Monthly Archives: December 2011

How Much Indian Cricketers Are Paid

According to an excellent article in today’s Times of India:

In less than 15 years time, the match fees of an Indian first-class cricketer have increased by about 800 times. The fees for turning out in a Ranji Trophy encounter used to be about Rs. 450 a day in the 90s and now stands at Rs. 35,000 a day.

Other fun facts: the BCCI shares 26 percent of its profits with players (13 for international; 10.5 for senior domestic players, and 2.5 for juniors). International match fees have increased from 2.5 lakhs for Tests to 7 lakh rupees now.

(These are just match fees; most players also get tons of endorsements. As the article says: “Every Team India player is a millionaire…”)

And while the BCCI has made stadium construction a priority, handing out Rs. 50 crore (500 million) to state associations, Aakash Chopra had this good advice to share:

“Building stadiums is all right, but the next generation needs good grounds to hone their skills. That is the best way to nurture talent at the grassroots.”


I Just Don’t Understand India’s Batsmen

Somewhere on this earth, a young cricket fan with an intense hatred for Team India holds a collection voodoo dolls in his closet. He brings it out at crucial moments for the team — say, away tours against prestigious teams — and he pokes the fabric with glee when he wants the most effect.

How else to explain the bizarre dip in form from Gambhir, Sehwag, Laxman, No. 6 (be it Yuvraj, Raina, Kohli or — inevitably? — Rohit Sharma) and Tendulkar? During the lunch break today, Dean Jones told an almost incredulous Ravi Shastri that he still believed the Indian line-up could pull it off. Less than an hour later, Dravid, Laxman, Gambhir and Kohli were all back in the pavilion.

Clearly, Jones hadn’t been keeping up with this team. Yes, it’s a great line-up; yes, it’s scored many runs and has much experience. But for the past decade, a prosecutor could easily point to evidence of brittleness — innings when batting collapses meant this line-up couldn’t even last 50 overs (Sydney 2007/8 would be a chilling Exhibit A, umpire errors or no). These guys have crafted great moments, it’s true, but hungry enough oppositions have learned to snake through.

So what ails them? Nobody really knows. Gambhir enjoyed a couple of great years, now he’s hit a dip and looks like he’s in need of his fix at the start of each innings.  Sehwag’s method relies chiefly on confidence and bravura, and as long as the runs are scored, his self-belief becomes self-fulfilling. String enough low scores, however, and soon enough commentators will start talking about “rashness,” a terrible technique, “look at those feet!” Dravid and Tendulkar are the only pillars left, but Dravid’s cracking under the weight and Tendulkar never wins games for India anyhow. Meanwhile, Laxman — so good at soaking pressure and leading counter-charges — well, I really have no idea what’s wrong with Laxman.

The tragedy of Melbourne was that India was really this close to victory. A couple of tailender wickets, or maybe just a few more lucky boundaries in the first innings, and it was theirs to be had. But they need to learn that if none of the Golden 4 can perform, they all need to pitch in (a la R. Ashwin). We’re all getting an early look at what the future holds for India: less genius, more hard graft and modesty. Not unlike, er, Australia.

India And Australia Don’t Really Hate Each Other

When the IPL first began, I wrote about the mercenary themes that dominated many of the ads (e.g., the Kolkata Knight Riders marching around in funny military-cum-cricket gear trash talking everybody else). I’m back in Bombay for holidays and I’ve noticed a similar thread for India-Australia series (dubbed “agneepath” by Star Cricket).

There are the ads featuring Australian players warning Indians to watch out for the thunder down under (“When it’s winter over there, it’s summer down here.”). There’s the comically aggressive and ludicrous ad showing Hrithick Roshan (Bollywood star) snarling at a white man for about 30 seconds before running into him in a ball of fire (someone, please make a GIF out of that!). When James Pattinson accidentally brushed Virender Sehwag on Day 2, a harmless moment that mattered little to everyone involved received a front page box in at least one Indian English daily.

But why all the macho talk? The spectacle of cable television has sadly arrived in India, a relatively young democracy that shouldn’t have to add Fox News-style partisanship to its long list of political challenges (having watched 2 days of full Lokpal Bill coverage, my despair only deepens). I worry that broadcasters think the flashy stuff — bowlers’ celebrations; sledging; batsmen running around when they reach centuries — matters just as much as the grist of cricket (balls going past bats). Which is why I prefer print, people! Buy a newspaper today!

The Activist LBW Decision Returns

It’s a weird feeling when Ian Chappell agrees with you. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be happy or crawl into a dark space and slowly rock myself back to sleep. Here’s what happened:

Ed Cowan received another marginal decision today; he was adjudged LBW padding up to a beauty from Umesh Yadav. The only problem was that HawkEye showed the ball missing off-stump. Chappell, seeing this, goes on a tear (that he brings up again during the tea break) and says if a batsman pads up to a ball, he shouldn’t even have the right to review.

Like Chappell, I have argued in two previous posts that umpires rightly take a harsher view of batsmen who pad up to balls. Batsmen, after all, are supposed to use their bat, not their pads, and if they happen to find themselves in a spot of bother (like Cowan), umpires should be a bit more tough in imagining the trajectory of the ball. As I said before:

The big problem with technology in this case is that it involves standardization, and in removing the human element, we also take out a crucial piece of the game’s drama. I say, unshackle umpires — let them decide how much consideration, say, ‘height’ deserves; let them decide if a batsman’s shot was stupid enough to get them hit on the pads, and above all, let them rule on whether or not a batsman failed at his most basic mission: to hit the ball.

I was rightly pilloried in the comments for giving umpires a bit too much subjective allowance. But I really don’t have a problem with Cowan’s dismissal, even if the ball wasn’t going to hit the stumps. As Chappell said: “Batsmen are supposed to score runs.”

The DRS Debate Is Getting Out Of Hand

I understand that different people have different opinions on DRS and the current series-by-series policy. I have long been an opponent of any additional use of technology in the game (I’m an old man in many other ways), but I want to note just how unjustly skewed the debate has become.

If an umpire makes a call that is confirmed to be “correct” by Hotspot or EagleEye, the commentators will merely note that it was a good decision, and how difficult it is to be an umpire today. If they’re being really charitable, they’ll show what the umpire saw in real time. That’s it.

If an umpire makes a “bad” call that is revealed to be as such by technology, however, all hell breaks loose. The wronged batsman will lay out his personal views in the post-match press conference, the commentators will have an extended discussion about what went wrong, and Twitter catches fire. Little is said about the number of correct decisions that are made, and how they outnumber the bad ones. Even less is said challenging whether or not technology has delivered an “objective” review (in the case of Cowan’s dismissal, for example, I’m still not sure what happened). In other words, the scales are not equally placed: a “bad” decision receives many times the attention that a good decision does.

The anti-DRS crowd (with whom my allegiance lies) will lose this battle if it keeps being played out this way. Some bloggers (A Cricketing View, for e.g.) have done admirable work questioning the assumptions that technologies like ball-tracking and what not use. At this point, I can only hope broadcasters will slap a label that reads “This recreation is loosely based on true events” whenever Hawkeye is displayed.

How Weak Cricket Teams Take Wickets

While Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were holding off the Australian attack just after tea on Day 2, Sourav Ganguly and Tom Moody raised the question that has haunted Australian cricket for the past few years: How do they take wickets without Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath?

Moody responded with an interesting thought he didn’t complete. “They have to find other ways to take wickets,” he said. That may sound obvious, but the larger question is more interesting: how do you change strategies to better take advantage of mediocre/good talents (as opposed to the once great ones you had)? How do you best manage declining talent?

They say that the tennis player Brad Gilbert (who went on to coach Agassi and others) never had any great weapon in his arsenal (no big serve, or forehand, or anything like that). Instead, he consistently stayed among the best by running around the court, forcing opponents into long rallies and ruining their rhythm. That’s what I’m talking about: when you don’t have great players, how do you find other ways to win games?

This is a lesson Australian cricket hasn’t yet been able to answer. Take, for example, Australia’s disastrous two-Test tour of India in 2008. At one point, the Australians decided they would remove a huge deficit by simply attacking, an approach that worked when the batting line-up included Adam Gilchrist at 7. This time, though, it fell flat on its face and they lost wickets quickly.  They looked like a gang of over-aged bullies.

So what do you do instead? What teams do you know that out-perform their individual team members’ averages? (Pakistan, maybe?) I don’t know enough about cricket to answer, but I imagine the answer involves more patience, less attacking; more restrictive fields that build pressure rather look for striking gold; more variety in bowling…? Send any feedback to Cricket Australia, please.

What Happens When A Cricket Fan Grows Up?

Was just reading Dileep Preemachandran’s Wisden India speech when I stopped at this passage:

My second question is this: What makes a sport? The players are at the centre of the sporting universe, because they’re the ones that make our dreams reality. The other indispensable element is the fan. Everyone else, whether it’s the administrators or the media, gets something out of sport. Those that invest financially usually get their rewards. But what of emotional investment?

I came across a couple of boys in Nagpur just before the India-South Africa World Cup game. They’d travelled 10 hours by train in an unreserved compartment to get there. They had no hotel room. They had freshened up and had a quick bite at the railway station and once the match was over, they had to head back to Mumbai the same way.

Passion is the most abused word in sport. But travel around India when cricket is played, and you can still feel it…people who get nothing tangible from the game, but give so much of themselves to it.

My parents tell me that when I was a child, they could predict my mood based on the Indian team’s scorecard. I don’t feel like that anymore (well, not usually), so Dileep’s passage got me thinking: a) What happens to a cricket fan as he ages? How does his childlike passion for the game change? b) Can a cricket writer be a critic and a spectator at the same time? c) Does watching more cricket deaden the rush of victory (or pain of defeat)? Is it like a drug that fights tolerance, or a good music album that yields more pleasure with every extra listen?

I ask all this because of all the comments made during India’s World Cup run this year, Sanjay Manjrekar’s comments in Bangladesh still stick out for me. During the opening ceremony (in Dhaka), he said the atmosphere reminded him of India in the 1990s (I’m sure the Bryan Adams soundtrack helped). The Bangladeshis seemed so much more innocent, he reported, compared to Indian fans. Is this because cricket coverage has grown so much more sophisticated (what with Hawkeye and replays and what not?) that the Indian cricket child has grown into a cricket management consultant? Or has blogging turned us all into detached cricket analysts, always eager to step back from the emotions caused by the game and ask, “Why do I feel this way? What explains my reaction here?” Or is it all this money, these contracts, the board politics — the stuff of adults? Maybe the simple fact of success — the Test wins, the World Cup, the T20 World Cup — maybe just victory ushers in maturity and its own brand of angst?

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the game. I obviously do. And I still feel like a child-fan during the best moments (like, say, VVS + Ishant against Aus.). But more often than not, I think more about the commentary and the strategy. I’ve rarely felt like hopping in a stand, the way many spectators in India do, when a boundary has been struck, or holding my head stunned when a wicket falls. “Oh, that magic feeling…Oh, where’d it go?

What Cricket Can Learn From China’s Soccer Team

The Economist has a great article about why China’s soccer team is so terrible. It’s a sordid tale involving political control, corrupt referees, shady gambling networks and bubble speculators:

But the contradictions and weaknesses of Chinese capitalism have also played a part in the country’s footballing ignominy. In the early 1990s, with economic reforms taking hold, China slowly allowed some of its state-run teams to act more like commercial ventures, eventually establishing a professional league of clubs with corporate sponsorships, investments and higher salaries. The pay for players was still quite low in comparison with Europe, but big domestic stars began earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, a fortune at the time. The “professional” football era began in 1994, but as with any other organised activity in China, the state retained control.

In the event, adding heaps of money to an unaccountable bureaucracy made matters worse. State-owned enterprises, seeking glory on the pitch, lavished government money on the teams they sponsored. Private corporate investors followed suit, and cut-throat competition dramatically raised star-player salaries. A similar pay spiral has afflicted other countries’ leagues, too; but, in China, some clubs with less wealthy backers found distinctive and creative ways to survive.

Investors would contrive to fix games as favours to the local officials who nominally controlled the clubs (these types of matches are called “favour”, “relationship” or “tacit” matches, and are not viewed negatively by many within the game). Gambling syndicates, including the triads, began exerting influence over investors, referees, coaches and players. A spoils system evolved, and everyone took their cuts.

The situation has improved of late, thanks in part to an international crackdown on corruption. Still, the damage may already be done — Chinese parents worry that sending their kids to soccer camps will get them caught up in a corrupt ring that rewards money and connections over talent. This is a cautionary tale for the world of cricket, and why I worry about the level of involvement that politicians in South Asia exercise over the game. It makes little sense to me why a sports minister, for example, should have any say over the Sri Lankan cricket team’s selection. There must be a million other important things for a cabinet minister to deal with.

This is also, however, another challenge of rising modernity and growth. In both India and China, rising riches have created an unholy nexus between government and corporate interests. Whereas before, corporations were shunned, regulated and clipped (and let out of the box only with a bribe), now ministers see more money to be made from their corporate clientele (who see more money to be made from getting regulations rigged their way). In a market as potentially rich as cricket in India, you’re going to need some very good administration to keep things in check. And I don’t think we have that in place yet. (For ideas on where to begin, see this post.)

Aaron Sorkin Still Loves Cricket

Another installment in my continuing series on cricket citations from Aaron Sorkin’s oeuvre (see here and here). If you watch the finale of season 1 (“What Kind of Day Has It Been“), you’ll hear President Bartlett try to decide between a women’s softball game and a cricket match between Bermuda and Scotland. (Question: Does the POTUS have access to a special sports channel that puts the most obscure events on-air? First, which American TV channel shows cricket, and second, why would this channel air a match between Bermuda and freaking Scotland?) Bartlett then says he’d rather watch the softball game because “bright” as he may be (he has a Nobel prize in economics), every time someone tries to explain cricket to him, he wants to smash a teapot.

From the (admittedly small) sample we’ve accumulated on cricket sightings from Sorkin, we can identify some overall themes: a) Cricket is really “complicated,” and it’s funny how complicated it is; b) Precisely because it is so complicated, it appeals on a cerebral level (all Sorkin characters are smart and obsessive, so they should like cricket if it’s complicated); c) There’s that whole Anglophilia thing going for it (which appeals to the privileged class most Sorkin characters belong to); and d) Even though perhaps a billion people know and like cricket, it is still obscure in Sorkin’s world (i.e., America). The game thus becomes another piece of trivia that characters use incessantly as they try to understand (and master) a world that is always too big and unknowable for them. (Two unrelated examples from this episode: an extended discussion about how a space shuttle’s doors open and close, and a musing about why the eagle on the national seal faces one way and not the other.)

The Pitfalls of Recreational Cricket

Samir Chopra has an excellent post on ‘specialist fielders’ in pick-up cricket games:

These brave souls, who love the game, have sacrificed their weekend time to make up the eleven required to play the game on the weekend, spend their time underused and underappreciated, perhaps being consigned scoring duties while waiting their turn to bat at Nos. 9 or 10.

How does this situation come about? Recreational teams often feature strong, selfish, personalities (perhaps frustrated high-school or college cricketers who did not make it any further) who like to bat higher up the order, demand bowling spells, and like to field in the slips. Sometimes they form a clique with the captain, and merely require a few more bodies to make up the eleven. The ‘team’ such as it is, is merely them, and them alone. The rest just make up the numbers, and are treated accordingly.

Cricket is a hard game to organize (as every recent news item about a cricket board will tell you). Once you get past the questions of ad hoc rules (and the inevitable disagreement over interpreting these rules), you have to deal with players who insist on opening batting, or hogging the strike, or needlessly trying to pressure other players (“Just give me strike, man! Just bowl straight, yaar!”). It really is possible to be a die-hard cricket fan, to know everything about cricket and its strategies and players, and not be an absolute douchebag when playing with friends or colleagues.

I mean, seriously, when you use a garbage dump for your stumps (as my own cricket group in NYC does), you shouldn’t expect much in terms of quality or stakes. So, allow everyone at least one over (even if that means an over may include a few wides). Institute a batting order that changes each game (if you bat first in one, you bat last in the next). Change captains regularly. Do not change fields repeatedly because you’ll rarely have a bowler capable enough to execute your “plan.” Do not question whoever may be the umpire. Arguments over rules should last only 1 minute, and if no one is willing to listen to you, just move on.