Tag Archives: Dhoni

The i3j3Cricket Podcast Episode-1

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Come to India, we will show you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan (@mohank)

Defeat and the Cricketing Experience

By Rohit Naimpally (Guest Contributor, i3j3cricket)

The immediate aftermath of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s World Cup-winning six is a blur to me. I have watched the highlights from that night umpteen times over the past few months, but the moment itself? That is a blur; as soon as MS Dhoni hit the shot, all I remember is a sudden release. And tears. My next memory is of Yuvraj Singh crying into Sachin Tendulkar’s shoulder.

It is impossible to describe the intensity of those World Cup winning moments, and in many ways it is unnecessary. Those that could comprehend would not need any explanation; those that could not, would never be able to. A lot of that intensity was owed to the compression of memory, an idea that requires going beyond the effervescence of victory.

By way of explanation, I need to return us to another World Cup final eight years ago, to the eve of my economics board exam. That team did not carry with it the air of destiny that the 2011 outfit would, but this did not preclude hope and desire on our part. Every Indian fan will be familiar with what followed; memories of Zaheer getting tonked all over the park stayed with me for a long time. No roller-coaster could ever make my stomach sink more than it did when Sachin miscued that pull of Glenn McGrath.

Fast forward to 2011 at The Motera: a much cannier Zaheer Khan, almost unrecognizable as the bowler from that final eight years ago, totally bamboozles Michael Hussey. Sachin pulls a 91 mph ball from Mitchell Johnson somewhere towards cow corner on his way to a neat half-century. I do not like to talk in binaries, but the symmetry of the Motera encounter with the Wanderers one was undeniable. Watching this team expiate the sins of 2003 was cathartic; a catharsis that would have been impossible had it not been for the 2003 trauma. This was the compression of memory, images both good and bad all feeding into each other and enabling a nationwide collective effervescence of historic proportions.

It is necessary to look beyond the moment of victory to see the crucial role played by defeat in our experience of victory. Wanderers 2003 and Motera 2011. Eden Gardens 1996 and Wankhede 2011. Victory cannot mean as much without defeat, for highs are most accurately measured against the lows.

The value of troughs in one’s cricketing experience goes even beyond the heightened enjoyment of subsequent peaks. Sticking with a team through the tough times lends greater weight to the very meaning of fandom. It signifies a commitment to an ideal, a commitment to a cause. It is cliché to say that the true fan sticks with his team through thick and thin; while laudable, this is a normative statement that I am not concerned with here.

My questions are: What does it even mean to be a fan only when one’s team is winning? How does one then distinguish support for a team from support of simple victory, no matter the vehicle? Does one support the pursuit of excellence as an abstract ideal, or does one root that support in a specific context?

It has been wonderful to chart Zaheer Khan’s rise to the status of premier fast bowler, from his early excellence, to the falling-off and injuries through the Worcestershire stint and the ascension starting with the England tour of 2007. So much of that experience has been about seeing Zaheer’s evolution and growth. About the journey, not just the destination. Cricket has always been a sport about flows, not static moments. Do not let the apparent singularity of victory fool you into omitting the process that led up to it. As great as that picture of Brett Lee and Andrew Flintoff at Edgbaston in 2005 was, it would be empty without the context of the events that preceded it. The tough times lend us context, they lend us starting points.

I have been part of a privileged Indian generation: the majority of my cricketing memories were forged over the last decade, when the Indian team fully emerged from an age of diminished expectations. We have gone from hoping that Ganguly’s men could be contenders to criticising Dhoni’s backups for not seizing greatness. We react in the way we do because the process thus far has been largely a pleasant one. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this England tour has gone towards rounding out our experiences as fans. I often think of cricket as a wonderful metaphor for life, in all its dimensions (that is a post for another day). From that perspective, the tribulations of this tour have merely added to the wealth of experiences that I can draw on as an Indian cricket fan. Support this team, draw on your stock of wonderful memories associated with this crew (see the symmetry of victory and defeat again?) and just go with the turbulent flow that is the life of the cricket fan.

The BCCI and the team are not the only parties that can stand to take lessons away from this tour.

— @noompa

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)

Nasser Hussain’s underpants…

I like former England captain Nasser Hussain. He played the game with passion. He has a sharp mind and brings it to the commentary box. He has an excellent sense of humour and gets most things right most of the time.

He has played 96 Test matches for England too. He told Ravi Shastri this.

Good bloke. Nasser Hussain. Top bloke.

Nasser Hussain wants DRS implemented so that his kids will not be confused when they are watching the cricket. Fair enough. Often, a good test for something that needs a change is if you can explain the status quo in simple terms to a kid. They need to get it. It is not the only test. But it is a good test. For example, I would not personally try to explain the free trade agreement to kids before deciding that it is in urgent need of a thorough overhaul. However, kids do not need to know the free trade agreement. Kids are cricket’s future fans or players. They need to understand the rules of the game. Fair enough.

Nasser Hussain, said he tried to explain the Harbhajan Singh “out” decision to his kids and got his undies in a terrible, terrible knot.

I don’t know about him. But I may have tried this:

Harbhajan Singh was out because the on-field umpire gave him out even though replays suggested he was not out. It was a genuine case of an error in judgement; human error. Human errors happen in every walk of life. It happens on the cricket field too.

This may have been an important moment for Nasser Hussain to seize to educate his kids on a very important lesson in life. Mistakes happen. We need to learn to accept them.

Instead, he may have tried explaining the “out” decision to his poor, unsuspecting kids by saying,

Harbhajan Singh wasn’t actually out, but was given out because the technology that would have otherwise reversed the original on-field decision was not available, and that was because BCCI blocked the use of that technology due to error-percentage, price, lack of clarity on “who pays”, sheer obstinacy, pig-headedness and other reasons, including the fact that we did terrible things to the BCCI when we were “in power” and, before that, we ruled India and overstayed our welcome in that land by many, many years and were finally driven out by a small man in a loin cloth about whom Attenborough made a highly acclaimed movie that went on to win…”

The kids had heard a bedtime story. They went to bed.

Poor Nasser Hussain though. He had gotten his underpants in a terrible knot. He had to make a late-night dash to Marks & Spencer to purchase a new pair of underpants!

But, Nasser Hussain is a good man. He played the game with passion. He reminded us yesterday that he had played 96 Tests and this gives him the right to call the BCCI approach to DRS “a disgrace”!

Someone should tell him that people who have played far fewer games (than he has) have called the BCCI a disgrace. I haven’t played at all and I have called the BCCI’s stand on DRS a disgrace! Nasser Hussain need not have played 96 Tests to voice his opinion on anything.

The fact, however, is that he could not explain the Harbhajan Singh “not out” decision to his kids. He wants the DRS so that he can be more effective in explaining cricket’s already complex rules to his kids. This is his rationale (not his primary rationale, but an important one) for his disgust at The BCCI for not wanting the DRS.

Well, if his Saturday was bad, he is probably whipping himself into a fit of uncontrollable rage on Sunday! Imagine the state of his new underpants as he explained to his kids what happened on Sunday to his former team mate, Ian Bell.

Try and imagine Nasser Hussain saying to his kids…

See… What happened was this:

  • this batting bloke hit a shot
  • the fielder bloke dived on the boundary line
  • the batting bloke thought the fielder bloke made a hash of it
  • the fielder bloke was sure he had made a hash of it
  • the viewing blokes all thought that the fielder bloke had made a hash of it
  • the batting bloke signaled to the scorer bloke to add 4 runs to his score
  • the batting bloke felt he needed a cup of tea and a leak
  • the non-batting bloke pointed out to the batting bloke that self-declaration of a boundary and self-declaration of a tea-break are not according to any agreed protocol
  • the batting bloke said to non-batting bloke that it was too late and that he had already signaled 4 runs to the scorer bloke
  • the batting bloke admitted that he had also become TV producer bloke’s boss bloke and requested the TV blokes to cut to tea-time ad breaks
  • the non-batting bloke asked the batting bloke if the umpire blokes had any role to play in this at all
  • the batting bloke suddenly remembered something was awry and hit himself on his forehead with his bat, but by then, both the batting bloke and the non-batting bloke had reached the boundary line
  • the umpires side-kick bloke asked the batting bloke and the non-batting bloke to go back onto the field of play
  • meanwhile the fielding bloke had gently ambled across the ropes and non-urgently lobbed the ball back to the field of play
  • the fielding bloke wanted a cup of tea too
  • one of the the fielding bloke’s team mates, the bail-breaker bloke, collected the ball and took the bails off
  • the bail-breaker bloke asks the umpire bloke, “hey! are you in charge of this gig, or what?”
  • the umpire bloke says to the bowling bloke, “Naah, I am just a sweater hanger.” points to the batting bloke and says, “Looks like that guy is in charge of this gig”
  • all blokes then stand around worrying about when they might have a cup of tea
  • suddenly the TV umpire bloke, who has had several cups of tea already lets out a big laugh and presses the “out” button
  • the batting bloke remembers his acting lessons from 8th grade and does a good Russell Crowe bloke “shock” impersonation
  • the batting bloke overdoes the shock impersonation a bit too much and his jaw detaches from his face and lies on the ground
  • the crowd blokes go mad and start boo-ing — it is a funny English tradition quite similar to throwing plastic bottles in Kolkata, I am told
  • the crowd blokes have had lots to drink too — not much tea but a similar looking brown liquid in plastic cups
  • the umpires say they have had enough and walk off to have tea, although no one is really sure really whether they asked everyone to have tea
  • the TV blokes do not know what is going on, but the producer bloke too has started taking instructions from the batting bloke
  • by now the bartender at the ground has made his way to the dressing room to ask how much he should charge for a pint of brown liquid in a plastic glass. every one at the ground thinks the batting bloke is in charge of everything
  • the prime minister of england rings the batting bloke and asks if interest rates ought to increase this month
  • by now, the batting bloke is in charge of everything
  • but the batting bloke can’t talk because his jaw is still on the ground
  • the fielding blokes, meanwhile, make their way back to the pavilion
  • no one is sure if the batting bloke is really out and no one knows if it is tea time even, but everyone can see the batting bloke’s jaw on the field
  • the twitter blokes start arguing viciously
  • everyone is either against the BCCI or the queen, it seems
  • the TV producer bloke asks the batting bloke if he has cricket’s rule book, gets it and brings it to the studio
  • but the TV studio is a bit cramped, like some studio in some 3rd world country so no space for rule book
  • so the studio expert blokes cannot refer to rule books. so, a cliche bloke and former cliche bloke argue about cliches
  • the batting bloke’s jaw is still on the ground
  • the batting bloke starts crying in the meanwhile
  • so the batting bloke’s captain bloke and the coach bloke wander across to the fielding blokes’ dressing room
  • this coach bloke is a bit of a funny bloke
  • coach bloke had just finished reprimanding one of his players, a turban bloke, for bowling to god bloke in the nets
  • coach bloke thought that it was not in the “spirit of cricket” to have non-team turban bloke bowl to god bloke especially when god bloke’s team already has a turban bloke in it
  • coach bloke says to his own team’s turban bloke, “you cannot bowl to god bloke”
  • turban bloke asks, “why coach bloke?”
  • coach bloke says, “against spirit of cricket… bloke”
  • but that was yesterday.
  • today, coach bloke looked to re-define “spirit of cricket”
  • now, coach bloke and captain bloke knock on fielding bloke’s dressing room
  • all blokes having tea
  • coach bloke says to fielding captain bloke, “spirit of cricket, anyone?”
  • fielding captain bloke says “well of course… bloke”, and turns to all his player blokes
  • nod blokes
  • batting bloke is asked to collect his jaw
  • play commences
  • the umpire blokes are booed by drunk blokes
  • the fielding blokes are booed by drunk blokes
  • the batting bloke re-affixes jaw and becomes full batting bloke again
  • the umpire blokes say, “good then! we continue not to be in charge of this gig, but we had a nice cuppa tea at least”
  • icc says “spirit of cricket”
  • ecb says “spirit of cricket”
  • bcci says “where is lalit modi?”

And so the play resumed…

The kids are asleep already, none the wiser!

Nasser Hussain needs another pair of undies.

Poor bloke.

— Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

MS Dhoni: An Assured Level-5 Leader…

This post first appeared in Clearcricket. The idea of a piece on MS Dhoni was initiated by Subash Jayaraman, founder and contributor to Clearcricket (@thecricketcouch on Twitter).

*****

I remember the day very very clearly.

It was the 8th of November 2008. A Saturday. It was the third day of the final Test match of the series (at Nagpur) between India and Australia. I had watched the most gripping session of Test cricket in my Melbourne home. Having commenced the day on 189 for 2 off just 49 overs (at 3.85 runs per over), chasing India’s first innings total of 441 all out, Australia had ended the previous day on an aggressive high. The first few balls of that first session of play on day-3 set the scene for that session, and that day.

My jaw hit the floor. “Was this Team India I was seeing?”, I asked myself.

I did not move from my place on the couch in that session — it produced just 42 runs from 25 overs at a run-rate of 1.68 runs per over! Dull cricket? Yet, I remember that session so vividly.

So what made it a gripping session?

Through the morning session India captain MS Dhoni set a 8-1 field with 8 fielders on the off-side and a lone leg-side fielder at square-leg. The bowlers who had been slapped around the previous evening, curbed their attacking lines and bowled a disciplined line to Mike Hussey and Simon Katich the two Australian left-handers. At the time this was thought of as a “defensive” tactic. The Australians were shackled. Their attacking shots were curbed. And they did not quite know how to combat India’s strategy — it took them a while to figure out that there was, indeed, a strategy! An Indian team did not just “rock up”. They were playing “thinking cricket”. The Australians were like rabbits caught in the headlights. In the process, Australia had lost a wicket too; Simon Katich lost his composure and got out — he had been out-foxed.

Rather than remove his foot from the pedal, in the post-lunch session, Dhoni continued his strategy in a ruthless and clinical manner. For Clarke he set a 6-3 field but still bowled a “defensive line”. In that post-lunch session, Australia scored 49 runs in 29 overs and had lost 3 wickets.

Many commentators — including Ian Chappell and Alan Border — attribute the loss in this Nagpur Test match to Ricky Ponting’s strange captaincy in the India second innings, when he had Michael Hussey and Cameron White bowling in tandem in a bid to catch up on Australia’s bad over-rate! However, I strongly believe that it was those opening sessions of Day-3 that led to Australia losing that Test Match. India acquired an Australia-like attitude, caught the match by the scruff of its neck, and did not let go. It called for mean-mindedness; an Australia-like bloody-mindedness. It called for a surrender of ego and pride. It called for discipline.

MS Dhoni’s tactics were rubbished by Ian Chappel, who asked for a rule-change to curb defensive and “boring cricket”.

For me, that was “exciting and gripping cricket” and not “boring cricket”. I had watched every single ball. There was drama and emotion. There was a battle; a battle of nerves; a battle for survival; a battle for supremacy; a battle to ascertain who would blink first. They remain the most gripping sessions of Test cricket I have seen in the last two years! Both sessions were “attacking sessions” in my view.

Dhoni had a clear strategy. He had a firm plan in his mind. He appeared to have communicated his plan very clearly to his personnel and got them to buy into his vision. His players responded to his plan, even though it meant that they had to swallow their ego and pride. The plan could backfire badly if it failed. Dhoni had to ensure that it was executed to perfection. Whether Dhoni had a plan-B or not, we never know. But his plan-A worked to perfection. And once he saw that it was working, he did not relent. He had placed his foot on the jugular and kept it pressed there. He had done to the Australians what they did to so many teams in the previous 15 years!

This was Test match cricket at its very best.

A few years back, in 2001, in that series, Sourav Ganguly had asked left-arm spinner, Nilesh Kulkarni, to bowl a negative line outside leg-stump from one end (especially in the second innings) while he attacked the Australians with Harbhajan Singh at the opposite end, in a must-win match at Chennai.

This was similar. Only better!

*****

MS Dhoni seems to have an astute, canny, discerning and incisive sense of his place in Indian cricket history. He comes across as an extremely perspicacious individual. Perhaps it is because of his small-town upbringing. Perhaps it is because a sense of sagacious, earthy and incisive unpretentiousness is ingrained in him due to his roots and upbringing.

That Test match in Nagpur witnessed two other moments that are enduring, stirring and indelible in my memory.

Towards the end of the Nagpur Test match, MS Dhoni handed over the captaincy reins to a man who had started India’s march towards the top of the tree at the start of the decade. Sourav Ganguly marshaled the troops and rang in the bowling changes as India marched towards a Test and series victory in that 2008 series. It was a wonderful and honest gesture of extreme appreciation and perhaps even respect by Dhoni towards a man who had been nudged towards retirement. Ganguly was playing in his last Test Match. The match report reads, “A less secure man would have wanted to hog the limelight, but by ceding space to one of Indian cricket’s all-time greats for a couple of overs, Dhoni showed just how aware he was of the bigger picture.”

If that was emotionally stirring and if that was a signal of a man who was totally self-assured, what followed at the post-match ceremony tugged at the heart-strings even more. Dhoni called Anil Kumble to the victory dais to accept the Boarder-Gavaskar trophy. After all, it was during the series that Anil Kumble had retired.

Dhoni had scripted the strongest and most compelling farewell gestures to Ganguly and Kumble. This wasn’t, in my view, false humility. This wasn’t, in my view the act of a man devaluing his own accomplishments for the sake of receiving applause, accolade or adulation from others. His humility in these actions were real. He expected neither praise nor favors. These were, I believe, anchored in a strong and calm sense of assuredness.

And so, the baton had passed so wonderfully during that exciting Test match at Nagpur. India had commenced the decade with a strong statement against the Australians in 2001. In 2008, the baton passed to a man who would take the team from being just good to perhaps being great.

*****

I have long held the view that Sourav Ganguly was the first leader of men in Indian cricket. He had a vision for the Indian cricket team. He developed short-term and longer-term goals for the team. He wanted India to be competitive in world cricket; not just good at ‘home’. He believed passionately in this vision and committed to it with fervor. He had a road map to get him to the goals along the way. This included a professional coaching setup and an army of support staff. He was able to argue his case for adequate resources and quickly established himself as the leader of the team. He was able to rise above regional politics and demonstrated his will and commitment through his actions. He demonstrated that he was unbiased. He was quick in identifying talent and supported players through (sometimes multiple) failures. What he built was a systematic meritocracy where players would go to many lengths to give their all for him and for the team cause.

Of course, he did build his team at a time when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Saourav Ganguly himself formed the backbone of an evolving good team. There were still questions on how they would be “replaced” to affect a transition from short-term good to long-term great!

Meanwhile, all of Ganguly’s good work was somewhat undone in his latter years through a dip in his own personal form, which coincided with the arrival of Greg Chappell — right man at the wrong time and at a very, very wrong place.

Indian cricket, which had started the decade with much promise and hope, was suddenly hopeless again. Through Anil Kumble, some balance was restored.

It was in this context that MS Dhoni took over the captaincy of the T20 and ODI teams and finally the Test team.

The road from good to great had not yet been traversed. The plan for this road was yet to be developed. What was urgently required was assured leadership, a vision and an organisational setup.

*****

As a player, Dhoni had transformed from being a flamboyant thumper to being an ungainly, yet effective artiste. His wicket-keeping was steady, if not brilliant. It was as a batsman, though, that he made his mark.

Initially, he was type-cast as an ODI player. After announcing himself with a 123-ball 148 against Pakistan, he made his big announcement with a massive 183 against Sri Lanka. Pundits wrote him off as a failure in Tests even before he had started. But then he made a terrific century in a high-scoring drawn-match in Faisalabad against Pakistan. He then made a fighting knock against England at Lords’ to save a Test match. Suddenly, he was a Test match player too.

From there on, a new and re-invented Dhoni played with maturity and calmness. It seemed as though he was comfortable in the team. He became a player who was able to play in many gears. He sometimes curbed his natural instincts to become a grafter, but young-India identified with the buccaneering marauder in him. They wanted him to play his trademark helicopter shot every match, every over, every ball.

That shot itself became symbolic of the rural rustic fighting for his space in a complex modern milieu, fully armed with a sackful of attitude, a satellite TV and many mobile phones! Dhoni represented the man he wanted to be. They wanted Dhoni to be the pillager that would plunder and raid runs from the opposition. They saw in Dhoni the big-city boldness and brashness that they aspired to.

But he was equally at home in the bright lights. He had the flamboyance, the long hair and the party life-style of a city lad. He even spoke English with the panache and confidence of a city lad! When his “Well of course” opener to any question became a trademark, he was assured enough to realize it and use it to mock himself! Today, he uses “Wellofcourse” in self-deprecation and smiles through it, knowing that many out there are having a guffaw. He blended into the city and the city men wanted to be like him.

Here was a common man from rural India who led a massive team with an earthy and grounded set of pragmatic sensibilities. Yet, he was a shining and suave diplomat under bright lights on the world stage. He had become a hero to both rural India and urban India.

Slowly, India accepted him as a very clever cricketer who could sum up the situation and play the way the game needed him to play. They enjoyed his barbs and exhortations from behind the stumps. They loved it when he asked Amit Mishra to bowl “udhar se” (round the wicket) in the Mohali Test against the Australians in 2008 to Michael Clarke. Clarke was out off that last ball of the day, leaving the Australians in disarray! They loved it when he said to Sreesanth to move in the field and when the speedster didn’t pay attention, he said, “Your girlfriend is not there… just move a bit” (or words to that effect) in a Test match. They loved it when he announced to the world and also exhorted his team to put in extra effort because Badrinath’s wife had just had a baby in Chennai!

So, slowly, one could see his steady and assured ascent to a leadership role. It is true that he seemed to posses that special Midas Touch that leaders crave for. Perhaps he had that auto loan calculator luck. Perhaps he made his luck. I never saw him as an accidental tourist. His was, in my view, a calculated assault at the top job in the Team India. In Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, he had his ‘seniors’ in the team. He first became ‘one of them’ and then surged ahead as a perceived leader. It helped that while Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh had occasional lapses in ‘form’ and/or focus, Dhoni kept improving as a player and a potential leader.

When the time came, it was almost natural that he would be anointed leader of the ODI team and the T20 team. The victories came… He led India to a famous victory in ICC’s inaugural T20 World Championships. It came at a desperate and desolate time in the post-Chappell and post-Dravid months and a few months after India had been knocked out of the 2007 ICC World Cup!

It was an important time and an important victory for Team India.

That T20 victory gave birth to the IPL — admittedly, some fans may not agree that this was a desirous outcome. However, in a year that was a disaster from most other perspectives, the rise of Dhoni as a leader in the T20 world cup was an unmistakable positive. He was the future. He was the alternative. Even though Yuvraj Singh had smashed six 6s off a hapless Stuart Broad over and despite all the machismo surrounding that, Dhoni emerged tall as the leader of a young-bold India.

From then, his ascent to the top of the summit was strong, assured, dignified and steady. He was marked as an under study to Anil Kumble, the statesman. When the time was right, the reins were handed over.

Today, Dhoni is the leader of three India teams: Test, ODI and T20.

Over the last many months, I have had many debates with friends — fans of Indian cricket — who maintained that MS Dhoni, the captain of Team India, has been extremely lucky as captain.

Initially, I would have been quite happy to agree with them. Not lately. Not now.

He is, to me a Level-5 Leader who works hard at identifying where he wants to be and works harder at getting there!

*****

Jim Collins, in his article, “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve”, [The Best Of HBR, HBR July-August, 2005, p.136-146] studies many successful companies. Collins concludes that perhaps the most important component of the transition from “good-to-great” is what he termed “Level 5 Leadership“. [I have extracted the concise summary below from here]

  • Level 1 is a Highly Capable Individual who “makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits.”
  • Level 2 is a Contributing Team Member who “contributes individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting.”
  • Level 3 is the Competent Manager who “organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.”
  • Level 4 is an Effective Leader who “catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards.”
  • Level 5 is the Self-assured Executive Leader who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and strong professional will.”

In his study, Jim Collins found that every one of his “good-to-great” companies had Level-5 leaders in the critical transition phase. Interestingly, none of the comparison companies did!

To me, though, a Level-5 leader is one that has many paradoxes embodied in the one person. They can be timid and ferocious, hesitant and fearlessly-adventurous, modest and pompous, diffident and audacious. More importantly, they might demonstrate an ability to focus on the small things while demonstrating a fierce, unwavering and uncompromising commitment to big goals, large vision and high standards.

Dhoni has demonstrated that he is highly capable. He has a strong work ethic and makes stunning and compelling contributions to the team. He contributes as an individual and sets an example for everyone else in the team to follow. They do. He ensures that he has the people and the resources and backs them. He backed Yuvraj Singh through all his troubles. He sometimes backs players a bit too much, but that is his method of catalyzing commitment. He is a big vision guy for whom the smaller details are important too.

The way MS Dhoni has gone about his task of leading this team is, in my view, a living example of an evolving Level-5 Leader. Even during the World Cup 2011 journey, he was at times shy-audacious, modest-brash, hesitant-bold. He was honest enough to admit his mistakes — and that effectively shut up the pack of loud jackals that were baying for his blood when they were not singing paeans of acclamation! By the end of the tournament, when the cup was won, there was no doubt that it was his team and he had done it his way.

He made decisions and made it clear that these were his decisions. After experimenting with several team-balance-options, he was certain that he wanted 3 pace bowlers for his team. He stuck to that format. He admitted that he experimented with various options along the way. He demonstrated honesty, when there was no need to do so. He demonstrated that he wasn’t quite sure of how to do it although it was quite clear what he wanted. In the end, he demonstrated immense personal courage and personal responsibility by coming up the batting order in the final match, at a time when the spinners were on. He didn’t place his gun on someone else’s shoulder and fire. He demonstrated extreme personal courage in the line of fire. It was a bold decision. It could have backfired like the 8-1 field. But he was determined to leave his stamp on the win. And if you doubted that, see the look in his eyes as he hits those winning runs, followed by that bat twirl.

He was very clear that he stood on broad and impressive shoulders when he thanked Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, for building the solid platform on which he stands today (although I would have liked it more if he had added Laxman’s name to make it a quintet rather than a quartet, but that is only a minor quibble).

Today Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly have already acknowledged Dhoni’s exemplary leadership. In Ian Chappell’s view Dhoni is amongst the great modern captains.

*****

The World-Cup victory did not actually mean much to me! At the risk of being stoned to death by unforgiving Team India fans, let me state again that it would not have mattered to me if India had lost in the quarters or the semis or indeed, the finals.

For me, it was a small — albeit important — step in a much more important journey. The road ahead for this team is hard and there are significant challenges as Dhoni takes this team from good to great. I am much more interested in seeing how this wonderful leader is going to take Indian cricket along that important journey. For, unlike Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, other outstanding leaders of excellent cricket teams in the recent past, Dhoni leads a team of committed players rather than a set of some alarmingly stunning players who could win a match on their own, if the situation demanded it!

In that sense, he is cut from the cloth that Imran Khan and Alan Border were made of. And that excites me tremendously. He seems to posses the dogged and unwavering occidental determination of Alan Border that allows Dhoni to focus so intensely on “methodology, standards and process” while retaining the oriental mystique of Imran Khan, which allows him to focus on the “absolute value of and need for individual expression”. This is a heady mix.

And that is why I have hope. I think back to that day when I watched two gripping sessions of Test cricket when an Indian captain was calm, mean-minded, inventive and fiercely determined. For that was the day my admiration for MS Dhoni commenced.

I think back to that 8-1 field that started the journey of fascination that I undertook with him. I also look at everything he has achieved in the 2 and a half years since that day. I then say to myself, “With Dhoni around as a Level-5 leader, there is much hope for this Team India fan.”

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

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)