Category Archives: Commentators

An Interview with Peter Lalor (Part 3)

peterlalor In the first part of this three-part in-depth interview with Peter Lalor (Picture left. Source: “The Australian”), we talked about his views on racism in cricket in the wake of the Andrew Symonds incidents in India in the recently concluded India-Australia ODI series. In the second part of the interview, we talked about aggression, sledging, Indian cricket and more.

Peter Lalor, a respected writer for “The Australian” newspaper, is a passionate supporter of the Australian cricket team and is fervent enthusiast for the way Australia plays its cricket.

Subsequent to Part-1 of our interview with Peter Lalor, in order to achieve a sense of balance in this debate, we asked more-or-less the same set of questions to Prem Panicker. Part-1 of our interview with Prem Panicker is available here. And Part-2 is available here.

In this concluding, Part-3, of our interview with Peter Lalor, we talk about Australian cricket, Twenty20 and more.

Some of Peter Lalors’ articles are available here:

 

i3j3: Talking of Australian cricket, how do you feel Australia will cope with the absence of Shane Warne, Glen McGrath and Justin Langer? Will their absence make the Australian team more vulnerable?

PL: Here comes the cliché: how can you not be the lesser for the loss of the first two who were world champions? However, Australian cricket is blessed with great depth and if Jacques doesn’t replace Langer then there is Simon Katich (300 [in the last game] for NSW including 170 in a session) Rogers, Hodge and so on. Australia has plenty of good fast bowlers but apart from the brilliant MacGill, lack a decent wrist spinner.

 

i3j3: There is daylight after Australia in the championship stakes. Is this good for the game?

PL: No and it’s annoying that people seem to be waiting for Australia to come back to the pack rather than urging the pack to catch Australia.

 

i3j3: We read your articles on Twenty20 with interest. You dismiss this form of the game as a bit of hit and giggle. Would you be willing to revisit those views in light of its capacity to (a) broaden its spectator base, (b) the benefits it would provide both the 50-over game as well as Test cricket in terms of strategy, control and robustness, (c) its ability to enforce and speed up innovation in all aspects of cricket.

PL: T20 will benefit the longer forms of the game to a degree. It will help with slog hitting and death bowling. It brings money, entertainment, chaos and new fans to the game which is great.

It rewards raw talent but I love the longer form because it asks questions of a cricketer’s ability to display their talent over a more sustained and searching period.

 

i3j3: You have been quite critical of Sree Santh. What do you think of this young and talented cricketer?

PL: I am a big fan of Sree as a person and hold a lot of expectation for his ability. I spent a lot of time chatting to him in airports and on aeroplanes and he is an intelligent, interesting and humble young man. A good bowler too, but I think he needs to control his temperament a little better and he agrees.

He is making great steps forward and I thought his decision to clap Michael Clarke and Brett Lee late in the series, thus defusing a hostile situation was brilliant.

You probably get more leeway for your behaviour when you have the record to back it up.

I sincerely hope he succeeds because he is an exciting talent and great bloke.

 

i3j3: Your views on the 2007-2008 summer of international cricket in Australia?

PL: I hope that the Indian “seniors” show us once more why they are among the best batsmen in the world and that some of the younger players start to establish themselves.

I want to see Mitchell Johnson play Tests.

It is always an honour to watch Tendulkar, Gilchrist, Dravid, Ponting and the like play the great game.

 

i3j3: How do you rate the chances of Sri Lanka and India in the Tests?

PL: I don’t think that either country has the team to consistently play better than Australia.

 

i3j3: Would you be happy if we had another chat mid-series with you?

PL: Of course.

 

We at i3j3Cricket are grateful to Peter Lalor for the time he took to answer the many questions we posed. Some of them were direct questions and some of them were curly. We respect Peter Lalor for his sincerity and applaud his patience.

In particular, we thank Peter Lalor for not ducking a single bouncer and playing everything with a straight bat. There was no question that went through to the ‘keeper! [Cliche overdrive off]

We will read Peter Lalor’s articles in The Australian and elsewhere with great interest as the summer of cricket unfolds in Australia.

 

From All The i3j3Cricket Contributors

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An interview with Prem Panicker (Part 2)

In the first part of this three-part, in-depth interview with Prem Panicker, we talked about his views on racism in cricket in the wake of the Andrew Symonds incidents in India in the recently concluded India-Australia ODI series. This followed our “conversations” with Australian journalist, Peter Lalor (part-1, part-2).

Prem Panicker is a valued and articulate Indian writer. He writes mostly on cricket, but, like Peter Lalor, writes on almost everything under the sun – politics, science, travel, literature, sports and more. Prem Panicker blogs actively too.

In Part-2 of our interview with Prem Panicker, we talk about post-victory celebrations, aggression, sledging, match-fixing and much more.

 

i3j3: Recently, we have heard comments from Jason Gillespie, Ricky Ponting, et al, saying that there will be boisterous crowd participation in the forthcoming summer. They have also urged players like Muralitharan and Sree Santh to show fortitude. What are your views on those comments in the light of their comments on crowd behaviour elsewhere?

PP: I could wish they would leave the topic alone, if they have nothing of purpose to contribute.

How would it be, for instance, if the Indian captain was to say, before the next Australian tour of India, that the visitors will likely find our crowds somewhat boisterous and uninclined to mind their p’s and racist q’s, and advice that the visitors just grin and bear it? Clearly, such comments are counter-productive, even if they are not intended that way.

Gillespie and Ponting and others may not have meant it that way, but that sort of comment comes dangerously close to handing the crowds a license.

i3j3: Did you think the Australian team celebrated humbly and appropriately on the victory podium at the conclusion of the last edition of the Champions Trophy? In light of this, what are your views on the comments by Andrew Symonds on the Indian celebrations on winning the Twenty20 World Championship?

PP: Oh shoot, way too much is being made of that. What in any case is a “humble” celebration?

I think it is disrespectful to push and shove a dignitary on stage, the way the BCCI president was pushed and shoved.

I saw that incident, and I did not think it was racist, or white supremacist, or any such – it was a bunch of young men, suffering – if that is the word – the adrenalin surge of victory in a hard fought sporting contest and behaving in a distinctly adolescent fashion. Sure, you do expect a higher standard of behaviour, you do wish your sporting heroes could be ambassadors for the country at large – but equally, isn’t it a bit much to demand such standards of behaviour from people not trained to it?

Ponting and others subsequently apologized to the individual concerned and that apology was accepted in the same spirit by Pawar; isn’t it counter-productive to rabbit on about it endlessly?

Symonds’ comments in that column were daft; they sounded juvenile in the extreme. Victorious teams have been greeted with ticker tape parades before – including quite a few Australian teams and individual sportsmen; for members of some other team to characterise such national celebrations as extreme and uncalled for is churlish.

That brings up something I have speculated on, in the aftermath of that incident. I have interacted with Aussie players and the management in the past, when I covered cricket regularly for Rediff, and always found them incredibly media savvy.

Unless things have changed dramatically, comments of the kind Symonds made are not likely to be underwritten by the management. That makes me wonder – did the player talk to some ghost writer and, inter alia and without meaning anything by it, say something on the lines that the hoopla is over, and it is time for the Indians to come back to earth – comments a ghost on the lookout for the sensational sound byte then expanded on?

Knowing how the whole ghost-writer business works, I suspect that some such thing happened here. This is not to absolve Symonds, but merely to try and explain an act that is to the best of my knowledge uncharacteristic of visiting Australian sportsmen.

i3j3: There has been a perception for a while now – backed by observations and some fact – amongst Asian cricket Players and fans that “white” cricketers and fans alike constantly and consistently demonstrate prejudice, sanctimony and racism in their attitudes because of their perceived “ownership to the game”. For example, when the quality of umpiring was terrible all around the world, it was seen as a problem that afflicted only the sub-continent. A global solution was made impossible by the finger-pointing. Similarly, the match-fixing issue too. What are your views on this?

PP: For starters, we – as in the “brown” segment of the cricket audience – are quite as prejudiced as the “whites”.

I don’t know whether the examples you point to qualify as racism, but I would certainly not dispute a degree of prejudice. I thought it was particularly so in the case of match fixing – when the issue first hit the headlines, there was a tendency to write it off as one of those dirty things that only happened on the sub continent – a malaise that “white” or, more accurately, players not from the subcontinent were for some reason immune from.

The unfortunate bit about such knee jerk reaction is that it perpetuates, rather than resolves, the problem. If racism, or match fixing, or whatever else, are seen as your problem or my problem and never as ours, as a problem afflicting the game, we are in trouble.

Because then, I sit back waiting for you to resolve what I see as “your” problem; so too does the administration. And problems of this magnitude cannot, ipso facto, be resolved by you or me – it takes a concerted, collective, effort.

Significantly, the issue of match fixing was resolved, after a fashion, only after the Hansie Cronje case hit the headlines and, inter alia, indicated that even “white” players were susceptible to corruption – a fact that had been consistently ignored, even denied, till that point in time.

i3j3: Now assuming that there is this perception of prejudice – whether right or wrong is somewhat immaterial – where do you see this debate going, especially now when the balance of (financial muscle) power is tilting towards the sub-continent?

PP: I think what you are seeing is more nations sharing the decision-making process, where earlier it used to be England, with Australia’s backing. And this is not particularly new – the revolution if you can call it that began after the second World Cup, when the Indian administration was snubbed at Lord’s, and hit back by making a bid to host the third World Cup.

The bid won the support of enough nations to win India the right to host the Cup – and though this is often ignored, that particular incident preceded India’s discovery that it could make money out of the game. So to equate recent developments with India’s emergence as the financial powerhouse of the game is a bit naïve.

It is increasingly fashionable to raise the India bogey and to suggest that India pretty much has its own way when it comes to taking decisions. Again, that is not true. To cite the most recent example, India did not want a Twenty20 World Cup; it said as much, it lobbied with other nations to come down on its side – and yet not one single nation voted along with India on this one.

That should tell you that India’s money doesn’t of itself translate into an automatic leadership position — decisions are still being taken by the majority, and that majority clearly will not be seduced or brow-beaten to take decisions against what they see as being in their interests, so what is this fuss all about?

The best you can say about India’s emergence is that decisions to do with the governance of the game are no longer a monopoly of one or two traditional powers – and I don’t see why anyone needs to wear sackcloth over it.

i3j3: Do you feel that it is this financial muscle power that is making teams from India and Pakistan more aggressive on the cricket field against teams like Australia and England?

PP: No. You mean to say a Sreesanth, for instance, is going out there saying to himself duh, more than 80 per cent of the sponsorship of the previous World Cup came from India so let me go out there and be a brat?

Seriously, the answer is no. Indian teams, post-Independence, used to be characterized by a fawning subservience. That changed when the Nawab of Pataudi took over, and led his team out against all comers with something of a swagger. The barest minimal knowledge of our history is enough to understand the early subservience, and the subsequent sense of equality.

Today, India as a country is changing dramatically. Ten years ago, we were largely apologetic about ourselves; today, we celebrate our emergence in various sectors, not least the economic sector. It is a heady feeling, and you see it best reflected in places where the young congregate. Again, ten, twenty years ago, young people kicked over their traces but always, there was this sense of uncertainty about the future. Increasingly, today’s young people replace that insecurity with confidence, with a sense of sureness of purpose and direction.

The national mindset is changing (and the fact that this is a very young nation is highlighting that change dramatically); you could stretch a point and say that such change is occasionally being reflected, not always in the best way, on the cricket field as well.

You could equally say that a team used to losing will over time become apologetic in its demeanour; as you learn to compete and to win (we went through the late eighties and all of the nineties with no significant win outside Indian soil; check the records from 2000 on and you will see that we are shedding the tag of “lambs abroad”, especially in Tests), you develop confidence which manifests in your play and occasionally, translates into your behaviour.

i3j3: Is match-fixing a thing of the past? Can it be completely controlled?

PP: Match-fixing was not even a thing of the past – quantifiable instances of entire matches being fixed are negligibly few. What was pervasive was the trading of information for cash, and the shading of individual performance also for cash – two things that aid spread betting.

The thing to keep in mind is that bookies rarely make significant money on the outcome of a match – not enough, anyway, to justify all that time and trouble to fix an entire team, or a significant part of it. The money comes from the little bets, placed on every possible permutation and combination beginning with how the teams will line up to how the toss will go and who will do what on winning it.

Does that continue? My best guess is yes, though not quite as openly as before. Can you control it? Again, my best guess is no, short of monitoring 24x7x365 the phones and personal meetings of every single player playing the game, and every person who comes into contact with that player. There will be a few who will take a phone call, pass on some information, and pocket a wad of cash; the best the authorities can do is make such transactions tough to pull off.

i3j3: What are your views on sledging? Should it be a part of cricket? And if it is, should there be a line in the sand? If so why?

PP: The prevalent wisdom seems to be, this is a competitive sport, people will “in the heat of the moment” say things and do things, and as long as the limits of decency are not transgressed, anything goes.

So, suppose I am taking guard, the bowler is running in, and from the slips, some bloke yells out ‘Hey mate, guess who is doing your wife just now?’

Is that within bounds, or outside of them? Okay, how about if the hypothetical voice yells out ‘Hey, mate, your knees are knocking, not scared are you?’, is that permissible?

You would say the first instance is not on, the second is harmless. Really? As a batsman, I don’t need you saying anything to me, when my entire focus is on the ball about to be bowled – so then the question is, when debating the merits or otherwise of sledging, should the debate be confined only to the insult-quotient of the words used?

The debate over sledging has been one endless exercise in hair-splitting. Cricket’s laws proscribe any deliberate attempt to disrupt the concentration of the player – what is the point of laws that are not even remembered, let alone upheld?

i3j3: What do you think of the recently concluded India-Australia ODI series?

PP: I was interested in it for various reasons. For starters, Australia had to cope with the exit of two giants who have spearheaded the team to victory for over a decade. The last time Australian cricket suffered such significant losses, it took much tears and hard work and heartburn before the team could be rebuilt; I was curious to see what would happen this time.

From an Indian perspective, the administration in recent times has been geared to hinder, not help. The question of a coach for the side has assumed farcical proportions. There is heartburn, within and without the team, over the presence of some of the ageing superstars. And the team acquired a new captain who would need to stamp his authority over a dressing room lately divided between three contemporary greats.

All things considered, I thought a 4-2 result was complimentary to India; that it was not a 3-3 ending owed equally to traditional failings.

i3j3: It is our view that player behaviour, in the name of gamesmanship, has deteriorated over the years. What do you think ICC should do to curb it?

PP: Simplify the current regulatory process. Today, if I misbehave (including in ways that can impact on the opposition and thus influence the course of the game), nothing happens. The umpires have at the end of play – horse, stable door, anyone? – to make a report; the erring player is then invited into cricket’s version of the headmaster’s room. He is fined, and those fines are more often than not underwritten by his daddy, that is to say the cricket board. How is any of this a deterrent?

One important part of the on-field umpire’s brief is to keep order on the field. If the ICC has any sense, it will give that responsibility back to the umpires, together with the authority to enforce on-field discipline. I’ve heard of the soccer-style red/yellow card method of policing being mooted for cricket, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

The baseline thinking should be, discipline is an on field requirement, and its enforcement should equally be on the field of play, not at some later date. Imagine if Zinedine Zidane had to go to the match referee’s room after play (accompanied maybe by a high priced lawyer), explain his head butt and maybe pay 50 per cent of his match fee?

i3j3: It is also our view that many teams in international cricket are trying to ape Australia in the sledging-stakes. Is this a healthy trend?

PP: No, for reasons already elaborated on. Sledging is, most times, an attempt to unfairly disrupt the concentration of the opponent, and cricket legislates against such practices. When there is applicable law, why do we need an extensive debate?

i3j3: How do you rate crowd behaviour and crowd participation in the game in the subcontinent, compared to places like Australia, England and South Africa?

PP: Each country has its own peculiar set of problems; we have ours. Among them, you could list the fact that increasingly, audiences who are actually into the game prefer to stay home and watch on telly, while those who come to the grounds seem impelled to treat it as a party, an excuse to kick over the traces and hope that if their behaviour is sufficiently outrageous, they will make it to the giant screen. Add to that the fact that cricket is increasingly getting to the smaller venues, ones without a cricket-watching tradition, and you add an extra element of volatility to the crowd that creates its own set of problems.

An interview with Prem Panicker (Part I)

Last week, we carried Part-1 of an interview with Peter Lalor, writer in The Australian newspaper. Peter Lalor is a passionate supporter of the Australian cricket team and is fervent enthusiast for the way Australia plays its cricket. Our aim was to understand Australian aggression, racism in cricket crowds in India and a bevy of other issues by seeking the views of a respected Australian journalist. The further parts of this candid, no-holds-barred interview will appear later this week.

We thought we would try and achieve some balance in the debate by seeking the opinions of a respected Indian journalist too. And in the respect-stakes, they do not come higher than Prem Panicker. We asked more or less the same set of questions of Prem Panicker. Most cricket fans in India and elsewhere will have heard of Prem Panicker.

Prem Panicker is a valued and articulate Indian writer. He writes mostly on cricket, but, like Peter Lalor, writes on almost everything under the sun – politics, science, travel, literature, sports and more. Prem Panicker blogs actively too.

Prem Panicker has been writing about cricket for a long time. He was one of a handful of journalists who helped found Rediff.com (Nasdaq: REDF). He was based in New York, as editor of India Abroad, the largest Indian-American newspaper, after that paper was purchased by Rediff. He is currently editor of Rediff. He blogs insatiably on cricket and other things at http://www.prempanicker.com

We thought we would take the opportunity to talk to Prem Panicker — to get his views on cricket, Australian cricket, racism, sledging and a bevy of other things. If nothing else, we wanted to ensure that we did our bit to understand racism, understand cricket in India and sledging from an Indian perspective.

We asked Prem Panicker the same questions we asked Peter Lalor to achieve a sense of balance in the debate.

i3j3: Tell us something about Prem Panicker, the person. Where were you born? Where do you live? Where did you study? Your cricket/sporting past?

Prem Panicker: I’d rather, if it is all the same to you, leave me the person out of this. I’ve long felt an aversion to media personalities who become larger than the stories they cover, to the detriment of their journalism, and I have no wish to become one of those myself.

Very briefly, I studied in Christian College, Chennai first and then Calicut, in Kerala; I currently live in Mumbai, where I work for Rediff.com, and though I used to play all sorts of games and sports (athletics, cricket, soccer, badminton chiefly) in school, college and beyond, those days are long over and, in this present, too irrelevant to waste the time of your readers on.

i3j3: How and where did you start writing? And how did you start writing about cricket?

PP: I dropped out of college in my third year of the degree course, because I increasingly felt that what I was being taught and, more importantly, the way I was taught those subjects were devoid of any practical application whatsoever.

The only thing I took away from my college education was a liking for the English language. I liked to read, I liked to write. I spent the better part of eight years, post-college, bumming around, unsure of what I wanted to do. A friend who was then editing the youth section of a national newspaper kept sending assignments my way.

I dabbled with these assignments, in a desultory fashion at first, liked the process that goes into reportage, and realized this is what I wanted to do for a living. So I joined a newspaper and over time, evolved into doing profiles, investigative stories, and such.

Rediff was founded in 1996. At the time, the Internet was unknown in India -– and the World Cup was a fortnight away. We couldn’t get any cricket correspondent worth his byline to join us, because who knew what this strange medium was? So my editor looked around the newsroom, saw me lounging around doing nothing in particular, and told me I had to cover the Cup – which is how the whole cricket-writing thing began – an unavoidable accident, like a car smash.

i3j3: In your writings, you come across to us as a passionate fan of the Indian cricket team. Where do you derive that passion from?

PP: That one is easy: I love cricket, I love writing – give me a chance to club the two, and pay me for doing it, and what’s not to be passionate about?

Admittedly, I am – if not actually a “fan” of Indian cricket in all its particulars – attached emotionally and mentally to India, to the idea of this country. I would like to see it do the best it can in all fields; cricket is no exception.

i3j3: Are you passionate about any other team in world cricket today? Why?

PP: To reiterate a point made earlier, I am passionate about the game, and hence can get worked up watching two well matched teams play it to the best of their abilities. If your question is, do I unquestioningly follow a particular team, no – not even India.

i3j3: How did you feel at the end of the India-Australia ODI tour to learn that writers such as Peter Lalor (cricket writer in The Australian newspaper) were being branded as a racist in the Indian media and on Indian blogs?

PP: It is an unfortunate corollary of the increasing trend towards sound-byte journalism that we prefer name calling to considered critiques. I noticed that certain sections of the media were being labelled racist, with Peter in particular copping it, yes — but I don’t recall reading anything that substantiated that particular case.

i3j3: What do terms like “racist” do to a person like you? How has it affected you?

PP: What does it do? It leaves me cold – and mildly contemptuous of whoever it is who will not take the trouble to understand another human being but presumes himself fit to judge that other person anyway.

Take the incident with Peter for instance. He wrote a column questioning the official reason/excuse given for the crowd behaviour in Nagpur. Among other things, that column suggested that no crowd would pray in the middle of an ODI. I thought that comment was somewhat ill-informed – we pray all the time, for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. And I said as much on my blog. Was the comment racist? No – at best, it applied a different standard of cultural behaviour to judge the Nagpur incident.

i3j3: Do you feel that Australian cricket writers are being vilified in Indian media and Indian blogs for the opinions they have openly and directly stated?

PP: Not en masse, no – but yes, it has happened. We have long since forgotten how to treat opinion as just that – the thoughts of the person concerned, nothing more. Accept it if you think fit, debate it if you disagree, but I don’t see where you get off slinging epithets around. Such name-calling tells me nothing about the target; it does tell me, though, that the person doing the blanket name-calling is somewhat intellectually challenged.

i3j3: How do you think the Australian media should go about correcting that image that they seem to have acquired?

PP: Why should the “Australian media”, assuming there is any such animal, bother? (I am not much of a fan of clubbing an assorted bunch of journalists – Australian, Indian, whoever – of widely different talents, abilities, and personalities into one homogenous unit.) It is not part of a journalist’s brief to shape his image and his writing to confirm to someone else’s perception – in fact, it is fatal. His job is to report, to analyse, to critique and comment, to the best of his ability, integrity, and belief. As long as he is doing that in all honesty, I don’t see why he should worry about how readers, or some other segment of the media, see him.

i3j3: What is your view of the Austrlian cricket media? How do they come across to you as (a) a reader, (b) a fan of Indian cricket?

PP: As I pointed out above, there really is no such thing as the “Australian cricket media” – or the “Indian cricket media” for that matter. There are journalists of varying calibre covering Australian cricket, the same applies to India and everyone else.

I read, as often as I can, the major Australian newspapers and have come across articles that range the spectrum from outstanding to ordinary.

What is sometimes not taken into account is that even the best of writers have their off days – if you consider the amount of words churned out worldwide on this game we all follow, you will appreciate how impossible it is to be consistently insightful, to constantly come up with new things – ergo, the off days. Who was it who once said “Only mediocrity can be always at its best”?

i3j3: What makes a comment racist as opposed to one that is rude or personal? Does there need to be a link with race, gender or some sort of generalisation? What specifically (in your view) made the comments against Andrew Symonds racist?

PP: Um. I can’t off the top recall the name of the US Supreme Court judge who once was asked to define obscenity, and who responded with “I can’t define it, but by golly, I know it when I see it.” Same difference, I would think, with racism.

Racism is far too serious, and too convoluted, an issue to be disposed off in a few sentences; to even attempt that is counter-productive.

For all that human beings pretend to homogeneity, we happen to be divisive by nature; we dissect ourselves into groups and sub-groups and our allegiance is bottom up, not top down. That is to say, to our sub group first, and so on up to the national level.

For instance, sometimes I comment about a particular player, and I am promptly abused as a “bloody South Indian”. I’m sorry, what has the place of my birth got to do with anything – and why is characterising, condemning me in that fashion not racist? I don’t presume to speak with expertise on how it is in Australia – I am curious, though, to know what language Sydneysiders use to refer to Melburnians, say, in the heat of battle, and how you would characterise that.

About Symonds specifically, I honestly don’t know just what the crowds in Nagpur said – I’ve heard a dozen different versions and, to quote Harry Belafonte, “It was clear as mud, but it covered the ground, and the confusion made me brain go round.”

I don’t intend to suggest that Symonds was lying; nor do I intend to buy into the official explanation wholesale. I cannot however entirely discount the possibility that he did not understand what was said, and took offense where none – at least, not on racist lines – was intended.

That said, what a section of the Mumbai crowd did was downright unacceptable. It had already been made clear that Symonds was upset by the “monkey” references. From that point on, all debate about intentions and such needed to end. The Mumbai crowd was not petitioning the gods; it was perpetuating behavior that had already been denounced as demeaning, and that is unacceptable. The idiots responsible deserved far more by way of punishment than the slap on the wrist they ended up getting.

i3j3: Several Australian crowds would often “send off” a departing Indian batsman with a “You drive a taxi” comment or a “You’re going home on the back of an elephant” chant. In your view, is this a racist slur?

PP: Sure, it uses a national stereotype to abuse an individual. It also can prompt a digression into stereotypes themselves. For instance, to suggest that you have a Roman nose is not racist, or to suggest that you have an aquiline proboscis is not to insult you with bestial comparisons; both are descriptors, even complimentary adjectives. Halle Berry however recently got into trouble on a chat show, with an off hand remark about Jewish noses that crossed that line and descended into racist stereotype, and had to apologize.

It is a damnably thin, often ill-defined line, and the sensibilities of the person at the receiving end are the best, often only, yardstick we have. That most times the practitioners of such abuse use it instinctively, even unthinkingly, and would be startled to know that the recipient felt hurt compounds the problem – that racism is an almost unconscious reflex in our minds.

i3j3: Are you planning on writing on this topic of racism in cricket?

PP: That would take a book – and by the time you were done you would have enough material for a sequel. I suppose when confronted with specific instances I will likely write on them, but I am not sure I have the bandwidth to examine the issue of racism as a pervasive societal malaise.

[to be continued…]

Braying Mediocrity of Indian cricket: An example

The braying medicrity of Indian cricket — its media — has provided M. S. Dhoni with his due honeymoon period. After the washed-out first ODI against Australia the braying mediocrity of Indian cricket (BMIC) didn’t get stuck into him for “experimenting” by Irfan Pathan to bat at #3 against Australia. They didn’t jump up and down and scream “dischord in the camp” when Sourav Ganguly chewed his nails pensively when Australia were batting in the first ODI. They didn’t wonder if Dhoni’s head was on the chopping block when Rahul Dravid scratched his privates during a dull passage in play. They did not analyse the angle of Sachin Tendulkar’s head-tilt to suggest his disapproval of Dhoni’s field placements when Michael Clarke hit a glorious four whipped off his legs.

So far, Dhoni is enjoying his honeymoon period. But all it will take is one loss. The press will hunt as a pack and wonder why Ganguly chewed his nails, why Dravid scratched his privates at a crucial passage in play, why the “experimentation” with Irfan Pathan’s slot in the batting order and why Sachin Tendulkar’s head-tilt was only 12 degrees, when 15 degrees is a bare minimum acceptable tilt and 23.85 degrees is optimal!

The banality and the crudeness will descend once again on Indian cricket. Up until then, the only pedestrian and trite behaviour we fans would need to contend with would be that which the BCCI dishes out. After all, nothing — not even resounding Indian victories — can stop the BCCI pressing on relentlessly with their hackneyed existence.

The BMIC collective continues to dazzle me with newer ways and means of demonstrating their utter facileness. In the words of Prem Panicker, another writer on Indian cricket that I admire:

Why is newsmongering becoming such an obsession? Why must a journalist stretch the lines of reality, twist facts to fit preconceived ideas and create sensation where none exists, all in the name of news? Why must a public figure always be at the beck and call of the press, and be assumed a culprit if he decides to spend some time away from the limelight?

Let’s take as an example, this wonderful (not!) piece belted out by a certain S. S. Shreekumar in The New Indian Express (Wednesday September 26 2007).

Although the article appeared nearly a week ago, I did not want to comment on it immediately beacuse I may have crossed the line of decency on a public forum had I commented on it back then. I then found out that Prem Panicker had already lamented eloquently about this particular article on his blog. Do check it out as I am not going to necessarily repeat what Prem Panicker has already said.

The main headline of this article reads “Dravid b Dhoni St Tendulkar!” and the article sub-heading is “Dravid’s mute pat; Sachin’s broad hint”.

The main thrust of this article is a hypothesis that the writer has (presumably) postulated that roughly reads “Rahul Dravid is not convinved of Dhoni’s captaincy credentials”. And how does the author set about proving this ill-construed and mal-informed hypothesis? Through badly-constructed argument, a total absence of data, a complete lack of veracity, honour or truthfulness, and, what’s more, through utter and callous fabrications.

This is a good example of what I have been referring to BMIC for some time now.

And for good measure, the author makes it clear in the article that this tinted-glasses outlook on Rahul Dravid stems from a bitterness that emanates from the fact that Rahul Dravid refused to provide interviews to all and sundry in the press upon submitting his resignation!

Can someone so bitter and twisted be allowed to wield the pen? Isn’t it the Editors’ duty to weed his paper of such evil?

The principle thrust (ok, I use that term loosely) of the article is that, while Ganguly and Tendulkar had been effusive in their comments on Dhoni’s captaincy immediately after the T20 victory, Dravid’s reaction has been belated and muted! So, Dravid clearly (but of course!) does not like Dhoni! QED!

For the record, the T20 final was played out on September 24th 2007 and for the record, this is what have the trio of ex-captains had said about Dhoni’s captaincy?

Ganguly, on 22 September: “He looks relaxed and he has made the right decisions under pressure which is important.

Tendulkar, on 24 September: “Indian cricket in safe hands now.

Dravid, on 25 September: “Congratulations to Dhoni and his team. They played fantastic cricket throughout and certainly deserved to win the tournament.” (a fuller quote with much more fulsome and effusive praise is also available here)

In other words, Ganguly commented before the T20 final, Tendulkar commented immediately after the T20 finals and Dravid commented a day later.

The author, whose piece appeared on September 26th, obviously rated Dravid as being slow off the blocks and less effusive in his praise of Dhoni than the other two ex-captains and then proceeded to build his excruciatingly thin argument around this observation.

Firstly, I did not necessarily see Dravid’s comment as being less effusive when compared with what the other two said. Secondly, commenting the day after a win does not change my world. And finally, who the gluck cares?

The author then moves on to fabricate a growing tension between Dravid and Tendulkar! Oh yes! The plot thickens!

The article starts off by quoting Tendulkar as saying, “Indian cricket is now in safer hands.

Note the use of “safer”! Obviously (to the author) this means Tendulkar did not think highly of Dravid’s captaincy! Surely, there are tensions in the dressing room which must then lead to either Tendulkar or Dravid being dropped! But of course.

There is only one major problem with this “logic”.

It is entirely based on a lie and a fabrication.

Tendulkar actually said, “Indian cricket is in safe hands”!

Is this mis-reporting a lie, a fabrication, a deep offence, an affront, a transgression, a misdemeanour or a gross misrepresentation? Chose your pick!

Either way, if I were in this reporters shoes, either my resignation would have been on my editors’ table or a termination-of-employment notice would have been sighted on my table! The fact that neither of these happened just goes to depict the shallowness of the system.

Dravid talked about a “sense of proportion”. I am afraid to say that that “proportion” will continue to be absent in Indian cricket writing as long as we continue to have callous, conniving, deceitful writers like Sreekumar and as long as editors continue to operate happily in a responsibility-free and ethics-free zone.

— Mohan

Rohit Brijnath on Dhoni

Nice article in The Hindu about Dhoni. One of the paragraph reflects my own thoughts on the subject –

Dhoni has earned his million love letters, and a period where India should suspend judgement and let him grow. He had better be as tough as he looks for the BCCI’s job is simply to make his harder. Giving one crore to Yuvraj Singh for hitting six shots, however beautiful, is not just vulgar in a poor country, it is a celebration of individualism when Indian captains are valiantly trying to sell the idea of ‘team’. But then officials, who pushed themselves into the team photograph in South Africa, thrive on playing to the gallery.

-Mahesh-

T20 match reviews from Sportstar

Here are the reviews for the matches in the Super8’s and knockout games –

And here is Rohit Brijnath’s feature article on T20 – It is excitable, unruly, unsubtle and fun.

-Mahesh-

The challenges ahead for M. S. Dhoni

Over the weekend, I was in conversation with a few friends of mine about M. S. Dhoni’s captaincy. We agreed that in the T20 World Championship he was doing exceedingly well. He appeared to have confidence in his players and also had their confidence. There was a sense of an environment of trust and enjoyment in the team. He also appeared to get them to give off their best for themselves as well as their team members.

Ian Chappell observed that this was a team that was playing fear-free cricket in the spirit of their captain.

At this point in time, perhaps justifiably, most fans, observers and commentators are completely enamoured by Dhoni’s freshness, approach, acumen and style. If sceptics needed more convincing, apparently he and Sreesanth had an early night after the T20 finals with Dhoni saying that there was still much to do in the Australia ODI series and there was no need to get carried away. He is reported to have said to his teammates, “Sab kuch normal rakhne ka (keep everything normal). Just live in the present, keep your feet on the ground, enjoy your success but don’t get carried away by success.

These are good days for Dhoni and his team. These are honeymoon days for Dhoni. They are happy days too, for his team has won when no one expected it to do so.

However, there are some stark realities of captaining India and if he is not aware of it already, I am sure it will hit Dhoni most when he contends with three evils in Indian cricket which are, in no particular order, (a) ‘the system’, (b) the dressing-room-egos, and (c) unsurpassed expectations.

The System:
This is euphemism for the BCCI and its machinations. Harsha Bhogle, writing in the Indian Express, says in the context of Rahul Dravid’s resignation: “Ideally, a captain should be free to think about the game and his players. If matters outside the playing field begin to occupy his mind more than those on it then there is a problem in the system that is causing it to happen. If a captain has to keep thinking about contracts, coaches, schedules and such other matters that really should be someone else’s responsibility, it is taking away time from his primary activity. Nasser Hussain quit as captain in 2003 because he was being forced to think more about Robert Mugabe than about the opposition. If Dravid has left the job for similar reasons, then all we will have is a new face with the same worries.

And that is essentially what Dhoni will face too.

Subsequent to my conversation over the weekend with my friends, I was reminded of this lovely article I read by Rohit Brijnath — in my view, one of the best writers on Indian cricket — just before Rahul Dravid and his team departed for England in June 2007. He wrote of the BCCI: “On 23 March, India’s World Cup challenge ended. In July, India opens its tour of England. Ample time existed to find a new coach. The BCCI’s inability to do so is further confirmation that no one in the Indian board knows, or seems to care, how to build a world-class team. As a group they remain unfamiliar with excellence.

Dhoni will be faced with a similar inept system that has no commitment to excellence. As I have said before, I doubt that this mob would be able to plan a booze party in a brewery even if their lives depended on it. They would, however, organise it in a hurried manner as though their backsides were on fire if and only if they smelt money.

Sourav Ganguly was able to manipulate this system to his — and his teams’ advantage. But then he was a master politician and moreover, he had Dalmiya on his side. It will be interesting to see how Dhoni copes with this single major challenge that he faces to his tenure as captain.

Dressing room egos:

If one were to accept the scuttlebutt , there may have been a blip in the dressing-room temperature in the game against South Africa with Yuvraj Singh being one of the culprits. Harsha Bhogle gave the impression on air that the “tendonitis of the elbow” explanation was a bit of a furphy. He follows that up with the following lines in this article: “India should have been rocked by the withdrawal of a champion batsman, but the captain let him sit out and didn’t bother persuading him to play. That is the way to go and in doing so he made a statement on what he thought the rest were capable of. Only Yuvraj will know how bad the pain was but it must have been excruciating enough to warrant missing a game a day after playing the innings of his life.

If there were any tensions subsequent to that game, Dhoni appeared to have smoothed them over, given Yuvraj Singh the ego-stroke that he was possibly looking for — if indeed, the scuttlebutt was to be believed — and then gotten on with the job.

But this is just the start. As Rohit Brijnath comments eloquently, “Indian cricket is alive, constantly, with a dozen mutinies and a captain must deftly quell them. Some insurrections are quelled by a quiet word at dinner or a friendly pat to an uneasy bowler. Dravid’s toughness has reportedly made him intimidating to men who are not on his wave length. Of course he must not pander to indolent fellows, yet must convince men to a common cause. A fellow at ease with words must communicate more ably.

What Brijnath writes about Dravid applies equally to Dhoni with a few exceptions. The problems are the same — there are always a “dozen mutinies” to quell — but the approaches will be crafted by the leader. Where Dravid was seen as “intimidating”, Dhoni may be more “approachable”. And Dravid’s “toughness” may make way for Dhoni’s “tough love” approach.

Dressing-room-mutiny-quelling is a necessary skill that any Indian captain must possess. Sourav Ganguly had this in spades, in my view and that made him more able to curtail the inevitable “slow leak of spirit from the team”. Ironically, in Ganguly’s reign — and so also in Dravid’s reign — this “slow leak” occurred most when the team was winning! Somehow, when effigies were being burnt and when houses were being stoned whenever the team lost, team spirit was at its highest! These events seemed to spur the team to band together and play for each other! Dhoni will face the same challenges, particularly as the team has started on a winning note. The more the wins, the greater the dressing-room-egos! He needs to manage that and the mutinies that could result and this is certainly not a job for the faint-hearted!

The most telling paragraph in Brijnath’s wonderful piece is this one: “No doubt there are players in the team who complain about the imperfections of Indian cricket (selection, too much cricket, etc), yet never strive for their own personal perfection. There are fading elders around, too, of varying utility. Yet for better or worse these are Dravid’s men, this is his team. A great leader finds a way to unite the most rag-tag bunch, rousing them to play harder for him and each other.

And as Dhoni sits down on the flight back to Mumbai and as he charts out his own roadmap, it would do him good to have the above paragraph — with Dhoni instead of Dravid — in front of him. His task will be one of managing egos, stopping the slow-spirit-leak and uniting a rag-tag-bunch that is not high on self-discipline and extremely short on consistency!

Unsurpassed expectations:
This was one area where neither Ganguly nor Dravid managed well. These expectations come from the media and the fans.

Dravid always talked about the lack of proportion. In an interview with Mike Atherton midway through the England series, when asked about whether captaincy was a “burden”, Dravid perhaps gave an insight into the resignation that was to follow when he said, “Burden is too strong a word and people say that because of how I look. I’m not naturally a cheery-looking soul on the field. I do enjoy it but there are aspects I find tough. What I find hardest is the absolute lack of proportion. It makes it very hard to build a team when two or three bad games provoke such an extreme reaction. The media in India have been changing rapidly. I actually enjoy reading the papers over here because I’ll get criticised for how I actually captain the team, the bowling changes I make and the field placings I set, rather than, for example, how many times I clap my hands and something equally irrelevant.

And seriously, the braying mediocrity of Indian cricket — its media — must cop a lot of the blame for setting and moderating the expectations of fans. Media people will tell you that they are merely reflecting the pulse of the nation. And that may well be right. However, the quality of commentary is more often than not, based only on opinion and completely devoid and bereft of analysis and “proportion”. There are TV programs that regularly tease out and hang-to-dry “culprits” of losses that the team endures! There is too much banality, too much opinion-driven hysteria, too much drama and too much sensationalism — just in the name of filling up column-space or air-time. There is very little deep-analysis. And the real danger is that those that do indulge in analytical pieces are dumbed down as boring and irrelevant.

Dravid had to battle the system that did not provide him with support. He had to fight the egos in the dressing room. But the public couldn’t care less! Joe Public wants to see achievements. And achievement, for almost every Indian fan, is thrashing the living daylights out of the opposition. Nothing else will do, thank you very much!

These are the realities and challenges that Dhoni will face once the honeymoon period is over. Will he overcome these to make an imprint on Indian cricket?

I sure do hope so.

— Mohan