Tag Archives: T20

Whose resource is it anyway?

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

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

Slowly. Relentlessly. Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goose. Golden Egg. Rinse. Repeat. 

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

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

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

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

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

I am not at all surprised.

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan (@mohank)

IPL and the free markets delusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mahesh  (@cornerd)

Top heavy IPL: A statistical analysis.

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

These are the current rankings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of interesting revelations:

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

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

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A few interesting observations right away:

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

The curious case of MI:

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

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

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

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

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

Game 1: DD v/s DC

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

Game 2: RR v/s CSK

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

Game 3: RCB v/s PWI

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

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

– Ajit Bhaskar.

(@ajit_bhaskar on Twitter)

A foolish cricket fan

Two test matches have been played in the India-West Indies series, and I’m yet to watch a single ball live. Last time they were in India, my dad was able to watch some days’ play live, the ones on weekend. I have myself to blame for missing day-1of first test, yes, but now, I have to pray for the Bombay game to reach day-5 to catch a glimpse of a game live.

How hard is it to organize a game that can ease into the weekends and then finish on a Monday or a Tuesday? BCCI go against the government’s Sports Bill, but the 9-to-5 schedule of test matches on weekdays makes it look like an Indian governmental functionary than many others actually do. Sarkari kaam…

I was atleast able to follow the game by some mean. People come to me a day or two after the test asking how much XYZ scored, or, how much lead India has over West Indies now.  Cricket is slowly slipping out of people’s mind. Such a scheduling is pushing us fans away from the game. In other words, it is not attracting us towards it.

Also found smaller turn outs in stadia during both the English ODI and the WI test series. Myriad explanations and justifications came up for that. Cricket burn out, no-match series, “boring” series (???), and one more that caught my eye – the game is driven more by the television audience. People want to stay home and watch the game rather than go to the stadium. Have heard “when I can watch it here, why would I want to go all the way there and watch it?” Here’s my retort to them – “Why go on a vacation to any tourist spot if you can watch videos and photos of the place sitting at home?”

It was a horrible spring/summer of 1999, after which my family moved to Chennai. I joined my new school 2 months after it had started. In my first month in the new city, I learnt that my school had thrown holidays when Pakistan played the test there. Only one test had uninterrupted play since that, and that game had more security personnel than spectators (vs England, 2008). Never heard any other place giving anything remotely close to a holiday for a game played in the city. I don’t expect them to. I might have ten years ago, not today. It’s how the game has gone. Value for the game has decreased from a festival it once was to an ignorable passing vehicle today.

Test cricket attendance was decreasing, slowly, but I think somewhere recently it fell like an avalanche. Earlier, test and one-dayers existed. It wasn’t tough for people to go for test matches. Today, in comparison to those times, the pay, transport, roads, connectivity, communication and access have improved, but it somehow got tougher for people to go for test matches. I may be a fool in understanding this, but I would like to remain so.

T20 came in. Supposedly the game has been blessed with new fans with the arrival of the T20s. I hope that is true, I’m not yet convinced about that myself. Last night, I was called “shameless” for watching test cricket (SAvAUS, 2nd test, day-2, Steyn and Tahir bowling). Not the first such remark I’ve faced. Rolling back a couple of years, when my college mates were about to turn into bed, my alarm woke me up. It was 3:15 am, and I was heading to the TV room to watch India’s first test match in NZ. I was laughed at. Earlier this year, I “troubled” the sleeping watchman (who had absolutely no business sleeping when he must be doing his job) to watch Pakistan’s tour of West Indies. The college then locked the room permanently which made me miss watching on TV most of India’s tour of West Indies and the English tour. Internet streaming is only a consolation.

“Shameless”? Really? When I quack about dislike of T20s and ‘IPL’ cricket, or bite those fans, I’m a fool, a stubborn narrow minded idiot, but these people who can call me such must be saints, I guess. I have trained myself to ignore “Abbey saale, test match kaun dekhta hai?” comments, 5 years after standing on a dais and begging my class of 73 to give a little bit more importance to test cricket in my first year of college. (That was before ICL or IPL hit any of us.) But of course, I was a fool…

Jumping back to the India-WI series, I caught up with highlights of all days’ play (except last day’s of both test match), and I fail to see what’s keeping the BCCI with the commentators that were on there. Is there no way we can give them a feedback about them? It was easier to watch highlights, since most of their comments would not register on my mind, or, Yadav’s  innocent celebration would divert my attention, or Darren Bravo would make me nostalgic. It all helped, yes. Having heard those muppets over the years, why hasn’t there been any change at all? It’s something I rant about a lot, because a commentator is one of the three things I want to become one day. Atleast, wanted to. I would prefer radio commentary over television commentary, though. No regrets, I became of the other two things I dreamt.

I love this game, but my love was never tried and tested so much. Never before have I felt so distant from the game in my life.

-Bagrat

Testing Times: Hobson’s Choice

This piece has been written by Venkataraman Ganesan (@venky1976)

Test Matches Vs T20: To choose or not to choose

The cricketing world, over a span of a fortnight has been regaled with a couple of Test Matches which have been invigorating in nature embedding within each of them thrills and spills galore.

A gallant Zimbabwe put up a distinguished and admirably creditable performance against a much stronger Kiwi side, eventually losing a veritable humdinger by a mere 34 runs on the last day of the Match.

A depleted West Indian side gave the much vaunted Indian Test brigade a few substantial jitters prior to capitulating in a fashion that has almost mirrored the health of West Indian cricket over the past many years.

Elsewhere Pakistan and Sri Lanka, played out a couple of salubrious draws before Pakistan secured a morale boosting win in a Test Match. The three match series which was not only a test of character – given that it was played in the shadows of the spot fixing trial — but also of sustenance against the energy sapping humidity of the desert land that is the UAE.

And more recently, we have had a bizarre Test match played out between Australia and South Africa at Newlands.

Upon a bare reading of the preceding paragraphs one is bound to conclude — and rationally so — that all augurs well for the future of the version of the game played in whites. However in reality, behind a deceptive veil of encouragement and euphoria, there lies a murky truth. It would not be a mere verisimilitude to propound that the future of Test cricket is indeed at a crossroad.

Whilst a statement such as this might irk a multitude and invoke varying levels of emotional reactions, the fact is that Test Cricket of late has become a child of the lesser God, giving away ground in a rapid fashion to the stimulatingly ‘bikini’ version of the game, that is “T20”.

The dwindling numbers that troop to the stands to watch the men in white (and in some cases literally empty chairs are the sole and impartial spectators) are in stark contradistinction to the mad scramble to grab tickets sold in colours of both ‘black’ and white, for the rights to see a T20 battle. This bears ample testimony to the lament espoused by the author.

It is true that, on account of cricketing fatigue and an overkill of the shortest version of the shortened game, crowds might have lagged behind in attendance during tournaments such as the Champions League T20 and the now ubiquitous IPL during the last season. For example the final of the Champions League this year between Mumbai Indians and the Bangalore Royal Challengers were not played out before a gallery packed to the rafters

However, there is absolutely no doubting the fact that the current flavor of the cricketing feast is spread over 40 overs lasting a few hours.
What is it that gives a cricket fan more pleasure watching a few men sporting clothing of various colours and hues heaving and hoiking cricket balls outside the stadium than watching a batsman essaying a perfect front foot defensive shot in copybook style or shouldering arms to a ball pitched slightly outside off-stump? Shouldn’t a real cricket aficionado get the same pleasure in watching Glenn McGrath bowl a metronomic line and length ball after ball as he derives from watching a marauding Chris Gayle deposit balls into the stratosphere under a bank of brilliant lights? I for one cannot fathom the difference.

Many of the arguments that are espoused in favour of according preference to T20 over Test Match cricket vary from the silly to the senseless. Let us analyse some of the common grouses postulated against Test Match cricket and in favour of T20 Cricket and common-sense rebuttals against the same:

Test Match Cricket is too very long in duration:

Of course that is why they are termed as “Test” Matches. Test Matches measure the skill of the gladiators squaring against one another not only in terms of their talent, but also more or even most importantly against their temperament. Test Match cricket is more of a mental or even sometimes spiritual attrition rather than a matching of slam-bang wits. On his/her day any batsman (or bowler) can have literally 15 minutes of fame in a T20 game, tether the opposition and scuttle their chances of victory. More often than not such 15 minutes would amount for nothing but vainglorious futility when it comes to a Test Match.

In the longer version of the game a player needs to be consistent, constantly on the alert and should possess an enormous degree of patience and perseverance. Also prior to the advent of this “hit the ball as hard as you can using as heavy a willow as you lay your hands upon” game, from times immemorial (post the abolition of the ‘timeless” test concept), Test Matches have been played over the duration of 5 days and also in front of packed crowds!

Test matches are boring:

This is one excuse which even goes beyond the realms of being lame! People who propose this excuse either are perhaps not aware of the nuances of the game. The term ‘boring’ has to be one of most frequently used and abused adjectives found in the English language. There is a multitude of evidence that point to the fact that Test Match cricket could also be a knives’ edge affair, keeping the adrenaline pumping and the nerves jangling!

Right from the time Frederick the “Demon” Spofforth knocked off the prodigious English batting line-up to give the Aussies an improbable victory more than 100 years ago, Test Match cricket has been embellished with feats of courage, gallantry and passion which has resulted in extraordinarily absorbing and gripping Test matches. This honest game has also provided unimaginable results such as the tied test matches played out between Richie Benaud’s Australia and the late great Sir Frank Worrell’s West Indies in the 1960s followed two and a half decades later by an equally enthralling tie between Kapil Dev’s India and Allan Border’s Australia. Examples are too very numerous to proffer and to be extremely honest, Test Match cricket does not require a justification for existence and need not offer a concrete case for preservation.

Test Matches are not result oriented:

If at all Test Matches are a dull, drab and a dreary affair, more often than not the benign, placid and impotent tracks on which they are played out, form a primary cause. A classic case in point is Sri Lanka grinding a hapless and helpless Indian attack to dust on a sleepy and stubborn featherbed at Colombo in 1997. But for exceptions such as these, even drawn Test Matches have incorporated, within their duration, an element of excitement, uncertainty and improbability.

Even within a drawn Test Match there can be found examples of many battles which when accumulated provide for great viewing and, for posterity, deliberating pleasure. For example watching a dour, determined and dedicated Mike Atherton, possessing the demeanor of a corpse and a perfectionist’s technique to thwart a fearsome pace attack of M/s Donald & Co, with an eccentric Jack Russell for support is indeed an exquisite experience. Also seeing a clash of the Titans such as Shane Warne Vs Sachin Tendulkar; Ian Botham Vs Viv Richards; Imran Khan Vs Jacques Kallis, etc. is indeed a sight for the Gods! Also with entertainers par excellence such as the peerless Viv Richards and the eerily funny Derek Randall, Test match cricket has always provided its fair share of honest exuberance and entertainment.

There are no cheerleaders in the game:

Although I thought I would not dignify this banal excuse with a rebuttal, I thought a short and appropriate riposte was deserved. Instead of drooling, and ogling skimpily clad nubile nymphs gyrating to the latest track in the realm of hip-hop each time a wicket falls or a stump goes cartwheeling, Test Match cricket, has beyond the boundary, young and agile boys (not for a minute I am suggesting anything that would portray me as a pedophile!), who not only do the task of retrieving a ball lashed beyond the ropes but also obtain precocious and invaluable insights about this wonderful game! The lithesome grace with which some of them catch a ball that come flying towards them or stop them with their tiny bodies perfectly behind the cherry brings a cheer to the viewer.

Whilst cricket of every kind bestows upon the viewer its own dimension of pleasure and the occasional pain, it would be a travesty of justice to choose one at the cost of the other. While T20 might be an occasion to celebrate, an event to soak oneself in with unblemished glee, there is no reason as to why a Test Match ought to be anything different. There are plenty of challenges and moments of cathartic brilliance offered by Test match cricket which can never be a true prerogative of T20 cricket. The universal expectation and discussion in reverential tones about the plausibility of Sachin getting his 100th ton, every time he comes out to bat or the hushed expectation when Murali has the ball in his hand with a packed close in cordon are magical moments which a T20 game can neither equal nor better. In conclusion it needs to be emphasized that while instant gratification may provide a momentary ecstasy, it is prolonged bliss that bestows real bliss and pleasure! For a true cricket lover, Kieron Pollard depositing a ball onto the front seat of a car in a car park adjoining the ground, with its windshield in smithereens, might not give the same joy as watching Rahul Dravid bringing his broad blade down in a perfect arc, with the front foot firmly forward to a slow off break bowled by Marlon Samuels.

For in both instances the winner is Cricket!

— Venky

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)

Of flying peanuts and conflicts of interest…

India is in pain again! Team India lost its way in the ICC WCT20 tournament. India exited the tournament with two wins in the preliminary stage and no wins in the Super-8 stage. If TV news-pundits are to be believed, the whole of India is burning with rage, anger and frustration.

I was not in India when India was crowned the #1 Test team in the world and so did not watch the chest-thumps and euphoria that that event generated. I was here on 1 April, when there was official confirmation from the ICC that India is indeed the #1 Test team in the world. That event went almost unnoticed because the IPL was on at that time. All eye balls were on IPL TRPs at that time! Back when India was re-confirmed as the top Test side in the world, coach Gary Kirsten, captain MS Dhoni and Team India were the toast of the town. Now they are both toast!

Back then, India had finally become world beaters! The media channels could not get enough of India’s stars. Today, “there is anger in India” (according to the media here) after the “humiliation” of the early exit from the ICC WCT20.

The pendulum has swung again. And how quickly!

Back then in April, the IPL frenzy seemed to distract everyone in India — especially the media. Suddenly it pitted Indians against Indians! A fan from Chennai was hailing the efforts of a burly-Australian or a wily-SriLankan or a cheeky-SouthAfrican and propping them as saviors against a strong Mumbai team or a stronger Bangalore team. Cricketers spent more time in the sky than on the ground. And when their feet were on the ground, they were either playing on the cricket field or on the dance floor at an IPL after-match party! Some cricketers even had to endure peanuts being flung at them — a new way of attracting attention from Bollywood hotties at these post-match IPL parties, it seemed!

Since then, all night clubs in Mumbai have had to endure peanut-fling pick-up-routines as a precursor to an actual fling! “Fling a peanut and score a one-night fling” is a new product that has been patented (or peanuted!). There is a scarcity of peanuts in Mumbai. Everyone is hell bent on flinging peanuts at each other as a way of attracting attention!

Jokes apart, these post-match IPL-parties seemed to be completely testosterone-charged and ended up draining the creative (and other) juices of the men who played the game!

Something was awry. But no one seemed to want to do anything about it especially as the coffers were getting filled up faster than the cash could be deposited in various bank accounts. If people did not want to be a part of the action they wanted the action! Almost everyone was conflicted and no one wanted to do anything about it.

Meanwhile, our senses were constantly being brutalized and attacked on TV and Twitter by a visionary Lisp. We also had to endure a colorful Sikh on TV who hated being interrupted and liked answering all questions even if they were not addressed at him! “You know, my friend” he would bellow in a manner that resembled long-distance phone conversations in the 1960s and 1970s when one needed to shout to be heard; one wondered why this man ever needed a microphone! He had certainly read the book on cheesy phrases and mindless one-liners! We had to tolerate scantily-clad noodle-straps and Bollywood stars who constantly attacked our senses on TV either with their juvenile cricket gyaan or a blatant plug for their forthcoming movie.

The cricket was good. Club-Vs-Club cricket was also intense. It was, according to Anil Kumble, so intense that it probably drained players when they reached the West Indies! Despite all the negative attention it has received lately, and despite noodle-straps, colorful Sikhs with no need for a microphone, cheesy one-liners, peanut-parties, lisps and hoopla, IPL-3 was good, in my view.

And then it all went pear shaped.

Lalit Modi was “twattered”. Sashi Tharoor was “done in”. The IPL Governing Council members distanced themselves and ran away as fast and as furiously as they could from the very coffers that they had managed — they only managed the coffers and not the game, in my view! Show cause notices were issued without the issuers having even a basic understanding of the word “show” or without anyone understanding either the “cause” or the “effect”!

Then, the final nail in the coffin was Team India’s disastrous performance in the WCT20 tournament.

Just as Team India was booking its airline tickets for their return home, BCCI announced the team that would represent India at the tri-nations T20 and ODI tournament in Zimbabwe involving Zimbabwe, India and Sri Lanka. The matches commence May 28 and conclude on June 13.

Kris Srikkanth, the BCCI Chairman of selectors has “rested” as many as 9 (yes, nine) Team India ODI players for this tournament. Yes that is correct! MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh and Praveen Kumar are being “rested”. It is likely that Virender Sehwag and Praveen Kumar are carrying injuries. But even so, that is a fair number of players that have been rested in one fell swoop!

I have to pose this question to Kris Srikkanth: As Chennai Super Kings Brand Ambassador, did he ever request MS Dhoni to “rest” and “sit out” 4-5 IPL games with a view to Dhoni playing in the tri-series donning India colors? Or did he have an undeclared, unmanaged and out-of-control conflict of interest there?

Can Kris Srikkanth effectively marry his role as Brand Ambassador of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and National Selector? I do not believe so. Kris Srikkanth is horribly conflicted in my view. The only aspect of this sordid scenario that makes Srikkanth look good is that his boss, Mr N. Srinivasan, the owner of CSK, is even more horribly conflicted than Srikkanth is! As Kris Srikkanth tries to extract every ounce of effort from his CSK team members, exhort them to give off their very best and get them to stretch every sinew in their already weakened bodies to secure a win for CSK, he would have to know that their efforts for CSK would severely compromise their efforts for Team India.

Witness the team that Srikkanth has selected to tour Zimbabwe! It does not have MS Dhoni in it! Why? Could MS Dhoni not have been rested for 4-5 games that CSK played?

How can N. Srinivasan, the owner of CSK not expect the very best from MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and M Vijay on the field and in CSK after-match parties? He is after all the owner of CSK and, as the person that has made a major investment, he would (and he should) expect rich returns for the shareholding in that investment! He should expect his personal wealth to increase as a direct consequence of the risk that he has ventured into. And the only way that can happen is by forcing players — either through contracts or by setting unwritten expectations — that they have to give off their best on the field and in smoke-filled dance floors! It is not wrong to castigate N. Srinivasan or belittle him for attempting to augment his personal wealth. After all, Vijay Mallaya, Priety Zinta and Nita Ambani are doing just that! So why would I be a moral cop and pull Srinivasan up for attempting to augment the size of his wallet?

However, as a Team India fan, I do have a problem with him doing that while donning BCCI colors. That just does not stack up for me. Something has to give. It is not enough to merely declare conflicts. These conflicts have to be actively managed.

Srikkanth’s action of includng MS Dhoni in every CSK game that Dhoni was available for and then “resting” him for the Zimbabwe tour does not seem to me to reflect the actions of a man who is managing a known and declared conflict of interest.

There may be many reasons for Team India’s poor showing at the ICC WCT20 tournament. Judging from the mass-resting of nine Team India players, physical/mental “fatigue” and too many late-night parties in dark rooms — not to mention, trying to dodge peanut flings! — may be one of the reasons! Others may well be the sudden and inexplicable loss of form of players like Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir, the prolonged loss of form of Yuvraj Singh (which even a “goatee” could not reign in), wrong team selection, poor fielding, the team’s inability to cope with chin music in the short form of the game, the absence of Virender Sehwag, etc.

I am not perturbed by the fact that India lost. I have always said that we must learn to celebrate wins and tolerate losses with equanimity and dignity. However, the manner of India’s loss hurts more than the fact that India lost! Witness Gautam Gambhir’s running in the last Super8 game against Sri Lanka! It was the running of a man who was completely fatigued; a man whose focus was not quite on his game.

But my point is that if players are “fatigued” by too much cricket and testosterone-driven peanut activities, why were they not rested during the IPL? I do think post-match IPL-parties have outlived their utility. I am reasonably confident that these parties will be committed to the archives of the BCCI and IPL offices.

However, more importantly, I would like the BCCI to enforce a rule whereby each IPL team can use a “contracted” Team India player in no more than 10 (say) of the 16 games that each team plays (or 11 of the 18 games in IPL-4). In other words, each IPL team must be forced to bring into play a rotation policy that keeps players “fresh” and available for Team India assignments.

Mind you, the team chosen by Kris Srikkanth and his band of merry friends is not really bad although I find it somewhat mysterious that Robin Uthappa and Abhimanyu Mithun cannot find a place in the team. Is Uthappa injured? And if Mithun can be good enough to play for the last ODI series that India played in, what has happened between then and now for him to sit this series out?

That said, the team for the tri-series has a bunch of players that will soon be knocking the doors of Team India. Some of them are already playing in India colors in some form of the game or other.

The team is:

M Vijay
Dinesh Karthik / Naman Ojha (wk)
Suresh Raina (capt)
Virat Kohli (vice-capt)
Rohit Sharma
Yusuf Pathan
Ravindra Jadeja
R Ashwin / Amit Mishra / Pragyan Ojha
Umesh Yadav
Vinay Kumar
Ashok Dinda / Pankaj Singh

Meanwhile, the Indian media that chest-thumped India to #1 Test side in the world and #2 ODI side in the world in angry. Yes, the Indian media is very angry and demands answers!

Rahul Kanwal is Editor of Headlines Today a news channel. I watched a segment yesterday in which the young and erudite Kanwal assembled past captains like Kapil Dev, Mohammed Azharuddin, Bishen Singh Bedi, Imran Khan (for a perspective from a foreign hand, no doubt) and Sourav Ganguly to ask them for their views on the Team India WCT20 “debacle”. The Indian fan is angry and demands answers, roared the young Kanwal. He goaded the panel to castigate. He brayed for blood. He wanted names of people whose heads deserved to rest on a block of wood as the guillotine came crashing down. He was passionate and emotional as he roared his way through the program. Did I mention that he was angry too?

Mohammed Azharuddin thundered that no player can be above the game. He said, “For a player, cricket should come first and everything else is secondary!” Really now?

— Mohan