Tag Archives: BCCI

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

By Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)

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

The bully

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

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

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

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

There is much to dislike about the BCCI.

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

However, perceptions have a way of becoming realities.

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

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

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

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

Critics, journalists and opinion-makers

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

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

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

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

Enter Harsha Bhogle

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

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

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

A tête-à-tête with Harsha Bhogle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidently, yes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The IPL bandwagon

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

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

But, I digress…

A review of Indian cricket

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

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

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

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

Monopsony and the market argument

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

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

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

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

The critical role of serious critics

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

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

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

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

— Mohan

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

Advertisements

Last Chance Saloon

[by Sunny Mishra (@sehwagology) and Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)]

The promotions for the forthcoming full tour to Australia by India have been on in full force on TV in India. These promos are a source of some mirth and a lot of unintended comedy. We have had former cricket stars hyping the event as “Thunder Downunder”. Shane Watson has the unenviable task of lecturing us on meteorology and climate adadptation. Through these promos, we are reliably informed that, while it is winter in India it is summer in Australia. Saurav Ganguly talks up the series as the ‘battle of the chirp’, referring to the mental fortitude that is required for teams to tour Australia. Bollywood stars have got in on the act. The tour has been called the “Agneepath” (“Path of Fire”) Series. It helps that a movie by the same name is due for release shortly!

Product placement meets TV meets cricket.

An India v Australia match-up has not, in the past, required any additional marketing. Fans of both countries relish the contest. The Border-Gavaskar series had the potential to be billed as The Ashes of the new millennium until Australia lost its sheen. Nevertheless, since the 2001 epic in Kolkata, Boarder-Gavaskar Trophy clashes between Australia and India have marketed and sold themselves. And if interest in the BG Series flagged at any point in time, that Test in Sydney in 2008 ensured that Australia-India Tests would always retain an interest around the world of cricket.

The Border-Gavaskar Series was an opportunity for the most powerful team of our generation to meet the most powerful team of our generation. It presented an opportunity for the strongest team to meet the richest team; an opportunity for the most talkative team to meet a team that was finding its voice (at times, even a provocative rude voice). Every series saw drama, emotion, guts, glory, evictions, fights, breakdowns, fight-backs, back-stabbing, court-room trials and more. This was Survivor meets Big Brother meets TV meets cricket. Always! So, the additional chest-thumping marketing promos have been somewhat strange and mostly unnecessary.

However, India did lose to England in the 2011 English summer. Badly! Most Team India fans have worked hard to try and banish the horribly painful memory of that loss deep into the recesses of their minds. England in 2011? India went there to play? Play cricket? No way!

Subsequent to that series against England, India has made a few small but significant changes in personnel, although the approach has not been changed substantially. India beat England in an ODI series and then beat a hapless West Indies. But both of these series were at home. In India. In familiar conditions. So, it is hard for us to gauge the impact of the reorganization and the restructuring that was necessitated by the horrible English summer.

Moreover, the injuries that plagued Team India in the horrible summer tour of England persist. These have not vanished. India has had to identify, groom and prepare new resources. Quickly.

Meanwhile, Australia is caught in a funny place. We cannot be sure whether they are in consolidation phase or rebuilding phase or start-up phase! That is how unsure the Australian cricket team is looking these days. The cocky sheen has been replaced by an immature diffidence. Australia present an image of a child eager to — and, at times, able to — peddle fast on a bicycle when it can’t remember if it has taken its first baby steps in life. It looks like a team what needs a “re” prefix to describe the process of transformation that it is undergoing, without being sure if it is resurgent, rebuilding, regrowth, regeneration or revival.

After the terrible Ashes loss at home at the hands of England (again!), Australia went about the rebuild that was required in a typically Australian manner. The result was the Argus review. A public enquiry was conducted. All stakeholders were contacted and interviewed. A tome was written.

This series provides an opportunity to assess the status of the sweeping changes brought in by the Argus review. Australia has new selectors, a new coach, a new coaching system, a relatively new captain, and a new T20 league. All of these were intended to arrest the reversals over the last couple of summers. All of these will be under scrutiny. The challenge will be to show demonstrable improvements, and fast.

The first few attempts at regeneration have been very mixed. A good session is immediately followed by a bad session. In the past few months the team has demonstrated excellence and weakness, strength and vulnerability, solidity and inconsistency, toughness and fragility — all in equal measure.

All of this has turned the pre-series Australian Press ritual on its head.

What we normally have every (Australian) summer is the Australian press attacking the visiting opposition captain and key players in a remarkably organised pack-mentality. This ritual would often commence a few weeks before the first ball is bowled. The opposing team would be made to feel the heat and the pressure before the first toss. A siege-mentality would often grip visiting teams even before the actual cricket commences.

However, this time around, the Australian press is internally focused — almost entirely. Should Ricky Ponting retire? Should Usman Khawaja play? And if so, at what position? What happens to Phil Hughes now? Why are there so many injuries to key players like Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Pat Cummins, Ryan Harris, et al?

These are some of the questions that have to be asked. And key press outlets in Australia have started this postmortem. The questions and barbs from the Australian media are being directed at the hosts this summer. There are self-doubts. These need addressing much more urgently than the potential gaps and vulnerabilities of the opposition camp. The Australian press is internally focused.

So, this series does provide some interesting story-lines. Some these will be distractions. Others will surely affect preparations.

For India’s senior soldiers, this is the “Final Frontier”. A win in Australia will check off another item on the bucket list of the “Triumphant Trinity”! (Ok, we were struggling here after the Fantastic Five became the Fabulous Four!). The Trinity has come close to a victory in Australia in the past. But the team lacked the killer punch; that finishing touch.

Sachin Tendulkar will be eager to get the 100th 100 completed. [Editorial Comment: Under normal circumstances, we may have said “Tendulkar needs to get that monkey off his back.” However, that would be a tad insensitive for an India tour of Australia! So the Editor culled that cliche out of this piece!] If Tendulkar does not get to his 100th century early on in the tour, this distraction will become as unbearable in the Australian press as it has already become in the Indian press. That distraction is one that the team does not need.

There is a risk of the series becoming a Ricky Ponting farewell tour — that is, of course, if the retirement does not happen before the tour commences. The 2003/04 series became a distraction for the home team as Steve Waugh’s retirement took center-stage in Australia. A Ricky Ponting farewell tour would be a needless distraction on a side lane when the team is struggling to cope with driving the bus within the confines of the lane markings.

Both captains will have to manage these diversions expertly.

One could say that Australia’s overseas assignments in Sri Lanka and South Africa have exceeded the expectations of a team that is in ‘re-build mode’. However, Australia will look at key moments in both these series and will want to ask questions. Being bowled out for 47 at Cape Town was a stunning low-point. At home they have been stymied by a plucky New Zealand side. The Kiwis used the conditions better at Hobart after being outplayed at The Gabba in Brisbane.

The loss at Hobart to New Zealand just prior to the “Agneepath Series” will hurt Australia. Going into the last day, one could not imagine Australia losing. Yes, New Zealand (and in particular, Doug Bracewell) bowled brilliantly. However, the bowling was hardly menacing. What was scary — from an Australian perspective — was the tentativeness and mental fragility that was on display. Apart from Warner and Lyon, briefly, all the other batsmen poked prodded and perished. This slide to ridiculousness was started by Ricky Ponting. Until the Ponting dismissal, one could not imagine an Australia loss. Ponting spent 51 minutes out in the middle. 51 minutes of extreme self-doubt. 51 minutes that defined Australia’s loss. 51 minutes of agony for any Australian fan. 51 minutes of pain.

So much so that the words in the poser: “Ponting will depart? Yeah? When?” perhaps need to be urgently rearranged to: “Yeah! When will Ponting depart?”

Another major concern for Australia is the litany of injuries. While Watson is expected to recover in time for Boxing Day, the return of young gun Patrick Cummins is unknown at this stage. Shaun Marsh should return to his spot at 3. The fitness status of Ryan Harris is unknown.

While the return of Watson and Marsh is welcome news, they will be short on (recent) match practice. The Big Bash League is the only cricket available for Watson and Marsh to secure match practice; and a hit in a T20 game is hardly the ideal preparation for Test cricket.

And while on this topic… Who thought of having a domestic T20 competition in the middle of a first class season, and while the home Test-series is on? Even the BCCI wouldn’t have come up with this pearl of extremely bad programming. The BCCI office bearers would have had to be on a terrible cocktail of hallucination-inducing drugs and vodka to have come up with such a silly concept!

The scheduling is so terrible that even if Patrick Cummins’s injury heals prior to the Adelaide Test — commencing 24 January 2012 — he would have to make an entry into Test cricket without any first class cricket under his belt.

As a Team India fan, I have seen many ridiculous attempts at non-management by the BCCI. But this piece of ridiculousness is something that would make even the BCCI officials reject with extreme and violent disgust.

India’s preparations have hardly been ideal either. An injury cloud hangs over Zaheer Khan. He has played two first-class games for Mumbai in the domestic Ranji Trophy competition. The comeback signs are good. But, will he last the tour? For India to have a successful tour, his form and his bowling-leadership will be crucial. One is never sure when Ishant Sharma will break down. For some time now, his body appears as though it is being held together by band-aid. Sreesanth is injured. Praveen Kumar is injured. Varun Aaron is injured. Harbhajan Singh is injured. Munaf Patel is injured. Ashish Nehra is not injured, but is not in selection contention. Who knows why? This means that the Indian bowling sports a new, young (and somewhat untested) look about it. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar form the pace attack while R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha form the spin strength.

While the rest of the team was playing against West Indies in an ODI series, a lead party of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma reached Melbourne prior to full squad assembling in Canberra for the two practice games.

Practice games? Yeah right!

India is scheduled to play an Australia Chairman’s XI for a pair of 2-day games. Typically this side is a clutch of rising domestic stars led by a seasoned veteran. However, since the Big Bash League will have commenced on 16 December, it will be difficult for Cricket Australia to provide a competitive side to play against India. So, will it be adequate match practice for the visiting India Team? We do not think so.

The senior Indian players value structured practice sessions more than practice games. While there is plenty of time for that, what is lacking is net bowlers. CA is under no obligation to provide them net bowlers until when the Tests commence. So there is a scheduling mess here too — once again, caused by a senseless T20 competition that carves up the domestic Shield season in half. India will, therefore, need to ensure that it takes an additional pace bowler on the trip. Either that or India needs to make do with Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar bowling ball after ball to the batsmen in the nets!

The lack of net bowlers is not a new problem that Indian teams have faced in Australia. This issue has surfaced on past tours to Australia too. Net bowlers have often been unavailable and practice facilities have often been “off limits”. Throw downs from the trainer are hardly going to prepare any batsmen — however experienced — for the probing examinations and searing pace of Peter Siddle and James Pattinson.

So, there you have it. It is a strange series that has more doubts than Agnee (fire). And if the teams have a path towards a certain future, this is unknown either. Yet, what we do know is that this has been billed as the Agneepath Series. It represents a battle between a team that is trying hard to rebuild and a team that has to ensure that a rebuild is unnecessary.

An Australian team that is in transition presents India with her best opportunity yet of securing a series victory in Australia. India has challenged Australia’s dominance in the glorious decade that Australia has had. India twice ended Australia’s record-winning sequences. It is now an opportunity to achieve what South Africa and England have both recently achieved — a win in Australia.

For India’s greatest generation of cricketers this is the last chance saloon.

— Sunny (@sehwagology) and Mohan (@mohank)

The fan continues to be short-changed by the BCCI

I am writing this a few weeks after I watched an ODI game at the Wankhede Stadium between India and England.

In the months and weeks preceding the game, I had had many arguments with fellow cricket tragics in Mumbai about facilities in some of the new stadia in India and about how the game’s administrators in India, the BCCI, treat the game’s key stakeholder: the fans.

The BCCI has been in an immensely fortunate position since the early 1990s: Fortunate because it suddenly discovered that it had a significant and substantially large fan base; Fortunate because these fans collectively delivered the BCCI a significant power base in World cricket. Through the suddenly discovered fans, BCCI discovered TV licensing rights. It discovered money.

I say ‘discovered’ rather than using a term more definite, concerted, understood and coordinated because, in my view, much of what the BCCI does appears to be serendipitous. The BCCI gives me the impression of an organisation that is continually in search for a needle in a haystack but continues to find the farmer’s daughter there instead!

The BCCI has not been accused so far of having a coordinated and well articulated strategy for exploiting the distinct advantage it has — a large, devoted and unshakable fan base. Nor is it in any danger of being accused of having a strategy to develop or grow its fan base. The fan base just exists. And fortunately for the BCCI, today, this fan base is still growing.

One can condone BCCI not taking care of its fans if it shows leadership in other spheres — particularly at the head table of the ICC. On balance, I would not say that it does. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rather haphazard, seemingly disorganized and somewhat myopic thinking by the BCCI. The organisation’s stance on the “whereabouts clause” in the WADA dope testing regime is one of them. Another example of leadership — albeit somewhat ineffective for a while — was BCCI’s stand on the DRS. The BCCI was not at the head-table providing opinion and thought leadership. Instead it had its office bearers mumbling their way through immature explanations and ill-thought out rationalizations. BCCI’s paid commentators said that the rest of the world was against India because of “envy”! There was no one from the BCCI putting out a cogent and articulate argument against the DRS. Once again, the thought leadership was absent on this issue — an issue on which BCCI, perhaps, had a legitimate objection. Perhaps the BCCI didn’t know how to construct a cogent argument. Perhaps the BCCI could not be bothered. Perhaps the BCCI lacked the wherewithal to make a convincing argument.

Today, the BCCI is a powerful organisation. It is a monopsony (thanks to @sumants for this reference). It operates in a market condition in which goods or services or talent are offered by several sellers (players with skills) but there is only one buyer for these skills. When ICL came into the picture, BCCI was able to move the ICC to not provide the ICL with a license to operate. This is a powerful position to operate from. It is also a position that ought to force the monopsonist to act with utmost care and phenomenal responsibility.

The bar must be significantly high.

It is not BCCI’s fault they are the largest and most powerful member of the structurally inefficient ICC family! But neither is it, in my view, to their credit that they are the largest and most powerful! You and I have delivered this power to the BCCI. Today, it just is the most powerful voice at the ICC table. It is also not BCCI’s problem if the representatives from Sri Lanka and Pakistan (say) just nod the same way when the BCCI nods. But inevitably power gives the powerful member a few strings at the end of which one often finds the heads of puppets. So it becomes important for the power wielder to use that power judiciously.

Of course, other boards around the world are guilty of lining up to the BCCI for their own advantage. An example is the motion for a 10-member 2015 World Cup, where the joint Australia-NZ idea was mooted and proposed by the BCCI at the ICC meeting. Witness also the cunning ECB plan of an ICC permanent presidency — again being proposed by the BCCI. Favours will have been traded prior to the BCCI putting up such nonsensical contrivances. But in the end, the BCCI did put up these motions expecting everyone to nod the way it did.

On the 10-member World Cup issue, CA and CNZ placed a gun on BCCI’s shoulder and fired. So the appropriate question is whether BCCI should have allowed CA and CNZ to place a gun on their shoulder to fire — in exchange for another favour elsewhere. Similarly on the permanent presidency issue, the ECB was allowed to place its gun on BCCI’s shoulder to fire. While the “conniving followers” cannot be totally absolved in these (and other) episodes, it is true that the BCCI provided the shoulder.

So one can quite understand the collective urge to paint BCCI as a “permanent bully”. And of course, there are several examples to support a theory that it has become quite fashionable for opinion-makers to blame BCCI for all ills in cricket today. Soon, we might even start blaming BCCI for world poverty, hunger, the political problems in pockets of the world, Arjuna Ranatunga’s excessive weight and Merv Hughes’s mustache!

But it is often BCCI’s behaviour at the head table that gives rise to this collective tendency to yell “BCCI Bully” before an issue is even properly addressed/investigated. The DRS is a wonderful example of just this. The irrational fear is that if BCCI opposes an issue, it will remain opposed.

The BCCI has to show exemplary leadership — and I make no compromise on this requirement, knowing full well that the non-leaders are not innocent rabbits either! There are political moves that are constantly made! We cannot ignore the expediency in deal-making by the “followers of the leader”. To ignore these moves would be to sacrifice completeness. To do that would be to sacrifice opinion integrity. To do that would be to compromise honesty. But more importantly, to do that would be to widen the trust-chasm and the trust-deficit that exists in the cricket world today.

We, the fans, need to be tough on our expectations of BCCI because cricket journalists and opinion-makers in India are, in my view, rather weak. Few journalists in India can criticize the BCCI. This most powerful organisation controls access, accreditation and privileges and frowns on negative press it receives from anyone in the press lobby. As a result not much is written against the BCCI in the press. Press folk value their accreditation privileges too much to talk out against the many BCCI-inflicted atrocities. There are easy routes to take. And on most issues, despite the sore bottoms they might acquire as a result, a fence-sit is convenient for most press folk in India.

I expect to be flamed by my friends on Twitter and elsewhere for this criticism of the BCCI. But I expect the BCCI to be extraordinary citizens at the ICC table and extraordinary governors of the game at home. I am not convinced that they are either. I expect the BCCI to move motions at the ICC with extreme caution and utmost wisdom. I expect the BCCI to show a level of governance of the game in India that is the envy of the world. The BCCI falls short on both counts.

Oh! And what about the game itself on 23 October 2011?

The tickets were ridiculously priced. I could not purchase the cheaper tickets online. I had to trot to a window in South Bombay to purchase tickets. I did not. I got the tickets through someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who then got tickets for us through someone they knew! Is this the way tickets ought to be sold in 2011? I do not think so.

The face value of the tickets we got was Rs 2000. The fact is we got these for cheaper than the face-value. But that is neither here nor there. The tickets were priced at Rs 2000, which is approximately AUD$45. In other words, these tickets were almost as expensive as an ODI ticket at (say) the MCG. My experience was nowhere close to the many lovely experiences I have had at the MCG or the SCG or Adelaide Oval.

Although there were only about 5,000 fans in a stadium that could hold 35,000 (or thereabouts) it took us several security checks — each one more cursory and more unnecessary than the previous check — before we could get in to the ground. This may not be BCCI’s fault. However, I would expect BCCI to be involved in discussions with the several agencies involved in streamlining these totally obtuse and completely irrelevant entry procedures. We were “security checked” by 6 different sets of people within a 100m distance. Each security group performed a job that was worse than the previous group. The final check was performed by a group that was hired by the BCCI (or so I was told). This was the worst check performed of the lot. I did not see the point of such entry procedures performed in a quality-vacuum and a trust-vacuum. The job was, at best, perfunctorily performed by a bunch of people who wanted to be inside the ground rather than outside it. It was a frustrating experience on what was a hot, humid and sultry day. As a result, what ought to have been a 5 minutes procedure took us over 45 minutes to get in.

We could not take mosquito repellents or hand sanitizers or sun screen lotions into the stadium. That may be fine if we could purchase mosquito repellents or hand sanitizers or sun screen lotions inside the stadium. We could not. Did we need these inside the stadium? That is not the point. Players apply zinc cream on their faces. Should spectators not?

The seats were clumsy, dirty and just bad. The toilets were incredibly bad. Sure. The facilities are better than they were some 10 years ago. But that cannot be an excuse to charge Rs 2000 and continue to short-change the fan.

I have watched games at various venues in England (The Lord’s, Oval, Leeds, Wembley, West Ham, The Kop, etc) and Australia (The MCG, The SCG, The Adelaide Oval, Rod Laver Arena, etc). I never felt as unwanted as I was at the Wankhede stadium. I was irrelevant to the BCCI. I felt that I was interrupting the BCCI from its enjoyment of the game. Is this what we ought to be accepting from the premier organisation in the game? I don’t believe so. Am I alone in feeling thus?

— Mohan (@mohank)

Ps: This post was motivated by (a) an email exchange I had with Gideon Haigh, (b) a long Twitter discussion I had with Sumant Srivathsan (@sumants) and (c) a Twitter discussion I had with Shrikant Subramanian (@Homertweets)

Why, oh why?

Why, oh why?

To me, it was akin to Bill Clinton retiring from politics to become an immigration agent!

*****

I remember that day in March 2002 very clearly. Wayne Carey’s face was on the front page of every newspaper and his news dominated TV news programs. My sporting hero had had an extramarital affair with his team mate’s wife. Anthony Stevens was the vice-captain of the team that Carey was captain of. Both of them played for North Melbourne with distinction. Carey and Stevens were attending a party at team mate Glenn Archer’s house, where Carey’s affair with Stevens’s wife was ‘outed’. Carey had been caught with his pants down… Literally! Wayne Carey immediately resigned from The North Melbourne (Kangaroos) team. He had led the team brilliantly. Some had hailed him as one of the best players to have played the game, ever. The rest of his life after that episode represented a sequence of disasters. The fall from grace was swift and was littered with ignominy and ridicule.

Some 10 years earlier I had just moved to Australia. I started watching Australian Rules Football (footy) and fell in love with the game! It was easy to understand. What I saw was an uncomplicated fast-paced game that celebrated quick-thinking, skillful, athletic endeavor. I was asked to “choose a team to barrack for”. I chose The Demons (Melbourne) because a colleague of mine barracked for them and conned me into ‘going for’ her team too! This choice was made barely a week after I had, metaphorically speaking, stepped off the boat.

A few days later, I saw Wayne Carey play. I immediately regretted my premature choice of The Demons as ‘my team’. By then, it was too late to change allegiance. My colleague was a quick operator! I already had The Demons scarf and car sticker in my possession. It was too late to change. But if I could, I would have. For Wayne Carey! He was a magician.

So, for all the time I watched and followed AFL in Australia, although I supported The Demons, I silently supported The North Melbourne Kangaroos too; the team that Wayne Carey played for and captained. I watched and admired the way Carey played the game. I was watching an incredibly skilled athlete display commitment, grace, dignity, arrogance, physical energy, and immense ability all at once. His physical prowess was exceptional. Here was Adonis. He had the perfect body structure for an intensely physical game. He would shrug off opposition tacklers as though they were mosquitoes who stood in his relentless and focused path towards goal. He was built like sportsmen should be built! He had an incredible ability to ‘see the game’. For him, it seemed as though the game played out a few minutes before the play actually happened.

When I saw Wayne Carey play, I understood what another Wayne — Wayne Gretzky, the Canadian ice-hockey player — meant when he said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Wayne Carey seemed to be perpetually in charge of writing the script for the action that would unfurl at some point in time in the immediate future! It was as though Carey had recruited even time to work for him.

He was nicknamed “The King”. Sports does tend to hand out monikers like that somewhat easily even to some who are less deserving. However, in this case, Carey had earned it. His greatness is underlined by the fact that in 2008, some 6 years after that night in March 2002, Carey was named as Australian football’s greatest ever player. The AFL had commissioned the curating of this 50-member all-time-best player-list as part of the AFL’s celebration of 150 years of Australian rules football. Carey is on this list as the best player ever.

I was incredibly upset that my sporting hero had fallen from grace. I was quite angry at the acceptable-behavior-image that Carey would set to many of his young, impressionable fans! For, after all, here was an idol who was revered by all AFL fans, regardless of which team they ‘barracked’ for.

However, in 2008, I was able to accept his position at the top of the AFL all-time-legends list mainly because, back in 2002, when everything exploded in his face, Carey had expressed his remorse. He admitted his mistakes. He worked hard at re-building his image. He admitted that he had let down a lot of people; most of all his family and team-mates. He worked hard with the many people he had let down. He made attempts to rebuild ground that he lost. But most importantly, he demonstrated contrition and took personal responsibility — the first steps towards retribution and acceptance. Although he had fallen in his own esteem in 2002, he attempted to piece his life back together. Here was a human being who had made a mistake. He accepted the error in his ways. He set about redefining and rebuilding himself.

He subsequently lost himself again. And again. And then again! But that is neither here nor there. In 2002, he set out on a long and painful road to recovery.

On reflection, the fault lies entirely with us! For, we are the ones that tend to loft our sporting idols into orbit. We canonize them. And when they come crashing down to earth, it is because they have created a gap in the expectations that we have set for them.

*****

This sobering unfulfilled expectation-gap played out again last week!

Enter. Anil Kumble and his ghastly conflict of interest.

Yes! I accept that Anil Kumble did not have an extra-marital affair. His was a mere business proposition that needed severe inquisition and introspection. Tenvic, the company that he was director of, has “player management” as one of its key objects. This was a clear conflict with (a) his day-time job as President of KSCA (to whom the Karnataka selectors are accountable), (b) Chief-mentor of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, (c) Chairman of the National Cricket Academy.

My first reaction on hearing that news was extreme disbelief. “A player of Anil Kumble’s stature managing players? No way,” I said to myself. To me, it was akin to Bill Clinton retiring from politics to become an immigration agent! Why would he do that?

Apart from the ridiculousness of the proposition itself, I was baffled by the knowledge that Anil Kumble did not see the conflict in his player-management role and the various other honorary roles he held.

Conflicts of interest are as prevalent in today’s complex life as auto-rickshaws that do not want to go where passengers want them to. It was the seemingly brusque manner of his dismissal of the conflict of interest charge that grated:

“I do not see any conflict of interest here. I am very clear in my mind about this. The important thing is to focus on what you are trying to achieve, and I am trying to do that. I focus on what has to be done, not on what people might be thinking. The positions with the KSCA and NCA are honorary jobs, and I have to look after myself. At this stage of my career, I have to do that. Otherwise, you would have to become like Gandhi and give up everything.”

Essentially, Kumble appears to be saying here that he is perfectly capable of managing his conflicts of interest and is doing so in a perfectly legitimate and above-board manner. He is asking us to trust him. But, as Sambit Bal says, “He can argue that he is capable of separating each of his roles and not letting one influence the other. But perceptions matter, and public life has its own unwritten code of conduct.”

So, the existence of his conflict of interest is not a problem. What is far more important is the open admission, clear declaration, and effective management of these. I had expected more from Anil Kumble. Much more.

And frankly, apart from the the allusion to Gandhi making no sense whatever, the fact that Anil Kumble says that he needs to be “looking after myself” is almost like the owner of a 200-room palace saying he needs a few more rooms in his palace in order to be totally comfortable! Cricketers do need to look after themselves. I agree. But my expectation is that, a player like Anil Kumble has built a significant nest egg by now! Surely Anil Kumble does not need to commence building a nest egg at this stage of his life. A “looking after myself” statement or a “need to build a nest egg” statement is what I would have expected from a former player like Sanjay Bangar or Sujith Somasunder. Not Anil Kumble. That said, I do not know about the personal wealth situation of either Kumble or Bangar or Somasunder. The point here is that Kumble has played many games for India and for RCB to have made “enough” money from the game. A player who has played far fewer games — and thereby, had fewer nest-egg building opportunities — needs to “look after themselves” and their pecuniary interests in their retirement.

In any case, how much is “enough” anyway? But that is a question that is deep and philosophical.

There is a stronger and deeper question that needs to be asked, however: Does Anil Kumble need to earn money from managing players? Does he need to be talking to companies about featuring Vinay Kumar in an advertisement to sell a new brand of soap?

There is a certain dignity about what Anil Kumble had achieved in his career. His career was about grace and valour. Why would he even want to dilute that by placing a few cricketers in soap advertisements? Surely, that cannot be an appropriate way for Anil Kumble to leverage his brand identity.

In a cricket world that is littered with brutal conflicts of interest, I expected that Kumble would set the standards for the other big-name players who are set to retire from the game. I did not expect him to jump into the gutter in a “me too” shriek. I expected him to be a statesman. Instead, he has declared that he wanted to be a shark too.

Let us not forget the way Kumble played the game. Like Wayne Carey and Wayne Gretzky, he played like a champion. He may not have been endowed with the physical prowess and naturally athletic body structure of Wayne Carey. But he retired as one of the best players to have graced a cricket field.

Kumble was more a Wayne Gretzky than Wayne Carey. Gretzky was a shortish, slim shouldered, physically weak and slow player in a game that needed its players to be tall, broad-shouldered, strong and fast! Yet, Gretzky overcame his apparent weaknesses to become the best ice-hockey player to have ever graced the game. Gretzky used his amazing intellect and his sharp reading of the game to get ahead and to overcome his apparent short-comings. He was an intelligent boy in a brutal man’s game. He used his intellect to dodge checks on his progress. He was always a few steps ahead of his opposition. And he used his somewhat slight stature to wriggle into that area behind the net as the place he excelled at. So much so that that area became known as “Gretzky’s office”.

Likewise, Anil Kumble was a tall spinner who would not spin the ball nor was he a pace bowler who could bowl at pace. There was a certain lack of grace to his running. His arms and legs pumped vigorously when he ran or fielded. He seemed to be all legs and arms when he moved on the field, and when he bowled. He wore spectacles in the first few games that I saw him bowl. If he dived on the field to stop or catch a ball, or to complete a run, he would do so in an ungainly manner. But to him, “being effective” was more important than “looking good”. To him, the outcome of his efforts was more vital than the grace with which he achieved these.

He had a few attributes that served him well as he grew into becoming one of the best cricketers India has ever produced. He worked on his game incredibly hard. He was driven by a determination to succeed. He was a fierce competitor. And he wore the India cap with pride, honesty, integrity, passion and dignity. He also had an extraordinary confidence in himself and his abilities.

He would often out think and out fox the batsman. His grit, pride and determination often won him more admirers than his skill. In that sense, he was more the industrious Steve Waugh who had to work hard at his game than the languid Mark Waugh for whom everything came naturally.

Like Steve Waugh, Kumble had fierce determination and pride. He was a gentleman too and had a strong view on how the game ought to be played.

His comment at the end of the 2008 Sydney Test typified the way he played the game. Kumble said, “Only one team was playing in the spirit of the game.” The comment would rock the cricketing world in more ways than one. Kumble had a view on that Test match. The world heard his view. Given the sort of player he was, everyone sat up and listened.

After all, here was a player that had bowled with a broken jaw at Antigua — much against the advise of doctors — because his team needed him. “At least I can now go home with the thought that I tried my best,” he said, prompting Viv Richards to declare, “It was one of the bravest things I’ve seen on the field of play!”

Kumble had played hard. He had played straight. He had led his team and his country with great dignity. He fought for players’ rights in a country that had no player’s association. His was a voice that the players trusted. His was a voice that the BCCI listened to; that voice represented honesty and was driven by values.

I expected him to be a statesman in an administration that was filled with opportunists. I expected him to contribute to cricket in exactly the same way as he had played — with determination, doggedness and dignity. However, he seems to have joined the rat race that was looking to make a quick buck from cricket. He did not want to be a “Gandhi”.

Anil Kumble will argue (and he has) that we need to trust him. Maybe we do. But, if we let this go through to the ‘keeper, what is to say that someone else less trustworthy will not use the “you looked the other way when Anil Kumble was at it” as a precedent to carry out all sorts of nefarious conflicts of interest!

He has let me down! But it is my fault, for I had canonized him, like I had, Wayne Carey! But unlike Wayne Carey who admitted the error of his ways and appeared to mend his ways, Anil Kumble brusquely dismissed the conflicts as irrelevant.

Woodrow Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter-folk-musician whose best work is “This Land Is Your Land”. Contemporary songwriter-musicians like Dylan and Springsteen talk of the massive influence Guthrie had on their own music. The last stanza in Guthrie’s 1960 song, “Why, oh Why?” is:

Why couldn’t the wind blow backwards?
Why, oh why, oh why?
‘Cause it might backfire and hurt somebody and if it
hurt somebody it’d keep on hurting them
Goodbye goodbye goodbye.

In a field infested with sharks preying on money-filled coffers, Anil Kumble had appeared to be a shining beacon of hope, interested only in gritting his teeth and straightening his jaw for the betterment of the game in India. I am still hoping he will step down from his role with Tenvic.

However, in the last week, I can’t stop saying “Why, Oh Why Kumble Why?

— Mohan (@mohank)

Hit me, I deserve it

Long post alert!

That is what I have been saying for the last few weeks repeatedly: Hit me, I deserve it… H-MIDI.

Team India went to face England in a hugely important Test series. To me, this was an important series not because the #1 Test Rank was at stake. Like trousers, shoes and underwear, rankings come and go. Rankings are not a reflection of the state of health of a nations’ cricket. To me, the ICC rankings are as important to the game of cricket as the ICC itself is. In other words, the rankings are irrelevant to me. It didn’t matter to me when India was #8 in the table. (Was it ever #8 in the rankings? Do I care?) It mattered even less to me when India was #1 in the rankings. And that India was! I know that. As far as I am concerned, when the ICC starts governing the game properly, perhaps I might start to care about the rankings it puts out.

It does irritate me, however, when Michael Vaughan and Johnathan Agnew and the rest of their tribe preen about the England team. Their preening is irrelevant. The manner of their preening grates. Subsequent to his unfortunate “Vaseline” comment, instead of retracting it, Vaughan asked me to develop a sense of humor. Sure, I can develop a sense of humor or even buy one in the local market. That would be way too simple! There are a few larger issues at play here in my view.

Do not get me wrong! The English have won the bragging rights. Of that I have no doubt and I will not deny England her brag-rights. England has played outstanding cricket that has been as resolute and dogged as it has been brutal and attractive. England has bullied India in this series and I am willing to call this spade a shovel if necessary. England has been the better team in this series… by a long distance.

So the English have the right to preen and brag. But no team and no press has the right to trash talk and belittle. In the last few weeks, writers like Stephen Brenkley and Steve James have made Malcolm Conn look like Mother Theresa! The English cricket press has made me yearn for the decency and integrity of the Australian cricket press; and I thought that those were two adjectives I would never ever use to describe the Australian cricket press!

There have been many statements about India not being deserving of the top of the tree ICC ranking. In this article, the author tries to disentangle the chest-thumping hyperbole from the ground realities.

However there is a palpable, distinct and glaring disquiet about the manner in which the English press has set about their trash-talk of the Indian team and her fans. This has left me wondering whether there is an unresolved undercurrent of larger issues that roughly answers to: “This will teach you little, impish scoundrels to mess with the game that rightly belongs to us and no one else!”

My hypothesis is that one cannot go into such paroxysmal manifestations of extreme hysteria if there is no undercurrent of unresolved issues.

But did I expect anything else from the England press? After all, the sub-continent took ‘their’ game and became better at it than England has been for a long time now. My view is that England had been itching to get back at teams from the sub-continent. Particularly India. If Pakistan had taught the sub-continent flair, and if Sri Lanka had taught the sub-continent aggression, India had, after all, combined flair and aggression in a package that included cash! The power-base had irrevocably shifted. England itched at the opportunity to punch back on the field and off it.

I had hoped that England would not resort to the off-field histrionics that it has resorted to.

But I was wrong. Hit me, I deserve it (H-MIDI).

*******

To me, this series was important, not because of the ICC rankings, but because it would probably (almost definitely) be the last time we see Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman playing together for Team India in England. These three are the Tireless Trinity, which is a subset of the Famous Five, which itself was a super-set of the Fab Four. For Dravid and Tendulkar, England has a special significance in their careers. It was here that a young Rahul Dravid made his debut for India. It was here that a curly-haired Sachin Tendulkar really hit his straps. After playing 9 Test matches for India and after showing tremendous promise, it was at Manchester, in 1990 that Tendulkar scored his debut Test century; a brilliant century in the second innings. I watched that innings and have followed his career closely ever since that day. He deserved a rousing farewell to England. He was denied that.

This series was important to these three players. I had hoped — nay, expected — that the younger India would carry these players on their shoulders; just as Virat Kohli said they wanted to, “for Sachin”, on winning the World Cup! The younger players had a responsibility to afford the “Tireless Trinity” that farewell. This tour would tell me that, in the absence of a few key players, India would still be able to be tough and uncompromising in its pursuit of excellence.

I expected the younger players to stand up and deliver. I was disappointed in the end. But was it right for me to have these expectations in the first place?

No.

So, hit me, I deserve it (H-MIDI).

*******

What matters most to me is how a team plays the game! The West Indies played the game incredibly well as champions. From the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, West Indies was the most attractive team going around. They played with an incredible flair, fun and poise. They were entertainers first and champion players next. I admired her players and knew their dates of birth by heart! I admired them more than I did, India!

Later on, the Australians started taking over. The transition was slow and painful. In the 1990s the Australian side was the one to beat. In my view, however, except under Mark Taylor, Australia played the game badly. I hated her teams because of the boorish behavior that accompanied her wins and, more importantly, her losses.

India’s reign at the top has been too short for this team to develop a championship habit and character. However, the team under Anil Kumble and MS Dhoni had tried to play well; tried to play attractive cricket; correct cricket. MS Dhoni even publicly reprimanded and rebuked his star bowler, Sreesanth, for his antics whenever he crossed the line.

India played like a champion side till Dominica happened. Since then, it has played like a tired team that did not want to be on the park!

The first signs of something amiss came at Dominica. For me, this was an eerie mile marker on an important journey. Dominica was, to me, less about the handshake. To me, it reflected the mood, the state of mind and state of readiness of players in the dressing room. It told me that the players wanted to go to the comfort of the Hotel room. It told me that the players were a fatigued lot. Dhoni had already mentioned his Hotel room in the previous Test match in his post-match interview. It seemed to me that that was his refuge; his escape from it all. The draw offer talked to a captain’s (and his team’s) intent in a fight.

To me intent is a powerful phrase. It talks to more than just aims, purpose and objectives. It talks more to the state of one’s mind at the time when one carries out an action or makes a decision. It talks to a goal that is so firmly affixed that one can only approach it with an uncompromising, unwavering and an unrelenting desire.

To me, Dominica had compromised the captain and his team.

I should have reset my expectations for Team India from the England series right then and there. I did not. I hoped that the players that had sat out the West Indies series would bring a freshness to what I saw as a mentally fatigued dressing room.

I was wrong. So, hit me, for I deserve it (H-MIDI).

*******

Upon arrival in England, I admit to being totally alarmed when Rahul Dravid said in his first interview in England on 12 July 2011: “We will be competitive if we can keep our pacers fit.”

I was aghast when I read this. Competitive? Is that what he said? Is that what he actually meant? Competitive? As in “we will put up a good fight”?

But that is not champion speak? Surely! “It cannot be,” I said to myself.

I ignored that warning sign too. I said to myself that India will be more than competitive. India will more than just “make up the numbers and rock up on the park”. I convinced myself that Team India was going to win, regardless! After all, it always has overcome the odds in recent series! So also this time.

Did it? No. So, hit me, for I deserve it (H-MIDI).

*******

India went into the England series with a few players resting from the extreme physical turbulence that the IPL represents. The IPL is an unforgiving tournament. It is not just about 16 games in 45 days. It is just that IPL games come at players with remarkable regularity like a steam train that just will not stop.

And to lay the blame for India’s poor showing at the doorstep of the IPL is just being too lazy!

However, I am also saying that the IPL is an unrelenting, uncompromising and brutal menace. The franchise owners are investors first and their first and foremost responsibility is to their shareholders. They must want the best that their investment can get them. To the investors and franchise-owners, return on investment cannot be unimportant! And if that means Sachin Tendulkar has to do away with an hour’s sleep (or more importantly, an hour’s worth of throw downs) in order to attend to ‘sponsor commitments’, then, that is the way it is. Sponsor commitments will win over cricketing logic!

The IPL is not about 4 overs per bowler or 20 overs on the field or a few overs of biff-bang for batsmen. It is not even about the routine of getting up each day, dusting off the ordeals of the previous days’ game, the after-party, the obligatory late-night booze-up (or other late-night non-mentionables). It is not even about the physical tiredness of finishing off a game, packing up at the ground, traveling to the hotel, washing up, attending the compulsory after-party, sleeping for a few hours, packing up, checking out, travelling to the airport, the 1-hour airport wait, the 2-hour flight, disembarking, collecting your baggage, travelling to the hotel, signing autographs, checking in, settling in, sleeping, waking up the next day, playing another game…

It is not about that at all. It is just that in those 7 weeks, a player does not have the time to focus on the basics of his game. If Irfan Pathan has a problem with the positioning of his right arm while bowling, the 7-week IPL is not one in which he will get this rectified or even looked into! The team is looking to put its players on the park; not to work on rectifying errors that may have crept into his game. The IPL just does not afford a player the opportunity to think, plan and act in a strategic manner, particularly with respect to his fundamentals.

There is no wonder, therefore, that the IPL converts minor niggles into major injuries.

But I am to blame for this too. I go to IPL games. These games represent 3 hours of “paisa vasool” (return on my investment!). The games represent leave-your-mind-at-home fun. I see the advertisements that are on TV when IPL games are on! I buy the products that are advertised during the IPL. I am responsible for providing the BCCI with the cash it earns from the IPL!

So, hit me, for I deserve it (H-MIDI).

*******

Every team aims to be better than it was. India too. Of that, I have no doubt. There is no reason to doubt the commitment of the Team India players. They play with pride and determination. This team has been around for far too long to fall together in a heap at the first sign of trouble. But what we fans must realize is that every other team is looking to improve too. Every other team wants to close the gap on the best team.

And in this regard, I must doff my hat to the way England has played. Every aspect of their game has been exceptionally professional and clinical. Everyone has contributed to the series win. Even Graeme Swann contributed with bat and marginally, with ball. In direct contrast, nothing has gone right for the Indians. Injuries. Bad form. Spirit of Cricket. Last season’s ball. The toss. The toss decisions. Nothing. Just nothing has gone right for India. India has been out-planned and out-played in every single aspect in this series: selections, planning, tactics, batting, bowling, fielding, injury-management…

Take injury-management: England presented themselves as an excellently prepared unit. On the contrary, India presented themselves as a ragged unit that was mentally and physically under-prepared. England had a few injuries too. The replacements were not only adequate. In the case of Tim Bresnan replacing Chris Tremlett, the replacement was actually better! Not only that. The fact that Chris Tremlett was not going to be able to play was transmitted way in advance of the Test match in which Bresnan played. The under-study was ready; he was prepared.

The Indian injuries left the team bereft of options, ideas or purpose. India’s approach to injury-management was immature at best and cavalier at worst. This is a point that has been brought out sharply by other authors. I do not know if this cavalier attitude percolated through the team. And it is incorrect of me to vault into the realm of speculation. However, given the inexplicable manner of the violent capitulation, we are necessarily into the realms of speculation when all other logic fails!

India has always tended to rush its players back from an injury-inflicted lay-off straight into important games. In this series against England Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan were moved into important matches without adequate testing of match fitness. But the injury that hurt India the most was that sustained by Zaheer Khan.

Zaheer Khan is the most important bowler in the team for more than his bowling. He is the commander of the bowling attack. He plans out the bowling. He maps out strategies. He is the go-to player when things do not go right. And when he limped off with a strained hamstring on the first day of the series at Lord’s, it was as though the team had no Plan-B. The air was sucked out of the team as well as the blimp that hung over it. The team was reduced to a rudderless ship when it came to the bowling. And it looked like that malaise had affected the batting too. There were no plans. There was no team. We only saw capitulation after capitulation.

So, while it is easy to admit that England played a superior style of cricket, it is impossible to unpack the capitulation.

The way the team played from the moment it faced its first injury is best captured by this brilliant article by Sriram Dayanad who endured much of this pain first-hand.

But every time there was a setback to this team, I continued to believe. I continued to be positive. I requested and pleaded with everyone to be positive. After all, this team has risen from the dust in the past; none more gruesome than Sydney in 2008! After all this team had risen from 0-1 and 0-2 deficits to claim victory. I had to keep believing. I had to keep the faith.

Instead of admitting the inevitable after seeing the well-oiled England machinery and instead of admiring the thoroughness of England’s approach, I kept hoping for the miracle bounce-back. Did that miracle happen?

No. So hit me, I deserve it (H-MIDI).

*******

This tour represents an important marker in Team India’s journey. MS Dhoni has been tested thoroughly. So far, in my books, he has failed the test. But my view is that he is too good a player and too good a leader to let this be anything other than a big learning experience for him. Dominica was completely in his control. I still believe he stuffed it up. Since then, everything has gone pear-shaped for him. Sometimes you just make your own luck. He chose not to. From then on, hurt and pain have been inflicted on him (and his team) by a team that was just better prepared.

His cause has not been helped by the fact that an anti-BCCI feeling has continued to torment this tour. And in the midst of an awesome revival by England at Nottingham, he was tested by the “Spirit of Cricket” and by Nasser Hussain’s Underpants! In all of this, the DRS-cloud has just not gone away. The BCCI does not deem it necessary to have a media manager to explain its position adequately. The BCCI position can be explained with remarkable aplomb! All it takes is the appointment of a suave, well-informed, articulate media manager. Just look at the VVS Laxman “Vaseline” decision and the Rahul Dravid “Shoe Lace” decisions in this series itself! One can point to the BCCI stance just on the basis of these two decisions! And if that fails, all that the media manager needs to do is brush up on the incredible amount of work that someone like Kartikeya Date has put in to accumulate a defense of BCCI’s position on DRS!

But then the BCCI does not seem to have any credible media policy that adequately manages its position on any aspect of its approach to the game and its responsibility to the game. Instead the BCCI has determined that it is sufficient if it pays two gentlemen — no doubt extremely honorable gentlemen — an awful lot of money, thereby, abrogating itself of its responsibilities at opinion management and opinion leadership!

The team was burdened with bearing the cross of the collective envy of others who saw the team as an extension of a rich and boorish Board. The team was burdened with having to explain the stance of its Board on most things to do with the game on which the Board has a legitimate view! All this when one of the honorable men honored his commitment to his employer by way of a most undesirable spat on live TV that was straight out of a B-Grade Bollywood movie!

But despite these limitations (or perceived limitations), I will continue to believe in this team.

Heck! I believe now that this team will win the 4th Test at The Oval!

And if it does not, well… Hit me, for I will deserve it (H-MIDI).

But remember, the more you hit me, the more I will believe in this team. For I always have!

— Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Google confirms that DRS will be 100% by 2050…

[Disclaimer: All characters/institutions named in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.]

The decision review system (DRS) has dominated cricket conversations in the last few weeks.

People in India feel victimized by the people of the world. BCCI represents India more than the government does. BCCI is India. And BCCI has been painted as bullies by the rest of the cricketing world. We Indians do not like the world saying to us: “There is a bully in every gully“.

We just want a say in how DRS will be implemented. We are completely and utterly outraged by the anger showered in our direction by the rest of the cricketing world. Outraged! To have a say in matters that affect us is our birth right.

We just want a say in the DRS. Forget corruption. Forget treasures in temples. Forget the rains in Mumbai. Forget the traffic snarls. Forget the flyover and metro-construction rigs that make our every day lives a mess. Forget scams. Forget fast-unto-death protests. Forget this weeks’ new high-profile entrants into Tihar Jail. All of that is irrelevant.

The people of India want a say in the DRS. They just want to be heard!

They want to be consulted in matters that could significantly alter their lives. Is it a system? Is it a protocol? What is a protocol? Why can’t umpires be allowed to just do their jobs? Why do we need incompetent umpires? There are lives at stake, you know? Not just careers, but lives. We must and will be consulted. How dare the ICC proceed without a due consultation process? We won’t be steam-rolled!

The debate has been intense…

We, in the i3j3 editorial office, think that the DRS is not ready to be implemented. And rightly so. Our hypothesis is that we are at least 40 years from DRS being adopted fully by the ICC.

And that is because we declared as a nation that will either have the full DRS with all its many bells and whistles or nothing at all. You see. It is all very simple. In India, if we decide that we do not like the bathwater, then we do not believe that the baby ought to exist in it either! We applauded the BCCI because we thought they were onto something by insisting that the bathwater should be thrown out with all its contents!

Neat!

“Nice trick that”, said the famous Ravi Shaft-Tree, who otherwise observed spamming the Twitter accounts of unsuspecting Twitter users.

By adopting a Boolean approach and insisting on the 100% rule, the BCCI cleverly warded off all pro-DRSers.

We at i3j3 wanted to do an investigative report on the efficacy of DRS. We first wanted to understand the views of BCCI. We wanted it from the horses’ mouth. Directly from the media officer of the BCCI.

However, the BCCI does not have a media office or a functional website. Whattodo? How do we get to the BCCI? Who do we ask?

Sensing my sorrow, my neighbour’s driver said to me as I entered the elevator, “Not to worry, sirrjee, I have a contact at the BCCI,” he said.

We just needed a story. We had the angle. We had the hypothesis. We just wanted the ‘contact’. We jumped at this vital lead from my neighbour’s driver.

We got the number and rang this ‘contact’.

“You see mister! Who do you think you are, hah? What do you think of yourself, you impertinent fellow. You can’t just thrust things on to us. Tell me, I say? What is the modality? The modalities have to be worked out fully before you can thrust things upon us!”, this ‘contact’ thundered.

I wanted to say to the ‘contact’ that I was a mere struggling journalist and that I was not thrusting anything on anyone, although I did acknowledge to myself in my weak moments — of which, there have been a few lately — that, I do have my sights set on Pooja Taneja from the office.

I was also wondering what a “modality” was! ‘Perhaps it is a new statistical measure?’, I thought to myself! What is a modality?

But the ‘contact’ carried on: “We will not be ridden roughshod over,” the ‘contact’ spluttered!

I reached for my dictionary. ‘What is a roughshod, and how does one ride it?’, I thought to myself! This ‘contact’ was good: modality, roughshod… All in the space of a minute! Impressive!

But this ‘contact’ did not afford me any thinking time and pressed on, “Technology has to be proven before it is adopted by the BCCI. We are all about quality. We believe in quality in everything we do,” said this ‘contact’ as I choked on my sprig of celery.

The ‘contact’ was the cousin-twice-removed of a spokesman of a media group whose door-man was, once upon a time, the security guard of a neighbour of Kneel-And-Run Shaw.

No one knows what Kneel-And-Run Shaw does, but we knew that he flies in and out of BCCI meetings every week.

I was told that, after the departure of the guy that everyone popularly referred to as Lakme (some fellow who answered to the initials LKM) KAR Shaw was the new ‘it’ in BCCI. So, I was glad that I had gotten to within spitting distance of the KAR Shaw.

That’s how the business of ‘contacts’ works in these parts! You get what you get. But the trick is to always make the ‘contact’ look bigger; larger than life!

I decided to ask the cousin-twice-removed of a spokesman of a media group whose door-man was, once upon a time, the security guard of a neighbour of Kneel-And-Run Shaw, a few searching questions:

We asked her, “Who is KAR Shaw?”

“Good kwoschen. Even he doesn’t know sometimes!”, was the immediate answer. Very deep and philosophical, it was.

However, I was distracted. I had never heard, “kwoschen” used before; I had only heard the mild variant, “koschen”, thus far. This ‘contact’ was really good, but was also distracting me from the main game!

“But, what does he do?” I persisted, refusing to be thrown off my path. Indeed, I had asked my question even before the ‘contact’ could complete her previous answer. We are from the “We watch and learn from Arnab” school of journalism, you see!

“He flies in and out of meetings,” was the immediate answer. Nice.

“One final question, sir! What’s his view on DRS?”, we pressed.

[In an obviously angry tone] “First, I am ‘madam’ to you and everyone else! Second, when I asked your kwoschen to Shaw, he retorted ‘What is DRS?’, and asked, ‘Will it give us 100%?’ and then added, ‘Whatever it is, we do not want anything that is less than 100%. Wokay?’. So there you have it. That is the official view. And by the way, remember the most important words: modalities, roughshod and 100%. Now, go away!”

All of this was a week before the ICC meeting in Hong Kong.

Were we, therefore, surprised to see that the DRS did not get up in its full form at the ICC meeting? No.

The BCCI always has two important unwritten rules for every operation: (a) ‘We need 100%’. (b) ‘We must ensure there is enough fat in the system’

Just take one look BCCI office bearers to know that (b) is automatically satisfied. Cheenu, Shukla, Manohar… Lots of fat in that system. You know what I mean.

BCCI also likes every thing to be 100% — their 100% and only theirs!

Just ask Lakme. The IPL yielded 100% profits. Lakme was immediately embraced by the BCCI. And you know what happens when big guys in tight-fit suits embrace someone so lean and fit? The thin guys get squeezed out of the embrace.

That’s what happens.

So tight was their collective embrace of the IPL, that poor Lakme was squeezed out. Lakme, once a poster-boy, is now just a poster! He is now no longer part of the BCCI.

So, given the above, our reckoning is that the DRS will be acceptable to the BCCI by 2050. Maybe. Just. Maybe!

We decided to develop our newly-acquired investigative, Arnab-style approach by ringing technology experts in the country.

My milkman had a contact in Google. So we rang the Google office and asked them for their views on DRS.

“Will the DRS technology be 100% accurate by 2050?”, we asked, pleased as punch with the sharp, leading question — sorry, kwoschen — we had framed!

“Well of course”, said the Google spokesperson! He giggled. And paused…

We were forced to say, “Hah! Nice one. Obviously, a Dhoni fanboy. Nice. Very nice!”, accompanied by an eye-roll that would have pleased Amir Khan! Luckily this was only a ‘con call’ and not a ‘VC’. (Yes! We are tech buzz-word compliant too!)

The Google guy continued… And once these techies start, you can’t stop them. So, as we furiously took notes on this speaker phone enabled con-call, Google-techie rattled on:

“Well of course, DRS will be 100% accurate by 2050. By then, we will all have, completed the production and roll out of “G! Nano Dots”. R&D on the “G! Nano Dots” project has commenced already and everything is on target for a 2050 roll-out. This will solve all DRS problems and will be 100% accurate. “G! Nano Dots” will be everything you will ever need. It will also double as your mobile phone. “G! Nano Dots” will be popularly referred to as G-Stop. It will do your weekly shopping too. It will organise your flights. It will even buy a plane or acquire a new partner for you, if you need these. Moreover, it will ascertain if you need a new plane, a new job or a new partner. It will also be used to make calls at the speed of thought. All you need to do is think, and these thoughts will be transmitted to the intended recipient of the thought. G-Stop would run an advanced version of Android. Android, G-Stop… You get the cute innuendo, don’t you? Hahaha! Well of course! And it will be sold by Google, which will, by then, own more than 67% of the thoughts in the world! For Google, it would have been a natural progression from G+ to G- to G* through to G-Stop!”

Phew! All in an American accent!

We asked the G-techie, “So how will G-Stop (or G.) assist cricket?”

“You see. The developers of G. are all based in Tumkur — rising costs in Bangalore caused all Google work to be outsourced to Tumkur. Actually, the G. specifications have been written mainly with an eye on the cricket-mad market. All other technology benefits like shopping, phone calls at the speed of thought, thought-capture technology, avatar encapsulation technology, teleporting and other technologies were needed for the cricket application. The fact that they have other business applications is completely incidental.”

We persisted with the G-techie, “You still have not told us. How will G-Stop (or G.) assist cricket?”

We were thoroughly confused by then!

“Verr verr Simple. All cricket fans will need to do is just sit in front of their TV screens. The G. will communicate to the umpire whether they think the ball was out. The umpires’ G-Stop will take all thought inputs into consideration. It will also automatically eliminate all conflicted thoughts. For example, if Aniruddha Srikkanth is playing, Daddy Srikkanth’s G-Stop will be auto-disabled. The ump’s G-Stop will arrive at a final decision. All modalities have been worked out. We even have the tagline for G-Spot: ‘No one can ride roughshod over us’!”

“It is a winner! It is going to be a killer app!” I yelled.

G-Techie said, “We know that! But how are YOU so sure?” he asked.

I nodded knowingly. With Shaw, G-Stop and a 100% technology that includes modalities AND roughshod, it can only be a winner! We are certainly in safe hands. 2050, here we come…

— MoGun

[Disclaimer: All characters/institutions named in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.]

IPL-4 will start tentatively…

The 4th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL4) is now a few hours away from a mild kick-off. I say mild because India is yet to recover from the World-Cup-2011 victory celebrations. Even as those celebrations were on, much of the attention in India has been directed at a hunger fast against corruption.

So it is against this backdrop that IPL4 kicks off this evening.

After 6 weeks of non-stop World Cup action, the 50-over variety of cricket gives way to the 20-over circus. With India’s win in the World Cup 2011, and with the resulting outpouring of national frenzy in India, the organizers of IPL will perhaps be a bit tentative in the first few days of IPL4.

The next 6 weeks will tell us whether IPL has a future in this country. The BCCI will need to combat the post-World-Cup fan hangover, a swelling anti-corruption movement and much more.

The last year has been annus horribilis for the IPL in which we saw a litany of disasters for a league that had become the fastest growing sports brand in the world! Suddenly, lawyers made a lot of money mounting cases or fending them off. If the manner of Lalit Modi’s ouster was bizarre, it was balanced wonderfully by the many conflicts of interest of the key players in the drama that unfolded. It appeared that much of the Board was asleep at the wheel — a practice that many in the BCCI are quite adept at — in the years that preceded the unfolding drama. There were more raids on offices than mosquito-repellent cans on a supermarket shelf.

Suddenly, two teams were axed; Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab were barred. More lawyers were dragged in. More fighting through the media.

Kochi, the new team in the IPL, and incidentally, the team that started IPL’s slide towards apparent obscurity, was suddenly back in the news. Its formation had already led to the resignation of a cabinet minister after “much sweat and not that much equity” — I read that lovely phrase on Twitter, but cannot remember who to credit it to! Ironically, it was a simple Tweet that signified the beginning of the slide for the IPL! Team Kochi could not pull together a governance team or its investment assurances. And then suddenly they did, a few days before the auction took place.

The auction itself was a bit of a farce! The order in which player-groups would be opened up for auction was changed at the very last minute — apparently to suit one team. Indian domestic players were unfairly disadvantaged in the process.

Brand IPL had suffered through the year and took a severe beating. Up until then, the IPL property had grown into a marketer’s delight. There were more eye-ball opportunities than you could poke a stick at. IPL had become a heady and intoxicating mix of Bollywood, late night parties, head-banging music, peanut throwing ladies trying to attract the attention of able-bodied men and of course, some on-field cricket action too.

Fan Loyalty programs were being carefully developed. It was possible for a Team India fan to support Rahul Dravid against Sachin Tendulkar! Previous editions of IPL had busted the myth that city-based rivalry could not flourish when faced with the pressure of fierce national loyalties.

But all that was undone by a terrible year for the IPL. The organizers and team owners must climb that mountain again. And they will need to do it without the biggest lisp in the business.

Set against that backdrop, I believe IPL4 will start tentatively. It cannot afford a loud start especially after the hangover from 2 April still lingers and especially as Anna Hazare appears to be mounting an austere campaign against the parliamentary establishment in the land. But over the initial few weeks of IPL4, we will know if these tentative steps reach the cacophonous chest-thump levels of IPL-3.

CSK versus KKR:

Tonight, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) will take on Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) after an opening ceremony.

The KKR Team that is likely to play today is (in batting order):

Gautam Gambhir*
Shreevats Goswami (wk)
Jacques Kallis
Manoj Tiwary / Manvinder Bisla
Ryan ten Doeschate
Eoin Morgan
Yusuf Pathan
Rajat Bhatia / Laxmi Shukla
Iqbal Abdulla / Sarabjit Ladda
Pradeep Sangwan
Jaidev Unadkat / Lakshmipathy Balaji / James Pattinson

Not available because of national duties: Brad Haddin, Brett Lee, Shakib Al Hasan
Others: Shami Ahmed

This is not really a bad team in my view. In Sangwan and Unadkat, the team has a decent new-ball attack. I am looking forward to seeing Shreevats Goswami have a good season. In previous editions, he struggled to get a game at Royal Challengers Bangalore. He should shine at KKR, at least for the initial few weeks when Brad Haddin dons the green-and-gold for Australia. I’d also like to see how Iqbal Abdulla shapes up. In terms of batting, this is going to be a make-or-break season for Manoj Tiwary — a batsman who has always over-promised and under-delivered. The overseas players in the team select themselves for the initial few games — Kallis, Doeschate, Eoin Morgan and James Pattinson will probably play all initial games; and that is not a bad lot of players!

The good thing about this team (as listed above) is that all of Jacques Kallis, Manoj Tiwary, Ryan ten Doeschate, Eoin Morgan, Yusuf Pathan, Rajat Bhatia, Iqbal Abdulla, Pradeep Sangwan and Jaidev Unadkat can bowl!

The CSK team remains largely unchanged. Its owner, who is also a BCCI chief poo-bah, went to great lengths to ensure that the winning team composition from IPL3 was largely undisturbed. The fact that it remains undisturbed is disturbing because of the manner in which the potential disturbance was unerringly protected. But that is the subject of another debate for another day.

The CSK squad is likely to be:

M Vijay
S Anirudha / A Mukund
SK Raina
S Badrinath
F du Plessis
MS Dhoni*
JA Morkel / SB Styris
R Ashwin
SB Jakati
KMDN Kulasekara / TG Southee / S Randiv
VY Mahesh / Joginder Sharma / S Tyagi

Others: GJ Bailey, WP Saha (wk), K Vasudevadas, G Vignesh
Not available: DE Bollinger, MEK Hussey, DJ Bravo, BW Hilfenhaus,

In my view, a lot will depend on how S. Anirudha and Yo Mahesh (or Sudeep Tyagi) go. The third pace bowler weakness in earlier editions had been sandpapered somewhat by the collective brilliance of the rest of the team. However, with Bollinger and Hussey absent for the first few weeks and Bravo still under an injury cloud, a lot will depend on the local players to come to the party.

Well, the scene is set for yet another edition of the IPL. Let the games commence…

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)