Tag Archives: IPL

IPL-6 was Fun

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

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

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

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

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

*la la la la la la la*

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

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

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

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

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

Phew.

-Bagrat

Whose resource is it anyway?

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

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

Slowly. Relentlessly. Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goose. Golden Egg. Rinse. Repeat. 

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

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

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

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

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

I am not at all surprised.

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan (@mohank)

As the world laughs, IPL Saints and IPL Warriors argue

World Champions in cricket to laughing stock of cricket.

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan (@mohank)

IPL and the free markets delusion

If I was given $10 for every time I was sold the narrative that IPL is a triumph of free markets and capitalism, I would have retired by now. Since I have been given this lecture by so many people, some eminent and some not so eminent, I started taking the whole notion a bit seriously. I thought of the IPL as a great idea. Maybe if I can raise enough capital, I can even think about setting up my own league and give IPL a run for its money.

While I was doing my groundwork for the venture, I came to know that only BCCI and its subsidiary associations can sell cricket in India. The last time someone else tried it, it was clinically destroyed, it seems. But sticking to the true principles of free markets, BCCI did offer a one-time amnesty for players who had taken part in that even-If-I-say-the-name-I’ll-be-in-trouble league. It seems to be a new brand of free markets, this.

So, there’s only one seller of cricket in India, and by virtue of being the sole seller, BCCI is also the only buyer of cricketing skills as well.  That sounds like as far away from free markets as possible. Hang on, apparently I am missing the point is what I am told. At a macro-level it may be some strange concoction of monopoly and monopsony, but come a level further down and you’ll see capitalism in all its glory.

In a moment of inspired genius, BCCI reduced the number of teams from 28 (as is the case in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy) to 8 (eventually 10…er…9), stripped them of all its players, and allocated them to various cities. Then, it invited the poster boys of Indian capitalism to come and split the teams amongst themselves. That’s it. The masterstroke. Suddenly, an auction made Cricket richer than ever before. In a matter of few hours, Indian Cricket was assured of a little more than $720 million. Forget the invisible hand; this was wealth creation by pure magic. No, the wealth creation had nothing to do with the large number of foreign players being allowed to play in a domestic tournament in India for the first time, or that all the Indian superstars who were otherwise too busy or too tired to play domestic T-20 leagues were brought back to where they started. It is all because of the auction.

But what did this rich people’s club actually pay the millions of dollars for? An intangible idea called a city franchise for which they will put together a team and represent that region over 10 years. And then? Players are auctioned off to the highest bidder to help them put together a team. So, is the player the seller of his skills or is he himself the commodity here? If he’s the seller of his talent, does he have a choice to say ‘no’ to the highest bidder, for whatever reason? No. Either you are in IPL or not. Within that, there’s no choice. So, he’s a commodity. I am glad I am not part of a similar job market.

Let us look at it from the perspective of the franchise owners. How enterprising can they get with their teams now? The biggest source of revenue, the broadcast rights, is centrally auctioned off by IPL (BCCI), and a part of that is distributed to all the franchises on a fixed ratio – must be a tribute to Nehruvian India, I guess (Take that Mr. Guha, that emphatically establishes the ‘I’ in IPL). So, it doesn’t matter what team you pick in the auction, how many superstars you have, how much you succeed on the field, and thereby how much you contribute to the TV audience/revenue, your share is fixed.

It doesn’t stop there. There is a cap on a team’s budget for spending on players too. Ask why? Because IPL has the noble objective of creating an evenly contested league – oh, wasn’t IPL supposed to be a celebration of Capitalism?

So, IPL will sell its title rights, franchise rights, broadcast rights, the fours, the sixes, and all the other centralized rights to the highest bidder, but the players have to bear with a budget cap enforced on their employers. There are further caps on uncapped Indian players, defined catchment area for each franchises, an RBI priority sector burden styled requirement to carry a certain number of U-22 players as well. So, outside of private ownership and big money, there is not a semblance of the principles of free markets in IPL. And big money as such has nothing to do with free markets, but it’s a convenient narrative fallacy in India, because of the correlation between our stupendous increase in living standards and opening up of the economy in the early nineties.

In fact, we haven’t even come to the point of sustainability of the revenues yet. There’s hardly any due diligence done on the franchise owners. While you may know the faces that own teams, there is little detail available on the legal entities behind ownership. What about loyalty? How long will fans throng the stadium and rally behind their teams, if the players are completely shuffled every 3 years? And the conflict of interest is so obvious that it’s funny to even point it out these days. There were 8 teams, then they made it 10, then they threatened to knock out 2, and eventually knocked out 1 – and then one team threatened to walk out, only to come back soon after.

More than half the advertisements are illegal as per the laws of the land, and the entire empire of IPL is built on the foundation of broadcast rights sold by factoring in the illegal advertisement revenues too. There are reports from IT Department every 6 months about the scrutiny of some IPL transaction or  the other. If a Fund manager had taken on so much risk to earn the kind of returns that the IPL franchises do, he would have been stripped of his previous year’s bonus, leave alone being rewarded for his current performance.

It is not my contention that sports bodies should operate in a free market framework. I am merely pointing out that not every excess in IPL can be refuted with the logic that it’s the market’s choice.  And wealth creation can’t be the only objective of a cricket body. Yes, IPL makes money. But why? At what cost? What is the motivation for honorary members to work towards maximizing the revenue of an organization in which they have no stake? Which economic theory explains this relationship? I understand the CEO of a publicly listed company trying to maximize shareholder’s wealth, but why, a society with members working for charity?

What is the point of Cricket? Why does it exist? Does it exist to make money, or should it make money to exist? If it exists to make money, why would it waste premium real estate on an activity with such low returns? They could have knocked down the Wankhede/Brabourne stadium and built sky scrapers instead – the annual revenue of that alone would have exceeded the BCCI surplus from all its international cricket, IPL and the champions league put together. So, clearly it should make money for its existence and not the other way around.

BCCI may be a not-for-profit society, but that only means profits can’t be taken away from the society, not that it shouldn’t aspire to make profits. So, how much money should it make? Not just cricket, any sport, should strive to make as much money as possible without diluting the ecosystem. Is IPL doing that? A glance at the TV screen while the IPL is on is enough evidence against it. It  is raping the senses of its patrons. The richest cricket tournament ever provides the least pleasurable viewing experience to its audience. Players are being put through a punishing schedule year after year. It sucks two months out of the already packed calendar from international cricket, which puts the larger game in jeopardy. Is the money that it makes so important for IPL to put its patrons, its resources and the game at large through such a tumultuous time?

What does it do with the surplus generated? Does it have projects to invest it? Is it developing the game at all? Show me a semblance of it. We haven’t invested in projects out of the surpluses earned in the pre-IPL days, so, what are we going to do with the additional funds? If it’s just going to be earning interest in the bank account, why come so close to crippling the entire system for that? The last year’s annual report shows an actual surplus of INR 118.76 crores against a budgeted surplus of INR 11.56 crores. What’s the point of overshooting budget by more than a 100 crores and yet leaving your patrons with an annoying viewing experience, and pit players against a punishing schedule and enticing money?

Any sport has to have enough surplus to reward its players handsomely, invest in development projects, treat its patrons well and give them the best possible experience. And on top of it, the sport needs to build an adequate buffer for a rainy day. Beyond that, it need not (dare I add, it should not) exploit every inch of commercial potential at all; and surely not if it hampers any of the primary objectives. For instance, Wimbledon’s surplus last year was a little more than two times that of IPL. Hypothetically, if you have to sell IPL and Wimbledon in the market today, would Wimbledon fetch only two times the price of IPL?  Would the amount of surplus even come into the picture? So, even from an economic standpoint, the name of the game beyond a point is valuation, and not surplus.

That is the essence of managing sports: Money-making is only incidental to the larger objective of building a fine, credible, healthy, and financially sustainable ecosystem. Now, how does one explain this to BCCI, if they don’t understand it already?

— Mahesh  (@cornerd)

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.

Top heavy IPL: A statistical analysis.

The IPL season is in full swing.About 3/4th of the season is over and this might be a good time to assess why certain teams are doing well and why some others aren’t. This piece aims to look at things from a purely batting perspective. The particular focus is on trying to correlate the success that certain franchises have enjoyed to the performance from their top order batsmen.

These are the current rankings:

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Apart from rankings, few other things are also shown. None of these statistics have been taken directly from cricinfo.

IPL is a fairly batsman friendly game. Also, a team gets to face ~120 balls per inning. So, in my opinion, the performance of the top order becomes extremely critical, regardless of whether a team is trying to set a total or chase one. While one bad over might be overcome by a good one following it immediately, a couple of quick wickets, especially among the top order batsmen puts much higher pressure in a T20 game in my opinion. This is the rationale behind assessing batting performances.

I consider the statistics listed above as a reasonable metric for analyzing the performance of top order batsmen.

All the teams have played at least 12 games. PWI is the only team that has played 13. As per current rankings, KKR, DD, MI and RCB round off the top four spots. Let’s try to look into how does their success correlates with the performance of their top order.

For the purposes of this piece, top order will refer to the first three batsmen in the lineup. Middle order will refer to batsmen no. 4 & 5 in the order.

Here’s how the table appears when the teams are sorted based on the % of total runs of the entire team scored by the top order.

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The results show that three out of the top four teams continue to feature in top 4. The only new entry is RR, which wasn’t too far (5th in overall rankings) to begin with. Further, there is not much change in CSK, KXIP and PWI’s positions. This suggests that there is a reasonable correlation between the performance of top order and overall success of the teams. The major outliers to this trend would be MI and DC.

A couple of interesting revelations:

  • MI slips to the last spot. This suggests they do not truly depend on their top order for their success. This in spite of one Sachin Tendulkar, but I shall not dare to ramble along those lines.
  • DD top order accounts for nearly 2/3rd of the total runs scored by the team!.

A few other details are revealed when the teams are sorted out based on the total number of runs scored per inning by the entire team.`

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A few interesting observations right away:

  • Top teams like KKR and DD have now slipped to the bottom of the ladder. In fact, those two teams score nearly 20 runs fewer than RCB, which leads the pack. In a nutshell, while DD and KKR don’t score much (relatively speaking), they do rely on their top orders to set or chase a target quite heavily. This accentuates the value of Gautam Gambhir, Brendon McCullum, Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen.
  • MI continues to sit at the bottom of the pile. So not only does MI score the fewest runs, their top order contributes the least towards their scores. So how a does team that performs so poorly with the bat manage to do well in the overall rankings? I’ll try to address that in more detail now.

The curious case of MI:

How is MI winning games in spite of horrendous scoring compared to the rest of the league? One of the possibilities is a strong middle order. The table below sorts the IPL teams based on the average runs scored by the middle order.

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No points for guessing which team has the BEST middle order in the business. It’s MI.  Here are a few other interesting observations:

  • Mumbai’s middle order contributes nearly TWICE as much to its team’s success when compared to Kolkata. This is further proven when one watches the performances of Rayudu, Pollard and the likes who have bailed Mumbai out many a times. The latest addition to this was the blitzkrieg from Dwayne Smith that flattened CSK.
  • Sorting teams based on average runs scored by the middle coincidentally sorts the teams based on the % runs contributed by no. 4 and no. 5 towards the total score. This further accentuates the contribution of the middle order of MI towards its success, particularly in close games.
  • The fact that KKR lies in the bottom of this list again accentuates how important the top order is for its success. Same rationale applies for RR that has been enjoying the success of Rahane and Dravid, and now Watson. The top order is critical for their success as well.

So I hope that I have been able to throw some light on the importance of the top order’s performance towards the success of a team. While this might be intuitive for some, analyzing statistically, nerding it up with figures and tables makes a lot more fun! Also, this could enable fantasy IPL players to choose certain players from particular teams. Too bad I won’t be getting a medal for this social service.

P.S: 3 matches have taken place since I’ve compiled this data. It would be great to put the above analysis to a litmus test.

Game 1: DD v/s DC

  • For DC, the top order scored 107/187 runs (~57.2%). While this sounds quite impressive for a team that is dead last in standings, this is still an AVERAGE if not slightly below average performance. The middle order scored 78/187 (~41.7%) runs. This is nearly twice their average production, which is probably why DC posted a significantly higher score than their season average.
  • For DD, it’s very simple. The top order won the game for them. They scored all the runs and flattened the opposition. This certainly holds true with the above analysis.

Game 2: RR v/s CSK

  • RR has relied quite a bit on it’s top order. In this game, they were fairly abysmal. They scored 26/126 (20.6%) of the team’s runs, which is barely 1/3rd of their season average! The middle order (Binny and Botha) bailed them out a little with 60 runs (47.6% of the total score). But this is a clear cut deviation from their season’s average trend.
  • CSK on the other hand, didn’t rely on their top order to win this game, which is in line with the above analysis. The top order scored only 42/127 runs (33.1%). This is below their season average of 49.8%. The middle order and the bottom order bailed them out big time and they were able to snatch a close game from RR’s hands.

Game 3: RCB v/s PWI

  • RCB batted first and their top order gave them an excellent start to set a platform for a competitive score. Chris Gayle, Tilakaratne Dilshan and Virat Kohli combined for 68.8% of the team’s runs. This is in line with their season’s trend.
  • PWI continued to showcase the fact that they have one of the worst top orders in the game This doesn’t have to do with poor quality batsmen as much as the number of times they’ve tinkered with their top order. They have changed their top order roughly 9 times in a span of 14 games. That is not the best approach towards a stable, established lineup. The game was practically over when they lost their entire top order for a mere 17 runs. The middle order did well by scoring 69/138 (50%) of the runs but it was clearly too much pressure to bail out such a poor show from the top order. The result was a crushing defeat.

So it appears that the above analysis was valid to a good extent on the games that transpired after compiling the data. As the title suggests, IPL does seem to be top heavy.

– Ajit Bhaskar.

(@ajit_bhaskar on Twitter)

Cricket Fan-tyutter-tastic!

I’ll start this post with a little trumpet-blowing and calling myself “active” on the social media “Twitter” over the past year and a half. I mostly spend my time ranting cricket or blocking ‘bots. Twitter, I found, is full of fellow cricket fans, who love the game a lot. And like every-thing that is made of people, there are categories to differentiate the people. I thought, a new twitterati must be given a guide to help understand who falls under what category, so he/she doesn’t end up following me and think Ravi Shastri is why I love cricket commentary.

Drum roll (OK, stop it, all 3 cricket teams I like get bowled out before your drum rolls can end.)…

1. Sachinists

Probably the most famous category of all. If you don’t know where you are, become this, you will have many to protect you. Recognized by periodical chants of “Sachin Is God”,even if he is not playing the game, even if India is not playing in the game. Sach is their life.
Identification marks – Sachin Tendulkar in their twitter DP, or “Sach is Life” written in their profile. Whatever the outcome of the game, they will assure you that SRT will win the world cup 2015. Along with his son (whose bio-data is also known quite well). Easier way to spot – the ones who switch off the TV or walk out of the television room when Tendulkar gets out. Since 1989..

2. The hard-core Sachin Fans

Slightly more cricket-ing nature ones involved here. Some are natural, others recruited from the Sachinist group. Crouching tiger, and hidden dragons them, will prowl at you and mince you to pieces if you say one word against His Highness. Writers, journalists, reporters, legends etc fear confrontation with this group.
Identification marks – twitter bruises on you. Sometimes filled with un-parliamentary words that are often used in parliaments. Also, they will tell me I attracted more views to this “over-rated” page, because I re-arranged the letters “N-i-c-a-h-s” in a particular manner and made it appear at multiple locations on this page to popularize it.
Affiliated group – “I Hate Steve Bucknor”.

3. The hard-core “Dada” fans

Like the title suggests, fans of the Prince of Calcutta, Saurav Ganguly make-up this space. This might sometimes need a requirement to learn Bengali, but mostly, they learn “gali” through conversations.
Identification marks – “I ❤ Dada” written across their DP or bio, constant references to off-side, and first to enter and last to leave any conversation than contain the word “captain”.
Affiliated Group – “I Hate Greg Chappell”

4. Team India Haters

Mostly English speaking, residents of England or Australia, who contribute to the world of cricket by creating a healthy battle-like atmosphere. On twitter, of course.
Identification marks – lots of Vaseline, ironic references to ICC’s world rankings, “I love DRS” written in their BIO.
Affiliated group – “Indo-Pak Unity Group”

5. Sir Donald Bradman is the Greatest

In short – we have not seen him, but we know he is the best. Because all scriptures say so, and I am under no obligation to believe Barry Richards is better. Identification marks – voracious reader of books on cricketing history, nostalgic weep at the mention of John Arlott’s name, Tendulkar hasn’t impressed enough.
Affiliated Group – “Mathematical Group for Rounding of Numbers”.

6. No Way Bradman is the Greatest. I have proof.

Internet savvy, modern day, corporate ready ‘twitteratis’, more adept with the mouse and keyboard hitting permutation than enjoying the game. They can prove that Bradman doesn’t rank among the top-5 modern day cricketers in some way or the other.
Identification mark – internet browser’s home page is CricInfo Statsguru, sometimes stutter when asked “How many tests has Bradman played in India?”. Usually at the receiving end of the other groups mentioned above.
Affiliated Group – “Gayle Is A Legend”

7. The Highway

Media people, mostly television, self-appointed chief selector of Indian cricket on screen, who pick questions making round from twitter and sounding them on air as their own and then starting a non-stop ranting that makes you feel safe twitter can’t talk.
Identification marks – utterly confusing tweets on the game, which will later be superseded by the most popular voice doing the rounds.
Affiliated Group – “I Have No Clue About DRS, But Will Take A Side. And Change Sides Often”

8. New Age Fans

Ever so lively, bubbly fans, unaffected by the turmoils suffered by their cricketers at myriad foreign lands. They are why cricket still simmers even if it is out of gas.
Identification marks – Usually have their favourite player’s photograph in their display pic. Tweet about the game very rarely. Usually tweet in the same manner as – “Ooooooooooh, Raina looks cho cute” when he grins after misfielding or “Mahiiiii, I LOVE YOU” in a yellow jersey.
Affiliated group – “I play IPL cricket”

9. Regional

Based on geographical location of self or heart, these domestic keyboard warriors show good concern to their regional/domestic cricket. In-house fights prevail, most common (in India) being the ones from The Knowledgeable Chennai Crowd, the Mumbai’s “Khadoos Army”, Delhi and considerable volume of voices from other prominent Ranji teams’ fans. This usually ends with which We-Know-There-Is-No-Way-He-Will-Be-Selected player should have been selected.
Identification marks – constant outrage at governing board and leading cricket score lending sites at the non-existence of live-updates, plan to pen the book “How To Improve Domestic Cricket Structure”.
Affiliated Group – “IPL Is Ruining Cricket”

 

Of course, I might have missed some group. I am sorry to you, fellow of “Fans of Amla’s Beard”, “Monty Is A Legend” and “KP. Keiron Pollard. That.Is.All.” etcs. Will you be kind enough and help me by describing it in a comment below? Thanks.

We’re still friends, right?