On a slow day, some sports-related reading:
1. In the game last Saturday between the Deccan Chargers and Somerset, Scott Styris bowled what, for the first three deliveries, seemed likely to become a final over worth celebrating in song and story. Needing to defend five runs, Styris began with the wicket of James Hildreth off the first ball, taking out the man who was looking the most dangerous; bowled an immaculate dot ball as follow up; and took out Waller with his third delivery. From five to get from six with three wickets in hand, Somerset was down to five to get from three with one wicket in hand. And then Styris ran in and bowled garbage — a thigh high full toss outside off that Alonso Thomas smacked for a four to level the scores and effectively put the result beyond doubt. What caused Styris to lose the plot so completely — fear of failure, or the less discussed fear of success? Aakash Chopra’s latest column is worth a read in this context.
Anticipating success, and the accolades that come with it, coupled with the fear of ruining all the hard work that has been put in, makes a player nervous near the finishing line. The mind is in two places: one part wanders into the future, contemplating the kudos, while the other is scared of stumbling at the last hurdle.
2. At some point in the Delhi Daredevils versus Wayamba game yesterday, when DDCA president Arun Jaitley appeared on the television screen, Ravi Shastri went into a gush about how the “dynamic” Jaitley could be credited with “so much of the improvements at the Kotla” [If the venue, which has known for the better part of five months that it was scheduled to host various games in the Champions League, couldn’t in all this time produce a halfway decent pitch, that of course is not Jaitley’s fault].
Shastri knows — as does anyone who has ever watched a game at the Kotla or indeed most other grounds in the country — that the stadium hasn’t significantly changed in character in the last two decades and counting. The experience of watching a game there, and in most of our other grounds, is sheer physical torture — that the Kotla and other grounds draw crowds is in fact the ultimate tribute to the all-consuming passion we have for the game.
So why the undeserved eulogy?
Because, increasingly, cricket journalism — more accurately, broadcast journalism — is bought and paid for by the BCCI. If the governing body puts you on its in-house panel, you get gigs whenever there is major cricket happening in the country [Tests, ODIs, IPL, CL, whatever]. And if you don’t make it to the panel you are like the kid in the candy shop, forced to stand on the other side and salivate.
Hence the unedifying spectacle of the BCCI’s favorite ‘panelists’ — Shastri, Gavaskar, Manjrekar et al — breaking off commentary in mid-sentence whenever a VIP face appears on the monitor, to launch into unscripted eulogies. The culture of patronage is one the BCCI has long refined into a fine art — cash and high profile games for votes in the case of the associations; five star living and good money in return for ritual kowtowing and the self-censorship of any critical thoughts in the case of the empaneled commentators…
This is merely a beginning — the BCCI and its IPL arm are clearly not content any more with creating the news, but are hell bent on controlling it as well. Memory being notoriously short, these reminders of what Modi attempted in the run up to IPL-1 might come in handy: here, and here.
Modi and company had to partially back off when the media kicked up a fuss, but that was a strategic retreat. What Modi learned from that fiasco is that he needs to do this in incremental stages. So, today, various restrictions remain in place on how many pictures can be used per game and various other aspects, the clear intent being to create a monopoly for the official site of the tournament du jour.
The media, typically, has been largely blind to the danger. This series, on what happens when sports owns the journalists who cover it, might help put the issue on the front burner where it belongs.
3. When Shastri talked about the improvements to the Kotla, he was in fact correct — in a narrow sense. The last half dozen years has seen a massive upgrading of the quality and comforts of the VIP boxes — the enclosures housing administration honchos, sponsors, franchise owners and such now look less like ringside seats for sporting events and more like exclusive, A-list lounges where the sport happens to be incidental. And as more and more space is required for the hospitality areas, the tickets available for the paying public has gradually decreased — which won’t bother the authorities, because ticket sales in any case provide only a minuscule fraction of overall revenues. Here’s a story that resonates, in this context.
4. For random reading — Ian Chappell on Jean Paul Duminy. Chappell, incidentally, said something interesting while Viru Sehwag was doing his stuff in the middle yesterday. While watching footage of Don Bradman, Chappell said, he was struck by the fact that the Don batted in the middle exactly as he batted in the nets. In practice, you tend to play without fear of getting out — that is, with no inhibitions at all; hence, your batting is unfettered, free-flowing, inventive. It is out in the middle that the thought of losing your wicket paralyzes you, curtails your natural freedom of expression — and unlike most players, Chappelli said, the Don seemed not to be affected by such inhibitions. The same, he said, was the case with Sehwag — he batted at all times and in all situations as if he was having a net, and thus managed to surmount the match situation, the pitch and ground conditions and the nature of the bowling.
5. Club and franchise cricket changing the nature of cricket has been a recurring theme on this blog in the recent past. Here, for more on the topic, is Nagraj Gollapudi.
Cricket is the only mainstream team sport that survives on international competition. Every other sport lives off club-based or franchise-based competition. “There must be something in the model, for every other sport to follow club-based competition,” Neil Maxwell, who was the CEO at Kings XI Punjab in the first IPL, says.
Maxwell, a former Australia A player, who was also once the marketing director at New Zealand Cricket, reckons the difference in the standards of play between the elite nations and the others, as a result of the FTP model, is hurting cricket more than anything else. “We are seeing the flaws in the country-versus-country model, where there is a huge disparity in the standard of teams. Some matches aren’t competitive and some countries are choosing to play others more regularly, so you haven’t got an even spread of the wealth generation.”
Club-based cricket, on the other hand, provides regularity of competition and more balanced contests. That, Maxwell thinks, is the main reason why the Champions League is bound to change cricket.