Category Archives: Coverage

The BCCI and the Right to Information Act

I don’t normally pick fights with other cricket bloggers, and I don’t mean to start one with Kartikeya (over at A Cricketing View). From the rules of the game to the innards of cricket administration, this guy knows his stuff and he’s far better at finding details than I am. But his latest effort, which critiques an apparently inaccurate Times of India article on the BCCI, reaches some conclusions that are a bit too dangerous. Let’s do this:

Kartikeya is angry that the Times of India continue to peddle the conflict-of-interest angle on Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shashtri. He doesn’t think anybody has looked at the BCCI contract properly, and he backs up his claim with some interesting evidence. So far, so good. But then, he goes to a dark place:

Can you imagine the havoc that journalists with the standards of Pradhan and Narayanan could wreak if they were able to use the power of the Right To Information Act? The two have demonstrated a total inability to be fair to the subject of their story. This must surely be the first rule in any inquiry. […]

I will support bringing the BCCI under the RTI if Bennett, Coleman and Co. and The Times Group can also be brought under it. In general I think private corporations (both for-profit and non-profit) need to be scrutinized a great deal more than they currently are. I will support bringing BCCI under the RTI if Sport Pages (which are about entertainment as much as they are about news) and Gossip Pages of newspapers are no longer considered to be “journalism”, in the sense that political current affairs reportage is considered to be journalism.

The charitable view of this line of reasoning is that Kartikeya is annoyed other people — that is, professionals paid to do this kind of work — can’t match his own research. And I completely agree with the sentiment; God knows I have plenty of axes to grind when it comes to the Times. That being said, however, the burden of proof when it comes to information and transparency lies with public bodies that use public funds, not on how private citizens will use the information. This is a basic point, but one that’s often lost even in “advanced” democracies like the United States. As a former reporter here, I can’t tell you how often town clerks would ask me why I asked for public documents, even though the reasoning behind a citizen’s request has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not information should be released.

So, a word of advice to Kartikeya: Critique sports journalism all you want and make sure they get the facts straight. But private corporations don’t have as high a burden as public ones do (I can’t even imagine bringing corporations under RTI, since that would mean business and trade secrets would be open to competitors), and whether or not the BCCI is transparent shouldn’t be dependent on how others act. Also: lay off the gossip pages. I like ’em.

 

From W.G. Grace to S. Tendulkar

I’m in the middle of a quick read of C.L.R. James’ fantastic Beyond the Boundary, a part-memoir, part-post-colonial analysis and history of cricket. Even though I’ve owned the book for more than four years now, I confess this evening was the first instance I sat down to give it a good go — and I’m so impressed I promise to go back to it for more. For starters, take this excerpt about W.G. Grace on the eve of scoring 100 centuries in 1895, at the age of 47:

“Burly as [his] figure was, [Grace] was sustained and lifted higher than ever before by what has been and always will be the most potent of all forces in our universe — the spontaneous, unqualified, disinterested enthusiasm and goodwill of a whole community….Never since the days of the Olympic champions of Greece has the sporting world known such enthusiasm and never since. This is accepted and it is true and it is important — I am the last to question that. What I take leave to ask even at such a moment is this: On what other occasion, sporting or non-sporting, was there ever such enthusiasm, such an unforced sense of community, of the universal merged in an individual? At the end of a war? A victorious election? With its fears, its hatreds, its violent passions? I have heard of no other that approached this celebration of W.G.’s hundredth century.”

The universal merged in an individual. Wonderful, no? I imagine it’s difficult in our globalized and large world for people to feel the same way about sportsmen. Tendulkar’s superstar status makes him seem both near and distant; 21st-century celebrity can do that. But I hear echoes of Grace circa 1895 when little stadiums in England — if I can call Lord’s that — stand up for a stranger from a distant land with almost affectionate applause. The din is different from the one you hear in Indian stadiums — it’s not ecstasy or fervor, but a mark of recognition, praise, and intimacy. Tendulkar, so great, so brilliant, and yet somehow of us. We’ve known him since he was 16, don’t you know.

DuckingBeamers on Reverse Swept Radio

The wonderful folks at Reverse Swept Radio kindly featured my blog on their weekly podcast. I recommend all of their work, but I like the part where all sorts of lavish praise is thrown my way the most. You can listen on Episode 15, just past the 30-minute mark. I’ve also noticed that more bloggers are talking to each other — The Cricket Couch is doing an excellent job on this front, as are the people at Test Match Sofa. More, more, more.

Aaron Sorkin Loves Cricket

To follow on my previous post: let’s start counting the number of times cricket appears in Aaron Sorkin scripts! Here’s another one. I always say: if you want to win an argument, carry a cricket bat.

Aaron Sorkin Knows Cricket

To follow on two recent posts — one from Kridaya on Bill Crosby and cricket, and the other from Clear Cricket on watching cricket in the USA — I wanted to recommend episode 21 in the first season of Sports Night, Aaron Sorkin‘s first major television breakthrough. (For foreign readers, Sorkin wrote The West Wing and Social Network, among other things, and is a God among men.)

This episode, called Ten Wickets, must surely stand out as the longest discussion of cricket on American television ever. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any YouTube clips (use Netflix to watch it instantly), but the episode revolves around a character’s attempt to understand the significance of a bowler taking ten wickets in a match. And it’s hilarious, because none of his colleagues knows a thing about cricket, except a) there’s tea involved, and b) it takes a really long time. (At one point, the character tries to equate a ten-wicket haul with a no-hitter, but the analogy fails when someone points out that a bowler can still concede runs while picking up his ten wickets.)

It’s interesting because when American colleagues discover my love for cricket, they will almost always mention either “tea” or “five days.” I don’t know why these two examples are always cited; yes, time is a major element of Test cricket, but it’s hardly definitional, given one-day and T20. Well, this is a challenge: you have two words/examples to describe cricket. What do you pick? (Adjectives not allowed.)

Why Watch Cricket Highlights?

During my occasional returns to the homeland, I am regularly surprised by the number of television channels that currently exist to serve the cricket fan. Yes, cricket is a big market in India, and it’s likely to get bigger with each succeeding year as more Indians join the ranks of the fabled middle-class. But there are markets and bubbles, and even in these years of packed calendars, there are days sans cricket (like today, or uh, yesterday). So what to these channels do? They play hours and hours and hours of cricket highlights.

Now, if you are part of the Indian diaspora, cricket highlights are a regular feature of your programming. There’s no way an expat cricket fan, no matter how dedicated to the game, can watch all the hours of a cricket game live. I imagine many do what I do: follow the game as much as possible on Cricinfo and Twitter, sneak a stream-viewing when possible, but then find extended highlights on YouTube or (if you’re smart), Cricket-online.tv. I enjoy this routine, but in a recent article (not about cricket, but sports in general), Chuck Klosterman had this to say:

It doesn’t matter how much I sequester myself or how thrilling the event is — if I know the game has finished, it’s difficult to sustain authentic interest in what I’ve recorded. I inevitably fast-forward to the last two or three minutes (even when I have no vested interest in the outcome). Since I’m watching the game purely for entertainment, it shouldn’t be any different from the real thing. It should, in fact, be better, just as it’s more enjoyable to watch self-recorded episodes of Frontline or Storage Wars or any other traditional show that lives inside my DVR. In theory, I should be able to enjoy every single game I want to see, on my own schedule — all I need to do is avoid the Internet for a few hours and not glance at the ESPN ticker on public TV screens. But it never works: I get home, I start watching the recent past, and I find myself rushing toward the present.

For other sports, I think Klosterman’s right — it really, really sucks not to be able to watch Wimbledon live, because I can’t bear watching tennis highlights. Those episodes typically jump from moments in a set and show some great shots from players, which is cool and everything, but a tad repetitive by the end. But I do enjoy cricket highlights, and not just because I happen to like anything related to cricket. For one thing, watching how a wicket occurs is often fascinating — they only occur 10 times an innings, and it’s high-drama when it happens. But secondly, the best cricket highlights also provide a little context that build up a moment. Think of that Flintoff over against Ponting, or Ishant Sharma’s extended test against Ponting at Perth. You get an abbreviated story there, but an interesting little battle nonetheless.

Or am I just addicted to cricket? Thoughts on highlights?

Watching Cricket In The USA

Over at Clear Cricket, Raza Naqvi has posted a wonderful (if somewhat florid) piece on the solitude of watching cricket in the USA:

Watching cricket with others is an equally agonizing process involving S-video and HDMI cables, compatibility issues and TV resolutions—the seventeen inches of a laptop are not conducive to communal viewing[…]And so cricket, here in America, is not only watched in poor quality, it is watched alone.

Great stuff, and it has rightly received praise from many other bloggers. I particularly like the piece because it neatly falls into a genre of blogging I’ll call meta-cricket — these are posts that deal more with the experience of watching cricket, rather than the game itself. The difference lies between reading another match preview or game analysis (or even selection policy), and reading about commenatators, annoying cricket ads, and new technologies (or old — see Deep Backward Point’s post on Tape Delay Cricket).

One last thing about Naqvi’s piece: he presents watching cricket alone as an immigrant’s attempt to stand against all-encroaching modern America, with its ubiquitous media culture. That’s true, but I’ll go further and argue what I have in a previous post: watching cricket (and especially Test cricket) is also a protest against modernity, a stance against Kim Kardashian, VH1 shows, hyper-politics and corporate ladders (to use Naqvi’s examples). As I said before in a review of cricket in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse:

Cricket here comes across as a noisy invasion (“the sudden bark”), whereas I enjoy Test cricket most precisely because the long periods of time and frequent intervals of nothing-is-happening mean I can let the game fade into the background, so it becomes a soothing set of sounds (to use Woolf’s words).

Which raises a more difficult question: do you other immigrant-bloggers find now that it is sometimes easier and better and more enjoyable to watch cricket in the USA, or back home in South Asia? Because while I initially thrill to seeing cricket everywhere when I return to Bombay, I quickly sour when I read all the ink wasted on the sport in the papers and the time reserved on television and all the endorsements and the…that little protected space for cricket, so isolated in the USA, gets taken over by everyone else in India. And it’s not always fun.

Best West Indies Board Meeting Ever

Sriram Veera’s latest dispatch from the West Indies makes for some compelling reading. It describes a heated meeting between Chris Gayle’s representatives and the West Indies Cricket Board, two parties that have been caught in a toxic brew of ego, incompetence and conflicting visions for the past month or two.

This is the best moment in Veera’s piece:

After the meeting on Wednesday, in which tempers are said to have flared, allegations from both camps flew thick and fast. A WICB source alleged that Dinanath Ramnarine, the president of the West Indies Players Association (WIPA), had lifted his chair and threatened to assault the board CEO Ernest Hilaire. WIPA denied the incident but conceded that there had been verbal disagreements and that Ramnarine had got out from his chair at one point, but had neither lifted the chair nor tried to hit Hilaire.

Obviously, I like the detail about the chair, but I think Veera deserves extra credit for eliciting a reaction from the WICB that clarifies someone did get out from a chair, but said piece of furniture was never lifted. Such distinctions are the stuff of master spin.

And what is all the fuss about? Apparently, the board wants Gayle to apologize for some remarks he made. That is it. Why boards don’t follow Australia’s example, which just received a severe tongue-lashing from Simon Katich, is simply beyond me. No, instead, we cannot have players talking to the media freely, and if they do, they need to be sanctioned, and if they don’t apologize, they need to be punished. Words can’t hurt you, don’t you know.

Cricket Blog Deaths

I second Kridaya’s post on recent cricket blog deaths. We’ve lost The Corridor and Short of a Length in short time. So, if anyone out there has a cricket blog and would like to be included on my list, please let me know. Send me a note at duckingbeamers@gmail.com, or comment on this page. We need you now more than ever.

 

Bowlers Or Batsmen: Who Are More Intelligent?

During Day 2 of the West Indies-Pakistan Test, Rameez Raja and Ian Bishop began an interesting discussion about Wahab Riaz’s action. The specific discovery that triggered the topic — Riaz’s angled wrist position — wasn’t what caught my attention. It was more Raja’s tone. He asked Bishop, his voice conveying genuine bemusement, why it was so hard for a bowler to slightly change the delivery angle of his hand. Surely, this was something relatively easy, no? So why hadn’t it been done? To be fair, Raja later qualified his remarks, but his undercurrent was clear: Are bowlers dumb? Why can’t they do a simple thing like change their action? 

When we say cricket is a batsman’s game, we not only mean the rules give them the upper hand, but also that they are the main attraction — the elite of society. By contrast, bowlers are generally depicted as creatures of habit. Like the underclass, they are unappreciated and expected to toil under a hot sun while the batsman lounges in his crease and decides a ball’s fate. (This bias may be encouraged by modern commentary. I haven’t studied this closely enough, but I’ll bet the ratio of batsmen to bowlers in the media box clearly tips to the former.)

Think of the language we use to discuss batsmen — their technique, especially. Raja’s question about Riaz’s wrist implied that, compared to fixing a batsman’s technique, bowlers face relatively easy puzzles. A batsman has to work on his defensive game by learning proper footwork and a level head, but a bowler just needs to make minor adjustments to his action, which they then can repeat endlessly on a loop, for God’s sake.  (Ian Bishop gave a meandering reply, but he noted that for many coaches, the toughest thing is to decide what to leave in a player’s arsenal, and what to change. Imagine trying to shift or reform a golfer’s swing — the danger is that if you insist on changing one thing, some other problem will emerge as the athlete adjusts.)

This reminds me of something Wasim Akram once said about batsman-captains. He noted that, during a bad bowling spell, they would often run up to him and offer useless bromides like, “Good line and length, Wasim.” And he would wonder, “Yes, but why am I not hitting a good line and length right now?” A related problem is that we have words and vocabulary to describe a batsman’s failure — he’s out of form, say, or his stance makes him liable to particular balls (short, yorkers, in-swingers, whatever). But for bowlers, we still rely on vague — almost mystical — notions like “rhythm.” Why a bowler does well on one day and badly the next is still largely a mystery to me. Why a bowler suddenly finds swing, and otherwise not (a la Irfan Pathan) — let’s just say I suspect it has more to do than the position of his wrist.