Category Archives: CricInfo

Explaining the India-Australia Rivalry

I was thinking yesterday about why it is that the Indian team cannot play the Australians without some emotional and difficult controversy erupting. Jarrod Kimber steps in, as part of Cricinfo‘s generally wonderful preview of the semifinal today, and recounts the long, tortured history. It got my blood boiling.

I had forgotten what it was like in the 1990s. Australia were coming into their own, ready to usurp the mantle from the West Indians. The 1996 World Cup was a rare mistake; otherwise, the dominance (and arrogance) of this team was breathtaking. I remember Warne refusing to eat the food in India; I remember the obvious discomfort of having to tour the country at all. Kimber fills in some other incendiary details:

Before 2001, this was kind of how Indian cricket was seen in Australia. As this effeminate version of cricket that really wasn’t for Australians…This was a country that only shortly before [2001] we were happy enough to laugh, or at least cringe in silence, as former Australian Greg Ritchie did a long-running racist portrayal of Indians on TV. Australia went from a country that called Indians “curry munchers” to a country that was now desperate to beat them.

YouTube has a few clips of Ritchie’s performances. They are unbelievably awful — Ritchie wears brown-face and a turban, and he speaks with an accent that puts The Simpsons’ Apu to shame. It’s a strange thing when you realize that you feel more resentful and angry toward white Australian cricketers than you do the white South Africans.

Things are better now, yes — India has done enough in the last 15 years to prove that its quality, and, in that same period, the Australians have suffered enough blows to seem more relatable. I have enough emotional distance to it to say I don’t regard either team with much enthusiasm; the Indians spew verbal attitude too much for my own taste. Kimber is right when he says both teams are bullies; they are genuinely hard to like, even if they deserve respect and awe.

Still, if the World Cup is more about history and emotion and spectacle, then on this late New England night, I can call on those ancient slights and insults and indulge in some good ol’ sports nationalism. A good performance tonight, please, just to exorcise Ritchie’s ghost once and for all.


Diagnosing Australia

Jarrod Kimber has a fine essay on Cricinfo about all that ails Australia. It’s a beautiful piece, and I recommend it in full. That said, while I’m not nearly as smart or observant as Kimber (the little I know about cricket, I learned from commentary), I want to add a note of caution to the recent diagnoses of Australia.

Please keep in mind, all ye critics, that Australia just lost a great number of players in the past five years. Not just any set of players — but some of the greatest to have ever played the game. In my mind, it is still an open question as to whether Australia will face a terminal decline (a la The West Indies), or merely slide to something more mediocre and less dominating (but still very, very good). I’d like to think that a nation with as much cricketing history, talent and infrastructure as Australia will not allow Michael Clarke to suffer as much as Brian Lara did in the early 2000s. We shall see.

At any rate, think about how different this team would be if they still had, say, Michael Hussey. I’m not saying that they would be winning now, but perhaps they’d be more like Sri Lanka’s Jayawardene-Sangakarra — a combination that can still occasionally stop the opposition in its tracks, and provide succor and stability to the rest of the (largely middling) batsmen. Hussey’s retirement (as I understand it) caught Clarke by surprise, and I think it’s fair to say this Australian team would have had a less embarrassing transition had Hussey stuck around for another year or two.

Because let’s keep in mind as well that Australia are also playing against England in England. We’re dismissive of Watson and Hughes and Cowan (and Warner), but both Cowan and Warner performed admirably against India when India played in Australia in 2011-12. Of course, England is not India — Jimmy Anderson and Swann are much better than latter-day Zaheer Khan and Ashwin. But playing in England against a great swing attack is no easy task; even the mighty Australians of yore (e.g., the 2005 squad) failed that test. (Please also note: When Anderson played in Australia in 2006-2007, he was a shambolic travesty: five wickets in three Tests and 93 overs. He got better, sure, but it took a long time.)

So what are we comparing this Australia to? Are we comparing it to the Australians who didn’t relinquish the Ashes urn for nearly two decades? If that’s the case, we’ve got a problem — we are refusing to recognize the greatness that has passed. No, compare Australia to a team that’s in the middle of a generational change — didn’t England suffer in 2006-2007? Didn’t India suffer in 2011 (against both Australia and England)? Every cricket fan from every country has been humiliated in the past; now it’s your turn, Aussies. Stop being so dramatic about it.

Tendulkar Wants You To Feed Him

Dhoni, on his first encounter with Sachin Tendulkar:

“I think that was in a Duleep Trophy match in Pune in 2000-01 or 2001-02 season. I was in East Zone squad and was carrying drinks. Tendulkar made 199 in that match and he was batting when I went onto the field to serve drinks to my team-mates in the drinks break.

“Suddenly, he asked me, ‘Can I have a drink also?’ That was my first meeting with Tendulkar, my idol. I did not speak a word to him and ended up serving a drink to him.”

Yuvraj, on his first tryst:

“My first conversation was when I was looking at him in awe at the dressing room, suddenly he said, ‘please pass on the biscuits.'” To this Tendulkar replied [at the launch for Yuvraj’s autobiography], “I have not got those biscuits till now.”

Just Who — Or What — Is Shane Watson?

Does anyone know what, who, or why Shane Watson is? Are we fascinated/infuriated with him because we cannot understand him? How can someone alternate so quickly and so often from injured to essential to needy to demanding to invaluable? From Cricinfo, an almost-daily exercise in trying to uncover Watson’s true nature:

watson1 watson9 watson8 watson7 watson6 watson5 watson4watson10

Calling Usman Khawaja an ‘Asian’ Batsman

I discussed this problem on Twitter already, but I wanted to flesh out my thoughts a bit more. Yesterday, during the first day of the Test between Aus. and N.Z., Mark Nicholas said a shot by Usman Khawaja was almost “Asian looking.” Cricinfo immediately ridiculed the comment as insensitive, as did some of my Twitter friends — but the issue is a little more delicate.

Here’s why it makes us cringe: 1) Any mention of racial essentialism is not cool. Saying a practice is inherent to a race/culture takes you to tricky areas (“You are Indian, therefore you must like X.”). 2) Khawaja is Asian (of Pakistani descent, specifically), but he plays for Australia. To say he is an ‘Asian’ batsman implies he’s not fully Australian; he’s a foreigner in our midst. (I’ve addressed Khawaja’s heritage in another post.)

A related example: A few years ago, I went with my family on vacation to South Africa. At one stop, my father met a South African shopkeeper of Indian descent; naturally (because all Indians rejoice inside when they see a member of the diaspora), my father asked him where he was from. My brother later berated him for doing so; it’s probable that this particular South African had lived in the country for generations; to ask where he was from implies he wasn’t from South Africa. (Similarly, I have friends of Indian descent here in America who absolutely hate answering the “where are you really from” question because white people never have to answer it, and it sort of emphasizes their difference and exclusion. “Oh, you’re not really American; you’re a foreigner.”)

OK. But here’s why it’s a difficult issue: 1) To call a batsman ‘Asian’ in cricket means they have deft wrists. It’s as style of play that apparently was once associated with Asian players (Ranji, I’m told, in particular). It’s sort of why we call left-handed leg-spinners Chinamen. In other words, it’s nothing about a person’s culture or heritage; it’s simply cricketing shorthand. (Dissent: But when was the last time you heard a white batsman called ‘Asian’? Surely there are wristy players outside the subcontinent, right? And isn’t ‘cricket shorthand’ derivative of colonial/racist discourse? I mean, come on — Chinaman?)

2) Then again, we know that the diversity of cricket (and how it is played) is its chief attraction. Pitches are different around the world, as are sporting cultures; this leads to different types of players and techniques. How can we talk about this diversity without referring to different cultures? (Dissent: But is it true that Asians are now more “wristy” than other batsmen? And what exactly is the “West Indian style” of cricket? If you find yourself using words like exuberant and Calypso — well, that’s taking us back to colonialist discourse, right?)

Perhaps Nicholas should have just named famous players who did in fact play with their wrists. “Khawaja almost looked like X there.”  I don’t know — am I just indulging the worst kind of political correctness here?

The Task of a Great Cricket Writer

I’m still shocked about the news on Peter Roebuck. I enjoyed his work, even though it was often uneven (as Sambit Bal notes in his surprisingly frank obit). I’m scared to hear what revelations the coming days will bring; I hope the cricket world isn’t about to endure a “Joe Pa” scandal.

But I just wanted to say a quick word about what a good cricket writer should do. In the past, I have compared Test cricket  to a novel, and a good cricket writer could do no better than follow the literary critic’s cue. Just as the critic asks, “Why does an author pick these particular words as opposed to others at his disposal,” the cricket critic should explain why cricketers respond to events on the field they way they do. Why do bowlers suddenly have one good spell, only to fall away in a few hours? How does a batsman encounter a threat — a swinging ball; lack of form; a doosra — and still manage to score runs? How does a captain maneuver his field to out-think a batsman?

Not many cricket writers do this well (I certainly don’t have the expertise yet). Simon Hughes (esp. in his role as The Analyst) perfected cricket criticism, but most commentators rely on vague, untested notions like “momentum” and “pressure” (as The Old Batsman notes in a wonderful post). Wasim Akram always used to say: a batsman batsman would tell him, “Line and length, line and length,” but Akram would always ask, “But why am I not bowling line and length? What’s wrong with me today?” That’s what we should be trying to answer.

Mumbai Indians Caught Cheating?

Quite a catch from Cricinfo:

Suryakumar Yadav, the batsman who was omitted from the Mumbai Indians squad for the Champions League T20 on account of injury, has scored an unbeaten 182 in an under-22 tournament in Mumbai on Thursday. Yadav’s omission from the MI squad on September 22 had left them with seven Indian players, which prompted their request for an additional overseas player for the tournament and resulted in theirs being the only team allowed to field five foreign players in the final XI.

Just to be clear: the accusation is that the Mumbai Indians, eager to play with high-profile foreign players, dumped three no-name domestic players so they could get a special allotment. The Mumbai Indians claim these domestic players were injured, but if Yadav could score more than 150 runs (and be cleared by his own team management) in a separate tournament, how injured was he?

So what happens next? How do IPL franchises resolve accusations like these?

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.

A Tale Of Two Medias: Duncan Fletcher As India Coach

Andrew Miller has a balanced take on Duncan Fletcher’s appointment as India coach. He focuses in particular on Fletcher’s strained relationship with the English press:

[S]o much of this went unappreciated throughout Fletcher’s often fractious England tenure, ironically because his single biggest failing was one of communication – not within the squad, for his man-management was by all accounts superb (at least among those who bought into his approach), but through (and to) the media. The advent of central contracts aided and abetted the creation of what became known as the England “bubble”, and Fletcher simply did not see any reason to prick the surface tension, and serve up his thoughts to anyone beyond the inner sanctum.

That obstinate attitude made for some memorable battles of wills with the British press in the course of his seven-year tenure. To his lasting credit, Fletcher invariably fronted up when his team had suffered one of their intermittent stinkers in the field, although those dreaded “Duncan Days” had become a self-parody long before his time in the job was up, with every new transcript an exercise in forensics.

So what will Fletcher face in the Indian media? For my part, I have increasingly little respect for India’s broadcast news industry, and just a smidgen more for its biggest English newspapers. The Times of India, the biggest game in town, has become utter filth — the writing is awful; the rah-rah India tone unbearable, and the news judgment largely absent. And when you think of some of the controversies that dogged Greg Chappell — namely, did he or did he not give the middle finger to Indian fans? — you have to fear for Fletcher’s heart.

But on the other hand, as Miller notes later in his piece, it’s become accepted practice for smart foreign coaches — that is, everybody other than Chappell — to keep the press at arm’s distance. And I think most Indian reporters accept this practice, even though they no doubt hate it. Gary Kirsten gave almost no interviews during his term, and only consented after the World Cup victory (when coverage was unlikely to be hostile, to say the least). Now, Kirsten pulled that off for two reasons: 1) Dhoni can handle the press well, when he wants to; 2) India did well — really well. If India falter in the next two years — more specifically, if they fail badly in Australia — Fletcher will need to be prepared to answer questions like, “Uh, why aren’t you Gary Kirsten? Oh, and also, did you just give us the middle finger?”

On the whole,- and, please, correct me if I’m wrong, it seems much tougher to control the English press, rather than the Indian one. Indian journalists can be invasive, they can be prickly, and they can often times be foolish, but when the BCCI wants to ignore them — or, at the very least, say that Fletcher is off-limits — I don’t see what recourse Indian cricket reporters have.

Kudos To Sai Prasad Mohapatra’s Duncan Fletcher Scoop

Haven’t heard of him? Well, apparently he’s a cricket journalist and early in April, while the rest of us were speculating about Andy Flower and Stephen Fleming as the next India coach, Mohapatra called it right:

Reliable sources have confirmed that the former Zimbabwe captain and ex-England coach Duncan Fletcher was approached by the top BCCI officials and Fletcher, in turn, is believed to have agreed to the terms and conditions for the coaching assignment.

Nothing better than getting a scoop and then watching it play out in front of you. Well done, Sai.