Category Archives: IPL

Is Cricket Caught In A Vicious Inflation Spiral?

The other day, Harsha Bhogle tweeted that the incredible run chases of IPL 5 — wherein batsmen have successfully stared down required run rates above 15 in the last 5 overs — shows that the asking rate doesn’t mean much anymore. This put me in mind of a recent Economist article decrying “pan-flation“:

Take the grossly underreported problem of “size inflation”, where clothes of any particular labelled size have steadily expanded over time…A five-star hotel used to mean the ultimate in luxury, but now six- and seven-star resorts are popping up as new hotels award themselves inflated ratings as a marketing tool….One example is grade inflation, the tendency for comparable academic performance to be awarded higher grades over time.

The basic currency of cricket is runs. Not long ago, a score of 250 would have bought you a more than reasonable shot at victory; now, anything below 280 or 290 is considered iffy. Like inflation in the economy, run-flation affects expectations, which explains why batsmen now see the sky as the limit in the final overs. But what are the dangers in such a trend? Will there be a “devaluation” of cricket if strike rates continue to rise? Or will we see a “new normal” so that only a certain type of batsman — Yusuf Pathan, Sehwag, Pollard — begin to corner the market?

Nita Ambani Gets Results for Mumbai Indians

I’ve written about Nita Ambani’s role in the Mumbai Indians before, but now that she’s the owner of a winning team, I thought I’d post this little piece of dialogue from a recent interview with Times of India:

You were not at all excited about the Mumbai Indians team but you took it up.
(Sighs) That’s another story! Mukesh bought the team, and for two years we finished at the bottom of the list. My knowledge of cricket was zero, and I had no interest in the game. We did so badly. Then I decided to take it up seriously. For one year, I was breathing cricket 365 days. I would watch all matches – county, club, whatever came on TV. My intention was to learn.

At what point did it become a passion?
During IPL2, when I went to South Africa. We were playing the Rajasthan Royals and it was impossible to lose. We had to make 9 runs in 6 balls. I thought we’d win, but we lost! So I said to myself, ‘I have to learn this game.’ Then I started travelling with the team, holding camps, meeting the team, and the passion ignited.

And, of course, the team started doing better.

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?

What The End of The Rahul Dravid Era Means

Here’s what I’m concerned about: Over the previous two decades or so, audiences have fractured. Some people have called this trend the ‘Daily We;’ the idea that people don’t have to go to the same sources for their entertainment or news and instead retreat to whatever suits their personal preferences best. This in turn means that the traditional gatekeepers — newspapers, broadcast news — find their come-one-come-all moderation no longer in demand.

What does this have to do with cricket? Even in the 1990s, the cricket stars were very real and clear. They played for the Indian national cricket team, which meant they had the flag to carry, and they weren’t explicitly commercialized (as the Indian consumer market was still developing). There was still a sense that these athletes — Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, e.g. — could appeal to a mass audience, not just by their performances but by their all-round middle class appearance.

Now, however, we face a different landscape. The danger of the franchise system is that it puts the money question up front. There’s no myth to the athletes; the bargain we make with them becomes explicit: we get entertainment, they get lots of money. This isn’t to say that cricketers didn’t care about money in the 1990s or even before; I think the match-fixing scandal that brought down Cronje et al. did more damage than we realize. But there was a useful illusion in place that allowed me — and still does — to look at Dravid and see hard work, sincerity, intelligence, and not “really rich guy.” So: will cricketers’ standing survive the IPL onslaught, when their salaries are so publicly determined, and that too by a mechanism as crude as an auction? Will T20 players command allegiances across the spectrum? Will Test-only ones do? Can they claim to be national heroes, or merely symbols of a niche market or the prize possessions of the Indian consumer?

Which is why the Rahul Dravid retirement was so poignant. He hadn’t played an ODI in years, and he seemed like he belonged to a different time. His brief return (and exit) to the stage only made gap in eras more glaring: will the future generations ever produce as fitting a man as this one? Didn’t it seem like a man from a simpler time had just passed — or am I only indulging silly, naive nostalgia?

IPL Value Statistics: Was The Money Worth It?

I hereby issue a request to more math-inclined cricket bloggers (hint, hint, Deep Backward Point and Kridaya and Russ): can you rigorously compare a player’s IPL performance with his auction price? The simplest method, I imagine, would be to place those two categories side-by-side. E.g.: Gautam Gambhir, $2.4 million, 378 runs (avg.: 34). The broader question is: did the amount the franchises put down make sense?

Now, I can think of at least one major objection: the rules of the IPL auction do not exactly qualify as a free marketplace. There are various restrictions — four foreign players, a certain number of ‘capped’ Indian players, etc. — that inflate the values for particular cricketers. But still: at some level, there must be some method to this madness, surely? (There’s also the second objection — why don’t you do it? Well, I’m busy. And I suck at math.)

Cricket Celebrity Inflation

Over at Opinions On Cricket, Golandaaz offers his take on the IPL and Indian cricket:

The number of elite Indian cricketers has gone from four in my early days of watching cricket to at least 20 now. Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Vengsarkar and Vishwanath were the only superstars. Compare that to today’s situation where India can easily field at least two superb ODI teams. The number of opportunities for cricketers to show their wares has increased a thousand fold. Any domestic cricketer today who is a reasonable performer can expect recognition and visibility. Had poor KP Bhaskar played in this era, would he have been ignored?

 

It’s true that, by and large, the IPL has been good to domestic cricketers. But Golandaaz is diagnosing a wider trend in modern society: celebrity inflation. To put it another way: they don’t make stars like they used to. While it’s generally good for cricket players to have more avenues to success (IPL, T20, ODI, Tests, T20 Bash, Sri Lankan cricket league, etc.), I’m a firm believer that there are varying degrees of celebrity and stardom, and we’ve been defining them down lately. (A decade’s worth of reality television and hyper-Internet blogging shows the results in America, where celebrities like ‘Snooki’ and ‘Paris Hilton’ co-mingle with the rest of the lot.)

So, to my older readers, ask yourselves: would you rather take the Rainas, Kohlis, Yuvraj-es of this world? Or do you yearn for the Grace Kellys and Amitabh Bachchans (er, Sachin and Viv Richards) of yore? Is it truly a good thing for the line to blur between merely well-known and idolatry? Or does it produce a certain kind of anxiety — what Paul Simon meant when he sang of a lonely nation turning its eyes to Joe DiMaggio?

A Stinging Critique Of BCCI’s Injury Management

From Partha Bhaduri of Times of India:

BCCI’s injury and medical management leaves a lot to be desired. It seems to be obscured in a haze of chronic player fatigue, insanely jam-packed schedules and the usual practice of shifting of blame on under-pressure players whenever these prickly issues are raised.

Meanwhile, there are noises that the BCCI will release a new “injury management policy” in 2012. Details are still sketchy, but:

According to sources, the BCCI is keen to reduce the role of franchise-employed physiotherapists when it comes to the treating contracted players. Besides, the IPL team owners will not be able to decide when and where the elite Indian cricketers get treated on getting injured.

I’ve said plenty about how I feel about injuries in cricket, and our ethical duties to modern athletes. It pains me to discover that Gambhir may have been taking cortisone shots to his shoulder, a controversial decision in light of current banned drug lists. This kind of stuff is truly frightening.

The club-country conflict is throwing many people for a loop. The issues are: 1) How do we schedule the international calendar to fit in all three formats and leagues? 2) How do we allocate talent (i.e., players) so they can satisfy supply and demand?

In response, we seem to have the following solutions: 1) The current setup works. Have the IPL and Champions League in a narrow 3-week calendar that clashes with some low-key international series and England’s county cricket. 2) Schedule an “IPL” window so that players like Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara don’t have to choose between Test careers and money. 3) Various reforms and changes to the FTP program, to include a Test championship, or to sideline Test teams apart from the Big 4 (England, South Africa, India, Australia).

Optimists also hope that, as time goes on, we’ll get used to these sorts of leagues and the market will sort itself out. So, for instance, we will have players who specialize in particular formats or leagues, instead of the current situation in which cricketers are generally expected to try their hand across the board. (England has already taken a step in this direction by choosing three captains for each format.) Russ, of Knotted Paths, also points out that as international teams lose their luster, franchise contracts will improve and offer new incentives. We shall see.

Meet N. Srinivasan, Master Of Indian Cricket

Forgive me, Indian readers, but I only recently discovered N. Srinivasan and his octopus-like reach in Indian cricket. For those not in the know, Srinivasan has an unbelievable amount of power: the former Sheriff of Madras, he is currently the BCCI’s Treasurer  (and Duncan Fletcher’s minder); co-owner of the Chennai Super Kings (he presented Dhoni the IPL trophy this weekend); president of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association; member of the IPL governing council (and Lalit Modi scourge), and, just because he wants it, the president of the All India Chess Federation. (And he does a terrible job at it, apparently).

Prem Panicker has done a good job outlining why so much concentrated power is a bad thing (and why ‘conflict of interest’ laws need to be strengthened). Excerpt from a characteristically thorough and pungent post:

First, [franchise officials] point out, [Srinivasan] almost single-handedly rammed in the player retention clause when, besides CSK and Mumbai, all other franchises were against it. ‘If the IPL is democratically run, how come decisions are taken just because it suits one or two franchises?,’ one person closely connected with an under-rated franchise asked on phone. Further, Srinivasan set the norms for the auction, decided which player would go in which category, and when each name would come up for auction — which is just dandy since, as a team-owner, he could in advance plan the CSK strategy, then tailor the auction process to suit his team.

Sharda Ugra also spelled out the problems with the current set-up and how it affected Gautam Gambhir’s treatment:

Through the saga of Gambhir – and, before him, the similar case of Virender Sehwag – the simplest question is this: which of the three parties in this case could have made the most-objective decision? The player, for whom the financial benefit – his contract with Kolkata Knight Riders was worth $2.4 million a season – of playing 64 hours of cricket over six weeks is far too lucrative to ignore? The franchise, whose most expensive auction pick was turning out to be its most valuable one? Or the BCCI, the IPL’s owners, whose essential job is to ensure the health and welfare of that entity called “Indian cricket?”

I don’t know much about sports administration, and I frequently lament coverage of Indian cricket in India, which naturally tends to focus much more on the sport than who runs it. I remain disturbed that Sharad Pawar, another wearer of many hats, thinks he can run both Indian agriculture and Indian cricket at the same time (to say nothing about Maharasthra, one of India’s biggest and most complicated states). I now realize that Fletcher’s praise of the BCCI as more “modern” may have been mere flattery.

The general hope is that a scandal — financial or otherwise — will lead to a more streamlined and objective administration. I’m increasingly skeptical. We see now, as Panicker notes, that the usual mode is that a scandal merely displaces one set of elite interests for another (from Dalmiya to Pawar; from Modi to Srinivasan). My requests to bloggers: do you know any reporter who covers the BCCI/state associations? And do you know what an IPL cricket players association would look like?

Eoin Morgan And The Case Against Modernity

My previous post elicited some criticism in its comments section. Golaandaz took my praise for Test-only players as an irrational bias against certain formats of the game; calling them “childish,” he said, hardly does them justice. But while my positions on the formats are clear — I like all cricket, but Test, ODI, and T20 in that order — that wasn’t what I wanted my post to be about. Hear me out:

Regular readers know that I have a particular view about what makes cricket special. My case is largely borrowed from Ashis Nandy and his book Tao of Cricket, a phenomenal read every cricket blogger should thumb through (twice). In it, Nandy says that cricket is special because it recognizes the limits of human agency. The outsize roles for the pitch, the weather, time and other contingent factors (like the existence of the “draw,” a concept beyond many American fans) sets the game apart from the others. Take this together, and you have a very good case for cricket as a game set apart from modernity. Indeed, a big reason I like Test cricket is the fact that it can be boring sometimes; these quiet stretches of nothing-ness are a tribute to an ancient rhythm we don’t see much of these days.

So, where does Eoin Morgan fit in? Again, I don’t begrudge the guy choosing money over virtue. That’s a tough call for many to make, especially youngsters like him. No, my post was merely a call for a different type of player — the anti-modern player, who solely plays Test cricket and refuses to allow the game to swallow him whole. Exciting as young players like Kohli and Raina are, I have come to increasingly respect the players in their early-mid-late 30’s, who have to face their “mortality” (i.e., their fading skills) even as other concerns (family, most prominently) begin to alter their lives. In these players, you see the larger lesson of cricket — man comes and goes. Imagine cricket in this scenario not as a scenario or a game, but as a space set aside against the backdrop of increasing commercialism, modernity, and ‘progress.’

This line of argument suffers from a number of weaknesses. Russ will accuse me of glorifying the ‘amateur era,’ which he thinks was largely a sham. (He’ll have to explain that more himself.) Others will say that I, like Nandy, merely trade in baseless nostalgia for an era and sentiment that never existed. But, for me, the IPL represents some of the worst parts of the Indian growth ‘miracle’ — a crass consumerism that emphasizes work/skill over virtue/honor. This is what happens when the market takes over — and while I know the trend is generally beneficial, I’d still prefer an athlete who resists. Is this so naive?

New Player Wanted: The Anti-Eoin Morgan

I can’t fault Eoin Morgan for choosing the IPL over domestic cricket — money’s a potent drug, especially for a 24-year-old. But it would be much easier to accept if Morgan, in response to questions on his recent career move, simply pulled out a wad of English sterling and said, “Ga, ga, goo, goo.” (Again, that’s not to criticize the man. I would understand it.)

So I’d appreciate it if he didn’t insult my intelligence when he says the following:

“The learning curve I went through in IPL last year, the pressure I was put under, the fact of having to produce your skills time after time in massive situations, it helps my game a lot and I get a lot of confidence from it,” said Morgan.

Or this:

“The amount I learned last year just by playing five games and staying out there for the next three weeks, practising every day and rubbing shoulders with legends of the game, did massive amounts for me.”

This is what’s known in political circles as “spin.” Other people call it “disingenuous.” Playing in the IPL is not ideal practice for Test cricket. It just isn’t. And playing in the IPL doesn’t boost a player’s confidence; it just confirms it. (Shy people don’t become rock stars.)

But Morgan’s IPL decision raises a larger question: aren’t anti-Morgan players more interesting? I mean the players who only play Tests (voluntarily, or otherwise). Yes, I love Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, but the mystique of Test-only players (Dravid, Laxman, Nash) is just as (more?) compelling. No IPL parties; no slogging; a willingness to face collapses and crises — there’s something great about men who have put aside childish things. More, please.