Dear Cricketers, Talk More. Please.

Wright Thompson (ESPN) was describing an incident from his trip to India a few years ago. He mentioned watching the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni being crowded by people…fans…in the airport, inside the airplane, at shops, wherever he goes. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an icon in the cricketing world, and a brand in India.

That is true for many Indian cricketers. They are revered across the length and breadth of the country. Every second brand has a cricketer as an ambassador, or in its advertisement. There are cricketers showing up on your newspaper, the television, the internet. Even in your dreams.

But, look at their social lives – they can hardly come out in the public without drawing excessive attention. Sure, they can have people to help them get groceries from the stores. But, do they get to go to the park and have a  peaceful couple of minutes without 200 people breathing down their neck for an autograph, for a pep talk, for a photograph?

Forget the people, can they just escape from the media breathing down their neck?

Fans

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of the Indian team was sitting a press conference before leaving for the Champions Trophy in England. Indian cricket was reeling under the IPL spot fixing allegations. There were 100 unanswered questions floating around. Nobody had an answer. There they had the captain of Indian cricket team, captain of the Chennai Super Kings, employee/stakeholder of India Cements – M.S. Dhoni – sitting in front of the microphone facing the media. The media asked a question based on the spot fixing issue, and they were hushed up by the media manager. All journalists were asked not to ask questions related to the fixing issue.

101 unanswered questions.

India went on to win the Champions Trophy in ways on Dhoni can explain. Maybe. M. S. Dhoni was asked in the Caribbean tour by Mr. Subash Jayaraman about his methods that amazingly tilted the table in India’s favour in the finals. But Dhoni, in his own way, replied – “If I tell you how I think, there will be no secrets. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.”

India is a country with more than a billion people, and I assume atleast 6 out of 10 Indians like the game of cricket. We Indian fans idolize cricketers, we mimic their batting and bowling styles. We call each other Sachin or Dhoni to feel good. We always dream of meeting them, spending a few minutes with them, talk to them, know them better. That is exactly what boils over as the emotions of fans who jump over the railings and past bouncers to get close to their idols. 

We want to know more about them all. We are fans, we deserve to know what they like, what they don’t. We can’t figure it out for ourselves all the way. Our love for the game doesn’t end at stumps. It goes beyond it, which is what fandom is about.

I noticed that many cricketers joined Twitter, which is a really wonderful engaging social media. Twitter is where millions of fans can follow you and it gives them the freedom to connect to their idols, something that seems impossible outside the internet. Maybe not. Even here, the players don’t respond to any of the fan cries. Some of them are too self obsessed, showing off their universities, promotions, horses etc. Some of them log on to send occasional festival wishes. Or “Yes. We won.” kind of tweets. I know who won. I was checking the scores on cricinfo.

This is totally different from how basketball players in the NBA use the twitter media, or for that matter – any media – to interact with media houses and fans alike.

Just assume there was a parallel universe in which the cricketers were not chained slaves of their cricket board(s) and were allowed to give candid interviews to journalists, spoke openly on the burning issues of the day, cleared the air about speculations etc. Fans already have the answers to most of their questions. They are still fans. They are better, informed fans. Next time, maybe they won’t ask Ravindra Singh Jadeja eat at a Hyderabadi restaurant if he likes Awadhi cuisine more. Or, maybe they will not send Sachin a video of a monkey playing “Happy Birthday To You” on his birthday, if Sachin is allergic to monkey videos.

In this parallel world, the cricketers might be able to move around freely. More freely, in comparison. They don’t have to worry about the media – they have been answered. Yes, there will be fans coming to meet the players. They will meet them, maybe shake hands, take a photo, wish them luck and move on; knowing the fact that he will be there again 3 days later to buy the same vegetables and sit on the same chair in the park while whistling the same tune from that movie in 1990s.

Getting back to reality, all that is not possible. I wasn’t even allowed to speak to a Ranji cricketer after a domestic game. Fans were chased away from watching the players practice after game (this happens in international games too). I couldn’t even have a “hi – hello” conversation with Nayan Mongia who was playing with his kid in the nets. Does the fan really matter in this game? At all?

The sad fan

(images courtesy HindustanTimes.com and SouthAsiaBiz.com respectively)

(Article based on a conversation with Mr. Rajat)

Bagrat

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IPL-6 was Fun

Multiple sources inform me that the IPL season is now over. I wasn’t sure until I saw Indian cricketers play Pakistan last night under the watchful eyes of His Majesty His Highness His Holyness Sir Lord Lalit Modi.

Jokes aside, I loved this IPL season even though I didn’t get to watch much of it. Rather, I didn’t want to watch any of it. And I am trying to erase all evidences of exclaiming “Fixed” or “I jinxed it” whenever something fishy seemed to have happened on during the IPL. You know, I don’t want to go to Tihar for 6 days and then left out and wait for judgment on it till 2017.

Oh, I said ‘jokes aside’? I lied. IPL is a joke. You must be plugging your ears and screaming *la la la la la la la* if you think otherwise. Even Lalit Modi thinks it is a joke. And he is the original puppeteer of the Indian Cric…I mean…Premier League.

I love how the insiders of the IPL work. They want in when there is something in for them. Like, Rajiv Shukla came in when they (I believe “they” means BCCI) ousted Lalit Modi. In an age where we debate the importance of DRS in a cricket game, I am not even sure Rajiv Shukla can tell a right handed batsman from a left handed one. If you need a non-cricketing fellow at the top of IPL to make ridiculous statements, why not appoint someone like Shreya Ghoshal? At least those ridiculous statements will sound sweet. Anyway, let us assume Rajiv Shukla, or his son, or his son-in-law has (vested) interests in the game. Because Rajiv doesn’t. I mean, who goes on to say that he is happy for India’s loss in England because now cricket can grow in England, who have been losing in cricket and football for the past decade?

IPL had a spot fixing scandal this year. I think this will bring an end to the IPL………………………………………….rulebook of allowing towels to the game. IPL players can’t even spot-fix properly. One of the involved players forgot to signal the over the deal was made for. So, IPL is imperfect even in the imperfect scenario.

*la la la la la la la*

IPL team owners have been involved in betting. How the CSK owner enthusiast lost more than Rs 1 crore by betting on his own team is beyond me. I think he should be punished by the long arms of bookies first, and then by the law. The RR owner also placed bets which his wife denies, he accepts, his wife blames somebody else for misusing their contact, he accepts, his wife cries foul, he accepts….maybe a few days later, his wife will also accept. Not all actors get their dialogues right in the first take.

As soon as the first breakthrough was made in the spot-fixing case, everybody from everywhere fired bullets – “XYZ should resign.” Most of the substitutions for “XYZ” were BCCI Chief, India Cements (owner of CSK) big man, the non-T20 goer, non IPL follower, Mr. N. Srinivasan. IPL big fellows are really interesting. They get selected, or elected, or sit on occupied seats themselves so that they do nothing much during the office hours and later when they are supposed to do something in a situation of crisis, they bark at others to resign, while still not doing anything about it.

I think the floor is weak and all the chairs at the IPL office are broken. Nobody wants to stand up to the situation. Nobody wants to put himself above everyone else and say “We have a situation here. Let’s solve it before it becomes a problem.” Their attitude is more like, “Dude, the coffee machine is not working again? You $%!^*$^%$!*^. Resign right away.” And then after the old fellow steps down aside, a new fellow takes up the post with no responsibility of what has happened and no ownership of the events that has dented the credibility (whaaa?) of the league. I still don’t know why Rajiv Shukla resigned. I mean, I still don’t know why he was made the IPL Commissioner in the first pace. I need at least one answer. I can conjure a blogpost for the other answer.

You know the league is absolutely funny when you are laughed at by the man who was ousted from the same league for corruption, who banned other leagues so his can be the sole runner, who hid himself in the UK where he got into more trouble by pulling another cricketer to fight in a court on match fixing charges and then lost the case and then got sued by the cricketer, which of course he claims he can’t pay because he  got bankrupt, which he tweets from his PC from a home in London where he is staying on an expired Visa while being the President and Director of a business group. Mr Lalit Modi is awesome in some ways.

I know. The IPL is saved. Jagmohan Dalmia will save it.

Phew.

-Bagrat

IPL Extraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

This is not a post about:

a)   IPL is not cricket

b)   IPL is cricket

c)   IPL has issues such as conflict of interest, spot fixing, sexism etc.

These are some random musings.

I am a sucker for cricket and I’d like to know if there is any other forum to watch Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid play other than the IPL. And I play the fantasy league. In fact, that is the second most significant reason I follow the IPL. Also as mentioned by @gradwolf on Twitter, these are the only folks who seem to be watching the IPL.

I watch the pregame show on mute (only until they display the playing XIs so I could adjust my fantasy league team) for the fear of Sidhu taking Rahul or Sachin’s name and the foul stench of his breath and sense of humor that would  emanate from the television set and cause nausea and increase in my blood pressure. I wish there were an option to visually mute Samir Kochhar whose skin tone displays a range that covers the entire Loreal skin tone chart, thanks to some heavy make-up. Also, the oil content on his skin could vary from bone dry like Bombay High to unexplored wells in Saudi Arabia. If it’s not make-up then I’d like to nominate him for the most curious biological specimen in terms of control over melanin and sebaceous gland activities.

Coming back to muting Kochhar, I think the mirror image of an L-shaped ad might do the trick since Samir invariably sits on the (TV screen) right hand side of the panel menagerie, feeding morsels of gossip and stoking emotions so the panelists species present in the studio could spit out some words at a frenetic pace and even clap their hands and sing and dance every now and then I don’t understand why one needs to resort to waterboarding as a means of torture when one could show the tape of this show to achieve far more effective results. They have even hired the services of Isa Guha since England is not represented well in the IPL, apart from Owais Shah (who?). Also, screw you, Eoin Morgan is Irish. Besides, Kevin Pietersen (even though not playing) is a South African. So. This move makes IPL a truly global phenomenon, representing all the “significant” cricket playing countries.

And if you thought IPL is appealing only to Homo sapiens, you’re dead wrong. They have specifically hired Danny Morrison to squeal at frequencies above 20,000 Hz in order to communicate with the animal and possibly the avian kingdom. Because I sure as hell can’t understand a damn thing he’s saying and I can guarantee that he sure as hell isn’t speaking below 20Hz where his consternations might escape my attention.

Also, one of these days, I need to ask the Lars Ulrich of the show how demeaning it is to wield his skilled hands upon the denouement of a cerebral gem from Sherry paaji. Every single time. Without fail. And how does he maintain that icy expression on his face? Does he have genuine fiduciary concerns as a result of which he had to sign up for this? What’s really going through his mind? Would rather flip those sticks in air and punch them straight into his ears to save himself the agony of listening to the audio and philosophical cacophony or hit his head hard enough against the drumhead membrane (are they made of cowskin? Alligator skin? Who cares.) to pierce it and seek refuge within its serene interiors. The odor and suffocation in that milieu would still be better than what he’s experiencing outside.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post. I guess I could have called it “A rant against IPL Extraaa innings and the ill effects of Ekta Kapoor’s F-U to English spelling” but I figured IPL and Ekta Kapoor in the title would repel all but one person on this planet from reading this post. That person would be me since I have the misfortune of proof reading it before hitting the send button.

Whose resource is it anyway?

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

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

Slowly. Relentlessly. Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goose. Golden Egg. Rinse. Repeat. 

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

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

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

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

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

I am not at all surprised.

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan (@mohank)

Let’s hang out…

One wonderful thing about college hostel life was sitting down in front of a TV with friends and watching a cricket match (or any sport, for that matter). “There would be a buzz around the” room and everyone would be talking cricket  with their buddies. I had a bunch of close friends and we would talk on topics from Tikolo brothers to Kenya’s absence from cricket’s map while watching a World Cup game; or about Sachin Tendulkar’s advertisements from 1995 to 2005. We always turned to the TV in time and would swear, clap, cheer and yell depending on what happens on the ball.

We cared two hoots about the commentary. We were each other’s commentators. Especially when somebody was missing, attending classes. SMS was the thing back then. The man watching would send in updates every moment. Be it Ricky Ponting’s dismissal to Ishant Sharma, or Kobe Bryant’s game winner, or Wayne Rooney’s goal. That was the social media back then.

After college, we went our ways. Some took up a job. Some went abroad to study. We weren’t in the same place anymore to shout “Hey, look at this catch.” to hear your friend run in within 5 seconds from his room to watch the catch’s replay on TV. Now, we put up a post on Facebook and the other friend comes in 8 hours later and posts his view. It isn’t instant any more. Well, Twitter is more instant that way, but can’t talk at length out there either.

Oh hey! Google Plus Hangout is here!

I never thought I would say this. I was on Google Plus for a week, maybe, and then shut that down because it didn’t amuse me. So, it is really impressive that G+ is relevant today. I guess it had one thing other things didn’t – a video chat page. Something like Skype? I haven’t used Skype. You would know better. I have heard from friends abroad that they hold chat sessions on Skype and/or Google Plus Hangouts.

Recently, cricket junta has suddenly started using the Hangout and it has become a trend. People use that as a medium to discuss what has happened during the day’s play, or while looking ahead to a game, or just to talk about a game when it is going on. Like an interactive ball-by-ball. That is brilliant use of technology! Now you can see each other face to face and talk about the game. You are miles apart, but you can still watch your buddy wince as you rile him up about his team’s performance. You can share virtual hi-fives, till your PC screen falls down.

Here is “Couch Batcheet”, hosted by Mr. Subash Jayaraman, who hosts his friends to discuss (more) cricket that is going on or coming soon. – http://thecricketcouch.com/blog/2013/03/31/couch-batcheet-episode-1/

That was the first one that caught my eye.

Yesterday, I saw two more of them on ESPN cricinfo :-

The IPL Huddle, where the ESPN-Cricinfo members come together to talk IPL during(/before?)/after the game – http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/video_audio/index.html?genre=59

Of course, when there is IPL, there should be County Cricket to  balance the universe. Right? Here is Vithushan Ehantharajah hosting One Man And His Pod to sum up a round of County Cricket Championship along with ESPN Cricinfo contributors from England – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRbGa-knnaI&feature=youtu.be&newstate=188b6c30240b90f3f7fe8ba10c9da6f2

And this morning, I discovered The Cricket Club  hosted by Stuart MacGill and Damien Martyn with other guests on air while they talk cricket at length – http://www.youtube.com/user/thecricketclub

Watch each of them, for you might like at least one of them. Each has its own flavour, its own style and its own purpose. And it gets more information through in very little time, thanks to the format and technology.

We seem to have moved on from print to audio to video. And right now, this is just a few people talking cricket and presenting to the world. I believe it can simply spark an idea among you and your friends to run a chat session while a game is going on. One practical difficulty with that would be trying to watch the game and the hangout at the same time, all the time. You will figure out how to get past that, anyway.

Come, let’s hang out for a game…

Bagrat

Come to India, we will show you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan (@mohank)

Mohali – Better and Worse than I thought.

The Plan

When I moved to Chandigarh just before 2013 began, I had my eyes on Mohali for (at least) two days of cricket – 17th March for Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy games, and 24th for the test match against Australia. I thought I’d take another day off for the test match, if I could. And I wanted to be at the ground for S.M.A. Trophy just to see the stadium in its glory. That plan got dumped into the trash can and then burnt when BCCI changed the order of the venues hosting the games. For 3 weeks, BCCI website said Mohali hosted the test match AND the S.M.A. Trophy T20 games on 17th March. They later shifted them to Lahli and Rohtak.

So, now, I had to make sure I attend this test match. I must thank my colleague for covering up for me and going to work on Sunday, hence allowing me to attend Sunday’s play.

 

He came

I (and 2 others) reached Mohali at around 7.30 am, and got off the tuk-tuk at a point around 500 m away from the stadium. Two dozen policemen had cordoned off entry to the street leading to the stadium gates. So, we walked. Nearing the stadium, I spotted a ticket counter. We had to buy tickets, and were looking for counters selling daily tickets. A policeman from another group of two dozen policemen stepped towards us and told that all ticket sales have been closed at that booth and we would have to go other gates (1 and 4) for tickets.

We neared gate 1. There were another 30 policemen there who stood there like ushers and shooed us away, saying there are no ticket counters there and all ticket sales were closed everywhere. We told them that their whole squad is making the fans go around in circles for nothing. We were in such a tense conversation with the policeman, that my colleague later told me he missed an opportunity to take a photograph along with Sudhir Kumar, the famous Sachin Tendulkar fan with tricolour painted on his body, who was standing right there.

One policeman then showed us the address of a bank which sells the tickets and asked us to go there and buy the tickets. It was 7.45 am. On a Sunday. What bank opens on a Sunday, that too at 7.45 am?

Left with no choice, we pulled another tuk-tuk and reached the bank. It was closed. But, the guard directed us to a fellow who was selling tickets to the game. Yes, black. Now, sshhhh. He had tickets to only one stands (General Chairs, West Block). They were season tickets, and cost Rs 250 for the whole match. They were sold to us at Rs 400. Again, left with no choice, we bought those tickets.

In retrospect, we paid 8 times the amount the tickets were worth. (Maybe 4 times, if I had come to attend Monday’s play, which seemed impossible for me, personally)

I was near the gate by around 8:15 am, and I had time to meet a friend and then get into the ground by 8:30 am.

He saw

As soon as I entered into the stadium, I let out a “Wowwwwwwwwwwww”. It was so very beautiful. “Cute” should be more precise. Small stadium, green outfield, clean look, nicely constructed Pavilion and aesthetically beautiful open stands. It looked like a wonderful throwback stadium to enjoy test cricket. It was like Nagpur’s VCA Jamtha ground without the second tier.

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PCA Mohali

And yes, of course, there were more policemen (and women) in the stadium. They must have been grand cricket fans, they were in the stands too. Front seat. And there were stewards, like the ones you see in English cricket games – paid to keep watch on the spectators and not turn around and look at the play. (Yes, ball boys were there too.)

The mid-March heat did not start burning until it was 11 am. A breeze would go past the stadium once in a while, but not soothing enough to some. The open roof was a take and give. The sun shone hard in the afternoon, but the intermittent breeze kept us from sweating. The organizers would come in once in a while and throw the “4” and “6” placards into the crowd to get them to show that up and pump the Indian batting. Instead, the audience used that to cover their head from the sun. Later, they innovated and carved holes into it to morph that card into a cap.

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Cap-tion this

By 11 am or so, the crowd in my section started filling in at a nice pace. It was nearly 75% full by lunch time. I got to know that a ticket counter was opened after 9 am to sell season tickets to this stand alone. TO THIS STAND ALONE. I looked up and scanned the other sections of the ground, and they were plain empty. Only those who had tickets to those stands by day-1 could use that to enter there on any other day. No tickets to those stands were sold after day-1, as told by a policeman guarding the gates early in the morning.

The food in the ground wasn’t great. Pizza Hut’s PHD was there to the rescue, though. Diluted aerated drinks were sold at overpriced rates. Bottled water was sold at least 2.5 times its original price, only until they ran out of water by tea time, though.

By the afternoon session, my section was full. Neighbouring section empty. Haha. OK. You got me. I’m kidding. There were 23 people there in the neighbouring section.

How I wish my section was not full!!?! While it was nice to see public turn up for the game, it was sad to see such an idiotic public turn up for the game. Some of the people who turned up didn’t care about the test match. They were here primarily to take photos of them posing with the ground behind them, capturing it on their mobile phone that looked as big as my school physics lab record note book. And then they would whine about the test match being played at a slow pace and then go to some other place and take more photographs. Maybe Punjab Matrimony dot com has a lot of “Me at Mohali” photographs uploaded over the weekend.

There was a “We want Yuvi and Bhajji in the team” placard. I am sure they meant a dance team.

The worst part about this crowd was how much it wanted, begged and prayed for Murali Vijay, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha to get out. It led me to conclude that India does not deserve to host a game at Mohali and assume it will get home advantage from the crowd support here. Crowd support? Both of those mean nothing at Mohali. It was just so bad out there.

The fickle crowd was all so very “I Heart Bhuvi” as soon as David Warner got out first over, though.

He left

The day’s play of cricket was nice. I was blamed for bringing ill luck to the ground and felling all Indian wickets, though. But, hey! India won. Regardless, I have a lot of points to jabber about this stadium experience.

First of all, the Chandigarh public alone cannot be blamed for poor attendance. PCA/Mohali is responsible for half of this nuisance. Public can buy tickets only if the association sells tickets. They sold tickets to just one stand (which was not even the cheapest priced stand). And those tickets were season tickets, being sold on 4th day. I felt ashamed to be in a stadium where the ground was jam packed for about a 60 degree big chunk of a pie chart and nearly empty everywhere else. It must have looked disgusting on television, if they cared to show that difference at all.

Check out how differently two different stands were occupied. Tickets were sold on day-4 ONLY to the stand on the right. (that too season tickets)

Check out how differently two different stands were occupied. Tickets were sold on day-4 ONLY to the stand on the right. (that too season tickets)

Why can they not sell daily tickets? All those tickets that were not sold are lying waste in some corner of the PCA office, anyway. Sell them, get the public inside. There was no cohesion in the crowd. There were no returning fans. We were all first timers who chanced upon a test match at Mohali. If they let the fans choose from a variety of tickets, a big number of tickets, more parts of the stadium would have filled. It did not happen. It seemed silly.

I liked how the security checks were neat at the entrance of the stadium. But, it was very disgusting to see more policemen than fans in the 0.5 km radius outside the stadium before gates opened. And most of them couldn’t direct the public to ticket counters.

If, say, someone came to Mohali, and say all this foolish ticketing and policing during a test match in the year 2004, he wouldn’t be interested in visiting the ground in 2005. His friends won’t attend it either. 8 years hence, half the cricket fans in Chandigarh won’t. The other half doesn’t care about test cricket, anyway. The association has not given importance to the fans here as far as the ticketing goes (I have only one instance to talk about, though). And, other factors affecting fan-fare can be debated only if we have enough bums on seats inside the stadium.

Before I end, also have a recommendation for the PCA. I see that PCA doesn’t  want to let in the crowd, and most of the junta doesn’t want to come in anyway. So, why not pull down some of the stands on the square and convert that into grass lawn banks? You can have limited ticket entry to the lawn banks. Price it at whatever you wish, only a few are going to turn up anyway. So, let them have a nice time there. Like the ones in South Africa or New Zealand. It will be beautiful. It will also be a testimony to Chandigarh’s greenery, too.

Honestly speaking, it will take me some convincing to attend another game at Mohali. Well played, PCA. You win.

– Bagrat