Thursday, April 30, 2009

T20 Overload

It's beginning to happen. The BCCI started the IPL to counter the ICL and keep players nurtured (and superstars produced) through ICC run Cricket from being poached by a television software production company (which is essentially what ZEE is). Now the ECB has approved details for an T20 tournament of its own - 9 teams, 2 divisions, called P20. The tournament starts in June. They have disapproved a city based franchise system, in favor of county sides (its easy to see why the City based model proposed by the MCC was disapproved, the chairman of Essex ran the study).

So, we have a 8 team tournament, where in each side plays 14 games  - 56 games in all. Assuming each P20 side plays the every other side twice (like in the IPL), you will have a minimum of 144 games there. In 2008, 15,643 overs were bowled over 47 Test Matches (about 332 per Test Match out of a possible 450), while 9384 overs were bowled over 112 ODI games (involving the 10 Test playing nations, whose players, these mercenary tournaments will attract). The 200 extra T20 games now scheduled for 2010 will add 8000 overs to the international cricket calender. It will target the very best players, those on whom the game depends to produce the spectacular incomes that the IPL produces.

Some will say this is a good thing, even though i would disagree. It uses up the only available off-seasons in the international calender - the English summer for players elsewhere, and the month of April-May for most of the International Cricket world (except possibly tours to the West Indies). It adds about 30% in terms of cricket played in the year (by international cricketers).

This is just from two T20 leagues. What if the Australians and the South Africans also build their T20 leagues. They will most likely be able to offer pay cheques on par with those offered by the IPL. If this is the case, then imagine a really talented batsman, who will come of age in the post-IPL age. Lets say he's 28 years old, had played about 50 Tests, made about 4000 Test runs, made about 12-15 Test hundreds. At which point, he is guaranteed a multi-million dollar income playing T20 cricket. What choices will this player make? At what cost to cricket? Lets leave aside issues of worth, and value and quality. Lets set aside for the moment the argument that T20 cricket is a silly, ridiculously narrowed version of the game (toy cricket if you will) which cannot match Test Cricket as a cricketing contest. 

The current popularity of the IPL is because it is using up reputations made in Test Cricket. Whatever Lalit Modi may tell you about Kamran Khan, the IPL did not invent the idea of plucking talented youngsters out of obscurity (see Pakistan Cricket, and every other type of Cricket in the history of the world). Besides IPL franchises did not go for about 100 million dollars each because of the promise of Kamran Khan (or even promising youngsters from the Ranji Trophy like Yusuf Pathan and Swapnil Asnodkar). That money was paid for Tendulkar and Warne, Pietersen and Jayasurya.

The continued success of T20 cricket (financially - thats about the only good thing about it. It would be nice if they could lose the cheerleaders), depends on the continued development of great players - for which i will argue, Test Cricket is vital. The ECB may just have gotten the balance right by involving County sides in its version of the IPL (assuming the 18 sides are going to the county teams), for even with increased foreign player participation, this will raise the profile of the County sides in the English summer and may even rub off on the profile of the county championship. This is precisely what the BCCI missed in its desire to find people to throw money at "franchises" like a bollywood villain at a wiggling vamp in an item song (in the classic heyday of the item song). They could have produced a IPL style T20 tournament involving the top tier Ranji Trophy teams - thereby raising the profile of the Ranji Trophy itself.

But Mr. Modi will tell you that they had to respond to the ICL, and that this had to be a commensurate effort. The BCCI and the ICC have more or less defanged the ICL now. The BCCI may just find in the coming years, that this was a pyrrhic victory. By marginalizing Ranji Trophy cricket, they are in effect marginalizing the best arena for the development of the great players that they need to fuel these franchises. In recent years India has become the commercial and financial capital of Cricket. The IPL may have been a daring leap into the unknown, but India must make sure that this does not become a leap away from Cricket as we have known it for a hundred years now. The IPL as a tournament lasts almost as long as the World Cup does. The difference is that it is played every year. It involves a similar multi-national multitude of players.

Where does Mr. Modi (or Mr. Manohar for that matter) see Cricket 10 years from now? For that matter, where does Mr. Clarke of the ECB see it? For possibly the first time in the history of cricket, its bosses are going to have to seriously think about these questions. The cricketing enterprise has now diversified to the point where, without such a vision, and without long term strategy, things could get out of hand very easily. There is, to use a well worn cliche, a golden goose in the house. It must be exploited wisely for the benefit of the house.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lage Raho John Buchanan

We have heard at least three separate, and somewhat mutually contradictory versions of the multiple captain theory from John Buchanan. Now Buchanan has a new toy to play with - sign language, to enable communication between players and overcome the language problem!

So, what do we have here - the solution to the problem of a lack of mutual languages, where some players don't understand some other player's tongues, is to build a language which nobody understands, but everybody can learn. The symbolic language of cricket if you will. Buchanan is in effect rendering everyone mute - establishing a symmetry of ignorance, depriving them of what little capacity for intelligent communication they still had left in the face of his off-field puppetry. It would be really interesting to speak to John Buchanan about this, because i think he lives about 60 years too late. He would have been a mega-star in B F Skinner's behaviorist heyday.

I can imagine - two KKR players - say Sourav Ganguly and Chris Gayle standing 5 feet apart, both facing the dressing room instead of each other, trying to talk to each other - waiting for instructions about what to say to each other. Then they would turn back to the dressing room midway through they discussion, asking (in Buchanan's sign language of course) "how do i say "move""?

Does it strike anyone else, that report after report of Buchanan's "innovations" seem to amount simply to a effort to borrow yet another aspect of an American Major League Baseball franchise, or NFL franchise, and use it in cricket - without reflection or modification? Is that innovation or is that plagiarism? Shane Warne comments in the Indian Express story, that Buchanan keeps trying to want to re-invent the wheel. Warne seems to have pinpointed the Buchanan method.

And any professional engaged in any serious knowledge based profession will tell you, that trying to re-invent the wheel is the dumbest thing you can do. Of course, if your purpose is a full-scale power grab, then for you, Buchanan must look like a genius. For he has single handedly de-capitated the Captain as a significant entity in the team that he runs. He's even gotten Brendon McCullum to state for the record that he will willing fall on the sword should KKR not make it to the knockout stage of this years contest.

As they say. Lage Raho John Buchanan. After all, it is Shah Rukh Khan's money. As that, SRK and his co-owners will find a way of recovering even if KKR get hammered in every single game. The Cricket is a side show really.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

IPL Chart Watch

Note: This chart was on the IPL website before the completion of todays game which Rajasthan won.

Today the IPL has a new chart. 

Note that the order of the Chennai, Rajasthan and Kolkata teams has changed, even though the number games played by each and the number of points earned by each side are the same.  Compare this with yesterday's chart

As it by magic, despite no new cricket being recorded for the relevant teams (Chennai, Kolkata and Rajasthan), their order has changed - this time it is finally sorted by net-run-rate.

This negates many of the hypotheses presented by commenters in my post yesterday. 

I think it establishes beyond reasonable doubt that the IPL's charts are essentially meaningless and arbitrary. Im also fairly certain that these charts are not a response to my post yesterday. That post was read by about 50 people at the most. The IPL's behavior is totally random.

Im not surprised.

Monday, April 27, 2009

An inexplicable chart from the IPL

This chart appears on the official IPL website, the same one which bears Lalit Modi's blog. It does not list the teams in random order. As a chart showing us standings, it is fair to expect that the best performing team should be first, and the worst performing team should be last.

So the IPL is trying to tell you that Chennai and Kolkata are currently better placed than Rajasthan because they have played one game more than Rajasthan and achieved the same number of victories as Rajasthan. This is obviously absurd. I can think of no logic by which this chart makes sense. I can explain how the list was prepared - it was prepared by sorting 

1. the number of wins. (descending order - more wins are better), then
2. the number of losses. (ascending order - fewer losses are better), then
3. the net-run rate. (descending order - higher nrr is better),
and then, inexplicably,
4. the number of matches played. (i have no idea why this sorting is done)

Of course, my core assumption is that the data are accurate. But even if they are not, this ordering of the "Team Standings" clearly doesn't tell us what the "Team Standings" are. For example - if Rajasthan win their next game by a thumping margin, and Punjab lose theirs, then Rajasthan could very well be place 4th.

Some of you probably consider this trivial. But it is not, because that chart as something which is supposed to provide information, is basically worthless, because it is not a correctly ordered list. Moreover, these standings are very important to the IPL, as teams for the knockout phase of the tournament are chosen based on these standings. At the end of 56 games, this should not be a very big problem, because at that time each side will have played the same number of games, but a misleading table can be problematic for the teams in the last week of the tournament, especially if there are many teams which have a chance of making the last 4 at that time.

This "professionally managed" tournament with "corporate accountability" and "corporate standards" gets more ridiculous with each passing day. The expectation was that being motivated purely by profit (by turning cricket into show business), we would see better quality and higher standards. There's a lot of showmanship, but very little substance. Even worse, in many cases, not only is there no substance, there is rank incompetence. We have seen this in a number of unrelated places - from the total stupidity of the ICC Code of Conduct being applied by a Referee to an Umpire last year, to one of the marquee coaches (supposedly cutting edge), contradicting himself fundamentally in explaining his great innovation, to Lalit Modi making claims about having pioneered innovations such as the MCC Spirit of Cricket charter (a lie) in the IPL, to this inexplicable chart, which is really the central document explaining the state of play. The errors are uniformly silly, and yet fundamental in nature. Even the BCCI and its honorary amateurs would be ashamed of this kind of stuff.

Everything looks very nice on paper - coaching staff, fancy website, match referees and what have you. But the actual content is of dubious merit.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Gideon Haigh is unhappy with T20 Commentary

Here. He's talking about Sunil Gavaskar and co. and from what little i've heard, he's probably right. Id say the great players on the field are not any different.

Key Quote: 
The consumer has not just to be sold the game he is watching, but the Twenty20 concept in general; persuaded that he is witness not just to a contest of teams, but a contest of genres, with Modi responsible for the most exciting breakthrough since penicillin. It forces the commentator even further from the ideal perspective of disinterested critic, bringing to bear a weight of experience and a talent for observation; it reduces him to sideshow huckster, flogging the game like a patent medicine from the back of his covered wagon."

The latest from Lalit - On Lalit Modi's Blog

Lalit Modi's fledgling blogging career continues to blossom. His latest effort (login required) is an ode to the super over. Over to Lalit:
"I have been reading through some of the blogs and a lot many of you have written in asking about the Super Over and why we did not go with the Bowl Out option to decide the winner of the tied match. At the risk of being repetitive – once again the answer to this question lies in being innovative!"
He repeats his earlier point about the "unique innovation" of the purple cap and the orange cap. Essentially, his answer to questions about innovations in the IPL is that the IPL is innovative. His central explanation in this post - about the choice of the Super Over over the Bowl Out, is typical IPL, and typical Modi - 
"Simply put, the Governing Council of the DLF Indian Premier League thought that this innovation would be a better method of gauging a winner based on all the three skill sets important to a game of cricket those being batting, bowling and fielding. Rather than leave it to a simple bowl out wherein only the accuracy of the bowlers is tested!"
Err - can you really "test" all three skills in a single over? At best you can claim that you involve all three skills? I suspect that Mr. Modi thinks he has just made a serious argument. Whats even more intriguing is that i don't think any one actually wanted to know why the Super Over was preferred over the bowl out (Modi doesn't refer to any specific questions). The Super Over is basically a glorified coin toss. 

A way cooler gimmick, since gimmicks are what Mr. Modi seems to seek, would be to line up stumps, and have the coach of one team hit balls at a set of fielders from the other team, ask them to field the balls and thrown down the stumps. You could time how quickly they do it from the moment they stop the ball to the moment it hits the stumps. You could have eleven apiece for each of the eleven players - and the side which does better wins, in case of a tie during regular play. Not only would this be a serious test, it would be quite a spectacle, watching great fielding. If neither side wins, just declare it a tie and call it a day.

This way, you could also put John Buchanan and co. on the spot, not let them get away with manipulating puppets and eating biryani with Shah Rukh Khan in the background. Imagine - if Buchanan were to complain about Ganguly's useless fielding abilities, Ganguly could retort by saying that Buchanan hit too many easy balls at the opposition fielders! It would be hilarious. The idea comes from some very popular fielding exhibitions the famous South African fielder Colin Bland used to perform.

It took me about a minute to come up with this suggestion. So much for the IPL's innovations.

And did i tell you that Modi has a photograph of himself addressing a press conference (see below) at the end of his post?

But, we must always remember - the IPL is innovative!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

One Leader or Many? On Captains, Coaches and the Press

Ian Chappell seizes the opportunity presented by the super over result in the IPL to strike a blow for a strong captain and minimal bureaucracy. That the super over result was achieved by Warne over Buchanan probably made Chappell even happier.

Without questioning the motives of the journalistic class, it ought to be obvious to any one, that the embrace of John Buchanan by the press is because he provides them with an easy story, just like the quote-happy Greg Chappell did. The merits of the Buchanan regime at the KKR IPL outfit remains questionable (and since Shah Rukh Khan seems about as clueless about cricket as you and me, it seems prudent to ask these questions here). Now, half way into the tournament, Sanjay Bangar and Akash Chopra have been fired by the Kolkata Knight Riders outfit. Ordinarily you would say they have been dropped, but its not just that they have been left out of the XI, they have been sent back to India because they didn't fit in the present scheme of things. Now, anybody who has followed Cricket in the last 10 years would have told you that if there were two cricketers who were least suited for T20 cricket, they would be Sanjay Bangar and Akash Chopra! Yet, it took Shah Rukh Khan, John Buchanan and his team of captains 4 IPL games and a million bucks to figure this out! Joy Bhattaharya, yet another member of the KKR team management, who makes a hefty pay cheque for spinning bad news as good, did his job by saying "John Buchanan and the team management thought that if they are not going to have the opportunity it is unfair to keep them around". Unfair to whom? Unfair to KKR or unfair to Bangar and Chopra, who would gladly stay on as reserves and wait for an opportunity, which given the spectacular scope for difference of opinion given the vast array of leaders in the Buchanan empire, is likely to come along sooner rather than later. Further, as if this was not enough, Bhattacharya added that "they took it right frame of mind". 

I remember the time when the Indian selection committee was slammed for not letting players know that they were being dropped. I wonder what the reaction should be when such non-communication is replaced by Orwellian (i keep coming back to him) statement-making.

This brings me to the other side of this unholy arrangement of large coaching apparatuses - the benefits it brings to the cricket press. If you have 5 captains instead of 1 and 5 coaches instead of 1, there is naturally a greater possibility of landing stories and scoops. It is in a nutshell, very good for the production of news. Even very good journalists, like Rohit Brijnath (article posted by sfx), in lamenting the lack of access to the Indian coach Gary Kirsten, acknowledge this only in passing. Brijnath's case for the BCCI lifting the gag order on Kirsten is that "Coaches can be engaging customers, whose creative enthusiasm allows us to keep looking at cricket differently". This is undoubtebly true, but in the light of the Greg Chappell experience, it is debatable whether the press is infact interested in this with any seriousness. How much of the press coverage of Chappell was devoted to what he wanted to do, and how much of it was devoted to allegations of infighting supposedly fuelled by Chappell? When Brijnath refers to "us", he is referring to you and me and other cricket fans, not the press. Yet, we have no way of accessing Kirsten or any other coach except via the press, with a guarantee that something that Kirsten may think aloud about on his blog will not be used to gin up a controversy by the press. Cable news is probably the bigger culprit here than the print press, but it is also immeasurably more influential than the print press.

Brijnath does refer to this when he says "Undoubtedly, the predatory part of India’s media pointlessly spins controversy from even a banal quote, and some wariness is warranted", but it is unlikely that he will (or even can) confront this predatory part of India's media in any meaningful way. The performance of the media in the Greg Chappell v Sourav Ganguly episode in 2005, as well as just after the 2007 World Cup should leave us deeply skeptical of anything they promote - starting with John Buchanan.

The powerful off-field manager/director/coach of events on the field, the strategy guru - who helps us "keep looking at cricket differently" is a creation of the media, for the media, by the media. There is no evidence that this entity has any serious impact on the results that a team achieves. The traditional role of the coach - to look after his players, help individuals who need his help, ensure a certain basic level of conditioning and be an assistant to the captain on matters tactical, has worked fine.

If you want to keep looking at cricket differently, you have to first know what it is that you are looking at in the first place. There are plenty of other sources who can help us keep thinking about cricket differently. Former cricketers - especially the truly great ones, who have stayed in close touch with the game, would be the obvious place to start. Alas, these people may not make great stories - either because they are already members of the media (as commentators) or because they are no longer big names. For example - has a journalist ever systematically discussed spin bowling with all four of India's spin bowlers from the 1970's (add Shivalkar and Goel to that list, and you have a large, deep source of wisdom about spin bowling), compared what they said, synthesized their positions, and written an essay or a series of essays about this? I think one can say with some confidence that this has not been done. Why? Because this would involve lots of details - and it would be long, not 800 words. It is absurd to claim that the long form essay is not a credible journalistic device - one only has to look at the great essays in the New Yorker to realize this.

The press (or rather, the media) loves personalities - personalities are readymade stories of "human interest". The embrace of John Buchanan and Greg Chappell before him has something to do with this. But Cricket is not a human interest story. It is a rich, deep source of news and stories in its own right. Will questions be asked about Buchanan's abilities based on his decision to let Bangar and Chopra go mid-season? Don't count on it. It will be unquestioningly notched up as yet another victory for "professional management" in cricket. Buchanan will doubtless be available to spin this at his leisure, as will Joy Bhattacharya.

Cricket it seems, is secondary. This is the beginning of the coach-media hegemony in cricket. The age of the great player is coming to an end. The age of the great coach is upon us.

Information about Mumbai Constituencies

Voting is on April 30.

This is a fine website being promoted on email. You can find all sorts of useful information about candidates in your constituency there.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tendulkar at 36

I won't write a long post about him this year. It's been a great year for Tendulkar and India. He made magnificient Test hundreds against Australia and New Zealand, and a truly great one against England. India won all three Tests. He had a rough tour of Sri Lanka in July, but has had a great 2008-09 season since then. He recently made 163 in an ODI game in New Zealand, and is now enjoying himself playing some toy cricket in South Africa.

When he saw Sachin Tendulkar earlier this month, even he was amazed. Im glad he lives and breathes!

Some other Tendulkar posts. 

Happy Birthday!

I didn't write on in April 2007 (his 34th birthday). India was busy abusing him and his teammates. It was just after India's early exit from the World Cup. I wrote this in April 2007.

A silver lining

It's good to see Mahela Jayawardene and his Sri Lankan colleagues back on a cricket field. Pakistan are also playing again, and doing very well. They beat Australia in their first ODI and are in a contest in the second one, with Australia ascendant. But, in the first game, Australia's batting line up crumbled in the face of the Pakistan spin attack. This is still early in the Australian run chase, and even though Pakistan are about 30 runs light, it would be a mistake to right them off.

This has probably been the saddest development in Cricket in this decade. The turmoil for the Pakistan team. When it hasn't been the law and order situation in their country, it has been self inflicted wounds - like the Woolmer episode or the Oval Test controversy in 2006 or their completely messed up selection process, where captains, coaches and Board officials are changed more often than Virender Sehwag changes his bats.

Yet, it is quite amazing how much accomplishment there is in those ranks. Younis Khan is easily one of the best batsmen in the world today. Misbah Ul Haq might have been, had he not played only 7 Test Matches in the last 3 years. Shoaib Akhtar, inspite of his antiques (and in my view, his deeply problematic action) has a Test Match and ODI record which most bowlers would give their right arm for. Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif (yet another tragic waste) could have formed a truly formidable fast bowling combination along with Shoaib. Kamran Akmal could have been spoken of in the same breath as Gilchrist and Dhoni and Boucher and Sangakkara.

This is a side which should have been hard to beat anywhere in the world. Yet, due to circumstances, and their own spectacularly bad judgement, it is becoming increasingly hard even to get them onto an international cricket field.

Things should be easier with Sri Lanka. I never thought i would say this, but it will be a great day when Thilan Samarveera walks out to bat in a Test Match again.

As of now, they are both playing cricket. I hope it stays that way.

The IPL'S first victim

Andrew Flintoff will return to England for surgery. He will miss the Test series against New Zealand, all for a few T20 games. Hugh Morris of the ECB and even ECB's doctor, even in telling the press about Flintoff's injury are at pains to point out that this is the sort of "degenerative injury though is one that could have happened at any time any where". Flintoff has had terrible luck with injuries, and this may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise for England's Ashes campaign. One can't help but wonder whether players in their prime gain much playing in the IPL, which is in the one period of the year which is off-season for most players - when its too hot to play in India, too late to play in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand and too early to play in England. It is impossible to argue that this is the IPL's fault, and it is probably isn't, Flintoff was paid good money to appear. But here we have a concrete example of the IPL hurting Test Cricket, however inadvertantly.

I was just watching Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis batting against a promising leg-spinner - Piyush Chawla. The field was spread, and these two giants on the modern game were pushing hard for runs. Chawla beat them both in the flight more than once, but i don't think anyone even noticed. Imagine this contest in a Test Match, or in a 5 day game - Chawla bowling to Dravid and Kallis, with a strongish breeze blowing from third-man to mid-wicket, an attacking field. Scope for some serious thinking, and some high class cricket where something would actually be at stake.

Twenty thousand hard earned Test Match runs, working cheap for Mr. Modi's bottom line. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. What a waste!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lalit Modi's IPL Blog

This seems to be his inaugural post. I had to sign up on the IPL website giving my name, date of birth, nationality, city, in addition to a compulsory adoption of a "favorite IPL team" (there was an option if you didn't want to choose any particular one - "All IPL teams"), in order to read the blog post. I hope this is just a bug. I also hope this link works for you without having to sign in.

The blog posts (there are two of them so far) sound awfully like a politician launching an election campaign. There is also a clear statement that the IPL is a "business franchise" and in a later sentence it is referred to as a "financial enterprise". Then there is the usual smothering - an ode to "corporate social responsibility" if you will:
"What people forget to take into account is that the DLF IPL is as much as a business franchise as it is a sporting endeavour to promote cricket at the grassroots"
So the IPL, Mr. Modi would have us believe is an all-round do-gooder enterprise, and his blog, which he writes despite his impossibly busy schedule is a "small attempt towards that balance: over the duration of this tournament and even beyond, I hope to use this platform to address concerns, talk of strategies and of our plans, goals, hopes, dreams and desires. As with any financial enterprise, there will be aspects of our operation that are not meant for the public domain – but whatever is within my power to share, I will."

Now that we have established that the DLF-IPL is a do-gooder franchise which is consistently wronged by the press, it is worth noting that Mr. Modi's second post is dedicated to defending the so-called "strategy break". This Orwellian mid-innings pause, is in the words of Brother Modi an attempt to "hasten the game". Didn't Orwell say that the first thing that will be lost is the English language. When words will cease to have meaning? Modi does offer a convoluted argument in defense of the "strategy-break", which starts as follows:
Most of you seem to think that it is an unnecessary interruption, designed only so that we can insert more ads. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Did you follow that? Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing at all. The argument for the "strategy break" is that teams went over the stipulated time repeatedly last year ("100% matches went over an hour beyond their schedule time"!!! I can see Bill Lawry going red in the face with fury until he can't get another word out), and so the strategy break gives coaches and captains the opportunity to regroup. The fines (very stiff ones) that the IPL stipulated for teams going over time last year, did not work. So the solution, is not to institute bans and suspensions for captains like the ICC does (you can't pay someone 1.5 million dollars and then ban him because his side didn't bowl its overs on time), but to allocate time for these alleged strategy discussions, and then institute stiff fines for delays.

But, it has nothing to do with advertising revenue. Besides, what normal people like you and me don't understand, is that its an "innovation", a "deviation from tradition". This in itself is supposed to be an argument, and even though you and I might see it as
begging the question.

Substantively speaking, what is the IPL doing to promote cricket at the grassroots? Grassroots in what country? Doesn't the BCCI already have enormous reach in India, given that it is a grassroots organization? How are the new resources generated by the IPL being used there? What is the outlook for the next 10 years based on these resources? Where can one see this information? Will any of this be in the public domain? More fundamentally, why was the IPL developed as a mechanism to promote cricket at the grassroots (lets suspend disbelief for a moment and take Mr. Modi at his word that it was)? Was the BCCI's network considered useless? Were BCCI's existing tournaments considered unworthy?

Fluff is not in short supply from Mr. Modi. He touts "the long line of innovations that the league has pioneered from the start". The league's noble goal has been to improve the quality of cricket "with some unique additions like the MCC Spirit of Cricket Charter, the Purple Cap for the Best Bowler and Orange Cap for the Best Batsmen"

Hmmm. Lets see now. The MCC Spirit of Cricket Charter is palpably not unique to the IPL, since it is as the name suggests the MCC Spirit of cricket Charter. The T20 format is not unique to the IPL either, since it existed in England for a few years before the BCCI discovered it. Best Bowler and Best Batsman awards have often been given for bilateral Test and ODI series as well as larger tournaments. The IPL's only contribution then is two caps. Indeed, the purple cap for the best bowler is a stupid idea, because a bowler rarely bowls with his cap on. If they did want to lift the idea from the Tour de France, then they ought to have at least made it more appropriate to this sport.

As i was reading through his second post, i half expected that he would end with a cry - "Long live the Revolution!" or something to this effect. As it happens, he ends his second post with this:
"In the meantime, ill-informed media commentary that we have introduced strategy breaks simply to squeeze in more ads does us a disservice. I understand that the media, when it criticises, does so with the game's best interests at heart but everyone needs to realise that it is exactly the same goal, we also as administrators of the game are working towards!"
He ends as he begins - with a non-argument argument. In between, he says he introduced a 10 minute break to hasten the game, introduced a long line of pioneering innovations and is committed to promoting cricket at the grassroots. All this while, i wish someone would nudge him on his shoulder and quietly whisper into his ear that the mountain of cash that he sits on is the work of nearly a century of Indians who have loved and embraced this game like little else. He has merely dipped his straw into that sweet love.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Election News

There is a profound truth hidden in this episode from our election campaign. There is a complete lack of irony here - a net to protect Narendra Modi from people in the audience who may chuck shoes at him.

When that poor Iraqi journalist chucked a shoe at George W Bush (a man whose politics is uncannily similar to Mr. Modi's), the Iraqi's chucked him in jail and brought charges against him. We on the other hand, simply place a net. A net through which Modi could still address his audience, his audience could still listen to him, but no shoes would get through. 

I wonder though - what would happen if people threw shoes, aimed at Modi, but they hit the net instead of Mr. Modi. As long as everyone sees them hit the net, does that not have the same effect? Without the possibility of injuring the Hindu-Hriday-Samrat (are they still calling him that?)? If so, doesn't the net work in the shoe thrower' favor - because now it is possible to throw shoes at Mr. Modi, without the risk of being arrested for assault. There surely is no law against being a nuisance at a public gathering - especially when your work amount to chucking shoes at a net.

Or, here's another possibility - throw baby shoes! Or even a doll's shoes....

This is crying out for thoughtful analysis.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One for the ages

Clear evidence that Obama is a great man. (h/t Hari)
He was in Trinidad recently, and took some time off to talk to the great Brian Lara. Sound judgement on Obama's part if you ask me. Very sound.
Obama hasn't quite managed to set aside the sluggers stance though....

Monday, April 20, 2009

What "performance"? What did Kumble actually do?

Peter Roebuck has an article about the performance of the "old stagers" on Cricinfo today. The article itself is quite interesting, but it was triggered, bizarrely enough by the first rounds of the IPL!
"Men written off, men supposedly past their primes, have proved that the IPL, and the world, belong not to youth or any other category"
What exactly did the "old stager" (he's referring to Kumble as one of them) do? He bowled 19 balls and ended with 5 wickets! Now, if you gave a football player an open net and an open ball 10 yards from the goal, with no defenders in sight, he will end up with a large haul of goals as well - even without trying, because from 10 yards out, the goal is large enough to accomodate some fairly indiscriminately aimed kicks.

Lets go through Kumble's
19 deliveries Keep in mind that the opposition was already 5 down.

1. played properly by the batsman, 1 run
2. played properly by the batsman, 1 run
3. batsman missed, struck on the pad outside offstump
4. played properly, 1 run
5. played properly, no runs
6. short outside off, batsman tries to slog it back over the bowlers head (!), toe-ends it to long of. OUT
7. attempted slog-sweep, middled well, didn't go far enough, OUT
8. defended back to the bowler
9. played back to the bowler
10. played back to the bowler
11. attempted square cut, missed
12. played back to the bowler
13. played through covers for 1 run (note - a single was on offer in the deep at 7/47)
14. batsman stepped out to slog to midwicket, misses, stumped, OUT
15. defended into the off-side
16. attempted slog, caught long on, OUT
17. ball delivered outside off-stump, batsman tries to slog over mid-wicket, caught at the wicket (see Sehwag's dismissal in the 1st innings at Napier for reference) OUT

And that, is the cheapest, poorest quality 5 wicket haul in the history of international cricket. There was no guile at work here, no setups, no serious tactics - it was just up-and-down stuff - the kind Kumble can deliver in his sleep.

This makes this particular paragraph of Roebuck's particularly noteworthy: 
"No one blamed them for taking the easy money to play in the IPL or ICL. After all those years of distinguished service, they were entitled to a last waltz. Moreover, they would bring glamour to the competition and give pleasure to crowds. Of course they might play badly, but a million dollars covers an awful lot of dented pride, and anyhow their records were written in stone."
Really? Thats how it was? This competition would have been as popular it is without these players? That they bring glamour to this competition is a mere afterthought? Really? I really want to see Vijay Mallya put out millions of dollars to watch B Akhil and Robin Uthappa play. Sourav Ganguly, at age 36 is the "icon" player for a T20 outfit. What part of this does Peter Roebuck not understand?

Seriously, does Roebuck think that a batsman, any batsman, even one of the faceless names hired by the BCCI to fill their patriotic 7 man Indian quota - players who barely make their own Ranji Trophy sides, is going to take a moment to actually play any ball on its merits - irrespective of whether it is Anil Kumble or Shane Warne that lets it rip? Does he think that Kumble or Warne are going to try in 24 deliveries to set up a batsman, or to even care about doing so given that they bowl with the boundaries well manned?

Roebuck continues:
"Next, Dravid and Anil Kumble worked wonders for the Bangalore Royal Challengers, an outfit hitherto scorned as powerful only on paper. Adapting their games to meet autumnal African conditions, Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar were the batsmen of the weekend. Dravid's revival counts among the surprises of the season, and reflects well on him and his selectors. Even respectful observers thought his time was up. Kumble struck a blow for spin and experience. His refusal to give up has long counted among his greatest assets."
This word "adapt" really sticks in my throat. It is the greatest cop out in the history of cricket writing, when applied to T20 cricket. "Change" is a close second (with apologies to Barack Obama, who used the word quite wonderfully). Adapting to what? Adapting how? What does it even begin to mean? Wasn't Roebuck watching? Tendulkar just made 160 in an ODI game (and a large number of runs in the Tests), and Dravid batted for 837 balls in the Tests in New Zealand - the most he has ever batted in a 3 Test Match series.

I continue to be amazed by the number of grown ups - people who should know better, who write about cricket (much better than i do) - who write about the IPL and T20 as if it is a serious cricketing contest. I mean is it seriously someone's point that Rahul Dravid cannot play attacking strokes against all types of bowling? 

What does T20 cricket prove beyond the fact that people who play cricket at or near the highest level can hit a cricket ball very hard and very far? I could have told you that for free - without the millions of dollars. 

What are these people actually watching? Mathew Hayden and others having a glorified net session? Spin bowlers pretending to tease and taunt and lure the batsman to his doom? Fast bowlers pretending to try and dismiss a batsman?

Roebuck is right. The IPL does not belong to youth or any other category. It belongs to millionaires and their millions. It is where the greatest sport in the world tragically belittles itself for a few extra bucks. All because alleged cricket fans watch. I have absolutely no clue what they watch. I suspect, neither do they.

What is it they say about the Emperor and his clothes?

Friday, April 17, 2009

On Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and the PadmaShri

M S Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh did not accept the PadmaShri awards conferred on them by the Government of India. This has evoked much comment. Great Bong has a typically incisive commentary on this weighty matter, while Amit Varma stands firmly in Bhajji and Dhoni's corner, or rather, against the Government.

The Government's response to Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh's absence has been rather ham handed, especially the bit about the Sports Minister's intention to issue a circular about this. The Government of India had better not start commenting on "casualness" related to sportspersons, for if a serious accounting of the Government's casualness with respect to managing the sports that are unfortunate enough to require direct Government patronage is ever carried out, Mr. Gill will have a lot more to answer for than mere casualness. 

But, compared to the Sports Minister's rather comical circular, which will be published, and also sent to the Home Ministry, which will then inform Mr. Dhoni and Mr. Singh that they should behave themselves (now do you see why it is called a circular?), this strikes me as rather extreme. That it is a Public-Interest-Litigation is even more egregious. What public interest? Besides, "criminal intimidation" and "intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace"!!! Really? Because these two guys didn't show up to recieve an award from the Government?

Given that there is a seperate set of awards reserved for Sport (just as there is for Cinema, Literature and the Arts), I wonder whether it is even necessary to give the higher national honours to sportsmen. Giving it to a Gavaskar or a Kapil Dev after retirement is one thing, but giving it to Harbhajan Singh, who only last year was involved with SlapGate and MonkeyGate is questionable. If sport is ultimately about character, then is Harbhajan (who was not completely blameless in either of those episodes) the best candidate in this year?

I don't think "casualness" on the part of Dhoni and Harbhajan is the most important problem here.

ODI Rankings Update April 17 2009

Updated to include the 5th ODI between South Africa and Australia.

AUSTRALIA 35 22 13 0.549 2 (2)
21 12 9
SOUTH AFRICA 35 22 13 0.532 3 (1)
21 12 9
INDIA 35 22 13 0.562 1 (3)
21 14 7
ENGLAND 35 17 18 0.512 5 (6)
21 12 9
WEST INDIES 35 10 25 0.385 8 (8)
21 4 17
NEW ZEALAND 35 20 15 0.514 4 (4)
21 12 9
PAKISTAN 35 14 21 0.427 7 (5)
21 9 12
35 13 22 0.489 6 (7)
21 9 12

I have included the ICC's rankings in the brackets, and this time there is a non-trivial difference at the top. My rankings have India as the clear number 1 side, where as the ICC has South Africa as the clear number 1 side. It has now been almost 2 full years (10 days short of two full years) since the 2007 World Cup final. I looked at the results achieved by each of the 8 teams against the other seven teams in this period. This is what it looks like:

Team Played Won Lost Tie No Result Win %
India 58 33 21 0 4 61.11%
South Africa 31 18 12 0 1 60.00%
Australia 40 21 15 0 4 58.33%
Pakistan 24 12 12 0 0 50.00%
New Zealand 31 12 12 1 6 48.00%
England 40 17 20 1 2 44.74%
Sri Lanka 35 12 21 0 2 36.36%
West Indies 29 7 19 0 3 26.92%

Even though my ratings are not calculated based on a team period (i use the 5 latest games that yielded a result for each match-up), i think they correlate quite well with the results achieved by each side.

Sri Lanka's decline has been especially noteworthy, for in the first half of this decade, they were consistently among the top 2-3 sides in the world. Besides, they made the final of the 2007 World Cup. Pakistan suffer a little bit in my rating in comparison to their position in the ICC's rating. In their latest contests against each of the other 7 sides, they have lost 4/5 against New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka and 3/5 against England and South Africa. Their best performances have been against West Indies (won 4/5) and India (won 3/5).

The current Indian side has been called India's best ever. This claim is significantly stronger in ODI cricket than it is in Test Cricket. If you look at the individual records in the 2 year period since the 2007 World Cup, it is quite revealing. India's batsmen occupy the first 5 positions on the list of highest run scorers for this period, and all except Gautam Gambhir average over 40. By contrast, only Zaheer Khan among bowlers makes the top 5 in the bowling list for this period (Stuart Broad leads it). Yuvraj Singh is the top run getter in this period, with 2085 runs at 42.55. He is followed by M S Dhoni, who has 1988 runs at 48.48. Sachin Tendulkar is third, with a phenomenal 1833 runs at 48.23. Gautam Gambhir is next with 1522 runs at 35.39. All these batsmen have achieved strike rates between 82 and 92. The fifth man on this list is Virender Sehwag. He has made a phenomenal 1302 runs in 28 innings at 48.22, and a strike rate of 119 since his come back to the ODI side in 2008. The combined effect of this batting orgy has meant that India's bowlers have had more breathing room their their counterparts in the opposition.

Looking through this list though, it is hard to ignore Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, who has probably been the best batsman in the world in both Tests and ODI's in the last 2 years. Sehwag would push him hard for this spot, but i would still pick Chanderpaul, because he shoulders far greater responsibility for West Indies than Sehwag does for India. Besides, statistically, his record is superior to Sehwags. Chanderpaul has made 1120 runs in 23 innings at 74.66 in ODI's and 1766 runs at 92 in 26 Test innings. He has also accomplished the most astonishing batting feat of the last two years - hitting a 4 and a six of the last two balls of the West Indies innings against Sri Lanka at Queens Part Oval, with 10 required for victory.

If one were to pick one team from the last two years, to play both Tests and ODI's, it would not be as hard as you might think in this age of ODI and Test Match specialists. My line up in batting order would be:

Graeme Smith, Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen, Sachin Tendulkar, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, Younis Khan, M S Dhoni, Andrew Flintoff, Zaheer Khan, Dale Steyn, Muralitharan (Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell Johnson and Jacques Kallis would be the reserves). Dhoni would be captain.