Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sorry Eden Gardens

If there is one cricketing venue in the world where the home team plays with more than 100,000 members in its side then it is the Eden Gardens. Testimonies have been archived about the venue’s aura, so much so that many international cricketers consider playing in front of a packed Eden audience as a pre-requisite to qualify for the big league. Paradoxically today the worshipped site finds itself betrayed by its own caretaker. Kolkata’s passionate cricket lovers are known worldwide for their ability to inject high level emotional quotient into dead matches and converting them into epic encounters. Today they are disappointed and their confidence has been shattered because their sentiments have been taken for granted. The embarrassment handed over by the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) is too big to be hidden. The ICC Cricket World Cup is in the subcontinent after a gap of 15 years and it is a disgrace that the most deserving venue has been robbed of its privilege to host the sold out contest between India and England on 27th February 2011 for reasons that could have been easily avoided had the people concerned would have for once understood the importance of timelines. The Indian board still might pull of a miracle as it does so frequently using all its clout and make ICC look like a bunny by forcing it to refute its original decision but that is not the point.

For all its events The International Cricket Council (ICC) takes decisions based on a certain protocol and the idea needs to be respected because every time there is the pressure to deliver and questions to answer. In the larger scheme of things this year’s world cup is crucial as it has the potential to decide the future course of 50 over cricket. Therefore it becomes important for all stakeholders to understand the complexity and work in tandem with the parent body so that the execution is smooth and objective attained. CAB who were expected to be a key player in building the hype for the cup have been stumped even after being allowed extra time. The deadlines did not arrive from nowhere. It was in place much before ICC started its marketing campaign for last year’s World T20 which happened in West Indies. How could CAB not smell the coffee especially after what had unfolded in the country during the build up for the Commonwealth Games 2010. Was CAB arrogant in its approach? Did it think that the richness of Eden Gardens is indispensable to the success of the world cup? Like any other matter in Indian cricket the answers to these questions will never come out in the open from the right sources but in reality who is the Mickey here? Gone are the days when the maze used to be complex, today the general public can see through it to know what it wants. Anyone who follows cricket beyond on field action knows the history of the relationship status between the present ICC president and present CAB president but to term ICC’s verdict as a part of a political game plan is like a child blaming his poor score in exams because his bench partner did not allow him to copy from his answer sheet.

Heart goes out for the Barmy army members who would have already planned their trips and bought necessary tickets. Whichever venue will now be allocated the February 27th match for sure cannot accommodate as much Eden Gardens would have. CAB’s callous attitude has not only brought shame to the country but more importantly has ensured that today’s fan get one more reason to distant themselves from a game that has been trapped in off field controversies of late. Had any other venue failed to meet ICC’s requirement it would have been overlooked in the cricketing world but because the fingers have been pointed at the famed Eden Gardens the impact will be felt for many years. Every time an opportunity arises in the future the foreign media will ensure that it makes a mockery of the Indian system. The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) has washed off its hand from the episode in its customary style but come to think of it and it is all interlinked. The board that has managed to float the second largest sporting league in the world within a span of three years has failed to show respect and gratitude to a historical destination that has been pivotal in making it one of the richest sporting bodies of the world. A ground that was established in 1864 and in every sense is the Mecca of Indian cricket deserves better treatment.

Every member of the Indian cricketing fraternity has lost some shine today and it will take some time before it is back again. This episode testifies that the pride that Indians take in being masters of last minute arrangements courtesy their jugaad setting is a myth that was waiting to be busted. CAB has asked for yet another deadline and has questioned ICC’s decision but that is a mere sympathy earning tactic. BCCI should immediately take charge of the situation and proactively ban Eden Gardens from hosting any first class and international matches till at least 2014. The occurrence of events is a blessing in disguise for BCCI to send the right message to all other associations so that such face saving errors are not repeated in the future.

Sidhanta Patnaik
29th January 2011, 12.50am
Lingarajpuram, Bangalore

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My starting India XI for Cricket World Cup 2011

The cricket world cup season has arrived. Come 18th February the 43 days cricketing extravaganza will grip the subcontinent. With less than a month to go before India plays its first match I have selected my best Indian team that will carry the hope of billion people forward.

Sachin Tendulkar - Playing his 6th world cup he will be keen to lay his hands over it. He is currently in his best period as a batsman and will capitalise on it. His aim will be to hold the innings together and bat for as many overs as possible because his mere presence in the middle is a morale booster for the dressing room. Even after 21 years as an international cricketer, he remains to be the most prized wicket for the opponents. In the last 12 months he has played just four one day international games and recently has suffered from an injury but that should not be an area of concern because he is the best judge of himself. A big occasion player who thrives on a stage such as this he will look to make this edition count as this might be his last limited over assignment (though you never know with the man). The highest scorer of world cup cricket would love to bow out on his home ground (Wankhede) on a winning note on 2nd April 2011.
Season 2010-11 (Batting): M – 2, I – 2, NO – 0, R – 31, HS – 24, Avg – 15.50

Virender Sehwag - Technique is not the criteria while selecting certain players and Sehwag is one among them. He automatically walks into any playing XI for the impact he causes when he gets going. It is difficult for the opponent to have a fixed plan for him because on his day he can destroy the best attacks of the world. A natural striker of the cricket ball he is always looking for scoring opportunities albeit a few quick dismissals. He can mentally defeat any opponent the day he gets going and that is what Messer Kirsten & co would be expecting from him, to at least bat for 20 overs. On field he is a sharp catcher. More importantly in the sub continent conditions his off spin will be an ideal resource for the team and will be a key tool to break partnerships.
Season 2010-11: Yet to play

Gautam Gambhir – As Harsha Bhogle pointed out recently, he brings gravity to the famed Indian batting line up. Naturally an opener he has to settle for the number 3 position till the little master is playing. That is an added bonus for the team as Gambhir has shown in the past his tenacity to carry on his bat if he gets set. He is a rhythm player who will go with the flow once he settles down in the middle usually converting starts into big hundreds. The whole middle order can revolve around him. Sub continental conditions will suit his style of play and will give him an extra over or two to get his eye in. On field he has got a sharp cricketing brain and can have a few inputs while patrolling the outfield.
Season 2010-11 (Batting): M – 5, I – 5, NO – 2, R – 329, HS – 138*, Avg – 109.66

Yuvraj Singh – The stylish south paw’s batting form has been an area of major concern and the flamboyancy has been missing in the recent past. He has failed to play in and get a feel in the middle although he has come in to bat quite early in the last few matches. He has been edgy and has looked low on confidence but the beauty of Yuvraj is that he is always an innings away from getting into the groove. Being a senior member and a part of the think tank he is well backed by the team management and is due for delivery in the mega tournament. Yuvraj on his day is any opponent’s nemesis but for that he needs to get set before trying to press the accelerator button. Concurrently he has been the team’s best spinner in the recent past and is easily fills in the all rounder slot for the time being. Dhoni being a pro spin captain will look forward for a full quota of overs from the left arm spinner. Though his fitness levels have dropped drastically yet he is one of the fast movers on the field and that is an asset worth 10 to 20 runs.
Season 2010-11 (Batting): M – 11, I – 10, NO – 2, R – 269, HS – 58, Avg – 33.62
Season 2010-11 (Bowling): M – 11, I-10, O – 63, R – 309, W – 10, BB-3/34, Avg – 30.90, Econ – 4.90

Virat Kohli – In the last season he has been India’s best batsman and has made the number three position his own but now with the big three back he has to play the role of floater, something Mohammed Kaif did exceedingly well in the 2003 world cup team. During the initial stages of the build up to the world cup a few of the fringe players were given a chance to make a statement but it was only Kohli who sealed the deal for himself by scoring 7 half centuries and 2 centuries in 26 winning matches that he has been a part of. This goes to show the kind of influence he has managed to create in the team environment. His youthful vigour and tapered aggression has held him in good stead and in a team packed with world class batters he will have an edge over Suresh Raina in the race for the 7th batsman. A livewire on the field he can well be the fielding captain of the team.
Season 2010-11 (Batting): M -11, I – 11, NO – 2, R – 545, HS – 118, Avg – 60.55

Mahendra Singh Dhoni – Captain cool. Over the last few seasons barring the home series against New Zealand he has been the lone consistent face in a team otherwise filled with injuries. His superb analytical brain and apt leadership skills have been the key reason for India’s rise to the top. His batting average as a captain is 52. 87 and that goes to show his contribution which is usually understated. His stoic appearance dilutes the pressure during intense match situation and his immaculate record of 53 wins as a captain is a testimony of his precise game reading skills.
Season 2010-11 (Batting): M- 6, I - 6, NO-2, R-75, HS-38, Avg – 12.50

Yusuf Pathan – He was never a part of the original world cup plan until Bangalore happened and further evidence of it was on display in South Africa. Brutal chaotic entertainment is how his batting has been described and that is exactly why he finds a place in the team. He is a high impact player who can rewrite match scripts but he is not going to deliver in every match however that cannot be the reason to keep him out of the team. He can be used as the other floater of the team and his role will change depending on match situations. Getting his eye in will be the key because after that the cricket ball looks like a football to him. He might not play all the matches if the team decides to go in with an extra bowler or an established batsman in the form of Suresh Raina. Yusuf is a safe fielder and though his bowling is not as effective as Sehwag or Yuvraj but has this peculiar knack of picking up an odd wicket here and there.
Season 2010-11 (Batting): M- 8, I - 5, NO-1, R-318, HS-123*, Avg – 79.50

Harbhajan Singh – of late the turbanator has been criticised for under delivering but that is unfair on a bowler who is closing on 250 one day international wickets. In South Africa he was back to his wily ways and it was just the tonic he needed before getting to bowl on the subcontinent wickets. His bounce will be difficult to judge on tracks that primarily favour spin. His role will be more premium while India has to defend a score under lights. He has the ability to break the momentum of the opposition’s batting and that will turn the games in India’s favour. The aggressor in Bhajji will also deliver a few lusty blows and add vital runs to the board when he comes to bat in the slog overs.
Season 2010-11 (Bowling): M – 5, I – 5, O – 47, R – 205, W – 4, BB – 2/23, Avg. – 51.25, Econ. – 4.36

Praveen Kumar – PK is one of those countryside cricketers who brings that never say die spirit into the team. He is a utility player who will manage to swing the white ball prodigiously and also score a few quick runs at more than run a ball down the order. His economical spells and ability to induce early breakthroughs makes him an important part of this Indian line up. He plays his cricket well within his limitation and bowls to the field that his captain sets for him. He may not have the pace but batsman can take risk against him at their own peril. His chirpiness and UPwallah jokes keep the team’s humour mill running.
Season 2010-11 (Bowling): M – 3, I – 3, O – 22, R – 113, W – 1, BB – 1/20, Avg. - 113, Econ. – 5.13

Zaheer Khan - He is India’s bowling captain. If there is one Indian bowler who has made the ball to talk in the last few years then it is he. He has developed into a cunning artist who plays around the minds of the batsmen and sets them up before trapping them. With able support from the other end he has the ability to rip apart any batting line up on his day and will be expected to do so during the world cup. During the slog overs he bowls those perfect yorkers that India had been searching for long. His presence at mid-off offers a lot of confidence to other bowlers as he gives them timely advices using his experience. He is also a dependable tail ender who the team can depend on if the need be to get a quick 10 to 15 runs.
Season 2010-11 (Bowling) – M – 7, I – 7, O – 62.2, R – 297, W – 11, BB – 3/43, Avg. 27, Econ. – 4.76

Munaf Patel – He is one more player who was not a part of the initial world cup plan but things changed once he was inducted into the playing XI. His second coming has been phenomenal. Though he has reduced his pace drastically yet his probing line and length raises a few questions in the batsman’s mind before committing to a shot. The last time he played more than nine matches on a trot was in 2006-07 but this season has tilted the equation in his favour. He is here to stay because he has made it clear that he means business. However on field he is one fielder who has to be hidden well.
Season 2010-11 (Bowling) – M –9, I- 9, O – 70, R – 316, W – 13, BB – 4/29, Avg. – 24.30, Econ. – 4. 51

The bench warmers:
Piyush Chawala, Ravi Chandran Ashwin, Suresh Raina, Asish Nehra

India’s league schedule:
19th February (Saturday, 2pm IST) : Vs. Bangladesh (Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur)
27th February (Sunday, 2.30pm IST): Vs. England (Eden Gardens, Kolkata)
6th March (Sunday, 2pm IST): Vs. Ireland (M. Chinnaswamy, Bangalore)
9th March (Wednesday, 2.30pm IST): Vs. Netherlands (Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi)
12th March (Saturday, 2.30pm IST): Vs. South Africa (Vidarbha Cricket Association, Nagpur)
20th March (Sunday, 2.30pm IST): Vs. West Indies (Chepauk, Chennai)

Statistics and schedule courtesy

Sidhanta Patnaik
26th January 2011,10.26pm
Lingarajpuram, Bangalore

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Life at 91 years

Yesterday while waiting for my turn at the hospital a person walked in introducing himself in a loud and convinced voice. The astounding nature of the address made me look at him before I got back into the book that I was reading. In a place like Tata Memorial Hospital it is common for people to show their positive side as everyone out there is fighting a battle and only way to emerge winner is by keeping up the spirit. However when the gentleman announced his age, a few heads turned around. At 91 years he looked fitter than an average senior citizen. From that very moment I was interested to strike a conversation with him because in today’s fast food world one rarely gets a chance to come in acquaintance with someone who has seen it all evolve in front of him. Like always the law attraction did the magic and created a situation wherein he had my uncle and me for his company in one corner of the waiting lounge.

The discussion began with both of us in awe of a person who had so much to share from his life experiences. Having witnessed nearly seven to eight generations unfold in front of his eyes he had stories that ranged from A to Z of life. The intense knowledge sharing session which lasted for around three hours created a student teacher bond between us. It was a delight to observe that at an age where many would not have ever dreamt to reach he was in control of his mind and had mastered his thoughts. His words were as sweet as nectar even though he spoke the naked reality of today’s world and the logic behind the occurrences that have surmounted today’s media crazy society.

The topics varied from world politics, government policies to the philosophy of life to the existence of God and he was as updated as a current quiz champion. He spoke his heart out and with that won our hearts. All his statements were nothing less than a verdict which could be not be challenged because he communicated what he meant and it signified truth. Among the various things that covered the duration of our meet what stood out as a message to the society were two facts that were filled with cent percent commonsense. Happiness is a scarce commodity in today’s society and it calls for immediate attention. He felt that human beings are to be held responsible for such a situation to have been presented to the most intelligent species of earth. In the process of making fast deals man has slightly miscalculated the equation and the gap continues to grow with every passing era. The concept of happiness lies within and over time mankind has reduced its effort to spend time with him/herself. It has led to the rise in the demand for God as the belief that irrespective of what one commits, right or wrong – one visit to a temple is the solution to every problem has blinded the society. However the reality is that every human being is himself a form of God and the body is the temple. Worshipping one’s own body by taking proper care of it and loving it with utmost precision should be the focus for everyone. If one can love his/her own self and spread the spirit of joy then attaining peace of mind would not be the hottest topic of discussion in various spiritual forums.

At 91, he is confident of scaling the 100 years mark because he knows the mantra to achieve it is to have a positive attitude and adapt to the changing society. With an open mind and the ‘can do’ spirit he is looking forward to celebrate his centenary year. The kind of live wire he presented himself to be I am certain that he has many more years of societal contribution left in his kitty before he decides to call it a day.

Having met someone who is a Sachin Tendulkar in the field of life I have mentally marked an age till when I want to remain alive with a perfect state of physical and mental being. With the spirit that he has injected into me there is only one way forward and that is to attain my target.

As the session came to an end when it was time to say good bye my uncle and me touched his feet for his blessings. His hand on our head was a significant moment which indicated that after having undergone the ordeal for a quarter it was time to begin life fresh. There are good things waiting to happen in the near future and the time has come to visualize and accelerate the speed towards those moments that are waiting to be captured. Change is the ubiquitous aspect of life and interaction with such individuals prepares one to brace the transformations with a positive attitude and spirit.

Rajasthan - The Ranji Trophy Champions

Rajasthan cricket has been an integral fabric of the Indian cricket set up and has rich historical significance dating back to 1887. Off field opulence and the flamboyancy have always been associated with Rajasthan cricket and its two famous sons have gone on to be top cricket administrators of the country. Late Raj Singh Dungapur and Lalit Modi have had their days influence on the world cricket order. However till the beginning of 2010-2011 season their standard of cricket performance in various domestic competitions had been average if leniency would be the basis of judgment. The script has now changed as the team has gone on to create history by winning this season’s Ranji Trophy. 15th January 2011 is a red lettered day for Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA).

The intent was clear right from the beginning of the cricketing year and RCA did its homework by taking some brave decisions to set the house in order. Gagan Khoda, the face of Rajasthan’s on field woes for years was shown the door and fresh blood was injected in the form of youngsters. The significance of first innings lead in Ranji Trophy cricket is paramount therefore the batting was bolstered by signing Aakash Chopra, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Rashmi Ranjan Pardia as professionals for the year. Apart from bringing in the international experience, the three domestic giants along with the other veterans formed the core think tank of the team.

Irrespective of all the backend fine tuning and setting a strong base hardly anyone had taken notice of Rajasthan, quite predictable as they were one among many ‘I was also there’ teams in the Plate group. However when debutant Deepak Chahar bundled out Hyderabad for 21 runs courtesy his 8 wicket haul on the first day of the season (match haul – 12 wickets) perceptions changed. If there were still some doubters, the air was cleared by skipper Kanitkar (193*) as he batted Rajasthan to a position of victory. Kanitkar’s exposure to the big league was the rational behind his appointment as the team’s captain and as the season progressed his calming influence on the team was clearly on display as he scored bucketful of runs and made the right moves on the field.

The initial momentum created by the young Chahar and the seasoned pro Kanitkar was seized by the team and the aggressive mode was noticed by anyone and everyone. Tripura and Jharkhand were mauled whereas Goa and Madhya Pradesh were tamed and fittingly Rajasthan topped its group to qualify for the semifinals. Through out the season Aakash Chopra, one of the most media friendly Indian cricketer used his twitter account and cricinfo columns to generate enough interest about this fairytale ride. He celebrated the hype by scoring an unbeaten triple century in the semifinals against Maharashtra. After the cake walk the scene shifted to the quarterfinal stages of the elite group.

Rajasthan’s romantic journey would have led to many fans desire for a miracle but very few would have visualized what was about to unfold. A quarterfinal clash against 39 times Ranji Trophy champion Mumbai was a no brainer for the Pundits who had predicted a convincing win for Mumbai in their pre match analysis. Who knows what would have happened had Mumbai opted to bowl first but Wasim Jaffer committed the cardinal sin of deciding to take first strike on a green surface against an attack that consisted of the top bowlers of the season (Season haul: Pankaj Singh – 43 wickets, Deepak Chahar – 40 wickets, Vivek Yadav -22 wickets). On the lines of expectation the seamers ran through the Mumbai line up to dismiss them for a meager 252. With more than three days to go, Rajasthan made merry of Mumbai attack as Vineet Saxena and Hrishikesh Kanitkar registered centuries to their name and the young Ashok Menaria announced his arrival (121). Rajasthan ensured that the wounds inflicted on Mumbai are remembered when the two teams face off some other season.

After Mumbai it was time for to play checkmate against Tamil Nadu, who had managed to enter the knockout stage despite rain being a constant threat throughout their road to semifinals. Being put into bat Rajasthan found themselves in a familiar zone and the top order batsmen made optimum utilization of the opportunity by piling up a mammoth 552 at a snail’s pace of 2.9 runs per over. Tamil Nadu failed to catch up, albeit Subramanium Badrinath’s valiant unbeaten 175.

Baroda, another minnow in the Ranji Trophy circuit were the other finalists though their victory against Karnataka in the semifinals had raised many eyebrows. The stage was set for a final that would go down the folklore for the teams it featured. Baroda became yet another team to play into the strength of Rajasthan as they decided to bowl first on their home ground. Rajasthan cherished the familiarity of the circumstances on the big match day and put up a competitive 394 (Kanitkar – 61, Robin Bist – 77, RR Parida – 56, A. Menaria – 45). Most of the Baroda batsmen failed to apply themselves as Deepak Chahar yet again joined the party (wickets) and helped Rajasthan take a vital 33 runs lead. There were quite celebrations in the Rajasthan camp but they slipped to 11/3 and then 61/4 in the second innings. Baroda’s hope for a dramatic comeback was kept at bay as Rashmi Ranjan Pardia (89) and Ashok Menaria (101) stitched a 165 runs partnership and with that the verdict was sealed – maiden Ranji Trophy title for Rajasthan. Fittingly Rashmi Ranjan Parida was adjudged as the man of the match (In 2000-01 while playing for Orissa he had scored 94 and 71 at the same ground against the same opponent in the semifinals but Baroda had proceeded to the finals on the basis of the first innings lead). Immediate rewards were showered on the team as the chief minister of Rajasthan Mr. Ashok Gehlot announced a cash award Rs. 1 crore for the team and promised to allocate 16.18 hectare land for the proposed construction of a state of art cricket stadium. This victory is a tribute to the late Raj Singh Dungapur who had been a part of Rajasthan’s eight failed attempts to lay their hand on the coveted Ranji trophy. He must be smiling upstairs.

The Ranji Trophy champions for the season Rajasthan achieved only two outright wins and were declared winners in the remaining seven matches on the basis of first innings lead. Is domestic cricket hampering the overall competitive standard? As the season comes to an end there are many such critical questions that BCCI has to answer but for the moment it is time to celebrate the victory of cricket. Rajasthan’s win has the potential to inspire an entire new generation to aspire to play for their state cricket teams across the country. It is a romantic season that will be remembered and spoken about in the corridors of Indian cricket for many many years to come.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Indian cricket market

The other day when cricketers turned commodities at the auctioning of The Indian Premier League (IPL), the whole country was curious to witness the rates at which their favourite stars were being sold to the franchisees, just the way a common man buys his ration from the local grocery shop. If the steep rise in onion price was considered as a mass failure of the system, the news of instant millionaire being created at the IPL auction was much of a reason to feel elevated about as if a partly amount from the whole sum would be deposited into the common man’s personal account. The society hovers between the two ends of this spectrum and clearly cherishes being in the double standard zone. Arguments can be for and against the credibility of the spectrum as the micro-economics for the two news that have grabbed highest TRPs in the last fortnight are entirely different but to reach a clear conclusion is as difficult as dreaming to live in a society of justice. It can be left to another day to compare and analyze the two ends but what needs immediate addressing is the impact of over commercialization of cricket on the future generations.

Ever since Kapil Dev lifted the Prudential World Cup in 1983, cricket has remained the number one passion for this over populated country where meeting ends is considered to be the biggest challenge of humanity. Cricket has provided much needed solace and the route to escapism. The ruling governments have been clever enough to understand the relationship and its impact on the society and have always played it safe. The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) has used its position to advantage and raked in the moolahs by selling the hope of the billion Indians to the ever ambitious advertiser. All was well until India accidentally won the inaugural T20 world championship. Since then the game has changed at triple pace rate and today the ravenousness of capital has overpowered the system to an extent that has left every honest follower of the game questioning the intent of the game administrators. The windfall of cash has been so tempting that the board has been strangled by its own myopic view. The vision for producing world class cricketers and being a top ranked team seems to have been diluted. Had everything been alright then the board should have scheduled a few practice games in South Africa before the beginning of the first test which India lost in a humiliating manner as recently as 20th December 2010. Similarly a much more result oriented domestic cricket season can yield better fortunes for the country’s cricketing future. Instead of answering these issues, the board is indulged in matters irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.

If Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1970s repackaged the game to keep the fans excited in an otherwise mundane environment, BCCI through its sheer greediness has managed to slowly but steadily suck the pulse away from the common man in a peculiar manner. The hunger to fill in the coffins continues to be on the steep rise and it is being felt in the surrounding. In remote cities across India where live cricket on television was the lifeblood of social pastime now remains a distant desire as the common man is unable to afford pay channels. India’s historic stalemate in South Africa did not reach the rural and that automatically fails to inspire the young kid to take up his bat and go to the local farmland to have a hit. Here lies an answer to a question of why the local grounds in the tier two cities of India look empty these days in comparison to the previous generation. Wherever there is access to live cricket on television, it is stuffed in with commercials that an aspiring youngster might contemplate of modeling as a better career option than being a cricketer.

At the face of things it is easy to blame the broadcaster for selling its free commercial time beyond the accepted standards but being fair to them one has to understand the business cycle of professional team sport. It is a seller’s market and operates in a complex micro-economy where the teams avail the services of the players and coaches and fans buy game tickets, TV subscription and merchandise, media houses buy the broadcasting rights, corporate buy executive suites and related services. This leads to the ever persistent price-rise syndrome, which increases the gap between the poor and rich players in the market leading to breakaway factions; the now defunct ICL is a case in example. The broadcasters and the advertisers have a business to run and revenues to clock which can only be attained by going on the overdrive; such has been the rise in the demand for broadcast rights and monopolistic control of BCCI in a country where commercialization of sports was an unsolved equation till as late as early 1990s.

The board is for sure having the last laugh but had it been truly aware of the indirect damage it is causing to the overall cricket system of the country then there would be a few chuckles less. The board has been conveniently diverting the allegations over the years by testifying its financial contribution to the various state cricket associations across the country for grassroots development. Does the state cricket associations spend the allocated budget justifiably calls for another debate. However the issue here is about the common man who has no ambition to play for the country but to be associated with the peripherals associated with the game. Being the parent body it becomes paramount responsibility for BCCI to secure the common man’s interest at a time when other sports are on the rise in the country.

Lack of proper leadership management and big egos of the office bearers has led to the precarious position that Indian cricket administration is in today. The system needs to be modified by incorporating the best practices from the finest models made available by Cricket Australia, Cricket South Africa and England Cricket Board. Fresh brains need to be inculcated into the system who can implement the needed changes without being influenced by forces of resistance.

Indian cricket cannot afford to go the West Indian way because the influence of the game is pivotal in the sustenance of a healthy economy of the country and anyone who has little commonsense of the country’s dynamics understands that. It is not long before Sachin Tendulkar retires and that will mark the transition of fan following from one generation to another. Today Arsenal and Manchester United are a part of the Indian living room set up which was not the case a generation earlier. The switch over phase will throw many uncomfortable questions and if not answered aptly the system might come crashing down. Now is the time for BCCI to come out of the delusion of being in a demand driven market and prepare for the future by taking the common man into confidence or else it might just crumble at its own fate.

Sidhanta Patnaik
9th January 2011
BJB Nagar, Bhubaneswar

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2000 to 2010: Indian cricket – From rabbits to fighters

Its 2011 and a decade has passed by witnessing the best of Indian cricket. There can be no better time than now to look back at how the journey has evolved over the last few years. This year’s first test at Cape Town was headed towards a draw or an Indian collapse after Boucher and Kallis did the resurrection job on the 4th day but such has been the change in expectation and attitude that the Indian fan went to sleep expecting a sparkling series win the next day and the status messages on social networking sites were filled with over optimism. Going back by a few years when Facebook was still an unknown component the average Indian fan would have put hundreds of offers in front of the almighty for the batsmen to draw strength and courage to see through a day of hostile bowling on a crumbling pitch. Today a draw is not considered to be a good enough result. Incidentally it was in the Port Elizabeth test of 2001 when a player by name Deep Dasgupta (more of a goal keeper than a wicket keeper) and Rahul Dravid had stonewalled for nearly three sessions on a 5th day track against the likes of Pollock, Ntini, Hayward, Klusener and Boje to save the test match. The test series was lost 0-1 and also ‘unofficial test match’ but that is exactly when the journey of hope had begun.

Going back to April 2000, Indian cricket had hit rock bottom. The gloomy weather of match fixing had shadowed the atmosphere and the casualty were many fans who till date are shocked to an unimaginable extent. Few big names of the game were humiliated and punished for the right reasons and change was the only way forward. In came Sourav Ganguly with this ‘whose father what goes’ spirit and was ably supported by one Jagmohan Dalmiya, the then BCCI president and ICC president elect. The backing was huge more so because both belonged to the same state association (Cricket Association of Bengal). Those were the days of state lobbies and zonal quotas. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the captain and the country’s newly appointed first foreign coach John Wright (recommend reading- The Indian Summers) went on a rampage from one end of the country to the other end in search of raw talent. BCCI’s Talent Resource Development team which is now defunct was being led by an earnest Dillip Vengsarkar those days and his seriousness complemented with the agenda of the team management.

Mohammed Kaif, SS Das, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, JP Yadav, Sanjay Bangar, MS Dhoni, Munaf Patel, Suresh Raina and many more such unknown names became household figures in no time. Some were directly pooled into the national team whereas the others were molded through the junior teams and the National Cricket Academy. All of a sudden Indian cricket was no more a rich kid’s dream. From Rai Bareilly to Ranchi, the ‘aam junta’ now had their chance to have a go at the top prize as Indian cricket for the first time had truly entered the rural belts of the country. The connectivity factor was alive and kicking and when a little known left arm seamer from Shrirampur on his birthday (7th October 2000) yorked Steve Waugh in ICC Knock Out Cup, Nairobi the country erupted with joy. Those days this seamer used to play for Baroda in the Ranji Trophy as he could not break into the formidable Mumbai team. Today he is India’s bowling captain- Zaheer Khan. It was on this very day when Yuvraj Singh announced his arrival on the world stage; it was just their second international game.

Slowly the intent was changing and the desire to register foreign wins was becoming evident but there was some distance to cover as a major humiliation was never far away from the recipe. The rise of VVS Laxman and the change in India’s fortune abroad have run in sync with each other. For the first half of his career this Hyderabadi craftsman was considered to be a domestic wonder unable to go beyond classy 30s in the international circuit. However that blow on the helmet on 4th January 2000 in Sydney which floored him changed the dynamics. He went on to score a magnificent 167 in that innings for a losing cause – an innings that took an average Indian fan by surprise (those were the days when wicketkeeper MSK Prasad used to be the opener for the team in the absence of Debang Gandhi). The anger of that hit transformed into a miracle at Eden Gardens on 14th March 2001 (281) and since then there has been no looking back. His silken grace has been very very special and continues to charm the grounds across the globe and if India has not lost a test series for two years now then a major share of the credit goes to the once upon a time domestic giant. The four heavy weight innings coming from behind that were produced last year have not only elevated him to unparalleled level but also gave the team the tag of fighters, a title the Indian fans so yearned to be associated with but never managed to earn for many years.

Post 2001 the scenario changed as slowly but steadily wins started coming abroad and due credit goes to the positive vibe created by the seniors in the dressing room leading to the rise in confidence levels of the youngsters, something that had been lacking for long. The West Indies tour of 2002 gave a new lease of life to the Indian team. The five match test series was lost 1-2 but the one day series was won 2-1 (memories – Kumble’s broken jaw, Ajay Ratra’s century, Dravid-Sarandeep partnership to save the Georgetown test). For the first time Indian teenagers were witnessing test matches being saved outside the sub continent and it was good enough result to rejoice and celebrate, such low was the self esteem. The belief of better result abroad had been crucified over the years. The Durban disaster followed by the Barbados hara-kiri of 1997-1998 , the never ending Premadasa toils of mid 1990s, JY Lele’s (the then BCCI secretary) infamous 0-3 score line prediction of India’s tour to Australia in 1999-2000 and Ajit Agarkar’s crowning as Mumbai’s duck (7 consecutive blobs), Zimbabwe loss in 2001. To put statistics in place India had slipped to 8th in ICC’s test ranking after losing the 2001 test series in Srilanka.

The country had celebrated the arrival of two young talents in 1996 who made the world take a note of their talent in their debut test at Lord’s and it was again on these two pros in 2002 along with a few other seniors and a bunch of energetic youth to change the script in England. The test series was drawn courtesy a dodgy innings by Sanjay Bangar and some inspirational performance by the trusted trio of Sachin, Sourav and Rahul. It was the very series in which Ajit Agarkar managed to put up his name on the batting honour roll of Lord’s – miracles do happen! In the hindsight when years roll by the Natwest Series final against the hosts will be seen as a turning point in the way Indian cricket has proceeded ever since. One of the most dramatic storyline scripted on a cricket field ever. Chasing 326, India were 146/5 with Tendulkar back in the hut (he was batting at number 4 those days). It was nothing but over when the Yuvi-Kaif duo decided to earn the title ‘Lords of the ring’.

A series of ODI tournament wins later when things were starting to look rosy India toured to the Kiwi land to have their confidence shattered (losing test series 0-2 and ODI series 2-5). The pitch was blamed but it did not help the mind frame just before the world cup in South Africa. The safari campaign started modestly as Netherlands game was more of a warm up followed by a face hiding defeat to Australia. As was the norms those days, the privacy of the players’ family was intervened and it took none other than Sachin Tendulkar to come out in public and request for some order. Like the phoenix, the team rose to the occasion winning every remaining game on their way to the finals but at the last step the pressure of the occasion took over and much before the Australian innings was over, the conclusion was foregone. However the Indian fans basked in the glory of being runners up in World Cup and the wave carried the team to Australia. The clash was fitted as the top of the tables clash. A drawn test series courtesy some superlative performances by the old giants was seen as a victory (Steve Waugh’s farewell series). The standards were graduating to new levels and Pakistan was conquered twice as were Bangladesh (2004), Zimbabwe (2005) and West Indies (2006). By now Rahul Dravid had established himself as the leader of the troop and India had witnessed the Greg Chappel fiasco. Sourav Ganguly had already made a comeback in South Africa (2006-2007) where the celebrations of a lone test victory grabbed the headlines for the wrong reason. Lack of concentration led to the series loss (1-2) and history was repeated yet again. It was immediately followed by the disastrous 2007 World Cup and ‘guru Greg’ resigned to everyone’s pleasure. Sanity prevailed in Bangladesh before the team embarked on a much important tour to England. It was a triumph as after two decades the country won the test series there. Though the closely fought ODI series was lost (memories – Robin Utthapa’s heroics and Dimitri Mascarenhas’s attack on Yuvraj) yet the youth was slowly taking over and aptly the captaincy for the World T20 championship at South Africa was handed over to MS Dhoni. An accidental slower ball from Joginder Sharma followed by a miscalculated scoop by Mishbah-Ul-Haq earned India the world title and all hell broke loose. Celebrations and Indian Premier League were the post victory consequences.

Rahul Dravid’s desire to concentrate on batting led to Anil Kumble being handed over the test captaincy at the fag end of his career. His leadership was inspirational. The test series in Srilanka (2008) was lost courtesy Mendis carom ball but there was pride in the Perth test victory (2009) after what had conspired in Sydney. Kumble’s serenity was instrumental in enabling the team to show its true character during the tough times. In came Gary Kirsten and formed an able partnership with MS Dhoni to win the ODI series in Australia, a fitting tribute to the old boys who were slowly on their way out of the international circuit. Dada and Jumbo left the arena in a celebratory manner in the home series against Australia and with that the baton was officially passed to MSD. The dominancy post the changeover was articulated as another milestone was attained; complete series win in New Zealand (2009) something considered impossible in the recent past (memories – The meditation of Gautam ‘Buddha’ Gambir).

Sachin, Laxman and Dravid continue to form the nucleus of the test team but what has changed with MSD’s leadership is the entry of the countryside spirit into the dressing room. The fearless approach was there to be seen and it has seeped into the veins of every youngster walking into the team. The joy of winning has replaced the horror of loss. From outside the dressing room today looks much tighter, happier and more importantly much more professional than the days of Vikram Rathour and Paras Mhambrey.

It is the golden phase in the country’s cricketing history and fittingly enough this is the year when after a long gap the team will tour to all the cricketing continents. The results will give an indication of what lies in the future and a base to gauge the aura that the team has managed to create over the last decade.

For fans who have witnessed disasters in the past, these are better days to be cherished and as the flow of thoughts come to a halt the eternal hope of lifting the World Cup continues to take precedence over anything else.

Sidhanta Patnaik
8th January 2011
BJB Nagar, Bhubaneswar