view, it is not sufficient for the voice of cricket to make a few noises while the whipping took place in England and Australia, and to assume that the responsibility of the voice was, as a result, over. The noise that was made, then, has clearly had no impact whatsoever. So either Bhogle needs to carry out an introspection and assessment of the impact, weight, carry and strength of his voice or assume that it is not enough to shout once and sit back. In India, and especially with the BCCI, it is necessary to keep shouting till you are heard.

That is only if one wants to see change; if one wants to make a difference; if one wants to use the unenviable position — that one has worked assiduously hard for — to good effect. Bhogle considers himself a “serious voice”.

A serious voice cares about impact; about making a difference; about being more than a ‘caller’ of the game.

Bhogle did write with pain and anguish in January about how India needs to overhaul — not merely tweak — its cricket system. He also made a suggestion of a 12-team Ranji Trophy.

With the BCCI though, it is not enough to declare the pain of a 0-8 whipping once or twice during the whipping. Any commentator would do that. Several did. One who cares and one who has a body of work that is accumulated over a period of 20 years should look beyond the whipping and relentlessly seek change. The fact that nothing happened subsequent to the whipping and the subsequent anguish expressed by Bhogle is a suggestion that Indian cricket does not need or admit even a respectable voice like Bhogle’s!

Then, either through boredom or expectations from his employers or loss of personal passion or an air of defeatism (or a combination of the above), Bhogle himself seems to have moved on from the pain of 8-0 to making somewhat banal observations on fitness comparisons across teams, Kohli’s next big challenge, Tendulkar’s 100th 100 burden (obligatory) and retirement timing of great players. Since that series of observations, Bhogle donned his IPL hat and unleashed on us a series of IPL-related articles: whether the IPL will be the “big ticket”, an IPL-5 wishlist (in which he declares, “the IPL will have to survive and blossom as a cricket tournament”), on why Test cricket is not the only cricket, and whether the switch-hit is kosher.

As Shyam Sundararaman says in this piece on Bhogle, “he rarely takes a stance on issues of not(e).”

I am not sure whether I would agree with that. However, in my exchange with him, Bhogle asked if 10 years or 15 years of service are not good enough. He claimed that it is “easy to throw darts a people without realising they’ve been and are serious voices.”

My point is simple: If after 15 years of service, the pain and anguish expressed by the “serious voice” of Bhogle in January leads us to a situation in May where it is only “likely” that the BCCI will ask for a report from Duncan Fletcher, clearly one of the following three observations are right: (a) Bhogle’s is not a serious voice, (b) the BCCI does not care about Bhogle’s voice or any “serious” voice, however serious it might be, (c) Given that we are dealing with the BCCI, Bhogle needs to be even more serious about his voice for even him to consider it as serious enough.

I am convinced (a) is wrong. Bhogle is the serious voice in Indian cricket. The answer, I suspect, lies somewhere between (b) and (c).

The IPL bandwagon

I do not care if Bhogle or anyone else applauds the IPL. Irrespective of the seriousness (or otherwise of his voice) it is his choice to celebrate it. And he does. It is my choice to scorn the IPL. And I do.

It is, in my view, a decadent chest thump; an entertainment package that makes us forget the 8-nil drubbing. In my view, it has no context or relevance. For example, I have watched almost all games in IPL-1, many games in IPL2 and a few in IPL3. Yet, I can’t remember a single game other than that game in Dharmasala in which M. S. Dhoni hit the winning runs off the last ball. Yet when I mention the numbers 97 or 241, everyone knows what I am talking about.

But, I digress…

A review of Indian cricket

It is Bhogle’s choice to celebrate the IPL. However, if he really cares about Indian cricket and felt the pain of the 0-8 loss, the responsible thing to do would have been to continually hammer for a review of what went wrong; to demand what came of Aakash Chopra’s review of domestic cricket; to demand an Argus style review of Indian cricket.

Within weeks of the second successive Ashes loss in 2010, Australian journalists demanded a review. They were all over Cricket Australia like a rash. Cricket Australia (CA) listened. It went ahead and constituted a review committee with clear and agreed terms of reference. The Argus Review process was initiated. It was a review of Australian cricket and covered everything from domestic competitions, player payments, CA governance, coaching structure, selection committee functioning, etc. It was comprehensive.

Such a review might work for Australia. Something similar may never work in India. That is not the point. The point is that serious voices demanded a review. Serious voices continued to demand a review until it was conducted. The Argus Review recommendations are now being implemented.

Such a review may be impossible — or even unnecessary — in India. With the BCCI what you get is a serious series of ‘closed-door meetings’ held by ‘think-tanks’. And when explanations/clarifications are sought for certain decisions, what you may get is a bullish roadside scrap in which the BCCI official barks, “Boss, you just shut up ok”, “chuppal se horthenga”, “googly dalenga”, “ungli karenga” and a clutch of other obscene profanities.

Monopsony and the market argument

But the BCCI can do bullish. It has the money. It has the power. It has no absolute necessary for accountability — to either the Government or to players or fans. It can unleash a national selector on us who says “boss you just shut up ok”.

The BCCI is a monopoly. Sorry, it is a monopsony.

In an imperfect market, the BCCI is a single buyer — that operates though a license bestowed on it by the ICC — with many sellers (resources). These sellers of resources includes the players, TV companies, and “serious voices” that are somewhat dependent on BCCI ‘handouts’. The landlord may take back what he giveth if the respondents do not queue up appropriately. The dictator can specify what (s)he wants to do because these resources are dependent on the unique buyer of their services. One is either in the queue or not.

Which is why the “market” argument for justifying the IPL is as banal as the IPL itself! If we want to see the BCCI and the IPL operate in perfect market conditions, we need to have the IPL operate alongside the now-defunct ICL (or an equivalent)! Only then will we know whether resources, commentators and fans prefer the IPL over the ICL (or its equivalent)!

The critical role of serious critics

Given the market in which it operates, it is necessary for the BCCI to use its power appropriately — both externally (at the ICC table) as well as internally (in developing the game, its structures, its TV contracts and its resources). I have no hope that this will happen in a cogent, clearly articulated and transparent manner.

In the absence of such hope, what is required is a bevvy of serious voices that ask tough questions. It is insufficient if such questions are asked once and forgotten. These voices need to ask tough questions repeatedly. They need to demand to be at the review table. They need to be at the review table, making changes that will have a long-term impact. They should not be surprised over 5 months of inactivity. They should expect it and seek change; not by applauding the switch hit but by demanding a switch in priorities. They have to explore why the slide commenced with a fatigue-induced handshake at Dominica and whether the craziness of IPL-4 had a role to play in it. They should ask hard questions about the long-term health of the domestic game, for however much they applaud the richness of the IPL, the long-term resources are going to come from domestic cricket.

The “serious voice” must be, simultaneously, a critic, an ombudsman and a watchdog, where there are no explicit requirements for either of these roles. The “serious voice” must make up for the collective failure of the organisation that controls the game. This is a high expectation. It is my expectation of a “serious voice” in Indian cricket. It is an expectation that is, sadly, unmet.

It is my hope that I have not offended Mr Harsha Bhogle or his ilk. He believes his is a serious voice. It is. But we need to hear it. Not once, but repeatedly. We need to hear other voices too. For otherwise we will continue to be surprised if a review is only “likely” to be requested of a coach who presided over an 8-0 drubbing.

— Mohan

Ps: Although this blog post talks specifically about Mr Harsha Bhogle, it is intended as a request to all “serious voices” that care about Indian cricket.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Based on a conversation between @sdayanand and @achettup

A ‘go-kart‘ once ‘flipped‘ over a cuckoo’s nest,
And the frightened ‘bird‘ flew away.
While the ‘fast go-kart drivers‘ were just ‘disappointed‘,
The ‘bird’ was thoroughly ‘embarrassed‘.

But then, the battle-hardened drivers had been around the block a few times,
For them, ‘age was only a number‘.
And with them, a ‘knee-jerk‘ ‘goodbye‘ would be unnecessary.
But, a ‘deep point‘ had already been made…

Alas and Alack! The real challenge was for those watching,
Who needed to be ‘mentally strong‘ and overcome a ‘mental block‘.
For, at 5am, although the ‘time wasn’t right‘,
They needed to be ‘Keyboard Saints‘.

All along, the ‘Bird complained‘ that
The ‘verbal abuse‘ had been thoroughly unnecessary.
Yet, he did get to a landmark, and when he did,
He ‘flipped‘ it and spoke of mothers and sisters!

In the end though, the last laugh was on the bird,
The Go-Kart remained ‘unlucky‘ and we were informed,
That in (some) cloud cuckoo land,
The argument/bird might circle in, on a ‘rank turner‘.

— Mohan