Category Archives: BCCI

The DRS Debate Is Starting To Annoy

It’s annoying chiefly because I suspect most Australians aren’t necessarily that angry that DRS isn’t available; they are angry more because one nation (i.e., not theirs) is supposedly being irrational and preventing the technology’s wholesale adoption. Listen carefully, and this theme of the unfair application of power keeps emerging; approximations include: “Can anyone explain the BCCI’s stance?”; “Why can’t Indian fans just stop blindly defending this stupid decision?” and “It’s not right that some Tests have DRS and some don’t!”

These are all valid points, but they are not quite appropriate for the debate over the DRS; they are about a separate argument about how wealth and power is distorting the administration (and future?) of cricket. So, Australian fans perceive an all-powerful board throwing its weight around on an issue; that weight means, occasionally, Indian players get a bad rap; and Australians get to laugh and say, “See? These idiots who are running this game into the ground can’t get anything right! They’re even eating their own!”

Well, I sympathize with this point of view (though the smugness and sanctimony that so many Australian fans exhibit on Twitter on this issue is starting to wear thin). But, again, it seems a bit off: as S. Monga pointed out on Cricinfo recently, the Indian team also benefited from “bad” umpire decisions (the Adelaide Test would have been over a lot quicker if a few LBWs had gone the other way against Vijay and Kohli). In the final tally, the BCCI’s stance on DRS stance may help India; it may hurt — that’s all beside the point.

Which is that there are still legitimate arguments against the DRS in its current form! I won’t go through the lot, but one that has struck me lately is what Dhoni was sort of talking about in last week’s press conference, when he said that players use DRS to test or “justify” the umpire’s decision.Do you know how annoying it is to see a crucial player decide to use his team’s last review because, well, what the hell, maybe technology will save me? There’s a real cost to the fact that the majority of DRS reviews have actually upheld the umpire’s call — they waste time, they undermine the umpire’s authority (who was right in the first place!), and they support this problematic notion that whatever a ball-tracking estimate says is Absolute Truth. When we see a “bad” decision, we go on and on about how terrible umpiring is and how we should allow reviews; then, when we see how stupid players actually are when they use two reviews, we…what, exactly? Simply have to take it as part of the package?

Now, yes, there have been a few howlers lately, and they would have been caught by simple replay. But that’s not an argument for the current DRS system that the BCCI opposes; it’s an argument for an entirely different set of rules. So, Australian fans: go ahead, enjoy your bout of schadenfreude when the next bad decision comes along. But don’t be so sure that the DRS is ultimately the best thing for cricket either.

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Tendulkar’s Politics

I don’t really care all that much that Sachin Tendulkar is now a Rajya Sabha M.P. India’s upper house is, like most, fairly inconsequential, and one member is likely to be even more so. And given India’s tradition of including “persons of interest” — like actress Rekha — it’s hard to get too worked up. (I would, however, become more than a little worried if he decided to run for office; as a former Bombay resident, I don’t hold that particular electorate in high esteem.)

But the more interesting question is about politics and cricket. Is there any other team sports that more involves the perils of faction? Forget about the ‘outside’ constituencies — i.e., the board, the media, the selectors, the sponsors, the family (quite a significant list in its own right) — think also about the different camps that emerge from within. Your team is automatically divided into bowlers and batsmen (and if your country is diverse, there are regional squabbles to contend with). Even the batsmen have different roles — the openers can claim to sit at a different table; the No. 3 or No. 4 could be a diva set in his ways; and the lower-order may feel perpetually ignored. Each has specific needs.

A good captain has to manage all this, and that too, often while traveling in a strange land of buses and hotels. It’s an environment that can only breed resentment and suspicion. Which is why, I suspect, certain captains — like Sammy, or even maybe Ganguly — earn more plaudits than their individual performances may merit. This is a tough job — much tougher than occupying a seat in the Rajya Sabha.

Did STAR’s Cricket Bid Make Sense?

To follow up on my previous post, here’s an excerpt from FirstPost Business praising STAR’s move:

The bedrock of STAR’s bet (and indeed, MSM’s) is the change in the revenue pie for television in India thanks to the TRAI recommendations on digitisation…In such an environment, where the channel has the ability to charge every viewer who wants to access the channel, there is an immediate drop in the pressure to sell advertising. Cricket will, for the foreseeable future, be ‘premium’ content that subscribers will pay for. To illustrate the change, let’s take this: “The number of direct-to-home (DTH) subscribers witnessed a growth of 62 percent in 2010-11,” says research firm ICRA. Currently, for example, on TATA Sky, STAR Sports and ESPN charge Rs 29 per subscriber per month, STAR Cricket Rs. 25. The growth that ICRA reported, 62 percent, are all new revenue targets for  STAR India – and the more digital India gets, the more revenue STAR could target. If subscribers do not pay, they do not watch – as simple as that. In the analog system, a subscriber might have paid – and STAR might have received nothing from him, with the cable operator pocketing the subscription. In the digital regime, this is impossible.

I hadn’t even thought about cable subscription fees (rather naively, in retrospect). If equality is your overriding concern, you should be worried by this model, since it essentially carves up India’s cricket fan base into those who can afford to pay for cable, and those who can’t. [The English Cricket Board has been dealing with this debate for years; see this article for an insightful summary of both sides.] Then again, I wonder what percentage of India’s cricket fans follow the game through the television — for all our talk about this medium changing the game, perhaps more still follow through radio/print/mobile sources, rather than shell out the monthly fee?


Is There An Indian Cricket Bubble?

Sorry for the lack of posting; was away on vacation with the family. During the trip, I had an interesting conversation with my father about the IPL and the value of cricket. Our question was: How do you begin to attach a dollar figure to an obsession like cricket? It’s one thing to say, as many (annoyingly) do, that cricket is a religion in India. But is it also a lucrative one? If it is an obsession, are people making rational, properly modeled decisions, or ones based purely on sentiment and personal attachment?

At its heart, this question stems from a dispute between disciplines: economists like to think that buyers and sellers meet in a marketplace and are motivated purely by precise definitions of their own utility and prices (which are themselves decided by supply and demand). Sociologists and social psychologists, on the other hand, argue that societal norms have a lot to do with prices — why do teachers earn so little compared to finance executives? Why don’t we pay home care workers a living wage in America (hint: they tend to be poor, black and immigrants)? To apply this to cricket, my father thinks, for example, that Vijay Mallya invested in a franchise simply because of its star power, not because it will make any money, and that others invested as favors to Bollywood stars like Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty. In other words, social networks, not rational pricing, proved decisive.

Of course, economists do recognize that bubbles exist, but they are notoriously unable to predict them with any accuracy. When is an investment in a particular sector a sound strategy reflecting accurate valuation, and when is it part of a tidal wave of “irrational exuberance”? Take this piece of dialogue with an executive from STAR, which just purchased the rights to broadcast Indian cricket for $750 million:

You are paying 40-odd crore per match. The bid almost defies the market situation currently. What did you have in mind when you worked out the figure?

Given the viewership that cricket has in this country we feel that the value that we have attributed to it [each match] justifies itself. Our confidence comes from the popularity of cricket. And we think as the reach of media grows in this country, the penetration and popularity will automatically grow.

This reasoning doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, right? Yes, cricket is popular, but why do you think its popularity is worth $750 million over six years? Economics blogger Matt Yglesias asked a similar question about SuperBowl ads, which cost $4 million for 30 seconds of airtime. Here’s why he didn’t think it was worth companies’ money:

But are the ads really worth it? I’ll admit to being skeptical. The sale of Super Bowl ad time is essentially a kind of auction, a scenario plagued by what economists call the “winner’s curse.” We start with the basic assumption that people know more or less what they’re doing with their money, but aren’t quite infallible. If that’s right, then auctions should be won by whoever most overestimates the value of whatever’s up for bid. This is one reason why the annals of free-agent signings in most sports appear to be filled with blunders. In reality, most GMs are probably doing a good job of not offering players more money than they’re worth. The problem is that each player ends up signing with the team that most overestimates his value. The Super Bowl could be a similar story. Whichever firms’ executives happen to guess worst about the value of a Super Bowl ad are the ones most likely to buy them.

What do you think — did STAR overpay, or is it a worthwhile investment?

Praying For The Whitewash?

Devanshu isn’t happy with Venkat Ananth for pulling for a whitewash (which would, presumably, force the BCCI to reform):

The weird thing about Mr. Ananth’s article is that what he ultimately wants is an ideological victory– for the BCCI to change to suit his ideal. And it’s a worthy ideal.

But he’s willing to give up the present. He’s willing to give up on short-term victories, on short-term miracles. He’s willing to give up on the grind. Like a comic book villain, he wishes for short-term devastation, so that he can build a new world order.

Tough call. My own position is that while I’d like to avoid the whitewash (if only to avoid the sight of smiling Australians), I wouldn’t be destroyed by one. And that’s because I’d like to see some BCCI officials squirm and, obviously, see some changes made in the way India runs its cricket. The more likely outcome? India lose 4-0 (or 3-0); Indian fans start calling for Laxman+Dravid’s heads; the BCCI announces a powerless review (like the Bowles-Simpson Commission) and, one year later, we have promptly forgotten everything.

New world order, anyone?

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.”

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.)

India’s Vaunted Injury Management System

After the 4-0 drubbing in England, the BCCI bigwigs said the most pressing objective was to improve India’s injury management system. During the tour, journalists gushed over the system in place in England, which apparently watches its players like hawks and mandates everything they can do and eat and sing and dance (etc.) to keep them match-fit. So, how close are we to that ideal? Let’s take a look at the recent announcement that Praveen Kumar will not make it to Australia:

According to the original BCCI media release sent on Monday evening, Praveen had been ruled out only for the first three ODIs of the West Indies series. This came after Virender Sehwag, the stand-in India captain, had said on the eve of the Cuttack ODI that Praveen would be available for the second match on December 3 as he was suffering from “a niggle”.

It is understood the selectors were not aware of Praveen’s original injury when they had picked him in the squads for the two series. “On the day of the selection, if there is no adverse fitness report then you assume they are fit,” a BCCI official told ESPNcricinfo. “If you have not reported you are unfit you are assumed to be fit.” According to him the turn of events in Praveen’s case caught the selection committee completely by surprise. “The selectors only came to know a day after the Mumbai Test (which ended three days ago).”

I’ll say this much: we’ve made progress in that Praveen’s injury hasn’t come to light during the actual tour, but about one month before it. Just so people are clear about the stakes: We still aren’t sure about Zaheer Khan’s fitness, which means we could send a bowling attack to one of the biggest cricket series of the year led by Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron. Granted, Australia’s own team has been beset by injuries, but I’m still very, very worried.

Untangling the Duncan Fletcher Factor

Is Duncan Fletcher behind India’s recent selection decisions? Since the BCCI has erected an electric forcefield to keep him from the media, we can only speculate. Take it away, King Cricket:

Umesh Yadav is a Fletcher bowler and we’ll doubtless be seeing more of him after he took 3-23 in West Indies’ first innings. As England coach, Fletcher erred towards the workmanlike spinner, but he’s blessed with more options in India and both Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin have done enough to justify Harbhajan Singh’s exclusion. Was that another Fletcher move?

A couple of things have irked Indian fans lately. First: why drop Praveen Kumar after his solid performance in England? And second, who the hell is Rahul Sharma? I’m not sure what I feel about either (Is Praveen really a Test bowler? Would he be able to swing it all that much in Australia?). But the question left unresolved thus far is what exactly Fletcher (and the Indian think tank) learned from the England 4-0 debacle. Was it just a freak breakdown unlikely to ever be repeated? Was it just that the English planned better? Or was it simply that we need to manage injuries better?

It’s hard for Fletcher — or anyone — to believe that the Indian batting line-up will fail as woefully as they did in England. Even if he does belief that, Fletcher can’t change the batting line-up at this point (since Dravid/Tendulkar/Laxman/Sehwag/Gambhir/Dhoni all pick themselves, leaving just one spot to fight among Raina/Yuvraj/Rohit Sharma/Badrinath?/Pujara?/etc). He does have some leeway with the bowling, which explains the current experimentation with Ohja/Ashwin (instead of Harbhajan) and Yadav/Aaron instead of (or as part of an attack featuring) Ishant and Zaheer. Picking Yadav so soon into his career seems strange, until you realize that this is just the way Indian selectors work. Why waste young fast talent on crappy Indian pitches, when shiny ones beckon in Eng, S.A. and Aus?

All things said, as long as the Indian team doesn’t ruin Yadav/Aaron the way it ruined Ishant and Irfan Pathan and RP Singh and L Balaji (and so on), this team has a fighting chance. It helps that the Australian team isn’t nearly as good as they used to be (and they’re certainly not as good as England at home). There’s hope for you yet, Fletcher.

Indian Stadiums Still Suck

A Cricketing View has the details on how it’s nearly impossible for spectators to get into the Delhi Test match against the West Indies:

This is from a spectator named Manish:

“The reason for attendance is simple. Me and my wife started from home at 8.00 on a winter morning (that too on a Sunday). Spend 100 bucks on Auto. Reach here a 8.30 to find out that there is no ticket counter at the stadium (because it is Sunday). Went to a near by bank branch after roaming for an hour. After jostling for an hour got the tkts and enter the stadium at 10.30. On internet only season tickets are available. There were a lot of people who went back including kids. We persisted but nearly gave up.”

“In continuation, only 100 Rs tickets were available. Higher category stands, even though vacant are not being sold. But the effort reminded me of my college days when we used to find our ways to movie tickets.”