Monday, April 29, 2013

BCCI reprimands Praveen Kumar, orders MCC to issue 'Spirit of The Sachin'

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The utter lack of celebrations by Kings XI Punjab and more so by recently disciplined Praveen Kumar at the fall of Sachin's wicket during todays IPL encounter between MI and KXIP, has prompted the BCCI to order the MCC to issue new guidelines on how to celebrate Sachin's wicket in a way that does justice to the man's stature...

The order to MCC came only after the BCCI severely reprimanded Praveen Kumar. In a prepared statement, Praveen Kumar said, "Sachin is the greatest cricketer that has ever lived and taking his wicket has made me a better human being. I am deeply sorry if I have hurt anyone by not celebrating Sachin's wicket".

The BCCI is now expected to instruct the King's XI franchise to release Praveen Kumar's contract payments. 

Here are the guidelines that came out as "Spirit of The Sachin"...

MCC's Spirit of The Sachin

There cannot be a Spirit of the game without the spirit to honor great men (referred to as The Sachin from here on) that bless us with their desire to play cricket. In order that the spirit of The Sachin be honored we, the MCC, recommend the following guidelines for all to follow in the event of The Sachin being dismissed during a passage of play...

The guidelines apply to all, the Umpires, the Wicket Keeper, the bowler, the fielders and IPL salesmen (previously thought to be commentators) 

The Wicket Keeper
The wicket keeper shall shriek into the stump microphone while appealing and after the umpire has given his decision to rule Sachin out, he shall giggle, jump a few girlie jumps on the spot before running wildly towards the bowler. The shriek (before the giggling) shall be of the highest decibel. For exact specification please refer to You Tube videos of women embarrassing themselves at Micheal Jackson's concerts.

The Umpire
The umpire, once he has made an internal decision to give Sachin out, shall add drama to the actual "raising of his finger". His face should instantly convey two competing emotions. Emotion one - That of a fan who hates to give Sachin out must adequately compete with Emotion two - That of an umpire who is only doing his duty. There must be just a hint of shock and disappointment, while at the same time the I-am-simply-doing-my-job look should engulf (gradually) his facial expressions. At no point in the process shall the umpire make the decision seem 'business as usual'

The Bowler
The bowler who has had the honor, privilege, distinction, good fortune and prestige of claiming Sachin's wicket shall indulge in at least one of the following actions listed
  1. Run around the ground (always trying to run in the direction away from the wicket keeper) with arms spread like an eagle and imitating an airplane
  2. Pump his fists wildly while appearing to be angry
  3. Do an instant Sajda (total and respectful surrender to Sachin, while the knees touch the ground and head is bowed) before proceeding with one of the other actions (Only a Sajda will not qualify as acceptable behavior)
  4. Adopt the Shahid Afridi pose, but with eyes closed and with the expression I-have-arrived
  5. Run towards the press box and slide like a footballer
  6. A combination of high fives, chest butts with Gangam-style moves thrown in between 

The Fielders
Shall run helter-skelter appearing to run towards the bowler but making an attempt to look so delirious with joy that in the heat of joy, actually moving away from the bowler. Out of the 9 fielders at least 3 must begin circling the ground in an attempt to subtly convey...Now that Sachin is out the match is as good as ours. If one of the fielders is the one who has affected the run-out or taken the catch that dismissed Sachin, that fielder shall carry out his actions as outlined for the bowler

The Commentators
The commentators shall highlight to the viewers how hard Sachin is trying to not get out and how that in itself is the mark of a great man. Commentators will stay silent for 45 seconds after Sachin is out and through that silence should appear to be shaking their heads. Absolutely no one will comment on Sachin trying to indicate that the ball kept low; even while the ball just clipped the top of the bails. A commentator will be deemed to live the Spirit of The Sachin, if he is able to convince the viewers that any ball that Sachin gets bowled out to has kept low. This is the law of physics. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I am giving up pretending to like the IPL...

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A few years back; 2 to be exact; I gave up trying to convince myself that Sachin adds any real value to India's future plans and right about now I am giving up pretending to like and get excited about the IPL. 

Enough is enough...

I get what its all about but I am incapable of feeling any excitement towards it.

I get it...its a boon to the players, it has brought new fans and new money to cricket, you get to see international stars playing along side Indian ones...more often than not the games are very close and the standard of cricket; especially when 'The Warriors' are not playing, Ponting decides to drop himself and Sachin is in the dressing room; is....lets say decent...

I get it...

and yet, the entire package fails to connect.

Each IPL game, looks and feels the same to me. 

For someone who grew up hunting down discarded "World Cricket Digests" and old cricket books at "raddi" shops near Shivaji Park to catch up on cricket stories, about the Ashes, about great Pakistani teams, about Test Matches in South Africa, the series where Terry Alderman took 40 Ashes wickets, stories about Pataudi's captaincy, Gavaskar's WI debut; I still haven't felt the urge to catch up on Chris Gayle's heinous 175* the other day. 

Just to read the accounts was like reliving the games. It connected...The IPL doesn't

Its not the IPL's fault. We grow up or grown apart :-) ...I think I have...

To a point where the IPL looks staged...

Everything looks set up. Everything is setup...

The other day, they set up an entire episode of Sir Vivian Richards "inspiring" the Delhi 'dare-i-say' Daredevils. A part of me felt humiliated that the great Richards was willing to reduce himself to a cheer leader and a part of me was livid with the entire Indian cricket setup who don't think twice before using their money to reduce ex greats to bit roles in what is essentially a big ass saas-bahu serial packaged as cricket. 

Then again, we made Kapil Dev, our very own literally rub his nose to the ground and apologize before we released his funds. So who is Sir Vivian Richards...

There is no doubt, Sir Vivian Richards can inspire. But this was not that...this was setup, staged, the way Americans do with their sport. Nothing happens on and off the field without a meticulous plan; almost a screen play. I am not suggesting that there is one, but that's the feeling I am left with...

So a few years back, I gave up pretending to like Amercian Sports and now its the turn of the IPL. 

Its not that I don't respect the Indian cricket setup for pulling of something like the IPL. I do.N Srinivasan is yet to come out with a rule that says that the Chennai Super Kings will be deemed winners even when they lose. That's restraint. 

Its rare these days in Indian cricket.

So yes, I have immense respect for N. Srinivasan and his cronies for showing remarkable, statesman-like constraint and honor for the basic rules of the game.

When Harsha Bholgle, while delivering a running commentary, tries to explain that "even though the TRP is dipping the number of  viewers that are watching the IPL has increased".... its not cricket. Its shameless marketing. How is the TRP rating in any way a matter of discussion in a game? Its not about sport any more. Its just business. I don't watch cricket to applaud its business model. 

When people (foreign players) say profuse things (and mind you, there is no other way one should talk about Sachin) I don't feel its genuine. Its all staged. The love for Sachin, the boasting of his humility, is sickening.... 

Then there was the Sachin "Happy Birthday"... 

Happy birthday Sachin....

If the IPL is obscene enough for my senses, the 40 lb cake cutting ceremony was something for which a word has not been invented yet...let's say "Sachscene"...

Friday, April 5, 2013

Who made Test cricket king?

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In a piece titled Cricket cannot afford to be snobbish about it followers, on ESPNCricinfo this is what Harsha Bhogle says...

"Many years ago I had suggested that cricket would become a bouquet of offerings, a bit like an automobile company with products at different price points. Test cricket would be the top-of-the-line model, while T20 would, like the small car, bring in the numbers and the profits. And nothing has changed since. What I am concerned by is the refusal of many, let us say the equivalent of those who drive Mercedeses or BMWs, to acknowledge the role that the driver of an Alto plays. I keep hearing of how we need to curb T20 for the future of Test cricket; that is like thrusting what we want to see on to people who are interested in something else."
He is essentially saying, most people seem to want T20 cricket...So lets produce what people want. That Test Cricket should not be thrust on the T20 loving public.

I am actually struggling to make sense of my own disagreement with the way the whole piece is written and the points it tries to make and I have come to the conclusion is that today's administrators' cannot be given a 'green-chit' by simply identifying what is common between the cricket model and that of auto manufacturing or anything else for that matter and endorsing their actions. 

In most arguments, the prevailing and uncontested view is that "Test Cricket is the ultimate", that it is THE top-of-the-line product. Why? Who made Test cricket king? Because its a longer format? Its certainly not the costliest like most luxury cars are. Even in pure sporting terms, just because the format is longer, does it make it a 'superior' product? If a soccer game is expanded for 3 hours will that make it a better more nuanced product? Is running a marathon superior to running a 100 meter race? 

I have often heard Sunil Gavaskar and even Mahendra Singh Dhoni make the argument that T20 cricket is like a lottery? Really? Just because its a shorter format than Test cricket? Is Usain Bolt just lucky that he can win a 100m race? I have never heard anyone say that a "marathon is the ultimate" and only a marathon tests a true runner. That as you shorten the distance winning races becomes a lottery. 

The T20 format in my view is not inferior or for mass consumption only or for the regular junta from front benches. It may test the players on different skills and may challenge the traditional image of cricket but the format is as noble or ignoble as Test cricket. And please, lets not get carried away with the term "Test" cricket. T20 too "tests". May be not the traditional skills but its a "Test" nonetheless.

If analogies must be drawn, then at most Test cricket can be called "legacy" without trying to make T20 look inferior in any way.

My point being, Test cricket is not the car equivalent of the Rolls Royce. The Rolls Royce is genuinely a superior product in many respects, in comparison to a Toyota Corolla say. The Rolls Royce is superior in quality, performance and gadgetry. It is a high cost car and is specifically targeted to a more affluent class of people. It has kept itself "modern" within those parameters and its business projections are well within these parameters as well. It does not aspire to match production levels of a Honda Accord.

The point being that the Rolls Royce has been ALLOWED to keep itself modern and relevant, without the interference or the monopoly of the Toyotas and Hondas. People who enjoy and more importantly who can afford a Rolls Royce, can buy the car and enjoy it.

On the other hand; cricket is officially produced by one manufacturer. One that is cannibalizing its own product (Test cricket) in favor of a new one (T20) that is more appealing to the larger market.

What about the traditionalists then. When a luxury car manufacturer feels that there is more money to be made catering to the mass market, it usually sells its existing business to someone who is willing to cater to the smaller more affluent market. The market doesn't get destroyed.

The reason I reject the product analogy is that unlike in the product world, selling Test cricket to a willing buyer (who promises to keep producing it) is not an option. A market however small, is being destroyed and given no chance of survival.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A doctored sweep

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When India lost 4 tests in a row to England while perched at the top of the Test ranking, it was evident something was wrong with the team. Bad Luck and these-things-happen-in-cricket type of analysis offered by the leaders was laughable. 

18 months, and a million more denials later they lost a home series to England in late 2012. After the 0-2 loss to South Africa 12 years earlier, this was a new low in Indian cricket. 

Rahul Dravid had retired and VVS Laxman seemed to have been nudged into retirement, but largely changes weren't deemed necessary for the English series because many involved believed India just have to show up at any ground in India, provide a pitch specification to the curator and the English will just roll over and go back paying rich tributes to Sachin Tendulkar. 

Thankfully, India lost and the new selection committee led by Sandip Patil had the backing of a crisis; albeit publicly denied; to make some serious changes. 

They did...

Gautam Gambhir was dropped, Sehwag was put on notice Zaheer Khan was banished to get himself fixed, and Harbhajan was given a complimentary 100th Test before being benched. 

R Ashwin realized that getting wickets at home too involved some thinking, India rethought their strategy, investing their faith in Ravindra Jadeja to seek a better balance and they unleashed the mustache twirling Shikhar Dhawan after Sehwag's notice period ended. 

and voila! India sweep the Australians 4-0

Just as there was more to India being swept in England than the leadership was capable of admitting, the 4-0 sweep of the Australians is too convenient a story line for me to just take at face value. 

It can't be that simple, can it? 

Yes this was a very weak Australian, in fact the weakest since the 1985-86 Australian team that hosted Kapil Dev's team. India have hosted weak teams before but never had they swept a series of more than 3 Tests. 

What was different this time?

Dhoni's captaincy? Ravindra Jadeja? India's sudden-found ruthlessness? 

I think it's the pitches....

One cause of unease for me is definitely the pitches. Its one thing to be inherently better prepared to use home conditions but when pitches are made to order to spin and crumple from Day 1, its a sign of desperation and insecurity. India were probably not confident enough to win on lets say a typical Chepauk wicket, where Test matches have hasted a full 5 days, that they had to recruit curators to build pitches to a specification.

New Zealand did a similar thing to counter India's strong batting line up when India visited them in 2002 and, I remember there was a Test where all 4 innings of the Test were played on one day; the second day. It was fun (for a while) to watch the ball swing and wickets tumble but with Test Matches lasting barely 2 days, the home advantage was quite obviously artificially engineered and magnified. Even with typical New Zealand wickets, India would still have lost but by going out of their way to make India's famed batting look out of breath, New Zealand deceived only themselves.

I think India have resorted to something similar and only time will tell, how good this Indian team is at home in normal home conditions.