Friday, March 09, 2012

Gaurav Kalra Responds

Over a series of direct messages on twitter, Gaurav Kalra, Sports Editor CNN-IBN demanded that I post his "word-by-word" rebuttal on my blog. He refused my suggestion that while I would do so in any case, he should also post it on his.

So here it is - "without a comma changed" as the title of his email to me commands:

LET’S MAKE THE ‘NUANCED’ ARGUMENT
BY: GAURAV KALRA

While making my case about the problems with India’s selection panel http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/gauravkalra/260/63247/so-they-are-a-bunch-of-jokers.html I was well aware of the unenviable nature of the job. A selector can never really please all the people all the time. Each marginal call has an equally vociferous contrarian view. The intention of the piece was to point towards a trend of feeble leadership and lack of vision. It was to highlight the subservient, hands-off nature of this panel that bows meekly to the whims of an adamant team management. The examples quoted were to highlight what I believed was an unmistakable trend. I was prepared to be challenged but the ferocity of this piece by Kartikeya Date http://cricketingview.blogspot.in/2012/03/reply-to-gaurav-kalra.html was unexpectedly enjoyable!



While accusing me of ‘demonstrating a level of analysis which is crude even by the standards one has come to expect of the professional cricket press’ Kartikeya wonders why the piece offered ‘No nuances, no effort to take each decision on its own terms and examine its own context’. So I searched in Kartikeya’s piece for the ‘nuanced’ argument to explain the selections I am convinced were poor calls. But didn’t find any!

Here goes one argument in Kartikeya’s rebuttal: “There is no sense that players could have been picked as understudies (Rahul Sharma for example), or could have been picked for successive games as part of a plan to have a preliminary look at them (Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron in the Kolkata and Mumbai Tests) given future challenges”

Let us examine that. In my view, and one shared by several currently active cricketers I have spoken to, the argument that Rahul Sharma served as an understudy for two whole months while the domestic season was on is downright idiotic. Sharma’s elevation to the Test squad on the basis of a couple of eye catching IPL performances was troubling enough. His first class record was poor. And if this was an ‘inspired selection’ then those don’t come off from the bench!

What exactly was he doing shuttling around the country when Sharma could have been bowling long spells for Punjab in the Ranji trophy was beyond comprehension. If Sharma wasn’t to play then was it not prudent for him to be released on domestic duty? Was he working with a senior pro like Anil Kumble while in the squad as an ‘understudy’? No. Was bowling coach Eric Simons qualified to chisel his leg-breaks? No. The point I made was that a straight thinking selection committee would have seen recognized Sharma was wasting his time. Either they would have insisted he played in the third Test at Mumbai when the series had already been decided or sent him to his state team. Neither happened, and hence the conclusion I came to: “The selection committee saw nothing unusual as a young cricketer of promise did everything but play cricket”

I am highly amused that Kartikeya even considers the argument that Umesh Yadav might have been rested as part of a plan to have a ‘preliminary look at him and Varun Aaron’. Any right thinking cricketer would tell you that when a new kid is running in and bowling fast, it is foolish to stop him in the tracks. Yadav had bowled a mere 24 overs in the previous Test. Just 24! Hear Wasim Akram explain what muscle memory is. Hear Joel Garner talk about the importance of bowling long spells. If indeed the intention was to have a look at Aaron, why wasn’t Ishant Sharma rested? It wasn’t as if he was coming off a bucketful of wickets.

I wonder how Kartikeya reconciles two completely divergent positions. Rahul Sharma is the understudy who can learn without actually playing! But Varun Aaron is the understudy who can learn only by playing! Choose one theory to propagate Kartikeya, not both because that then is an argument of convenience!

Now let’s consider Kartikeya’s rant on my view of the Asia Cup squad. Here goes Kartikeya’s argument. “Since January 1 2010, the players selected have produced a 32-9 Win-Loss record in sub-continent conditions, and their batsmen have been lethal. But the point about "local conditions", for Kalra, apparently applies only to a couple of games where it became clear that Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja were struggling to cope with Australian conditions, not to the selection of the Asia Cup squad”.

I re-read my piece to search for a single word to suggest the squad chosen wasn’t appropriate for the conditions. But I failed to find one. In-fact, the ‘sub-continent’ specialists tag on Raina and Jadeja has been planted by Krish Srikkanth himself who acknowledged in an interview to us that their selection for tours outside the sub-continent is now up for debate.

My point, conveniently twisted by Kartikeya, was not about Jadeja and Raina at all. It was about Manoj Tiwary and whether the selectors see him as fringe player to the extent that he only gets in if enough guys are either injured or ‘resting’. The question to be asked is as basic as this: Should Tiwary have played a game in Australia? Especially after Raina and Jadeja kept failing. And not just in ‘couple of games’. Kartikeya cleverly chooses to skirt around that one. He offers no explanation as to why they were given an extended run. What could the possible plan have been there?

Now that he wasn’t played what do I ask in my piece of the selectors- “Will poor Manoj Tiwary be a bench-warmer again with 'sub-continent' specialists Raina and Jadeja retaining their spots despite their horrors in Australia?” Kartikeya offers a detailed description of why both Jadeja and Raina are likely to succeed in Bangladesh. Who doubts that for one second? But will it not be of greater benefit to Indian cricket if Tiwary bats at three in all four games in Bangladesh? If he fails, isn’t there enough cushion in that batting order to see India through? If he succeeds, the squad is strengthened. The argument being made was FOR Tiwary not AGAINST Jadeja and Raina.

Let’s tackle the Sachin Tendulkar question now because that is the most spurious position Kartikeya takes. He argues that Sachin has ‘typically played in series or matches involving difficult bowling opposition - Australia, South Africa, England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and missed games against other teams” since 2007. By that logic alone, why Sachin is playing in a low profile and largely meaningless tournament like the Asia Cup is beyond me.

If Kartikeya believes that the Tendulkar one-day debate is not to be viewed through the prism of pre-world cup winner and post-world cup winner then he has little understanding of the ambitions and motivations that drive cricketers. If Tendulkar has chosen not to stop after winning the World Cup he has every right to do so. But if a national selection panel and the player himself choose to keep the so called ‘plan’ in the closet, I am afraid the questions can’t be wished away.

I ask in my piece: “Is Sachin Tendulkar available now for all one-day cricket India will play? Is there any clarity on his plans for the future - in the long or the short run? Is that an invalid question for the selection committee to ask of a player as they re-build from the ruins of defeats in England and Australia?” Take them one at a time- It was assumed that given Sachin’s reluctance to play all one-cricket over the last four years that he would give the Asia Cup a miss. He did not. Must the selectors not be asked if this is a shift in position and that he will now be available for all one-day cricket India plays, barring injury. At 39 years of age, is it unreasonable to expect some thought on where his one-day ambitions lie? He is the most followed cricketer in the game, do his supporters have to simply swallow drivel that ‘all plans can not be shared’.

This bit of Kartikeya’s piece is plain silly. He alleges that my article, “is an attack on the selectors that does not take the work of selection seriously. It is also an attack on cricket selectors that ignores cricket because it offers no serious diagnosis of India's performance (listing results is no diagnosis) that might form the basis of his attacks”.

While I concede my technical expertise is limited, I can not imagine an argument resisting change after these results can be made. As a journalist, my job isn’t as much diagnosis or offer solutions for that matter. That is the lookout of administrators, the team management, coaches and the like. We are in the business of holding up a mirror to what are glaring errors- either by design or accident.

As ‘professional’ selectors who are paid for the service they provide, these men are accountable. They can not and must not be allowed to develop intimacy with the team culture. They must be distant and brave, not servile. They must be reminded of that and pushed into making the tough calls. They have every right to ignore us, but frankly if you lose eight straight overseas tests and win just 3 of 13 overseas one-dayers, to not even be open for scrutiny is astounding.

My case was selectors have allowed a state of flux and indecision to persist. Kartikeya argues: “I also do not view the selectors as judges administering justice and retribution - punishing failure and rewarding success.”. In cricket selections, failure is punished by dropping players, success is rewarded by giving opportunities. This is not retribution. This is sport. This is the basis of their job. Kartikeya’s view only encourages status quo. Why then do we need selectors at all?

After an exchange on Twitter, Kartikeya made some concessions. He agrees that ‘either VVS or Dravid should have been left out for Adelaide, especially after Kohli's runs at Perth’. My formula was more radical and called for both to be left out- http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/gauravkalra/260/63091/in-adelaide-shock-it-up-and-shake-it-up.html - it is ofcourse a point he failed to make in his otherwise detailed tirade in the blog, but I will let that pass. I will also assume that he agrees Yusuf Pathan’s exclusion from the list of 37 contracted players was a shocker since he doesn’t offer a counter in his piece. Kartikeya also tweeted “I appreciate your response by the way. My writing tends to be less tactful than it ought to be”.

While tact is over-rated and aggression rarely troubles me, for someone with such an eye for detail a sweeping generalization that my piece “demonstrates a level of analysis which is crude even by the standards one has come to expect of the professional cricket press” is reflective of a standard mind-set. It is fashionable these days to paint the ‘press’ with a common brush. All journalists may not possess the intellectual depth that Kartikeya does, but we engage every day with board officials, selectors and players.

We have an understanding of how this system operates. You may like to believe so Kartikeya but not every intention is noble, not all decisions are premised on ‘cricketing’ logic. This is a system that needs to be pressured. Only the naïve will shy away from asking questions. Ask more than you need to at times, because while a few may be offensive, others will force answers. You may mock us, that is your right. But cultivating a source is a skill. Reporting on skullduggery is just as important in our cricket as understanding the intricacies of the cover drive.

While Kartikeya may think this was ‘mediocre, ad hominem attack on the selectors’, it was not written in the spur of the moment. I have given this panel the benefit of the doubt over a range of dubious selections over the year, but there came a tipping point. The cricket press, and me in particular, might be ‘mediocre’ and ‘crude’ but we perform a function. The gravitas of intellectuals such as yourself is welcome, but distinctly uninformed…

5 comments:

  1. It's a good response, all told. But you're being too generous by giving him space here. You have a comments section, he has a blog-- both of which are reasonable forums for a rebuttal.

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  2. I must say that most of the points Gaurav Kalra makes struck me when I read your original post, though perhaps with not so much vehemence (which is understandable. The vehemence would probably have been there if it was my piece you had written about in that fashion). I'll look forward to your responses.

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  3. Is this somekind of marketing gimmick?

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  4. It is interesting that Kalra makes a point such as this:

    "We have an understanding of how this system operates. You may like to believe so Kartikeya but not every intention is noble, not all decisions are premised on ‘cricketing’ logic. This is a system that needs to be pressured. Only the naïve will shy away from asking questions. Ask more than you need to at times, because while a few may be offensive, others will force answers. You may mock us, that is your right. But cultivating a source is a skill. Reporting on skullduggery is just as important in our cricket as understanding the intricacies of the cover drive."

    I would have thought good journalism would mean exposing this skullduggery rather than pressurising the system by asking questions. IS Mr. Kalra a journalist or an activitist? If Mr. Kalra knows something fishy is going on, isn't his duty as a journamlist to bring to his readers out in the open thru proper means rather than use that to play the system?

    Arguments such as this:

    "Rahul Sharma is the understudy who can learn without actually playing! But Varun Aaron is the understudy who can learn only by playing! Choose one theory to propagate Kartikeya, not both because that then is an argument of convenience"

    are naive. It fundamentally assumes that everything is at the same priority level. Rahul may be a longer term understudy vs. Varun Aaron being someone tried out in the immediate term. The intent of Mr. Kalra post seems to be to prove he was right rather than debate the points Kartikeya has raised in all seriousness.

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  5. Gaurav Kalra included , most of the cricket journalists have got in to a trap of arrogance . Very rarely I find anyone offering solutions. He talks of what is expected of journalist , that they just need to hold a mirror to show the errors. He claims he is neither an expert nor can he offer what is right.
    Can't understand how one can say something is an error unless one knows what is or what are right ?
    Let us be clear, the cupboard is bare. Selectors have very little choice. Just throwing out a Tendulkar is not going to solve the problems.
    Okay, Tendulkar is playing Asia Cup , appears to be a case of trying to get his 100th 100, so what ? He is some saint or what. People play for their team to win but also play for personal pride and achievement.why can't he be given some slack.It is not that youngsters have been performing fabulously barring Kohli to some extent ,that too after several chances .

    People like Kalra have hyped the 100 th 100 so much , we should be holding a mirror to their faces.
    How many times these people have let Tendulkar play his natural game. Will a Gaurav Kalra be able to produce a good piece if somebody breathes down his neck all the time.

    One is quite disappointed with the Cricket Journalists and players like Sanjay Manjrekar who have turned journalists.

    All arm chair critics. Just look at a Greg Chappell. Great player , good analytical skills , but a poor man manager and administrator.
    Srikanth

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