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On why I found Harsha Bhogle’s choice strange

Harsha Bhogle is a respected and much-admired journalist and commentator on Indian cricket. He gave up a promising career in advertising to write about cricket, talk about cricket on the radio and call cricket on TV. He hosts TV shows on cricket and is, along with Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, recognized as one of the significant voices of Indian cricket.

Harsha Bhogle started commenting on cricket when he was just 19 years old. From an early age, he shunned hyperbole and cliche for substance, a studied approach, sharp wit and an articulate demeanor. That approach defined him. After a stint at All India Radio in Hyderabad, he was invited by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 1991-92 to call the Australia-India series on ABC Radio in Australia. I had just arrived in Australia and was immediately taken by this young, warm and welcoming voice of Indian cricket. Since then, he was a regular in all of India’s tours to the Antipodes. His repartee with Kerry O’Keefe is a significant part of the Australian summer whenever India visited. His banter with Geoff Lawson would always be precise and insightful — quite appropriate, given that Lawson is a qualified optometrist!

I appreciated the poise and equanimity with which he called the hot-potato series in 2008. Tempers were flaring and emotions were high. I am reasonably confident Harsha Bhogle would have been presented with many an opportunity to lose his cool in that hyper-charged environment. But he managed to keep his head above water at all times. He retained his composure and his objectivity as that series progressed. His stock grew.

He has called many Test matches and ODI games. In fact, he has called every single World Cup since 1992 – either for radio or for TV. Harsha Bhogle has also covered all IPL seasons since the 2009 edition of this Twenty20 party. (He was associated with the Mumbai Indians side in the inaugural episode of the IPL.)

He has also written a few books on cricket, including a biography of Mohammad Azharuddin

The point of this short sketch of an impressive career in cricket is to establish that Harsha Bhogle is a respected commentator who has been closely associated with the game for over two decades. In that time he would have seen a substantial amount of “good cricket”. One has come to expect a healthy dollop of balance and objectivity in his articulations. He is as lucid as he is sharp. He also comes across as an intelligent person who thinks carefully about what he writes and says.

I may not always agree with what he says. I do not need to. But I accept that he has a good cricket ‘sense’. After all, he has seen — and called — some exceedingly good cricket. I also accept that he is not given to bursts of emotion-laden hyperbole. It is highly likely that for him that cycle stand in Patiala does not matter; a tracer bullet is a distraction; that sorry comment about statistics and mini-skirts is an inappropriately quoted and abominable irritant.

All of the above is preamble and context to the sense of disbelief I had on reading last week that the one single DVD that Harsha Bhogle will carry with him to an island would be a DVD of India’s triumph in that 2007 World Championship T20 final.

If I had to be abandoned on a deserted island with a DVD of just one match, it would have to be that T20 World Cup final and…one other game that I must have watched around a hundred times, in various instalments over the years—the NatWest Series final in 2002.

Let us be clear about this. Harsha Bhogle says that he will take one DVD containing one match (the WCT20 win by India) and also says that he has watched a replay of the Natwest 2002 Final over a hundred times.

The article that we read was an ‘edited excerpt’ of a conversation. So one does not really know what the full conversation was. More importantly, one does not know what was left out. I am going to assume that the edited excerpt does not deviate significantly from the conversation itself. At the very least, I can make the assumption that the edited excerpt did not destroy either the context or the substance of the many choices Harsha Bhogle makes in this piece. It is a fair assumption to make because Harsha Bhogle has not issued a rejoinder in the week after the piece was published.

Harsha Bhogle makes a few clear choices. He says that he has seen a lot of good cricket. He says that Perth 2008, Leeds 2002, the NatWest ODI Final 2002, Kolkata 2001 and the 2007 World Championship T20 final were excellent, thrilling and substantial; each for a specific reason. He articulates his reasons extremely well and very lucidly.

Yet, he indicates that he would take that T20 Finals win as the only DVD. These boilerplate choices are fraught with danger. In an email exchange with the lovely K. Balakumar (@kbalakumar on Twitter) he said questions like “… Which one song will you take on your trip to moon … are questions asked for an emotional and rhetorical value. And the answer too is mostly emotional.”

I agree that the emotional quotient in the 2007 win was high. It was a win against Pakistan. And that too in a final of a major ICC tournament. Enough said.

But really? Despite the incredibly high emotional quotient, a T20 final is the one DVD that Harsha Bhogle would take with him? After all, here was a man who has seen so much good cricket. Here was a man who was not given to extreme bouts of reckless emotion even during MonkeyGate.

My sense of disbelief at Harsha Bhogle’s choice has nothing to do with forms of the game. It has nothing to do with notions that one form of the game is somehow superior to another form.

Yes, I do like Test cricket. No. I do not think it is ‘superior’ to other forms of cricket (mainly ODI and T20). But I like Test cricket. I like the intensity and the rhythm of Test cricket. I like the balance that Test cricket affords between bat and ball. Test cricket uses a canvass that is broad. On this canvass, it affords, commands and allows the narrative to unfold in a lazy and yet intensely dramatic manner. I like the time flexibility that Test cricket affords. Time seems to be somewhat irrelevant to the unfurling of the Test Cricket narrative. That is what I like about Test cricket.

So far, none of what I have said constitutes a “superiority” based argument of this form of cricket that I love and adore. It is true that my sense of involvement in the T20 and ODI script is far less than it is in Tests. But that is not because of a position that is based on skill-superiority, nor is it based on a position that emanates from an elitist snobbery.

Quite the contrary really.

I do like the intensity of the ODI/T20 drama. But my sense of involvement in these forms is far less than it is in Test cricket. That position emanates more from preference for the Test cricket narrative rather than superiority of the form. And this is precisely why Dominica depressed me. This is why it would not have mattered to me if India had lost either the T20 World Championship in 2007 or even the World Cup in 2011!

Mind you, I celebrated both victories vociferously and loudly because I am a fan of Team India and her players. But I celebrated Kolkata, Leeds, Multan, Mohali and Perth much more than I did the two World Cup victories. I was depressed for days on end after the disaster that Dominica represented to me.

On Harsha Bhogle’s choice, I had a suspended sense of disbelief.

I agree that these deserted-island-choices are often difficult and one must always take the result with a pinch of salt, or even sand (if you will forgive the needless pun).

And of course this is Harsha Bhogle’s choice and not mine! It is his article. Not mine. Nor should I expect that his choice mirrors mine. My problem, therefore, wasn’t his actual choice. It is more to do with how dramatically his choice seems to have diverged from what I would have expected his choice to be. In that sense, again the existence of that unmet expectation gap is my problem, rather than his. That said, I cannot imagine that a man who has watched that much drama would chose the WCT20 as the only DVD he would take.

In a sense, Harsha Bhogle was making a categorical judgement that the World Championship T20 win was better than Kolkata 2001 or Perth 2008 or even Mumbai 2011! Now this exposes a stunning limitation of the boiler-plate — and hence my dislike of these. But my approach to such a severely limiting exercise would be to not participate it such exercises! And if I do, I would justify/explain/rationalize my choice succinctly and adequately.

“Hang on. He did justify. He did rationalize his choice,” you will say.

Yes, he did justify his choice of the WCT20 Final DVD over Kolkata 2001 or Chennai 1999 or Natwest 2002 or Mumbai 2011.

And even if I accepted his DVD choice as one that was shoe-horned by the uselessness of the boilerplate, it is his justification of that choice that I really abhorred.

He says that he would take that DVD with him because “…India won against all odds. I wasn’t expecting anything. There was a sense of discovery about the whole format. No one knew where T20 was going to go. And as it turned out, one magical decision by M.S. Dhoni to throw the ball to Joginder Sharma and one moment of madness by Misbah-ul-Haq changed the future of T20 cricket. For if India hadn’t won that World Cup, T20 would never have become big in India. But it did become big…and the rest is history.”

Harsha Bhogle talks with passion about the many lovely games he has witnessed. In his closing he talks about the India v Pakistan Test match in Chennai in 1999 where the (knowledgeable) Chennai crowd gave Pakistan a rousing reception after Pakistan had beaten India in a close/tight game.

Yet, the only DVD he will take with him on a desert island is that of a T20 game because if India hadn’t won T20 would never have become big in India! Like that is a badge of honour that one should wear proudly on one’s lapel. It is this aspect of Harsha Bhogle’s choice that I find abhorrent.

Let us not forget that it is this very form of the game that causes most cricket fans most concern today! The DVD choice comes at a time when we are all concerned about the proliferation of T20s, the burden that it places on players, the country-versus-club debates that it generates, the immense conflicts of interest inherent in this form of the game in India (where commercial realities are brought into sharp focus maximally). Harsha Bhogle has, himself, agonized painfully over many of the issues listed above. On the club versus country debate, he first went one way and then, after the disaster that England 2011 represented, seemed to go the other way.

This agonizing flip-flop by one the voices of Indian cricket was brought into focus precisely because T20 had “become big in India”.

Yet, that is precisely the reason behind his choice of the DVD!

So Bhogle’s choice did not worry me. It is the justification/rationalization of his choice that stunned me. If I found his DVD choice somewhat shallow it was not because of the format, but because of its justification!

— Mohan (@mohank)

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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)

IPL4: Four more teams on display

As predicted, Rajasthan defeated Deccan and RCB defeated Kochi Tuskers in yesterdays’ games. Both losing teams in yesterdays’ matches were captained by former Sri Lankan captains. Both were, in my view, led badly. If KKR were let down by Gautam Gambhir, a captain that did not want to bat higher in the order — strange, considering he is an opener himself — a few strange selections and bowling changes led to the loss of Deccan and Kochi.

Today’s games promise to be closer and more exciting.

Delhi Daredevils Vs Mumbai Indians:

Delhi is led by Virender Sehwag, a somewhat laid back and almost unwilling captain. He often gives the impression that he would rather be whistling a Kishore Kumar tune to himself than be worried about bowling changes or field placings. He has an exciting team that can go far in IPL4. His team is up against one of the best teams in the business, and is led by Sachin Tendulkar, a man who is keen, this year, to collect trophies he hasn’t stocked up in his trophy chest!

For Delhi, I would like to see Varun Aaron bowl. After MS Dhoni, Saurabh Tiwary and Ishank Jaggi, Aaron is the latest Jharkhand player to hit the national limelight. I’d like to ascertain if this lad is for real or is a product of marketing hype. He is once reported to have clocked 153kpmh and regularly bowls at speeds in excess of 140kpmh.

The likely Delhi Daredevils team is:

V Sehwag*
DA Warner
CA Ingram / AJ Finch / Travis Birt / Michael Wade
Y Venugopal Rao / S Sriram
RE van der Merwe
NV Ojha (wk)
R Bist / U Chand
IK Pathan
M Morkel / JR Hopes / AB McDonald / R Frylinck
AB Agarkar / S Nadeem / AM Salvi
VR Aaron / AB Dinda / U Yadav

Others: Vikas Mishra, , TP Yadav, Vivek Yadav, Ramesh Pawar, A Chandila, Y Nagar, PT Naik

I believe this team will struggle with its middle order batting. The bowling looks solid though.

The likely Mumbai Indians team is:

SR Tendulkar*
Davey Jacobs / Aiden Blizzard
Andrew Symonds
AT Rayudu (wk)
Rohit Sharma
Rajagopal Sathish
KA Pollard
Tirumalasetti Suman / Abu Nechim Ahmed / Ali Murtaza
Harbhajan Singh
SL Malinga / Dilhara Fernando / James Franklin / Moises Henriques
MM Patel / DS Kulkarni

Others: YS Chahal, S Kanwar, AG Murtaza, P Suyal, AP Tare†, BSK Yadav, SA Yadav

I think this is a solid team. They have strengthened their middle order significantly and loaded it up with good young Indian batsmen. I expect this team to join CSK and RCB in the semi-final lineup.

Pune Warriors Vs Kings XI Punjab:

Pune Warriors India (PWI) is the most expensive team in the competition and they splurged at the auction too. The team they have looks solid on paper. As with previous years, KXIP looks like KXIP — all glitz but with much fizz.

The likely Pune Warriors team:

TD Paine (wk)
Greame Smith
Robin Uthappa
Yuvraj Singh*
Nathan McCullum / Jesse Ryder / Callum Ferguson
Mithun Manhas / Manish Pandey / Harpreet Singh / Harshad Khadiwale
Abhishek Jhunjhunwala / Mohnish Mishra
Mitchell Marsh / JE Taylor / Angelo Mathews / Wayne Parnell
Murali Kartik
Ashish Nehra
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar / Kamran Khan

Others: Imtiyaz Ahmed, ER Dwivedi, GB Gaikwad, DS Jadhav, SS Mundhe, S Rana, R Sharma, AC Thomas, SB Wagh

While the batting looks solid for this team, the problem for this squad is going to be its bowling. Don’t be surprised if Uthappa starts keeping wickets. It needs Angelo Mathews and Parnell/Marsh playing to bolster the bowling stocks.

The likely Kings XI Punjab team:

AC Gilchrist* (wk)
Shaun Marsh
Dinesh Karthik (wk)
Mandeep Singh / Sunny Singh
Paras Dogra
David Hussey / David Miller
Abhishek Nayar
Piyush Chawla
Bhargav Bhatt
Ryan McLaren / Ryan Harris / Nathan Rimmington
Praveen Kumar / Love Ablish / Salabh Srivastava

Others: Amit Yadav, Bipul Sharma, SD Chitnis, VS Malik, N Saini, PC Valthaty

I am not sure this Punjab team will trouble anyone too much. This edition of KXIP is likely to give us as much excitement and fun as the teams from previous editions.

– 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)

IPL-IV: Uncapped Players or Drafting Rules Without a Thinking Cap?

We are now done with the IPL Auction of “capped” Indian players and all overseas players! Most franchises have picked up their max quota of 10 overseas players and many of them have about 6 or 7 “capped” Indian players. Franchises are now looking to make up their roster with “uncapped” Indian players.

Correction. They are now frantically trying to grab/poach/seduce/coerce “uncapped” Indian players!

Suddenly, a Ranji Trophy Final (starting today, 11 January 2011, between Baroda and Rajasthan) is likely to have an important and impressive audience!

We should expect to see a large number of suits from RCB, Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals, Deccan Chargers, Pune Warriors, Kings XI Punjab and KKR at the Ranji finals! The Kochi team officials may not be there in suits. Not they they cannot afford suits! But more because they seem to revel in their hideously coloured T-shirts (I mean, should that hideous hue of orange not be banned from the colour spectrum?). It is likely that officials from Delhi will not be there at the Ranji Finals because they might consider the cricket to be too distracting!

And Chennai does not need to be there either because, in between discharging his duties as President of the All India Pocket Billiards Federation, BCCI President Elect, President of the All Madras “I sleep between 2pm and 3pm at work” Bank Workers’ Federation, Governing Council Member of the IPL, President of The All India Association of Conflict-Free Life, President of The All India Chess Federation, Owner of CSK, Owner of India Cements, Owner of Chennai, Future Owner of this Blog, Future Owner of Bill Gates and Future Owner of MS Dhoni, Inc, etc, N. Srinivasan, will be capable of making the sun rise in the West if needed! He can make anything happen in India and witout either declaring or managing his several conflicts of interest. He is a great guy, this Cheenu.

So, yes. The Ranji Finals, which has never seen more than 10 people in attendance — and that is including the ground staff! — should suddenly expect to see song, dance, drama, lights, TV crew and action!

The aim of the suits that will descend on the Ranji Finals is to sign up “uncapped” India players like Ambati Rayudu, Chahar, et al.

An “uncapped” player, by IPL’s definition, is a player who has never been selected (need not have played, mind you) for Team India in any format. So, the fact that Jaydev Unnadkat has been “capped” for India in a Test match, makes him part of the “capped India player” auction for the IPL (in other words, for T20s)!

Go figure!

This rule makes the 3-hour “strategy break” in IPL-2 look like the Theory of General Relativity!

This means that players like Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund, Manish Pandey, Ambatti Rayudu, et al, can only earn a maximum of (approximately) Rs 20 Lakhs (approx $40,000)! Why? They have never been “selected” for Team India in Tests or ODIs or T20s and so, cannot enter the main auction! The fact that they represented India in the U-19 World Cup counts for nothing.

Meanwhile an “uncapped” overseas player like Dan Christian or Aiden Blizzard or Prospect Utseya can be allowed to offer themselves for bidding at a base price of anything from $20,000 to $100,000. Remember, Dan Christian has never played for Australia and many Australians will not have heard of Aiden Blizzard.

Blizzard was picked up by Mumbai Indians for only $20,000 and on seeing the hand-shakes and hi-fives all around the Mumbai Indians table at the end of the successful “purchase”, I could be forgiven for thinking that Nita Ambani had just successfully proved Fermat’s Last Theorem!

Dan Christian himself probably did not know how many zeros there were in a million dollars until his co-countrymen (Geoff Marsh, Geoff Lawson, Greg Shipperd and Darren Lehman) conspired to ‘up’ his asking price to a figure close to a million dollars! Perhaps he is worth that much. Who knows. And who am I to dictate how intelligent (or otherwise) the IPL owners are in their spending of their money!

Similarly, Mitchell Marsh, a little known cricketer and a player with somewhat ordinary abilities gets nearly $300,000 — his dad was, of course, at the bidding table that won his bid! If his dad had even a prick of conflict-riddled guilt, all he had to do was look at the head table and spot a beaming N. Srinivasan to feel assured that all is well in his world!

Let us put that into perspective: Dad or no dad, Mitchell Marsh is on a pay packet of about Rs 1.5 crores while, together, his team — Pune Warriors — can aim for a collection of Ajinkya Rahane, Shreevats Goswami, Abhinav Mukund, Manish Pandey (this guy has an IPL century in his resume, by the way), Deepak Chahar, Harmeet Singh and Ambati Rayudu, and still be left with about Rs 10 Lakhs in the kitty!

Is the BCCI then surprised that there is a mad skirmish for “uncapped” Indian players?

While I have no right to (and do not) begrudge Marsh his pay packet, I have to remind everyone that Mitchell Marsh was an Under-19 Australia player until last year. Players like Manish Pandey, Abhinav Mukund, Shrivats Goswami, et al, played in the World Under-19 cricket tournament in the edition prior to the one Mitch Marsh played in. Goswami, Mukund, Pandey (along with the more “lucky” Saurabh Tiwary, Virat Kohli, et al) performed exceedingly well in that ICC World Cup U-19 edition and helped India win the title. So, why do they have to sit out the main auction while a Mitch Marsh enters the main draw?

Christian, Blizzard and Marsh did enter the main auction along with several other “uncapped overseas” players. Some of them did have a good pay-day. That is not my issue at all. My question is that, while Dan Christian and Mitchell marsh have an “open market” opportunity to get their market value (either conflict-aided or not), why are Manish Pandey, Abhinav Mukund, Harmeet Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Shrivats Goswami, et al, denied a similar opportunity? Why “fix” the price of “uncapped” Indian players?

A team like Mumbai Indians or RCB can fiddle the books by offering an “uncapped” player additional incentives — a “desk-job” in United Breweries or Reliance with a neat pay packet, say! CSK can make the sun rise in the West. So, to offer additional sweeteners to an “uncapped” player ought to be easier than ascertaining if his kumkum spot has been affixed at the center of his forehead for our good Cheenu. Our honorable Cheenu could do that in between an Indian Chess Federation meeting, a BCCI meeting and an important M&A Meeting for India Cements even if these three meetings run between 2pm and 3pm on the same day; that is how well our good Cheenu can manage his conflicts.

Conflicts? What conflicts?

A team like Punjab could offer a few hugs from the good Zinta.

Poor Kochi. Apart from offering a slap-opportunity with Sreesanth, a full dental check-up eye check-up from part-time orthodontist optometrist (coach) Geoff Lawson and a hideously colored ghoulish orange T-Shirt, they cannot offer an “uncapped” player anything else!

What has happened, therefore, is the commencement of a turf war between the teams for “uncapped” Indian players, especially from suit-laden teams that have more carrots than one can poke a stick at!

Meanwhile, on the flip-side a player like Pankaj Singh or VRV Singh, who have played only a handful of games for India and are, hence, forced to enter the main auction at a ridiculously inflated base-price, find no takers!

Who thinks up these rules? Remind me to never smoke what these guys smoke!

I suggest that the auction always needs to be carried out in two rounds:

  • Capped players — local and international.
  • “Uncapped” players — local and international.

That way, we could include into the second pile, players like Mukund, Pandey, et al. A player like Pankaj Singh or VRV Singh, can opt to go into the “capped” pool or the “uncapped” pool.

All of this discussion is academic and moot though, because I am confident that the “I” in IPL does not stand for “intelligent”!

— Mohan

Conflicts of Interest…

I congratulated the BCCI in a blog post I wrote a few days back.

It was perhaps a bit too premature. The BCCI, meanwhile, has begun an exercise that it has developed a reputation for being extremely good at: Dithering.

We do not yet know if the cricketers know whether they are going to South Africa early. The cricketers involved have not been intimated. The BCCI, meanwhile, has said that Team India Test players who also play in the ODI team will have to honour their ODI commitments in the New Zealand series. I guess the BCCI is engaging in that famous dance made more famous in these parts — “1 step forward 3 steps back”!

The BCCI has made a habit of dithering. It dithers on UDRS. It dithers on the relative importance it places on Tests and ODIs. It dithers on pre-tour practice games. It dithers on allocation of matches to grounds. It dithers on its stand on anti-doping. It dithers on almost everything that does not involve money. In fact, the BCCI appears to dither on almost all aspect of the game except conflicts of interest of its officials!

That is one aspect of governance that the BCCI appears to have mastered and is quite unambiguous about! If, as owner of the Chennai Super Kings IPL franchise, N Srinivasan, the BCCI President-in-waiting, does not have a conflict of interest, then I am a banana! If Ravi Shastri — no doubt an excellent former Team India Test/ODI player — does not have a conflict of interest in his role as broadcaster and IPL Governing Council Member (and formerly NCA Director) then I am a ripe old banana!

But today’s newspapers provide another pearl as an example in the long list of BCCI officials that have (had) conflicts of interest. Mind you. Conflicts of interest are not bad, as a rule. They exist just as night follows day! These conflicts have to be (a) declared, (b) effectively managed, (c) seen to be managed. It appears that Sunil Gavaskar might have a conflict of interest with respect to the Kochi IPL franchise.

Witness this: Gavaskar was on the IPL Governing Council that approved/accepted Kochi’s bid as an IPL franchise. Today, we hear the announcement that Gavaskar has provided in-principle acceptance to Kochi to be their “cricketing director”.

What is stunning and brazen is that the same article in the Times of India quotes the Kochi IPL CEO, Gaikwad, as saying “Sunil Gavaskar had unconditionally supported Rendezvous Sports, which won the franchise rights for the team for $333.33 million (Rs.1,533 crore).”

Notwithstanding the fact that Gavaskar is no longer a member of the IPL Governing Council, what we do not know is whether Sunil Gavaskar said to the Kochi IPL franchise, “I will support you unconditionally on the condition that you appoint me cricket director once the bid is successful.”

It is very likely that Gavaskar is an honourable man. It is very likely that Gavaskar has declared and managed the conflict of interest that follows his decision to join the Kochi IPL. However, we do know that the BCCI is replete with individuals who are terribly conflicted in their interests. So the emergence of a new instance of an individual with what seems to be the taint of a potential conflict of interest comes neither as a surprise nor as a shock!

Today, Gavaskar has said, “They have asked me, individually and collectively, to come in for the cricketing part of the team. I will take a call once the internal issues are resolved.”

The BCCI, on its part, claims that it is not aware of Gavaskar’s links with the Kochi IPL franchise. Sunil Gavaskar, one remembers, had turned down a seat on the IPL Governing Council over a pay-dispute with the BCCI. It is likely that I am launching into the zone normally reserved for conspiracy theories. However, this GC-seat-turn-down by Gavaskar and the subsequent and perhaps convenient appointment to Kochi’s cricket directorship — just 2 weeks later — does beg a few questions around Gavaskar’s conflict of interest.

With Rajasthan Royals filing an appeal against their ban in the High Court, the IPL mess has just gotten bigger. My sense is that the mess will certainly get bigger before it gets even bigger. After all, with the BCCI, one cannot rule out anything!

— Mohan

A VIP Defense, For Brutus is an honourable man…

So along very expected lines and according to a script that seldom varies, the BCCI is washing its dirty linen, in public! Again!

One should not expect anything more from an organisation that does not demonstrate an ability to spell professionalism, let alone live and breathe it! This time, Lalit Modi has taken on BCCI’s top-brass in a very public manner.

I must admit that my admiration for this man Lalit Modi just continues to grow. The man seems to possess more aces up his sleeve than a crook card pack can hold! My admiration for him is not because I like his method or his madness or his reported greed. Those are qualities that make me cringe. But I admire him because he has already demonstrated that he is a visionary who is prepared to take risks and pursue a seemingly treacherous path that is littered with land-mines. I admire him because he pursues these dreams with dedication, energy, passion, fire and focus. I admire the fact that he is bold. He is brave. And he is up for a fight. He does not insipre me to be like him but I do admire what he has achieved.

Essentially I admire him because he is a feisty guy, which is good (given the environment he operates in), but there’s a lot about him that I don’t want to like.

Donald Trump once said, “In business, when things aren’t working it’s time to mix it up.” I believe Lalit Modi has done just that. He has mixed it up. And how!

His latest salvo was fired today when he served a reverse show-cause notice on Shashank Manohar, President of BCCI and N. Srinivasan, Secretary of BCCI. He has asked that the two key adversaries in the BCCI show cause notice against him recuse themselves from the BCCI disciplinary committee and chronicles quite clearly and quite cleverly why that should happen. Incidentally, the BCCI President chairs the disciplinary committee and the BCCI Secretary, Srinivasan, convenes it!

Brilliant!

The full text of his 14-page letter to the BCCI is presented here.

First, he trains his sights on N. Srinivasan, the Secretary of the BCCI, becuase in my view Srinivasan forms “easy pickings”! The man’s case has enough holes to warrant being a highway for trucks to drive through!

The fact that N. Srinivasan, one of the BCCI Secretaries is conflicted is known and documented — by me and several others more qualified to comment on this than I! If I were the owner of a franchise like Royal Challengers Bangalore, say, I would have reason to be very worried that a competitor of mine was on the Governing Council of the league that I am pouring a fair bit of investment into. I would perhaps be worried that my competitor would have means and the wherewithal to alter the course of the construction of the competition in a beneficial manner, to suit his or her team over mine! These are legitimate conflicts of interest and one needs transparency and clear governance principles to guard against such abuse potential.

Modi has claimed — with evidence — that bidding rules in the initial player auction were altered under pressure from Srinivasan to benefit the BCCI Secretary’s team. This is a serious allegation of trying to deliver his team, The Chennai Super Kings (CSK) an undue advantage by virtue of his position on the Governing Council of the IPL!

And this is exactly the theme of Lalit Modi’s second rocket, in which he alleges — with some proof no less — that N. Srinivasan tried to alter the allocation of umpires for CSK games. He has claimed in his “counter show cause notice” against the BCCI Secretary that this is tantamount to match- or result-fixing.

Very clever!

He further states that Srinivasan used his influence on the Governing Council to push for a retention of a certain number of players in the re-auction of players for IPL-4. In other words, the “conflict of interest” case that I have talked about early on (and in the previous paragraphs) is exactly what Modi has penned down quite cleverly in his attack on Srinivasan.

I am surprised that no one else recognizes this conflict at the BCCI! However, it appears from Lalit Modi’s counter charge that there is more to it than just the surface level conflict of interest.

Moreover, Lalit Modi has stated that there is a documented evidence of persecution by Srinivasan of him and his designs for IPL and the BCCI.

Essentially, what Modi has done is he has mounted a clever attack prior to self-defense. He has cast enough of an aspersion and a character assassination of one of the key people gunning for him on the disciplinary committee that will hear his case! His attempt is to sideline his principal detractor in the BCCI, N. Srinivasan.

Second, Lalit Modi trains his sights on the BCCI President, Shashank Manohar. While Lalit Modi’s attack against Srinivasan was direct, bullish, head-on and while it showed his street-fighter qualities, his attack on Shashank Manohar is subtle and sarcasm-loaded. Moreover, his case against Manohar is not really water tight. So he borrows from schools of illusion and sarcasm to build a case here!

He has borrowed heavily from the Mark Anthony school of attack here.

Right at the outset, for example, he states in his letter: “I am sure that the Hon. President, being an eminent lawyer of great reputation, would appreciate that, although it is me who is on trial, however, in a manner of speaking it is the Board itself, which is on trial.” This is along the tried and tested “For Brutus is an Honorable Man” school of argument. Next, he throws the gauntlet by stating that unless Shashank Manohar and N. Srinivasan excuse themselves from the disciplinary hearing and unless there is a clear demonstration of the principles of natural justice and fair play, the Board will be the loser. He identifies his cause with that of the Board and indicates that the Board itself is on trial!

Lalit Modi trains his sights on the BCCI President, Shashank Manohar through two main activities: (a) cancellation of the team-tender process on March 5 2010, and (b) the role of Manohar’s own hand-picked legal counsel for the BCCI, Akhila Kaushik. By mixing up these two — somewhat un-related events — he has created enough of an illusion to suggest Manohar’s complicity!

He cites a particularly damning episode of the recently concluded IPL auction and proceeds to allege that Shashank Manohar’s actions are somewhat broader than the straight-and-narrow in the aborted initial IPL tendering process for teams 9 and 10.

He proceeds to indicate that he would, therefore, like to interrogate the current BCCI President in responding to his own show-cause notice! The case for Shashank Manohar’s removal from the BCCI Disciplinary Committee is that, since Modi would like to interrogate Shashank Manohar as a witness, the person cannot perform an unbiased role as judge, complainant and witness in the same case!

Again, very clever. But the manner in which Lalit Modi — with much help from clever legal brains, no doubt — achieves his objectives is neat.

It was clear when the first tender process was aborted that something wasn’t quite right. I wrote at the time and suggested that there must be more to it than meets the eye! There clearly was.

Modi claims that when Shashi Tharoor’s office wanted to submit a late bid for Kochi in the original bid that closed on 5th March 2010, he himself did not want to accept it, even though Manohar, the BCCI President wanted Lalit Modi to “anti time” (sic!) the bid.

In a style that is reminiscent of the “For Brutus is an honorable man” school of Mark Anthony style rhetorical and sarcasm-loaded defense, Modi then states “You seemed to be under extreme pressure to ensure that the late bid be included in the bidding process. Since you failed to ensure that the bid could not be included you then decided to ensure that the bid process itself is cancelled.…I appreciate that due to involvement of a Cabinet Minister you had to do things which knowing you I believe you would not do in the normal course.”

In other words, “Shashank Manohar is an honourable man and would not have otherwise acted in the way he did, but for the extreme duress he was under.”

This was straight from Mark Anthony school: “I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke. But here I am to speak what I do know.”

He then proceeds to state that the contractual documents for the Sony MSM deal as well as the team auctions were vetted — nay, even prepared — by Shashank Manohar’s own hand-picked lawyer Akhila Kaushik. Therefore, the picture that Lalit Modi paints is that he was innocently following the instructions of the BCCI President! This again follows the classic Mark Anthony style of rhetorically sarcastic defense!

There is an illusory syllogism at play here. What he is essentially trying to say is (a) The bid documents may have been wrong, (b) They were prepared by a person hand-picked by you because they used to work for your fathers’ legal firm, (c) I was therefore, merely following orders!

Somewhat brilliant in my view.

Having achieved the aims of sidelining his two main adversaries on the disciplinary panel, Lalit Modi proceeds to make a case for judicial disqualification — or recusal — of the two main men in the game.

In this reckless chess game, he has used a ruthless and all-out public attack — of reputation as well as professional integrity — for the first time.

And this forms the bases of what I will call the “VIP Defense”, where VIP stands for that popular brand of underwear and the analogy with washing dirty linen in public is complete.

Who knows what the denouement will be in this potentially nasty saga? But things promise to get interesting before they get even better!

Meanwhile, let us hold our noses as the VIP Defense unfolds!

— Mohan