Category Archives: IPL

Why Spot-Fixing Offends

When a spot-fixing scandal emerges (and it seems to happen with an increasing frequency lately), cricket fans turn to their ethics textbooks. Is there a moral distinction between throwing a game (“match-fixing”) and throwing a wide, no-ball, or a given number of runs (“spot-fixing”)? If spot-fixing aims to ‘fix’ such small, mundane events, is there really cause for life-bans or moral opprobrium? This was the source of the argument between Harsha Bhogle, who pointed out the degree-of-difference on Twitter, and Dale Steyn, who replied that stealing a dollar or a bank still amounts to stealing.

I’m not that invested in this discussion because spot-fixing offends me for another reason. Cricket is now a modern game, which means that we have professional athletes who make a difficult bargain: In return for two to three decades of hard work, many injuries, and terrible odds for national selection, we offer them (a small group of them, anyway) money, fame, and the chance to be part of a country’s biggest moments. The money comes from the fans (mostly from their televisions), and advertisers. Policing these new commercial boundaries is difficult and often incoherent: We are willing to accept loud, incessant ads between overs, but we’re uneasy about inserting them into the game (“Karbon Kamaal catch,” “Yes Bank Maximum,” etc.). We’re still not sure how we feel about a player abandoning his country’s Test side for a made-up IPL franchise, but we’re extremely uneasy about an Indian team that either hides or misdiagnoses injuries for fear it may hurt a player’s chance to play in the IPL. We also understand the need for sponsors, but we’re not happy to see one of them own both an IPL franchise and head the organization that owns the IPL and the Indian national team.

So now we have spot-fixing, which offends me because it basically abolishes these commercial-athlete boundaries (however made up they may seem). In essence, a bookie turns an athlete into a private employee and asks him to do his bidding over the most trite affairs — Place your towel into your pants! Shake your wristband! Give me a no-ball! The player becomes a financial product — a secret investment akin to an insider trading scheme. What’s forgotten is that a player (presumably) worked hard to reach his particular level, and his skills are now not subject to chance or fate or another player’s abilities, but to some shady operator at the end of a cellphone. What’s also forgotten, of course, is that a fan fully expects to see these skills. To watch the best do their best — that’s what a spectator can reasonably ask for.

Spot-fixing enrages me because it makes explicit what I’d prefer to repress. I know that cricket is a commercial game now, just as another modern sport is, and that it has been so for a long, long time. But I still prefer not to think of the game as a series of financial transactions, even though increasingly, the money equation seems to determine what we watch on our screens. We’ve made all sorts of bargains ourselves, as my second paragraph indicates, that we forget how much we have given away. The real difference here isn’t match-fixing v. spot-fixing; it is trying to place spot-fixing on a spectrum that now includes sponsorship, ads, conflicts-of-interests, and bad faith

Do IPL Franchises Mean Anything?

Samir Chopra has a good write-up on the Virat Kohli-Mumbai fracas. Excerpt:

Now in its sixth season, the IPL is still grappling with the problem of how to ensure a dedicated fan base, a problem made trickier given the transfer and auction rules, and the short season (by the standards of other sports leagues). But at least one city’s crowd has indicated that, for the length of the IPL, they are sufficiently committed to “their” franchise, even at the expense of those who do “national duty” on “their behalf” when the season comes to an end.

I’m not completely sure. An alternative explanation involves the dynamics of booze, adolescent silliness, and a controversial play on the cricket ground. I forget the particulars — and am too lazy to look them up — but Kohli may have effected a run-out after the batsman in question collided with the bowler. Is that enough to boo an Indian player? Well, two points:

1) Let me say that Kohli is widely considered an asshole — granted, an immensely talented one — but I’m sure many people would be, as I am, only too happy to boo him, even in Indian colors.

2) We’ll want to be careful about reading too much into fans’ jeers or cheers. As Amartya Sen reminds us, the “cricket loyalty test” is a silly one — as a fan, you express preferences for a range of reasons (a good, close game, for example, or fair play on the field) that may or may not have anything to do with nationalism/regionalism/identity. (I am a fan of the Rajasthan Royals for no reason other than Rahul Dravid and that amazing first season campaign. That’s it.) Also, just in my limited amateur cricketer experience, I have seen extraordinary fights between teams that exist technically only for one afternoon. I’m not convinced that anything like UK football rivalries will emerge in the IPL at least for another decade, though perhaps moments like this one will accelerate the process.

It is true, however, that IPL marketers face a difficult balancing act. I mean, it wouldn’t be too hard to stoke the nationalist fires — just have a team called “Hindu Hellraisers” play against the “Muselman Marauders,” and I’m sure all hell would break loose. Obviously, they can’t explicitly do that, but some aspect playing on regional rivalries is surely part of the marketing plan.

So Long Deccan Chargers, We Hardly Knew Ye

From Times of India:

The debt-ridden Deccan Chargers can no longer be a part of the IPL after its beleaguered owners failed to produce a Rs 100-crore bank guarantee before the Bombay high court, a condition that had been set for the struggling team’s survival in the league.

I think back to this club’s glorious history, its five years of rich tradition, and I shed a tear over what we have lost. The team’s many great heroes will long be remembered in the annals of cricket, and we will forever mark this ugly day when, many years from now, we tell our grandchildren, “I was lucky enough to have seen the Chargers take the field.”

(PS: I should quickly explain the above. One of the reasons I don’t particularly care for the IPL is that the teams are obviously fake. No matter how hard Shah Rukh Khan tries to convince me otherwise, the KKR folk could just as easily be replaced with the RR folk and so on. What’s the point of rooting for any team? What’s the logic behind the rivalry? This is a problematic position, to be sure: true cricket lovers will reply that I should like the tournament simply because it features the world’s best players playing cricket. What does authenticity matter? Are you into this game because of the game, or because of some silly nationalistic impulse?

I haven’t fully figured out how to respond to this. But when teams like the Chargers and Kerala come and go, it reminds me of the power of tradition and history. The Indian team will always endure, even if its balance sheet plummets (a dubious prospect these days, to be sure). It’s silly, but when I see IPL players, I see dollar signs running up and down. When I see international players, I see flags. I suppose I’m trading one fiction (“national authenticity”) for another, but boy, I still prefer it.)

How Much Are The Deccan Chargers Worth?

I’ve written on this topic before, but I remain just as clueless as ever: how much is cricket actually worth? The Deccan Chargers are up for sale, in part because its owners, the Deccan Chronicle, apparently can’t afford to pay some of the players’ salaries. The company paid roughly $100 million for the franchise in 2008, an astronomical sum that seems completely and utterly baseless. Here’s FirstPost:

“There are a lot of legal implications due to which we have not been able to take a concrete decision today at the meeting. The matter will again come up for discussion at a working committee meeting on September 15 in Chennai,” a senior working committee member told PTI.

 

What legal implications? Here’s Economic Times:

The fate of Deccan Chargers is intimately connected with the bigger problem of the owners, debt and problem-ridden Deccan Chronicle, as well as the priorities of the 28-member lenders group that includes the likes of ICICI, IFCI, Axis Bank and Tata Capital, who have between themselves lent Rs 3,000 crore to Deccan Chronicle.  […] Deccan Chronicle Holdings, the current 100% owner of the team, must first win approval from its board and the shareholders before the IPL side is separated from its fold. This process could take months to complete.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t prospective buyers. So far, a number of companies, including Videocon, have expressed interest, but have balked at the asking price — said to be close to $375 million. Imagine that — a company that buys a franchise and then reaps only losses wants to turn around and sell it at a higher price. But is the underlying product actually worth anything? Or are businessmen going solely on, “There has to be money in the IPL, because so many people watch it and it has the best players”? If that’s the case, what is the strategy — buy a stake now, and then sell, like the Chronicle folks?

So here’s a plea: all you business school folks, give me your best valuation model. How much would you pay for an IPL franchise?

Rahul Sharma’s Alleged Drug Use Makes Me Confused

I still haven’t made up my mind about how I feel about Rahul Sharma’s alleged use of marijuana, so I wanted to go through the list and hear your opinions:

1) Samir Chopra talked with me today about his Pitch post on the subject. Essentially, he argues that the margins between ‘recreational drug use’ are extremely small, and so there is little substantive difference between whisky, cigarettes, alcohol and, in this case, dope. The quote:

From the back of the police wagon that carried them off to the thana that night, Rahul and Parnell might have glumly wondered why their buddies could drink beers in dressing rooms with opponents and be praised for doing so, while they would be forced to donate their bodily fluids as evidence of criminal wrongdoing. They would wonder why there exists a category of forbidden substances called ‘in-competition prohibited substances’ that includes marijuana, but not alcohol or tobacco.

I’m almost there with Samir, but not yet. For one thing, cricketers are not always praised for drinking, right? We know from the Andrew Symonds and Jesse Ryder episodes that while drinking may be part of a team’s culture, excessive drinking that leads to ruptures within a team, bar brawls, or laziness isn’t completely tolerated. So there’s room for regulation here. Secondly, even if you think most of the industrialized world’s policies on drugs are silly, they exist — if Sharma’s tests do indeed test conclusively positive (which hasn’t happened yet, mind you), then he must be sanctioned according to Indian law. If you want to use this episode to argue for a change in the law or the BCCI’s drug policy, that’s fine with me. But I’m a little wary of dismissing this episode by simply saying, “Boys will be boys, am I right?”

Which brings me to 2): Spend enough time on a privileged American college campus, as I did, and you will have ready access to marijuana. I want to explain to you why this makes me uneasy, and I want to do it without sounding judgmental because while I have never smoked, I don’t want to spoil anyone’s party. Here’s the thing: a) It bugs me that legalizing marijuana gets so many people riled up (and is usually the No. 1 policy suggestion on online petitions to President Obama), but dealing with, say, the unbelievably punitive laws on cocaine/crack/etc. or reducing America’s exploding incarceration system or building more drug courts rarely get buzz. It also annoys me that poor minorities in New York City, where I live, can have their lives ruined if stopped randomly by a ‘stop-and-frisk’ cop, but rich kids get to talk to me all the fucking time about their favorite strand of marijuana, how they “know a guy,” and the funny contraptions that they use when they smoke. When is personal drug use recreational, and when is it another affirmation of wealth and privilege? Is marijuana seen as less threatening now because of its chemical qualities, or because it is increasingly associated with innocuous college white kids and not (as it once was) crazy Mexican immigrants hell bent on unleashing reefer madness? Or am I a buzzkill who thinks no one can enjoy themselves in a world full of misery and injustice?

I don’t want to sound like a narc, because, really, I’m not. 3): These “rave party” raids are terrible. You can read about their hilarious and convoluted legal justification in this post, which argues that technically speaking, even if you invite guests to your home and give them a drink, they could be arrested for not having a permit on them. I was in Bombay after the first bust went down, and the tone in the press was unbelievably offensive — there were dozens of photos of women with their faces covered, as if they had just been accused of a heinous crime that brought shame on their family. The slut-shaming theme was explicit, and the sight of Indian policemen pushing these women into vans for drug testing en masse was nauseating.

So where does that leave me? One, if the rules exist and are broken, Sharma/Parnell should have known and followed them. Two, I have all these weird feelings about marijuana and I don’t know why. Three, the legal instrument used to catch Sharma/Parnell seems like the worst possible use of limited police resources. Fourth, this seems like a such a trifle to derail promising careers.

Comments, please.

The Masculinity Spectrum In Cricket

I wanted to add a quick note to my previous post on Jason Alexader’s gay cricket joke:

One worry I have about the IPL is that it portrays a distinctly one-dimensional mode of playing cricket (i.e., to quote Danny Morrison, “OH YES, THAT’S A BIG ONE!”). The players who succeed are the ones who hit, hit and hit; the only variance is whether they hit during 70 balls or 10, but as long as their strike rates are high, they will win praise and results. Now, that’s nobody’s fault (the format demands it), but it does reduce the models of masculinity on display. In Test cricket, there is space for Chanderpaul and Dravid and Cook, men who show that the patient accumulation of success is a viable road to success. Ducking the ball, leaving it, defending against it — that’s not only viable but praise-worthy. By contrast, in T20, there’s basically just Gayle and Gayle-lite: you are there to murder the ball, take the risk, and swear like a sailor upon arriving at your century. To the extent you equate masculinity with aggression and “attitood,” T20 is your game.

In some sense, there is more than just the logic of limited overs at work here. If you were born in the 1980s in India, you have mostly heard only about growth, salary hikes and opportunity; you have little idea of what the previous generation experienced. But the difference between 2.5% growth (which is what the 1950s birth cohort had) and roughly 6% post-1980s is immense; in the former, you made it ahead through connections, moderation, hard work and LOTS of saving; in the latter, hard work matters, but so does an aggressive entrepreneurial spirit. What we’re seeing in the Kohlis and Murali Vijay celebrations, then, isn’t just a bunch of young players letting off a steam of attitude. We’re seeing some father-slaying as well: the distant, hard-working father who constantly worried and wrung his anxious hands is gone; the son will outshine him and do it faster, harder and better.

 

The Hype Machine Of The IPL

OK, I’ll grant all you IPL-lovers this: the last season was not all that bad. OK, OK: it was great. I enjoyed Dale Steyn and Chris Gayle and the improbable chases and Sunil Narine and Tendulkar getting bowled by Sunil Narine. And when commentators noted that Rahane’s fluency and courage would be praise-worthy in any format, I agreed.  But allow me to make one small point: if I think the IPL is a distraction from cricket, it’s largely because the television broadcasters make it so.

This isn’t just another tirade about the cheerleaders, who remain, as ever, completely pointless and foreign to cricket. (The sooner we admit the only reason we have them is to offer a mild form of pornography to horny middle-class Indian males, the more honest we will all be.) I’m talking here also about the interviews during the match — the ones with ex-cricketers, Bollywood has-beens and never-beens, and so on. Isn’t the cricket interesting enough to sustain an audience’s interest for three hours? And then, the content during these interviews — asking these folks (and players) to repeatedly validate the legitimacy of the IPL (Isn’t this fun? Isn’t this tournament so great? Aren’t you so glad you’re here?).

Which isn’t to say all the innovations were bad: I enjoyed the slow-motion, high-definition replays (though I could have done without the replays that featured a bass drum noise to coincide with the ball hitting the bat), and I also enjoyed hearing about the in-stadium treats for the audience (the catching contests, and the biggest six competitions). At last, someone has realized that the Indian audience isn’t just a prop for the television spectators.

But I offer a humble suggestion to the cricket producers: enough with the interviews. Enough with, “THE IPL IS HERE TO STAY.” The IPL will not win legitimacy by proving its cricketing merit; it will do so by just holding a tournament every year for the rest of our lives. If you truly believe this tournament is about cricket, then present it as such.

What Part of IPL’s Governance Bothers You The Most?

Pick all that apply (and add more in the comments):

1. That BCCI honchos can own stakes in IPL franchises. This means that the league’s regulator may have a conflict of interest when a particular franchise ends up in a soup. (For more, google “N. Srinivasan” and “Chennai Super Kings.”)

2. That the salary cap may not actually exist. The idea was a noble one: prevent some franchises from out-spending others for better talent. But it seems some players may be getting some cash under the table, or other perks not included in the bottom line.

3. The “secret auction tie-breaker” thing. Whatever that is.

4. That there isn’t a program in place to mentor young cricketers who are exposed to fame, fortune and cheerleaders before they may be ready for it.

5. The knowledge that your passion for cricket is being used to enrich the elite of India’s new Gilded Age (Mallya, Reddy, Nita Ambani), who will likely do more to damage the country than anything else in the coming years.

6. The notorious after-match parties.

7. Other: Please explain.

We Can Be Twenty20 Heroes, Just For One Day

I asked this question on Twitter, and I’d like some discussion: Is T20 creating too many heroes? Over the past month, we’ve seen some incredibly cricketing feats — Dwayne Smith, 14 off 3; Dwayne Bravo; 5 off 1; De Villiers 1000 off 1 (sort of). These are amazing moments to behold, but how do they compare to the achievements we usually celebrate in the longer formats of the game? For example, would you give more credit to a Shiv Chanderpaul batting the whole day, or an Anil Kumble batting with broken jaw, than to a batsman chasing an implausible target in the final over? Are we seeing the cheapening of achievement in cricket?

The final-over heroics we have seen reveals to what extent norms/traditions/psychology rules sporting behavior. Climbing asking rates were once seen as fatal to a chase; anything above eight an over was enough to doom the whole enterprise. The pressure of the chase would force errors and a heap of wickets. No longer: IPL batsmen now believe that anything is possible in the final overs of a game (possibly because the death-bowling has been so utterly terrible). The smart batsmen realize that there just isn’t enough time in the IPL to regress to the mean; if you have enough courage and reasonable eyesight, chances are the night will belong to you — all you need to deliver is a quick 20 runs, in one game, against one bowler.

But this heroism — if it can be called that — reminds me more of playground cricket, where records fall fast and memories are short. Who can remember who did what last week? Who can know which no-name player will have his inevitable day under the light towers? In other words: who cares about the Lord’s honors boards when you can rule the roller coaster just for one day?

Linear Thinking Watch

This is an old hobbyhorse of mine: You can’t assume that a match result would have been different if a particular incident during the match didn’t occur. For example: Rajasthan Royals lost by one run against the Deccan Chargers. In the last over, the umpire didn’t call a wide. Ergo, the Royals owner tweets, if we had that wide (an extra run, an extra ball), we would have won. Not really, as I wrote before:

This logic assumes a linear narrative — that is, batsman is dropped, batsman goes on to score runs, therefore, drop led to defeat. But it’s also entirely possible that different realities are created with each ball.

Who knows what would have happened if that wide was called? The batsman, calmed by an extra ball, may have reacted differently to the next one. The bowler, angry that he had given away an extra at such a crucial point, may have found the inspiration to pull off an in-swinging yorker. It’s silly to focus one missed chance and view it as the “cause” of the loss; if anything, I’d blame the Royals for losing from a position of 15 off 12.

If anyone wants to use this post as an opportunity to teach me about chaos theory, please go ahead. Otherwise, I’ll be hosting a viewing of Sliding Doors later. You’re all invited.