Tag Archives: Kumble

Why, oh why?

Why, oh why?

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Enter. Anil Kumble and his ghastly conflict of interest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan (@mohank)

An Architect, a Few Builders and a Decade…

On 22 March 2001, India made a compelling statement to the world of cricket. On that day, on a dusty track in Chennai’s M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, a week after that match in Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly’s men stopped Steve Waugh’s Australian juggernaut in its tracks in a Test match.

India had won against the Australians and other major teams before — mostly on Indian soil. So what was it about this victory in Chennai — almost exactly 10 years ago — that inserted a special marker on an important journey? The victory in Chennai in 2001 felt different. It tasted different. The victory somehow meant more than just a victory to me.

That victory came after Indian cricket had plunged to its worst lows — and that was off the field with the betting scandal. There was no place to hide for the proud and yet tragic Team India fan!

The first article I read this morning — the morning after the night before — was by @sidvee! In a piece titled, “The Baton Passes”, he writes about the 28-year wait for the baton to be passed to a new generation. This excellent writer, who is 29 years old, is a part of “young India” that has not suffered through being a Team India cricket fan as much as fans of my generation have. That does not give me bragging rights. It just provides a different perspective.

For many of us who are part of “older India”, the 1983 win was almost a one-off. We supported a team that often flattered to deceive. We supported a team that had few men who had the stomach for a fight. We supported a team that would crumble at the first sign of trouble. We supported a team that in-fought so much that it almost did not need to see an opposition to wave the white flag! We supported a team that was run by corrupt individuals (It still is, but that’s besides the point — a victory like last night’s victory serves as a good sandpaper!) We supported a team that had a Board that suddenly found money in the mid-90s through television money and a sudden realization that they had something that few other nations had — a billion adoring fans! We supported a team that was run by a Board that suddenly had power and did not not know how to use it!

So, we could only talk about the exquisite grace of a GR Vishwanath square cut, the steely resolve of a Mohinder Amarnath forward defense, the athleticism of Kapil Dev (“that catch“), the technique of a Sunil Gavaskar straight drive or the loop of a Bishen Bedi ball.

But all of that changed for me on 22 March 2001. I felt that, as a long-suffering cricket tragic, I could start thinking about that dream house I wanted to live in as a fan of Team India. I had seen my architect in that landmark 2001 series! On 22 March 2001, it was almost like I had reached a final agreement with the architect on the design of my dream home.

I could not wait for that home to be built.

It has taken a decade for that home to be built.

And finally, that home was built last night, when India won the Cricket World Cup, 2011.

If Sourav Ganguly was the architect with John Wright as his chief consultant, then MS Dhoni was the final builder with Gary Kirsten as his chief consultant. Along the way, we have had a senior engineers who have toiled assiduously and bravely. Considerate, careful and composed men like Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid — ‘The Wall’ which is quite appropriate in the context of this building analogy!

For a keen follower of Indian cricket, this has been an exciting decade when brick has been laid carefully upon another brick by the above players. All of them knew that India could build that home for an ardent fan. And build it, they did! And credit to last night’s World Cup win must go to each and every one of them. I wrote about these architects and initial builders a year ago.

It was Sourav Ganguly who changed the relationship between the BCCI and players. He fought for all that Sachin Tendulkar had pleaded for, before him, but could not get: a physio, a professional coaching set up, and more. But more importantly, he built a team in his image. A team that had a stomach for a fight; a team that wanted to win it; a team that was not scared of boarding a plane!

And the core elements of his team are still there — Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan are his proteges and represent the start of that so very non-Indian generation of cricketers that loved a fight; a generation that did not back down; a generation that did not give up at the first sign of danger.

But that initial blueprint, which was first stabilized by Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, is now Dhoni’s team!

Apart from the reassuring constancy of Sachin Tendulkar in Indian cricket, Dhoni’s team contains the key elements of the team that Sourav Ganguly architected so carefully. A team that took the fight to the opposition. A team that had a point to prove.

However, today, it is an India team that is built on Dhoni’s image. He is self-assured. He is completely centered and is not there to prove a point. He knows that the men who traveled the path before him have proved a point or two! He does not have a point to prove. He acknowledges that he stands on impressive shoulders. Witness the manner in which he invites Anil Kumble to the presentation ceremony to lift the Border-Gavaskar trophy in the 2008 series against Australia.

Today, Dhoni stands on broad shoulders and admits it. But it is his firm hand on the wheel of the bus that takes Team India forward. It is his team. He takes decisions. We may not like some of them. But he does what he thinks is best for the team and cops it on the chin when it goes wrong. He is about building a strong team that will keep winning comfortably, compellingly and conveniently. He is about consolidation of a considerable strength. His is a team with young individuals who are cut from his cloth. It has individuals like Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina who will take the baton forward (as @sidvee says so eloquently and compellingly).

In yesterday’s game, Dhoni promoted himself in the batting order. It was a strong statement. If Ganguly had a point to prove in Brisbane on 7 December 2003, Dhoni read a book — not just a statement — last night by coming ahead of Yuvraj Singh in last night’s game. It may have been to keep the left-right combination going. However, I think Dhoni wanted it. I believe he wanted to make that statement. He also knew that the spinners were on at that time. With Yuvraj Singh’s initial shakiness against spin, it needed someone who could nullify the spinners. He walked in purposefully.

Here was a proud leader of a proud team. He did not have a point to prove. He wanted to make a statement. Team India had changed right before our eyes in the last decade from proving a point to making a statement.

It was therefore fitting that Dhoni hit the winning runs yesterday. The steely eyes that stay transfixed on the trajectory of the ball as it crosses the boundary line for the winning runs communicates to all of us the sharpness and ferocity of his intent. Please watch this (thanks again to @sidvee). It tells a story on its own and does not need a commentary. As the ball reached the fence, the bat twirl at the end of it communicated that he was satisfied that the job had been done. He was there at the end as the leader. He had completed the job that had been started by the fabulous architects and the fastidious builders before him. He was leader of a team filled with potential leaders who not only just prove a point — that chapter has been written — but, who will go forth and make a statement.

And how fitting was it that, at the end, when asked what it felt like to hold Sachin Tendulkar aloft on his slender shoulders, Virat Kohli — a future Team India captain perhaps — said, “Sachin carried the burden of the entire nation for 21 years and now it is our turn to carry him on our shoulders.

Sachin carried by Team India

It has taken a decade for me, the average Indian fan to see this house being built brick-by-agonizing-brick. At times, it looked as though the house might get blown away — for most Team India fans, for example, the year 2007 did not happen! There were times when we were ragged. There were times when we were completely pear shaped.

But the last decade has been a thrilling decade of dreams which have now become a compelling reality.

It is now time to enter that dream home. Do enter this beautiful house with me…

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Team India coach after Gary Kirsten

Gary Kirsten has decided to return to South Africa at the end of the ICC World Cup, 2011. He was the exactly that Indian cricket needed at the time he was appointed. As Ravi Shastri might say, “He was exactly what the doctor ordered!”

When Gary Kirsten took over the controls as coach, India had suffered an embarrassing first-round exit in the 2007 World Cup.

Greg Chappell, the then coach, may have been the right man for a job that was about 10 years ahead of its time. India was not ready for Greg Chappell — “Guru Greg” as he was known in the Indian media — and Greg Chappell wasn’t ready for India. His reign started off with the drafting, declaration and acceptance of a “strategic blueprint for the future of Indian cricket”.

In my view — and I my be in a minority here — that blueprint was about 10 years ahead of its time!

What Greg Chappell started with was visionary. What he had left behind in his wake was a dogs’ breakfast!

Interestingly, MS Dhoni is saying exactly what Guru Greg tried to instill in his players! Today, Dhoni says that it is important to pay more attention to the processes and less on the results/outcomes. That was Guru Greg’s approach too!

However, let it be said that Greg Chappell had indeed left a mess behind; a mess that needed cleaning up. Numerous leaks and counter-leaks had messed up the minds of players. Trust was lost. Systems and processes — the very pillars of Greg Chappell’s method — lay crumpled.

A restoration was required. And soon.

India traveled to Bangladesh with Ravi Shastri as temporary “manager”. India then traveled to England with Chandu Borde as coach/mentor. The choice of Borde was ridiculed by many, including us at i3j3Cricket. We even carried out a satirical piece, called “Ford Gate” on how Chandu Borde may have been selected — remember that Graham Ford was the front runner for the post of Team India coach at that time!

India won in England, Rahul Dravid resigned as captain. India won the ICC World T20 Championship. Anil Kumble was appointed captain of India. India then played Pakistan in a home series. India was just about to embark on a tough tour of Australia. Throughout the year, there were a series of speculations, leaks and counter-leaks on who would be coach of Team India. Yet there were no announcements. Other teams had made their appointments quietly and thoughtfully. Sri Lanka appointed Tom Moody. Pakistan appointed Geoff Lawson. India traveled at India’s pace.

Ultimately, Gary Kirsten was appointed.

And what an appointment it has been. From early-2008 onwards, Gary Kirsten has worked with Anil Kumble and with MS Dhoni to help build a Team India that is strong, resilient and robust. India has slowly climbed to the top of the ICC Test rankings and is close to the top of the ICC ODI rankings.

Now, some three years later, the end of Gary Kirsten’s tenure could be anything from 1 match to 3 matches away.

It is appropriate that we salute a man who has quietly achieved what his predecessor could not do. He brought method to his coaching. He afforded players much rope. The results are there for all to see. Many players have gone on record to say that they owed their recent successes to the coach.

At the end of his tenure, it is likely that Kirsten will take up the job of coaching South Africa (although there is no word on that from anyone) once Corrie van Zyl departs as coach of RSA — Corrie van Zyl also quits the scene after the ICC World Cup 2011.

But what of India?

I hope we do not see another period of dithering uncertainty when a sequence of band aids are applied. I am not aware of the establishment of a BCCI search committee for scouting and sounding out appropriate candidates for cricket’s most prestigious — and risky — post. I am not aware of a job description that lists out the key qualities of an ideal coach. As with anything BCCI, we cannot do anything other than assume that someone is “looking into the matter” somewhere and that “some appropriate modalities” are being “worked out” by the “responsible person”.

If the BCCI wants to draw up a position description (PD) it ought to be easy. The BCCI should copy everything contained in the “Key Attributes and Qualities” section from the CVs of John Wright and Gary Kirsten. They will then have many of the elements of the PD. They would also need to ensure that the PD does not contain any elements that might also be contained in Greg Chappel’s CV! They would then have an optimized PD to work with and they could then look for people who display those characteristics.

It is likely that the search space is small and terribly finite. I can think of a few coaches who might fit the bill. Stephen Fleming and Tom Moody spring to mind immediately.

However, an early indication is that Justin Langer might be coach.

All of the recent attention has been on the World Cup. Soon, the BCCI functionaries will be absorbed in counting the money that flows in as a result of IPL-4. In all of this, my hope this that the BCCI occasionally takes its hands off the till and trains its collective eye on a suitable Team India coach. India has an extremely busy year ahead and needs a smooth transition from Gary Kirsten to the successor.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Does the team need a “mentally weak” player?

I am either quite unhappy with MS Dhoni or in sheer awe of him, and I am not able to decide which of the two states I ought to be in! Indeed, I don’t believe I know which of these two states I am in! For the first time since Dhoni took over the captaincy role, I accept unabashedly that I am utterly and totally confused.

I have a lot of time and a lot of respect for MS Dhoni. He is cool, calm and collected. He seems to have plenty of time on his hands and rarely gets ruffled, even when adversity stares at him. He gets the best out of his players. He is a “straight talk” captain who gets the best out of his “seniors” as well as “juniors” in the team.

Dhoni took on the captaincy mantle after Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble had built the foundation on which this current teams’ edifice stands. Dhoni has stood on these impressive shoulders and crafted his own style of leadership; one that makes him, in my view, the best captain India has ever had.

In his captaincy, Dhoni calmly and easily demonstrates the flair and the “one of the boys” style of leadership of Sourav Ganguly. Dhoni will always be one of the boys. He will never appear or be aloof. Like Ganguly, he will back his players who are “down”. In an early selection meeting he is reported to have said that if his voice/needs will not be heard at selection meetings, he may as well not turn up! He backs his players in the manner of Ganguly.

He also possesses the steel of Rahul Dravid that requires you to be calm in the face of extreme pressure. Dravid has that inner calm as a batsman that comes from both ability as well self-confidence. It also comes from him relishing a fight. These qualities earned him the moniker, “The Wall”. He brought a “no emotion” steel to the captaincy; a steely resolve that made him declare the India innings close when Sachin Tendulkar was on 194; a dogged resolve that made India not go for a win in The Oval because a 1-0 win in England was more coveted! His was a “no emotion” captaincy that drew mainly on his own inner confidence. Dhoni has that too. He is supremely confident of himself. This makes him burn any anxieties inside him. He rarely yells, stomps, glares and huffs on the field — and believe me, this team that he leads gives him plenty of opportunity to do all of that, and more!

Dhoni also possesses the upright earnestness of Kumble, who brought a certain dignity to the Team India captaincy. Kumble, by sheer dint of his dedication, resolve, commitment, professionalism and contribution was unblemished. He had no dark spot on his resume. He expected the same level of pre-game preparation and commitment from his team and got it too. Dhoni has that quality too. He circles away from controversy and seems to have an instinctive feel for the right things to do and the right places to be at. More importantly, he seems to have an instinctive feel for the things he must avoid! He does his thing and he does it well. In a country where the press continually bay for blood, Kumble would have nothing of it because he led a lifestyle away from the night-lights and trance music. For Dhoni to stay away from the trash talk columns while demonstrating a liking for the high-life is indeed quite commendable. He is able to do it because, in my view, he has that Kumble-like quality for dedication, commitment and professionalism to his task on hand. He takes his profession, his art and his talent extremely seriously.

So I do like him as a captain of Team India. If Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble laid the various foundation stones for India’s ascent to the terrace — along with the architects in John Wright and Gary Kirsten — Dhoni is the one that has actually taken the team closer to the terrace.

Regardless of the outcome of this World Cup, I think he will be one of India’s best captains ever — in my book.

So, why am I either unhappy or in awe of MS Dhoni? Why am I confused?

The reason is not Piyush Chawla, but Dhoni’s reason for Chawla’s inclusion in the match against The Netherlands.

Dhoni says, “We are still supposed to give Ashwin a chance, he deserves a place, so he will feature in one of the teams [that will play in the group stages].”

No. The team does not owe any player anything. The team is not supposed to give anyone any chances! The team contains the elite; the best in India. Hence, it is not a socialist republic where everyone “deserves a chance”. But let me give Dhoni some rope and assume that he said, “We will give Ashwin a game, he deserves a place…”

That is still fine by me, especially since he also said in the same press meet, “basically you have to see which was the player that needed this game most, rather than the team needing the player. I felt it was Piyush, who needed this game much more than Ashwin.”

This is sound logic, in my view. Ashwin did not need this game to get game-ready. Piyush Chawla needed the game. So it makes sense that this experiment is carried out in a low-stakes game, earlier in the tournament.

Therefore, even though I have continually mocked the “Ashwin is on the bench today because he is mentally strong” line of thinking by MS Dhoni on Twitter (@mohank) I actually accept that line of thinking.

If all we want is to strengthen the “currently mentally weak” by giving them an opportunity in Team India colors, several people (ranging from Suresh Kalmadi to Kamran Akmal) would be queuing up for a gig! Ok. I am being facetious, but that’s all I can be in my current “mentally not so strong state”!

More seriously though, I accept the principle that a mentally strong person can warm the bench while we strengthen a person who is mentally weak currently.

However, that acceptance is strongly based on the condition that the team actually needs the player who is in the current “mentally weak state“!

I had no problems with the team giving extended opportunities to Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir in their “mentally or physically weak” states — both initially (in the times of Ganguly) and more recently. These players have that something in them that inspires confidence; confidence that they will surmount their current problems and reach that higher state of preparedness. They have won matches for India on their own. They have demonstrated talent, ability, guts, determination, resolve and fight. And when they go through dips in form or confidence, the team has to carry them along. So I have no problems with the team “carrying” a few players who appear to be in a mentally weak state currently.

Mainly because there is strong evidence to suggest that (a) that mentally strong state exists for the player under question, and (b) when that player reaches that mentally strong state, he becomes a match winner!

The above conditions — (a) and (b) — are strong prerequisites for “carrying” a mentally weak player in my view. So I think I am being fair, as a fan, to apply these tests on Piyush Chawla before I see whether the team needs to “carry” him.

I believe I am being more than fair when I see that these tests are being applied to a player who upsets the current team balance maximally. So, in my book, there is a third condition that a mentally weak player has to satisfy: (c) The “mentally weak” player who is being “carried” cannot destroy team balance.

In other words, I believe that while it is fine for this current Team India to carry a “mentally weak” batsman who exhibits conditions (a) and (b) above, it borders on professional negligence for the team management to carry a “mentally weak” bowler who does not exhibit conditions (a) and (b) above. This is because the current team is, in my view, imbalanced as a result of her weak bowling attack.

So, even though we have (c) being demonstrated through Chawla’s inclusion at the cost of Ashwin, I would be happy to ignore that constraint as long as (a) and (b) are satisfied. In other words, while I do not mind Chawla’s mind being sharpened and strengthened during the course of an important competition, the question I would like to ask is whether there is much use of such strengthening and sharpening.

I do not see Chawla emerging as a mentally strong player. I am not convinced that that state exists for Chawla. And even if it does (that is, even if condition (a) is satisfied) I am an not sure whether Chawla will become a match-winner in the Zaheer Khan or Suresh Raina or Yuvraj Singh mould! So the question I ask is “why bother” especially when you have an admittedly mentally strong and match ready player on the bench?

Hence my current confusion.

And yes, for the first time since he took over the mantle of captaincy, I am quite unhappy with MS Dhoni. However, as I said in my opening, it is likely that his continued confidence in Chawla will infuse me with awe at his amazing foresight! He must see in Chawla something that I do not (or refuse to) see. Given this, I accept that I am utterly confused.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Take a bow Fab Five… Team India is the #1 Test Team

Some 10 years ago, the Fab Five of Indian Cricket undertook a near-impossible journey. After the morass that represented the match fixing scandal Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were left with the near-impossible task of reaching a near-impossible goal.

By the end of the decade, the Fab Five had reached there.

After yet another innings defeat of Sri Lanka, Team India was crowned the #1 Test Team in the ICC Rankings.

It was an amazing achievement for a bunch of committed cricketers that started on what seemed to be an impossible journey some 10 years ago. It was a burning passion for the Famous Fab Five (Ganguly, Kumble, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman).

Today, sans Kumble and Ganguly, the team ascended to #1; albeit with help from South Africa and England who both beat Australia in the recent past. Yet, the ascent was palpably obvious. It was measured, considered, passionate and single-minded.

There have been some sensational victories along the way: From Kolkata 2001 (v Australia), Leeds 2002 (v England), Adelaide 2003 (v Australia), Multan 2004 (v Pakistan), Sabina Park 2006 (v West Indies), Johannesburg 2006 (v South Africa), Perth 2008 (v Australia), Mohali 2008 (v Australia) and Chennai 2008 (v England). It is unlikely that the Test at Mumbai at the CCI Ground against Sri Lanka will receive the exalted status and the dizzy heights of a Leeds 2002 or Perth 2008. However, it will be remembered as the Test in which India reached the #1 position.

It has been a long road to redemption. It is a moment for all Team India tragics to savour.

It will be brief — after all an Australian clean-sweep this summer or a 2-0 victory by South Africa against England will snatch this moment from India.

However, for a few good men of Indian cricket, this will be a special moment. When Anil Kumble retired he marked this moment. He will be a happy man today and so will Sourav Ganguly.

Sachin Tendulkar remembered everyone in his post match victory statement when he marked the milestones along this path. What better way to get up than stairlifts?

In his post-match interview he said, “Fantastic to be at this position. I have been waiting a long time to get to this position (No 1). In fact just not me, entire nation. I thought when Gary (Kirsten) and Paddy (Paddy Upton), along with Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad, all credit to them for handling the team brilliantly. Also all the players have worked very hard in the last 18 months. Right from no 1 batter to no 7 (MS bats at no 7) we have a solid batting line-up. This pitch was a brilliant wicket. There was some turn on the first day and I knew one roll would settle it down and it did.”

No mention of Greg Chappel!

Dileep Premachandran, in his excellent article, Bestautolenders.com mentions John Wright, forgotten players like Sanjay Bangar (Leeds), Irfan Pathan (Multan), Balaji (Multan) and even staff like Adrian Le Roux, Andrew Leipus, John Gloster and Greg King.

He too has ignored Greg Chappel… Perhaps the one page that some of the current crop of players will want to ignore as they trace what has indeed been a fascinating, interesting and impressive 10-year journey.

Starting from Kolkata 2001, the journey has been painful at times; it has been excting at times; it has been imperssive at times. However, I will remember the journey for the commitment, passion, dignity and focus that the Fab Five showed.

Indeed, it is this journey — and not the outcome — that I will savour for a long long time.

As for the future, who knows what will happen. However, I am comforted by MS Dhoni’s calm assurance that Team India needs to travel well to claim the legitimate top-dog position. He said, “Let’s see when we go there. We can’t play them sitting here.”

The Fab Five will exit the scene one by one. However, I am confident that when they exit stage left, Indian cricket will be in a much better position than when they found it.

Take a bow guys. This is your ascent. This is your victory and thank you for all the good memories.

IPL2 :: Semi-Finals Stage now…

IPL2 has now reached the semi-final stage.

Bollywood has been kicked out as Priety Zinta (Punjab), Shah Rukh Khan (KKR) and Shilpa Shetty (Rajasthan) head home along with the land of Bollywood itself (Mumbai)!

What’s left behind is real cricket sans the glitz and packaged entertainment from Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi; three teams from the South of India and one from the capital city! Make of all of that what you will.

A few weeks back in my IPL-2 Preview, I had predicted a Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai finals. We almost got that! Mumbai has been my major disappointment of the season. Bangalore was almost fading away until Kumble came on the scene. He transformed the team into winners and showed — as he has done all through his career — that Shane Warne is not the only magician in town! Except that Kumble has always chosen to perform his magic without the glitz!

Rajasthan just did not have the team to make the semis this year. Without Sohail Tanvir and Watson and with a struggling Graeme Smith, they were always going to struggle. They did. As Shane Warne said, in his characteristic flourish, “Mate, the only positive thing to emerge for me at this year’s IPL might be my blood test!” They have a lot of work to do in the off-season.

KKR have issues aplenty. The coach and his entourage has to go in my view. Their season was derailed by Buchanan from the start of the campaign and it did not recover from there on in. We had a fake-IPL player reveal itself as a shadow yesterday! The revelation compelled Shah Rukh Khan to launch into an explanation in elementary physics! He said, “Shadows … being merely negative projections that are created due to a light source being blocked by an opaque object, have no … qualms!” Phew! I also think that their captaincy was in the wrong hands. But I tell you what? Having one lousy captain was a darned sight better than having 5 lousy captains on the field, each trying to outdo the others’ mistakes! On completion, KKR skipper, Brendn McCullum (in reference to the “shadow” fake-IPL player) said, “I suppose this is the first time that a shadow has thrown light on something. Heh heh!” KKR have a heck of a lot of work to do in the off-season too. And one of them would be to ask if Ganguly’s time is completely up!

Punjab have issues too! They need a right-handed batsman in the team! And the captain has anger-management problems! He said, “Well, actually it is getting the worst out of me. I am getting very angry on the field, I don’t know why.” They have a lot of work to do if they want to challenge consistently good teams like Delhi and Chennai.

Mumbai was the biggest disappointment for me. With Jayasuriya, Tendulkar, Duminy, Malinga, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Dwayne Bravo in the team, they were an early pencil for me for the last-4 berth! That list above was a set of 7 constants in every team that took the park! That is a fantastic starting card for any team to have in its armoury! All they needed to do was to fire up a wicketkeeper (and they had Pinal Shah and Takawale to chose from) and three local boys — and in Abhishek Nayar, Ajinkya Rahane, Dhawal Kulkarni and Rohan Raje, they had all that they needed! But they blew chance after good chance through a mix of bad captaincy, bad decisions and poor play. I do think Sachin Tendulkar needs to sit down with Mukesh Ambani and re-think his captaincy role! Chief Mentor Shaun Pollock said at the end, in what I think is a brutally frank assessment, “We’ll look at the positives. Our captaincy was positively puzzling, and our batting was positively ridiculous.”

So that leads us to the semi-finals. I would be very surprised if it is not Delhi Vs Chennai. But I’d also be quite happy to be surprised!

— Mohan

The Indian fan can dream… again!

The Indian fan can dream. The Indian fan first started dreaming in 2001 after “that series”! Team India fans will not need to know either the opponent or the score or the city. The term “that series” is sufficient to know that what we are talking about is 2001, Kolkata, Laxman, Harbhajan, 281!

The dreams were premature then.

India was not able to reproduce that 281 intensity in a consistently strong manner. There were several ills in the system that needed fixing. They are not fixed yet! Although the leadership, through Sourav Ganguly, tried to instill a sense of passion and pride, the playing group could still not be accused of either having or yearning for a “winning mindset”.

Although the ills in the system are still not fixed — the BCCI is the only organisation that is capable of making both the Zimbabwean Board as well as the ICC look good — and although these ills still exist, the Indian fan can dream again because of her players and the attitude that they bring to the table these days.

The ills in the system commence from grass roots selection and weed all the way through to talent nurturing, jobs-for-the-boys, organisation and more. Much more.

However, what a cricket fan dreams about is playing well and winning. And winning in cricket is about having the right resources, the right support systems, the right leadership, the right systems, the right processes, the right media, the right talent and the right attitude — not necessarily in that order.

Digging into all of the above-mentioned pillars of success is an article or two at least and perhaps we should undertake a detailed inventory of where Indian cricket is exactly at. But not right now! But briefly, one could argue that the resources in India have improved. We have several Cricket Academies. Every man and his dog has opened an Academy hoping to teach cricket-skills to wide-eyed kids. One could concede that these Academies are producing a truck load of bright young kids that do exceedingly well at the Under-19 level. Moreover, where cricket was essentially for the city-dwelling elite and middle-class in India — when it came to big-league opportunities — newer players have come for far-flung places. Dhoni is from Ranchi (in interior Jharkhand), a place without a single player to have ever played for India! The domination of Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai are no longer present. We have players in the team that used to practice their cricket on railway platforms in Ranchi — indeed, he leads the team today!

The representative level is well-organised and run in India. The Ranji system is strong, although I think that even after splitting the competition into two leagues, the Elite league has 4 teams too many! There is more work to do there, but I do believe that the foundations are better now than they were a 10 years back.

The media in India has always been an issue and a problem. There are sane voices that lead the team towards a better future. But the commercial TV channels and some near-jingoistic broadsheets ruin it for everyone. Unfortunately, there is an audience for sensationalism in India! One hopes that the saner, stronger voices win in the end — and there are plenty of those to give me hope!

As I have said before, in Gary Kirsten, India has the right man. He has no compelling need to be either in the drivers’ seat or indeed, near a microphone! He stays in the background and does his job in much the way that John Wright did. I feel that this man will take Indian cricket forward. Time will tell.

What matters most to me is the right leadership, talent and attitude.

Sourav Ganguly was, in my view, the first real leader of the Indian cricket team. I have been saying that for years. Rahul Dravid would have made a sensational leader of the Australian cricket team! Alas! He was in a place that needed a Ganguly or a Dhoni! He was a cultural misfit! The role needs a leader who was/is able to approach leadership by inspiring inwards and managing outwards! Dravid was a misfit as a leader. Right man, wrong place! Kumble was a “holding pattern” and in Sydney alone he showed qualities that I have not seen in leaders in a long time.

Peter Roebuck has written eloquently about M. S. Dhoni. What he has said does not need repeating.

As a Team India fan dreams again, Dhoni is the right man for the job. Indeed, he is perhaps the one that inspires these dreams!

However, the most important reason for these dreams is the talent and mindset.

The Indian team in Nagpur showed that winning was important for it. Although on day-5 the team did look ragged and confused, the moment they got a wicket or two, neo-normalcy seemed to be restored. Indian teams of old would have caved in. This team regrouped and stuck to its plan again — as it had on day-3 after playing lose cricket at the end of day-2. They had their minds on the job in a focussed manner. In the past, Indian teams could not be accused of either focus or determination, leave alone steely-resolve! This team has all of that in spades and moreover, plays with a hiterto unobserved pride!

There was an almost Australia-like cut-throat edge to its game.

Over the last few years, the timidity and servility that represented Indian teams of the past had given way to aggression, attitude, determination, grit, fight and free-spirit. Agreed! All of the above come to the fore compellingly only when India plays Australia or Pakistan. However, there is a new breed of player that is more and more reflective of the new, brash, bold, adventurous, expressive India! I am not a fan of it, but I realise that that is where the country and its people are at this point in time.

Moreover, with the onset of central contracts and the IPL, I feel that India players play with far greater security. This has always been a concern in Indian cricket. In the past, the India player has had to play with the next game and pay-cheque in mind! But today, a Gautam Gambhir is able to play his natural aggressive game without worrying too much about his next contract or his next pay cheque! He has got it, in spades already.

And I do believe that this last element adds significantly to the make up of the winning mindset. Suddenly, Gautam Gambhir’s existence is no longer an issue. His performance is. He can focus more on giving his best to his country. Even a Joginder Sharma or a Praveen Kumar can come in for a game here or a game there and give off his best. The IPL and central contracts ensure that all that the player needs to focus on is in giving off his best in the game that he is chosen for.

Suddenly there are more players for spots!

Let us look at the list of players that are in contention:

  • Openers: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Wasim Jaffer, Akash Chopra [5]
  • Middle-order Batsmen: Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman, Rohit Sharma, S. Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Cheteshwar Pujara, Robin Uthappa, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Tanmay Srivastava, Shikar Dhawan [14]
  • Pacemen: Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, R. P. Singh, Sree Santh, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Pankaj Singh, Manpreet Gony, Ashok Dinda, Siddharth Trivedi, Pradeep Sangwan, Ranadeb Bose [13]
  • Spinners: Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha, Yusuf Pathan, Romesh Powar, Mohnish Parmar [7]
  • Keepers: M. S. Dhoni, Parthiv Patel, Wriddhiman Saha, Dinesh Karthik [4]

That’s a total of 43 players. It is an impressive list of young players. I may have missed out a few and some may question the presence of players like Mohnish Parmar or Shikar Dhawan or Tanmay Srivastava. This is perhaps nothing more than a list of players who are in contention for both the Test as well as the ODI team. Most of the above players have either played for India already (in any of the three forms of the game) or are about to.

India should expand its contract list to include players who regularly turn out for India-A games. India-A should tour continuously and if no one wants to play with India-A, should play against itself! Match readiness should be the name of the game and not the next central contract! A core bunch of about 50 players needs to be identified, nurtured and maintained. They should also be match-ready so that the careers of players like Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and M. S. Dhoni can be well-managed.

Cheteshwar Pujara has scored three triple centuries in his last four games including one in the recently completed Ranji round! One can’t keep him away from the big league for too long. Gavaskar was pushing for young Pujara even when news of Gautam Gambhir’s Nagpur suspension was filtering through. The selectors went for M. Vijay in that instance.

However, Rahul Dravid will need to now work intensely hard to keep players like Badrinath, Pujara, Rohit Shrama, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina at bay! Kris Srikkanth has said that he has faith in Dravid and feels that a big innings is just around the corner.

I am conservative in this regard — a close friend labeled be “dogged” in this regard. Be that as it may, I am not for a “spill and fill” approach. We have just seen the departure of Kumble and Ganguly from the team. It may be seductive to wipe the slate clean and go for a thrush of youngsters! With important series against England, Pakistan and New Zealand coming up in the next 6 months, if I were selector, I’d give Dravid up until the end of the New Zealand series to make up his mind on the timing of his departure. If he wishes to leave the game before that time, then that would be his call to make. I do believe we need his experience in the team until the New Zealand series at least.

Either way you look at it, it is an impressive collection of players.

After that 281, the Team India fan can dream again!

— Mohan