Archive for the ‘cricket’ Category

The splendid victory of South Africa against Australia set my mind thinking about their leader, Graeme Smith, and how he led from the front. And about his leadership career, as South Africa’s cricket captain.

When he took over as SA captain, he was young and almost brash. There were other seniors who were still in the team, and yet, they gave the reins of captaincy to this young cricketer, who had not been in international cricket for very long.

He came with new ideas. He rubbed the seniors like Jonty, Allan Donald, Pollock, Kluesner and others, the wrong way. He also did not win enough, amidst all this friction. There were talks of him being an incorrect choice, criticism of his hot temper, and what not.

But he learnt. And he learnt fast. And he was fundamentally the right choice, which the South African selectors pursued with. And the persistence paid off. As he became more acceptable as a leader among his teammates. And as he led from the front, with an aggressive, winning approach. And started delivering far better results. And today, he is considered one of the better captains in the cricket world.

A very different background is that of Ratan Tata. As a young entrant in the Tata fold, he took over reins of companies like Tata Textiles and Nelco, and had disastrous results.

Then, when he took over the group, after JRD Tata, he seemed to be going after senior pros like Russi Mody (Tata Steel), Ajit Kerkar (Indian Hotels) and Darbari Seth (Tata Chemicals). At that time, it looked like his insecurity to work with these giants, and he took the route of seeing them off. As later events proved, these people had created virtual fiefdoms, out of their companies, and the decisions to replace them, were extremely brave and bold ones, taken by Ratan Tata.

Over the years now, Ratan Tata has become a fanstastic leader of the group, driving them to unprecedented growth, with very high ambition, and proved to be a real champion.

Another young leader who has quickly worked his way up, and grown by leaps and bounds, has been Kumar Mangalam Birla. Never easy to follow an icon like Aditya Birla, and at a young age too. But he grabbed the opportunity well, and has created brilliant new growth opportunities for the group now.

Not so successful has been his cousin, Yash Birla, who was also thrust into the hot seat, at a very young age, on account of the sudden demise of Ashok Birla. Yash however, has found the good life more to his liking, and running the business, just one of the many things that he does in life.

Rajiv Gandhi was also thrust into the seat of power without much notice, due to the assassination of Indira Gandhi. As a young and unspoilt (by corruption and power) clean leader that time, he promised a lot. And his early years were akin to the Kennedy years, for the US. Held out a lot of promise and the youth of the nation, especially looked up to him, for providing a new direction of growth for the country. However the phase did not last too long, as he got caugh in the political web of deceit and corruption. So the hopes were belied. And ultimately, it all came to an early end, due to his also being assassinated.

Coming back to cricket, it appears as if Australia almost always have the right leader waiting in the wings. After Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor, it looked like Ponting had already been primed up, to take over the reins. And he led by strong example, and providing exemplary leadership, from the outset. And at this time, it appears clear that Michael Clarke is being groomed for the opportunity, and will be all set to take over when his time comes.

The interesting parallel that I see between the two Indian World Cup
victories – 1983 ODIs and 2007 Twenty/20 is the captains.

Where we have had suave, polished, apparently very intelligent and
thinking captains of Indian sides, like Gavaskar and Dravid, to larger
than life captains like Sachin, loners / fixers like Azhar, and
aggressive ones like Saurav, none of these chaps won us the World Cup.

The two who did, Kapil and Dhoni, are of the same breed, in a way. They play from the heart, they are truly fearless, they don’t care much for being politically right, they are game for a challenge, they never-say-die. Moreover, they give their teammates a feeling that the captain is ‘one of them’ only, and yet they are an inspiration to their teams. Most importantly, they lead from the front.

And as it turns out, it is this breed of a captain, this style that won us World Cups – now twice!

The 1983 come-back-from-brink win against Zimbabwe (from 17-5, India
went on to win, backed by a 175 runs knock from Kapil) and the first
round India-Pakistan game that India won in the bowl out, are both
significant turning points in the journey to the ultimate victory.

In that respect, the two World Cup wins have a familiar story.

Cheers.. Chak de, India!

There have been a lot of knee-jerk developments in the Indian cricket scene, post the World Cup fracas. While the new policies of the BCCI appear to be very constructive, and I quite like them, the selections of the two teams to visit Bangladesh, leaves a lot to be desired.

First of all, Shashtri goes on record to state that he is going to be a manager, just for this tour. Like a Bangladesh tour was so critical. We have a stop-gap manager of sorts, it appears.

Then, as far as the team goes, I am not seeing a clear logic. Just that few older heads are out of the ODI squad, and some new names are being tried out. Under Dravid’s captaincy.

What is the exact long term focus?
Why is Sehwag still there in the ODI team?
Is Piyush Chawla good for ODIs and not good for test cricket?
Why would you blood a young leg spinner in the slap-dash game of ODIs, but not give him a chance to learn in the longer test cricket?

Also it looked a big mess – whether the selection was driven by BCCI diktats, or the selectors had a role to play. Shows a sense of desperation and cluelessness…

None of the ruckus would have happened.
In Indian cricketing world, in the Indian media, with the BCCI, amongst the players, etc.
If only the Bangladesh – South Africa game had happened earlier.. !

The Indian team crashed out of the World Cup, because they lost to Bangladesh. The world (well, the billion Indians at least) was shocked because India lost to Bangladesh. “How can they lose to lowly Bangladesh?”, the world asked!

If Indian had beaten Bangladesh and then lost to Sri Lanka (which was always possible, and could have been acceptable too), India would have still made it to the Super 8 stage, lost their badly, and then returned home. The noise levels would have been lower, the advertisers and sponsors would have enjoyed a few weeks more of television viewership, and a general stability would have prevailed.

But that did not happen, and the floodgates of criticism were opened.

Because of the fundamental question, “How could India lose to Bangladesh?”

Things would have been different though, if Bangladesh had met South Africa earlier and beaten South Africa, as they did yesterday.

THEN, the scenario changes dramatically.
Bangladesh is a great cricket team. One that can beat the number one team in the world rankings, South Africa. They are a turnaround team, a champion team. Etc.

Now, after that, if India lost of Bangladesh, it would not matter. After all, if the top team in the world, South Africa, can lose to Bangladesh, then its not such a bad thing for India to lose to them now, is it?

But fate had it otherwise, and the India-Bangladesh game happened a lot earlier, and all the worst things that had to happen for the Indian players, the BCCI, the media, the sponsors, the advertisers, etc., there was ample time for all of that to happen!

Oh well..

What a great giant killer performance by Bangladesh.
And as for South Africa, with everything going for them, they are still going to find a way to lose. Australia-Sri Lanka final, is my tip now!

Right from morning, television has been covering as its headline story, the new policy of BCCI announced yesterday, to revamp Indian cricket. And as media goes, they want to pick the most media worthy point of the statement, while ignoring everything else.

They are talking about BCCI’s curbs on player endorsements, and whether these are right or not. I guess, that part of the statement is a little harsh, and may get criticism from all quarters. It can even be challenged as a Monopolistic Restrictive Trade Practice, since it simply tells the players, that they have to cut their incomes of they do not get selected for cricket matches. And the players cannot go anywhere else, as BCCI is a monopoly.

So there, I agree that this is one of the tough call portions of the statement.
But really, there is so much more that is creditable, and if BCCI really means what it says here, there are good things that can come out of this policy.

1. Asking zones to set up cricket academies and have them associated with the National Cricket Academy. That is money spent in the right place!

2. Asking for faster and more sporting pitches to come up across the country. Something that I have been shouting about for a long time.

3. Having more India A team games, and especially with countries like Australia, South Africa etc. Yes, get the next gen of cricket ready with some competitive cricket.

4. Making it mandatory for senior cricketers to participate in domestic games. Absolutely necessary. All countries have this requirement, except India. Now its coming in and we should hopefully see much lesser of the ‘guys being rested’! Also it is made clear that performance and participation in domestic cricket and clearing fitness tests, become criteria for selection. Awesome.

5. A limit to the number of playing days in a year, for test and ODI playing cricketers. Yes, that leaves them with time to play the domestic cricket referred above. And leave them with lesser reasons to ‘need rest’!

6. Doing away with zonal selectors and going for professional ones, who will be remunerated for their efforts too. Perfect! A must-need.

7. Doing away with slab wise incomes. Well, this is a yes and no situation. Earlier players were graded and got different levels of incomes. In a classic corporatish structure, this is essential. However, a non-performing senior getting more money, and a performing junior making less, was an anamoly. Worth trying this out.

8. Performance based pay. For ODIs, the fixed amount paid to players is reduced and a large bonus is introduced for winning series. Now, if endorsements are reduced and the direct rewards from playing cricket becomes a significant part of the revenues for a player, hopefully, the bonus will motivate the players to give their best and be focussed on winning, rather than just playing!

9. Focus on youth. They are sending a youthful team to Bangladesh. Makes sense. Even at the cost of losing some games at this time, if we focus on rebuilding the team with an eye on the future, its a great investment. Completely endorse it.

10. Dravid retained as captain. Shashtri as manager / coach. Prasad and Robin Singh as additional bowling and fielding coaches. Dravid as captain is good continuity. The perfect person to be an example for a young team that he will hopefully lead. Very intelligent. As long as he does not insist on Sehwag and Harbhajan, I am okay with him! Splitting the coach’s duties into three is a good step in the Indian context. It reduces pressure on a single person. Shashtri is a good choice as manager / coach. He is smart, articulate, young enough, can speak his mind, does not care hoot for authority, and if he establishes a good equation with Dravid and the team, nothing could be better. He is very commercial so I don’t know if that may come in the way, sometimes. But otherwise, I would definitely prefer him over a Gavaskar (puh-leese.. how can anyone even suggest his name!), Kapil Dev (great captain-leader, but would not make a good coach, especially in terms of offering scientific coaching techniques which are the need of the hour) or puppets like Anshuman Gaekwad / Mohinder Amarnath and the like! Robin Singh and Prasad, I don’t know how they will turn out. Have my set of doubts about their choice. I am just happy that the coach’s duties are split into three.

Many of the above are brave steps. Almost un-BCCI-like. Like they have stepped on their own toes, perhaps reduced their powers to an extent, or their means to be corrupt to an extent, or reduced the earnings opportunities. But if the BCCI sees that they need to nurture the golden baby, so that it keeps delivering for a longer time, then clearly these steps are in the right direction.

The mood of the nation being as it is, with the world cup loss, and the players own voice getting muted to that extent, this is the BCCI’s best opportunity to push these changes through. I am hopeful of improvements, as a result.

The money in Indian cricket had made the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) a very greedy board. Trying to squeeze every drop of juice that was available to squeeze out, somewhere in that process, it appeared that they had forgotten about cricket. It was all about selling rights, playing more cricket even if it was inconsequential, etc. To a large extent, these policies of the Board had a role to play in India’s early exit from the World Cup.

Finally they have woken up. Perhaps it required a shock of the World Cup defeat to beat some sense in to the Board. Maybe the unanimous and strong reactions from the public at large, maybe the sharp drop in the TV ratings for the world cup, somewhere some sense was knocked into the Board’s heads.

And they realized that they were trying the kill the goose that was laying the golden egg. And they seem to have retreated just in time.

If the BCCI’s statement at the end of the 2-day session is anything to go by, there are steps in the right direction. Almost all of them. Well, a few things could have been a little different, but hey, why complain? When almost all of the thoughts appear to be, for a change, in the interest of Indian cricket, and not just in the interest of the BCCI’s coffers!

It is flattering to find that several of the suggestions that I had penned out, as the potential solutions, in the interest of Indian cricket, seem to have found their way in the Board’s statement today!

Looking forward to better times in Indian cricket.. !

Can a team win a big event like the World Cup in cricket, without having genuine heroes or characters?

Was the Indian team that won the World Cup in 1983 a team like that? Well, Kapil Dev was a character for sure. So, I would not call it a team without any heroes. But yes, other than Kapil, the rest of the team was pretty much, average chaps.

Pakistan as a World Cup winner, had of course, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, two amazing characters. Sri Lanka, in their win, had a Jayasuriya and an Aravinda D’Silva, not to speak of their most amazing captain ever, Ranatunga.

Which brings me to the current World Cup and the teams in the reckoning. Leaving Ireland and Bangladesh aside, lets examine the rest of the teams, and see if there are heroes or larger than life characters present, in these teams.

Australia of course, has Ponting. But they also have awesome heroes like Gilchrist and McGrath, and budding ones like Hussey and Clarke. And then there is Symonds.

So yes, Australia may only have an excess of them!

South African characters would include guys like Smith at the top, followed by Kallis, Gibbs, Pollock and Boucher. People with fan followings, people who are capable to turning things around on their own, guys who have done it few times, people with a certain style about them.

Which is why, in the above two teams, if one had to pick a single name each, it would have to be Ponting and Smith respectively. The style and aplomb with which they bat and lead their sides from the front qualifies them, for these unique positions.

Then coming to Sri Lanka. Certainly its got to be Murali. What a character.. he is an enigma of sorts, almost a magician like figure. A big wide smile each time he gets a wicket, or even when he takes a catch or fields well or throws his bat around to score some runs. Other names to be picked could include Sangakara, Malinga and Vaas. But Murali is streets ahead.

England has Flintoff and Peitersen. Both have a certain style and confidence to be the heroes of their teams, and aptly become the characters for England. Panesar is the only other name that comes to mind, but more so, because he is a Sikh, and stands out, and has that oriental spinning magic. But he has a long way to go.

The West Indies have Lara. Again, like in case of Sri Lanka, he is the one man who is streets ahead of all others. Quite like a Viv Richards before him, the absolute confidence justifies the tag for him. He can take on complete teams single handedly, and as long as he is on the crease, no matter if 9 wickets are down, the opposite team cannot heave a sigh of relief! Other characters in West Indies would include Gayle and perhaps, Chanderpaul. Bravo is an emerging one, and if he justifies the potential that he shows, he could be their future character!

That brings us to New Zealand. Where from actually this thought came to my mind, in the first place. I find that New Zealand as a team, does NOT have any such characters! Yes, guys like Oram, Mcmillan, Bond, Vettori, have flirted with the tag, but they still do not really ‘own’ the character tag! None of them. Least of all, their captain, Fleming. And yet, they could be the genuine dark horse of the World Cup, to challenge Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

So, to repeat my question from the beginning of this post, “Can a team win a big event like the World Cup in cricket, without having genuine heroes or characters?”.
I am not sure. We will see if New Zealand gets there.. then, we will know the answer to this.

Oh, by the way, I do not want to talk about teams that are already eliminated, as to whether they had any characters or not. Which is why India and Pakistan are not even mentioned here.

There are no easy answers. Its like asking how to remove corruption from Indian society. It is so deeply entrenched that one does not know where to even start, to think in terms of a solution. The Indian cricket scene is somewhat similar.

So on the one hand, there are the seriously macro level steps, which need a lot of will and vision to be taken up, and I wonder if they will ever be taken up, in spite of the fact that cricket generates so much money:

1. Get a board of cricket control that understands cricket, and is not full of administrators and politicians. That will be a good start.

2. Get more pacy and more international pitches across the country, instead of the featherbeds that we currently have. Domestic cricket will then show who can really stand up, in the outside world, and not keep generating batting records alone.

3. Get a selection committee of 3 persons, and who are not recommended by their zones, who have no connections nor commitments to their zones, but who understand the game well. Who also can appear to be completely above board with regards to favouritism of any kind. Names like Venkatraghvan, Ashok Mankad, Anil Kumble (should he retire now) and such come to mind.

4. Invite foreign teams to play with our domestic teams, perhaps domestic teams of other countries like Australia, South Africa, etc. That will give our domestic players a better feel of international competition, give them some reality checks too.

These are larger macro issues, as I said.

In terms of the more immediate factors, what can be done or should be done.

Ordinarily, I am not one for en-mass changes in a team, just because they have lost a series. Demands of big changes go up, amongst the fans and the media, every time an Indian team loses. But that is usually not good nor justified.

However for once I am tempted to go with that thought. Not just because of the shameful World Cup exit, but also taking into account all recent performances, including the last couple of years, before the World Cup. We have shown inconsistency, an inability to push for wins, mental weakness, lack of team spirit, lack of focus on the individual’s role in the team, etc. Many of these factors are related to the player/s concerned, be it on account of their continuing lack of form, lack of commitment, lack of fitness, or a generally couldn’t-care attitude. Continuing with such negative forces in the team, spells disaster!

With that in mind, I would go for major cutting and chopping in the team, and essentially axe players like Sachin, Saurav, Sehwag, Harbhajan, Agarkar from the ODI team. Off these, Sachin, Saurav and Agarkar may be treated as a final adieu for ODIs. Quite like how Steve Waugh was shown the door, at one point, although he continued to play test matches for Australia. Sehwag and Harbhajan may have a chance to return, but not in a hurry.

There are a lot of voices out there, seeking Dravid’s and Chappell’s heads. And much as I feel differently, reality could show these guys becoming the first ‘fall guys’ of the World Cup loss. Which will be a shame, of course.

Yes, I did feel that Dravid did not show a very good strategy across the world cup games, and he could certainly have done with better decisions on the field. And perhaps the experimentation that Chappell-Dravid combine kept trying for so many months, should have stopped at some point, to enable the team to have a clear single strategy getting into the world cup. Unfortunately, we were still not sure what our best combination was, what will be the batting order, etc. Did that confusion stay with Dravid on the field as well? Did that confusion leave him without the ‘perfect single strategy’ for each game? Could be. Chappell’s dissatisfaction with the team has been revealed now. That he preferred young guns like Raina, but did not get them, is out in the open. If Dravid panicked at the last minute and opted for experience over youth in the selection meetings, that showed his lack of conviction in the team. Bringing in older hands, and leaving the young guys who were being groomed for last 1-2 years, smacked of insecurity.

Maybe at the end of it, all of these issues happened because the weight of the big event got on to Dravid. Bringing about a sort of anxiety that leads to taking not the best of decisions, many a times!

Given all that, and considering his individual talents, that he can still deliver for a few years, his own commitment to work and to cricket and at least my perception of him being ‘clean’, makes me believe that he should continue to be captain. Also I do not see an easy alternative. I do not believe it makes sense to make any of the older guys as captain (Sachin / Saurav). There is nothing that we need to be concerned about in the short term. Whatever steps are taken, have to be with a ‘rebuilding of the team’ in mind. Which means, we have to invest for the future. That rules out the older chaps. One would like to think akin to South Africa, when they went and got a young captain in Graeme Smith, few years back. That was a fantastic decision. But they must have seen clearly, that Smith was mature beyond his years, he had the ability to be consistent in his own performance, to have a level head to remain captain and lead the team from the front, for a few years, etc. That kind of confidence made them go and plug for him as captain.

In India, I do not see a name of that kind, on the horizon. No, Yuvraj does not work, as far as I am concerned. He has too much of an attitude problem. As Chappell put in his private (now public) SMSes, that Yuvraj behaves like a superstar which he is still not! That kind of an attitude does not make for an investment into the future, as far as captaincy goes.

For all these reasons, I will stay with Dravid.

Given a choice, I would also stay with Chappell as coach. I still believe that he had the right methodology. He just did not get the right team, nor the support from the players. Interestingly, none other than Narayan Murthy of Infosys, has written about this. And as he essentially says that don’t throw the baby with the bath water! What went wrong was not the process, but the implementation. Don’t blame the process for it. Indeed, don’t dump Chappell, but in fact, give him more control in terms of selection issues, length of time, and clear targets. I am sure he can deliver!

But how does the actual delivery happen, assuming that we have Dravid and Chappell in place, as captain and coach. What next. These could be the steps that could be undertaken.

1. The Board should give large advertisements in the media, conveying like a ‘white paper’ view, for the benefit of fans. Fundamentally to state that the Indian team is going to be rebuilt, and we are allowing a time frame of 2-3 years to achieve that, and during which time, there will be young guys being groomed and trained. And because this exercise takes time, fans are requested to not expect miracles, but wait for the 2-3 year period to go, before a great new Indian team emerges! Getting the fans pressure off the back, for this time, will be a great relief. Such ads can be repeated from time to time, during the period, to reinforce the thoughts.

2. A core team of 30 players, with perhaps another 20 in the periphery, may be chosen. Young chaps, ready to be groomed for the Indian team of the future. Chaps who are willing to work really hard. Who will take the coach’s words as gospel, and put the efforts. Quite like a Chinese team training for the Olympics.

3. Work hard with these chaps, and for each outing that comes up, give opportunities to few new names, from this lot. Give all of them a lot of exposure, in any case. Be it by sending them on unofficial tours or whatever. Let them learn all the basics, including running between the wickets, fielding, catching, playing fast bowling, playing spin, bowling to contain, bowling to attack, taking 1s and 2s, playing specific roles for the team, etc. The grooming should be complete. Mental strength also needs to be built up.

4. Also emphasize to all of the youngsters that the way to riches is via performance and there is no short cut. If this thought can be instilled into the group, it will not create an anxiety amongst them to try and make quick money, either by over-endorsing or by ‘other’ means. If the players know that serious long term gains of monetary kind as well as fame, can only happen on the strength of their performance, and which makes them focus on getting that right, always, that will pave the way for a great Indian team. Many players who make it to this stage of being considered for the Indian team, have often come from the lower echelons of society. Seeing their first big opportunity to make some money, there is an anxiety to do it soon. If a player succumbs to such temptations, he needs to be out of the loop. And which also tells the others to focus on performance, and nothing else!

I think all of these can then convert into a good Indian team happening!

Following the losses of India and Pakistan in Saturday’s games at the World Cup, a whole host of reactions have been seen.

1. Inzamam has announced his retirement from ODIs.

2. Fans have burnt effigies of Dhoni and have also damaged an under-construction house of his.

3. Fans have come on TV to demand that the plot alloted to Dhoni be taken back by the government.

4. Fans have also suggested that if India does not go further in the World Cup, the team should not be allowed to stay in India (??!).

and of course, the worst reaction of them all:
5. Bob Woolmer, the coach of the Pakistan team, dies.

I have to clarify that the last mentioned bit of news, may have NOTHING directly connected to the Pakistan loss. Having said that, considering that it happened so close to Pak’s crashing out of the world cup against all expectations, and recognising that Woolmer was quite healthy otherwise, it makes one wonder if the stress of the loss contributed in some or the other way, to his death.

There have been other strong issues that have seemingly got disproportionate attention, only thanks to the fans’ involvement:
1. Saurav Ganguly’s dropping from the team, accompanied by anger against Greg Chappell, effigy burning, matter reaching West Bengal and Indian mainstream political levels, etc.

2. Demand to drop Sehwag, defense against which was offered by none other than Sharad Pawar, President of BCCI. Completely unwarranted, uncalled for, but juicy mainstream media bytes, that the fans would lap up!

What is it about the Indo-Pak cricket scenario that spurns such strong reactions? There are no easy answers, but some thoughts on the subject are as under:

1. We do not have any other ‘release’ for our strong pent up emotions. We may feel equally strongly about our political issues, but normally, the frustrations with the political system are not felt in one go, but over the years. So there is no one strong moment when everyone unites to release their frustrations against the political system. Bollywood rejections are done, simply by empty theatres. No other sport in the country has anywhere close to the following, that cricket does. Then, cricket it is, that serves to be a release of sorts, of our pent up emotions, and all of our frustrations. For the common citizen, cricket is his own proxy of battle and victory and world leadership. When the team does not get there, it seems that he has not got the victory. It is taken that personally. And hence the vent.

2. The sudden increase in emoluments to the cricketers has not helped. The fact is that the huge growth of media and television reach, the accompanying increase in advertising moolah coming into the sport, has meant a consequential benefit to the cricketers providing the entertainment. It had to happen, and is completely justified as well. Just the fact that the movement to an increasing pay packet for the cricketers has been sharp and sudden, and has given a lot of media attention. Those who don’t get the fact that the cricketers are getting just rewards, perceive this jump as unjustified, and that ‘if they are paid so much, they must perform each time they go out on the field’. It almost feels as if the cricketers are getting paid from taxpayers’ money, which of course, is completely baseless.

3. The extremes that fans go to, like the way they damaged Dhoni’s house and which was visible all over television, or the way they have done similar damage to Kaif’s house in the past, the police can certainly stop the damages. If they want to. But do they want to? I don’t know what can be the political factor in this, but is appears that the local leadership almost lets the fans do their part. Let them go and vent out their anger at Dhoni. First of all, I completely and totally sympathise with Dhoni (and Kaif, in the past). They have not even been the ‘enemy number 1’, if you will. There were worse offenders to India’s loss/es. That apart, how can the scenes be visible on TV, and the local police does not even come and try to stop the mayhem? Does the local political leadership believe that ‘let the citizens take up small issues like these, and allow us to do our own money making undisturbed’? Or are these incidents inspired and motivated by small time local leadership itself, enjoying political protection, and thereby getting their own two minutes of fame, to assert their local leadership, via prime time television? I wonder..

4. Betting. Yes, I suspect that India and Pakistan contribute to the largest betting in cricket. Officially it is banned, at least in India. Yet, its clear that its happening, undoubtedly. And big time too. Betting on each ball (‘will it be a dot ball’ and such), on each over, on each player’s score, on the winning margins, on just about all aspects of the game. Its a major gambling pot, and from the ancient times, our culture has had gambling as an intricate part (think Yuddhisthir gambling away Draupadi, amongst other things!). With the high stakes involved, lot of money exchanging hands, on an apparently un-influencable set of events, there is a tendency to see if money CAN influence the events. Which is why most betting scandals connected to cricket have their roots in India or Dubai (Indo-Pak melting pot). Do these betting centres influence fan ire? Do they vent out the anger of their personal monetary losses on the cricketers? Could well be so.

Such strong reactions are not seen in more mature markets like England, Australia, South Africa. They are also not seen in Sri Lanka, which would be expected to have a similar culture as Indo-Pak. That Sri Lanka did not come from the original undivided India, does it make a difference to its attitude and culture in such respects? Again, I am not so sure. I do not also see such reactions in West Indies. There, I suppose, there are other sports like basketball and perhaps, soccer as well, that give the fans enough to follow, and partisan forces find their own balance, as a result.

I am quite aghast when things reach the level that they reach in our countries – damage to Dhoni’s house, or Woolmer’s death or Inzamam’s retirement, being what come to my mind. When will the fans in India and Pakistan look to this as a game, and nothing more? Fine, you can make coffee table discussion on the subject, perhaps even animated ones. Maybe fans can have strong arguments about their respective favorites. But hey, know where to stop. Don’t take your anger to the streets, man.

The biggest reaction that fans can give to the sport, if they feel like rejecting it, is to stop watching the games. The TRPs will fall, and the endorsements will go down, and the players will know that only performance will give them their rich dividends. However that being a long term strategy, meanwhile, fans find it easier to burn effigies.

So the first night of full match watching that I could afford, as it was the weekend, turned out to be a nightmare, to say the least 😦

Here are my stray thoughts on the day of debacle, for India and Pakistan:

1. What can I say about India’s loss against Bangladesh?

Yes, ‘nothing’. I am dumb founded.

2. Pakistan is out of the world cup. So much for the convenient 2 big, 2 minnow groups, to supposedly serve as more practise games for the big guys. The quickest big team exit. Quite unbelievable.

3. Refer my earlier posts about the bigger teams who should be asserting themselves stronger against the smaller ones. Now after the Saturday night, I wonder if there is really that much of a difference between the so called minnows and the big guys. Its like the tennis tournaments now. Yes, the top seeds are potentially far better, but if they take anything casually, they could well be upset. Happens all the time in tennis and now we see the same in cricket too.

4. India has it all uphill from now. They need to win both the games, against Bermude and Sri Lanka. And YET, they may not be sure to make it to the next round. Bangladesh will have their second win against Bermuda, and Sri Lanka should manage to beat Bangladesh, to add to their Bermuda victory. If India wins both, that will still leave 3 teams with 2 wins each, and a tie breaker of sorts will decide the top two teams, to go to the next round. Never easy for anyone to predict the final two from the group.

Of course, winning against Sri Lanka itself will be a huge effort, coming as it will against the backdrop of this loss against Bangladesh, with the huge expectations of the billion people from India, and the psychological impact of all these put together. I wouldn’t want to be in Dravid’s shoes at this time.

5. So lets imagine the scenario should India also get hustled out in the first round itself.
How will the sponsors survive? They who depend solely on the Indian viewership, will have a huge loss on their hands.
I am sure the viewership in India will drop by at least 50%.
The big bucks that Hutch and Hero Honda and Pepsi, not to speak of Sony Entertainment, have put behind the event – how will they get their ROI??
Will some of them renege their contracts and pay the penalty, but get out quickly, cutting their losses? 🙂
I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of these sponsors as well.

6. Will there be some or the ‘other’ kind of lobbying going on, at this time, from the sponsors end, to see how they can ‘ensure’ that India makes it to the next round?

Ohh.. the scenario is tough to imagine. All the hype surrounding the event, all the media packages waiting to be unleashed as the rounds progress (I believe that the media and advertising hype has been a little subdued so far, just to ensure against consumer fatigue, since its a long tournament; now will it be long at all, for Indian fans??), will they remain in the cans and not see the light of the day?

Tough calls. We will see the picture emerge in the next few days now..!