Cricket clips

I love ‘democracy’ — you actually get a mid-week holiday to go vote! Fully intend to enjoy the unexpected mid-week break, as soon as I am done with this post. 🙂

Courtesy a Cricinfo conversation, I stumbled on a Ray Jennings motivational video prepared for the RCB. As under. In passing, with yesterday’s win, RCB joins Delhi Daredevils in the list of IPL teams that started off slow but will, IMHO, get better as the tournament progresses and the players bind once more into a ‘team’.

Elsewhere, Jacob Oram becomes the latest cricketer to opt out of Test cricket so as to conserve his energies for ODIs and T20.

“The last few years have shown that my body cannot handle the strains and stresses that come with being an allrounder, playing all three formats for up to ten months a year,” Oram said. “For the sake of longevity I have had to make a decision that will decrease my workload, so I can concentrate all my efforts on the shorter forms of the game.

“The decision to choose limited-overs cricket over Test cricket has a lot to do with playing opportunities. The Black Caps play a lot more limited-overs cricket than Tests, and there’s also the opportunity to continue playing in world events such as the World Cup, World T20 and Champions Trophy, as well as the IPL.”

Cue more alarmist talk about cricketers turning ‘mercenary’, I’d imagine. Greg Baum’s diatribe, in fact, anticipates this event and suggests that as ever more cricketers are seduced by that dirty word, ‘money’, and as national duty takes a back seat in consequence, the game will lose its fans.

Go, freelance away, but don’t be surprised if in a while, no one cares, and if in another while, because no one cares, there is no one to watch. The whole sporting fantasy depends on the conviction of fans that the stars are playing for something other than money; that they are playing for you, me and the idea of us. But the fantasy becomes less easy to believe if the stars were playing for someone else last week, and will be playing for someone else again next week, and in the meantime make it clear that they begrudge the interlude in national colours because it jeopardises their earning potential.

An interesting argument — but one, IMHO, that won’t wash. I wonder if those who follow soccer, to cite one instance, care overmuch for the size of Christiano Ronaldo’s pay packet. He has, in a brief career, moved from CD Nacional where he debuted to Sporting Clube de Portugal, from there at age 18 to ManU for a £12.24 million fee. So when he jumped ship and transferred to Real Madrid for a cool £80 million, did the fans desert him en masse, turning up their collective nose at this display of vulgar ‘money-grubbing’? Did it bother them that he was not “playing for something other than money”?

The hell it did — when Ronaldo plays I watch, because of the compelling skills he puts on display. And I frankly don’t give a damn whether he is doing it in the red of ManU or the white of Real.

Journalists routinely sneer at such ‘vulgarity’. Yet, offer that same journalist a three-fold hike in his salary to join a rival paper and see how fast he jumps [But of course, when we do it, it is with lofty motives, “like wanting to better deploy our skills and experience in a fresh arena that provides more scope for our talents”].

The fact is that a sportsman’s career is incredibly finite. To be really good at his chosen sport, the player has to make the choice — that is, gamble — very early in life. Long, hard hours of practice allied to whatever natural talent he has just might make him good enough to break into the big time. When he does — if he does — he has about eight, ten years tops to make the most of it. And every one of those days is beset by doubts and fears: Will someone with better skill sets come along to supplant him? Will his own skills mysteriously desert him for no reason he can pinpoint? Will an injury sustained on the field of play put premature period to his career?

I became a journalist at age 30, and have been doing this for 20 years now. I can conceivably go on doing this for the next 30, provided my typing fingers and my mind continue to function [and some would say ‘mind’ is an additional, but by no means essential, requirement]. It is difficult for me, therefore, to understand the fears that plague a young man who knows, going in, that he will be redundant in his chosen field by age 30, 35 tops.

But maybe it is time to try. Maybe it is time to see things through the eyes of an Oram, a Flintoff, a Symonds. Maybe it is time to understand that this situation would not have come about if those who govern the game had spared some thought for the players, instead of making them dance on every available lap while the ‘nation’ — or more accurately the board — pockets the lion’s share of the revenue.

Earlier, the player had no choice. He played when and where he was asked to play, he took whatever the home board in its benevolence paid him and when he got hurt, he sat at home and sweated, not knowing if he would recover sufficiently to be able to play earn again, not knowing if his board would pick him even if he attained full fitness. Like the proverbial hamster, he hit the treadmill and he ran until he could run no more — and then, in what for everyone else would be the prime of life, he retired to his home to spend the rest of his life in an extended anecdotage, chewing the cud of memory and driving his family and few friends nuts [or, if he was very lucky, got a gig on television where he got to talk of how great he had been to a wider audience].

Today, that player has a choice. Multiple choices. And he is taking them — so, mate, just suck it up. And don’t worry about the fans — as a full house showed in Hyderabad the other day, they don’t give a hoot in hell that ‘Symmo anna’ [or for that matter Adam Gilchrist, their ‘Gilly Bhai’, showed great foresight in ending his national career while still at his peak, so he could earn far more money for just a few weeks of work each year] has become a “money-grubbing” mercenary; what turns them on is the electricity he produces on the field of play.

In passing — an interesting read.

PS: Back tomorrow, after the break.

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16 thoughts on “Cricket clips

  1. Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, aged 36 and 34 respectively, have rejuvenated themselves enough to be back at the top of their games, in different ways. Not that the dips were long, but there have been stifled, sporadic calls for them to quit at least one form of the game, if not both. For players who have played so well for so long, motivation is not likely to be an issue, but it is also conspicuous they now derive joy from different aspects of their games.

    Tendulkar has been remarkable for not living in denial. He realised long before the rest of the world did that he needed to change his game. He respected age. He stopped making jaws drop, and instead began to appeal to the wise heads that will admire a swallowed ego and a more complete batsman. For about a couple of years we found it hard to reconcile the consciously cautious man of this decade with the terror that bowlers knew in the one before. As with all rediscoveries, this took some time, and once the new Tendulkar started scoring consistently again, we began to marvel. Genius had worked, and we didn’t even realise.

    Since the start of the year 2008, Tendulkar has averaged 47.05 (career average 44.48) and struck at 90.22 per 100 balls (career strike-rate 85.74). That he has played just 23 matches over the period shows he has picked and chosen. It’s a conscious effort to stay fit and ready till the 2011 World Cup, something that can’t be easy for a man who has played through pain for most of his career. But he wants another shot at the World Cup, missing which might cause him more mental pain than the physical pain he has endured. And when it comes to the next biggest challenge, playing Ponting’s men, it is natural he play.

    Australia, though, don’t evoke the awe they used to or the aura they used to carry. Ponting’s has been a bittersweet experience of captaining the side: two Ashes losses in themselves would have been reason enough for capital punishment for an Australian captain in an era gone by. A first-round exit in the 2009 World Twenty20 goes with it. But Ponting and the Australian board realise that perhaps their team has to spend time rediscovering itself, much like Tendulkar has done with his game. It shows in how they don’t talk big before the big series; winning has become the new talking.

    Although Ponting may not figure in the list of greatest captains from Australia, his team, like Tendulkar’s game, has maintained a certain level of efficiency. But Ponting needed to do more than chew nails, spit in his hands, look frustrated on the field and get frustrated on the field, and that need to express himself has manifested itself best in his batting. It is remarkable that captaining a side that has fallen from the lofty Australian standards of years gone by has not had any conspicuous effect on his batting. Perhaps it has contributed to him taking it a notch higher. The batting crease is the only place he can carry his brashness to. Frankly, what would the best hooker and puller in the world be without that last ounce of brashness?

    Can Ponting bring that quality to a country that hasn’t been kind to his batting, with the added burden of leading an inexperienced line-up? For once he will get to put himself in Tendulkar’s shoes. In the 46 ODIs that these men have played against each other, Ponting has been on the winning side 28 times. In those 28 games, his average has risen from a career 43.16 to 52.6, an expected variation. But in the 15 games that Tendulkar has won, he has had to raise his game to an extent where his average goes from a career 44.48 to 84.28.

    Roles have changed slightly now. Tendulkar has Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni around him; Ponting makes his way in after an unsettled opening combination, and is followed by Michael Hussey, Cameron White and James Hopes.

    Even at their ages, and despite the presence of young dashers, these two men make for the most intriguing contest of the series. What’s more, Ponting has to lead a somewhat unfancied batting line-up in this series. It’s a combination that sometimes manages to get the worst out of them, and might just provide one of the separators in the Greatest of Our Time debate

  2. Prem,
    I believe the longevity issue also boils down to the individual make up of the person-I cannot think that a Sachin or Kumble or a Dravid or a Lara would give away playing Tests for T20 or IPL 5 years back maybe after retiring yes.Are the Indian players more fitter than a flintoff or Oram?The Indians have been playing much more cricket than others.And if some blame injuries,they are supposed to have bio mechanics and all support.
    Kumble retired and then plays IPL,of course T20 gives options to players who are not selected.Players need to make money if they can’t get in the Test or ODI team,they can still make live through the IPL-A Balachandra Akhil or Vinay Kumar can get a chance of making the playing 11 because it’s IPL or ICL
    On the value of Players-Interesting to see the RCB doing well without Pietersen and the team looks potent,though they lack an additional bowling spearhead,it will be interesting once IPL has a transfer window and which teams allow Icon players to go out or who are purchased by other teams.
    The fielding level in the ongoing CL has been amazing and pathetic

  3. Pingback: Why franchise cricket is not a zero-sum game « Smoke Signals

  4. With money will come talent…with talent will come fans…with fans will come new markets to spread cricket to. Finally, cricket can become a truly a world sport vs. a game limited to the British Commonwealth. The last vestige of the Empire is falling.

    Honestly, just watching 3 or 4 countries play each other is too boring. It was fun for a while, but the new era beckons. Anyone who has to argue in favor of the relevance of tests and ODIs has already lost the argument… by simply having to make one. The young, rebel, upstart is taking charge by sheet brute force (backed with money of course).

    • Precisely. Besides, words like “tradition” cannot be used to make that argument, because every age overturns the traditions of the previous one — or at least, overturns those traditions that no longer make sense, that have passed their sell-by date.

      I’d love to see the administrators rethink their schedules to build context and narrative into the bilateral and multilateral encounters, both in Tests and ODIs. Create, for instance, a Test calendar that over a defined — and relatively short — period of time includes home and away Tests between all nations, culminating in a knock out phase that leads to a world Test champion — and watch the fans come back. But that seems to the administrators to be too much effort; far easier to bleat on about Tests being the “most important” form of the game, while simultaneously reducing them to three and sometimes, farcically, two Tests so they can squeeze in a few more ODIs. In the process, they’ve devalued both Tests and ODIs, and now point fingers at the forms that have come up in the vacuum they created.

      • i know! i don’t understand the obsession with ODI’s! who watches them anymore? i can’t sit through the 100 overs on TV, how and why will people go to stadiums to watch it? they reduce tests for ODI’s, but ODI’s, too, are boring as fuck! and they’ll apparently be damned before they give us more than a couple T20’s on tour, so wtf. at least play some meaningful tests.

  5. Excellent post! What also gets my goat about most journalists is their obnoxious condescension – witness the snide remarks Baum makes about Symonds’ ‘drinking and getting belligerent’. These guys sure know how to whip up a storm at the drop of a hat. Give the guy a break… his previous infraction, IIRC, was supposed to be not being available for a meeting that wasn’t planned! You play a game of cricket and then you head down to the nearest pub – is how it’s done in that part of the world… what are we trying to do, nurture grammar school boys on a cricket field?

    • Yes, plus Baum also suggests by allusion that such ‘discipline’ does not apply in the debauched world of franchise cricket — which is where I really take issue. As a senior journalist who travels the world following cricket, he should know better — the franchises and clubs take their training bloody damn seriously.

      It’s a funny thing. I have a personal rule, that I won’t drink more than a glass of wine or one bottle of beer on weekdays — and not all weekdays, at that. Not because I’m scared of drunkenness, but because mornings are the best time to think and sometimes, you end up with a bit of a head and are a little under par early in your day.

      Then again, many journalists on tour think nothing of having a binge every night — and some of them at least, as a result, make it to the press box only well after the game has begun. If their editors were to tell them that for the duration of a tour they couldn’t have anything stronger than a glass of wine, they’d cry revolt. However, they seem to have no problems with getting sanctimonious over the ‘behavior’ of players.

  6. Interesting link to Ajit Karnik’s article, which is really a more scholarly paisa vasool analysis.

    With project students from Indian Statistical Institute, we wrote a computer program last year: input the player’s name, and the program would spit out a number indicating this player’s likely value.

    Our analysis used a lot of T20 + ODI data with regressions, cluster analysis and more such fancy stuff.

    It was fun, but we realized that we had no worthwhile answer to the key question: When a Mallya pays Pietersen $1.55m, what fraction of this money is he paying for Kevin’s cricket and what fraction for the non-cricketing variables?

    Perhaps Ajit Karnik can tell us more. He used to be a great chum of Manohar Rao. Manohar came up with Rediff’s MVP index, which is just one step away from Rediff’s paisa vasool index.

    • Hey, can we use that computer program to come up with its version of the values of individual players, and compare it with the money actually paid at the auction? Should be fun 🙂

      • We had run a trial case for Andrew Flintoff … and came up with $900,000.

        He actually sold for $1,550,000!

        It is tempting to conclude that Flintoff’s cricketing worth is $900,000 and non-cricketing worth is $650,000.

        But there are wheels within wheels. As a franchise owner, I’d be willing to pay a Sachin Tendulkar even $2,000,000 if, as a ‘Mumbai Indian’, I can get him to endorse some team sponsor.

        We also reckon that Dhoni’s IPL cricketing performances are worth $500,000. The remaining million is for Dhoni the non-cricketer.

        There’s another aspect too. Yuvraj’s valuation sky-rocketed after those six sixes. Extreme individual performances may soon become more lucrative than good and steady supporting performances for team wins.

        Look at Ross Taylor. We love him in Bangalore! And Mallya must be chuckling because he’s got him real cheap … for something like $100,000 in 2008, although that number may have changed now.

  7. On a similar note, i tuned into the Bangalore match yesterday and saw the crowd give a noisy welcome to Ross Taylor … clearly they know their priorities …

    • Yeah. I’ll wait for the tournament to get over and for the full financial picture to emerge. I think they also said IPL-2 was a flop, on the same metrix. Ask the franchises, and they tell you that every single one of them was profitable. So where did the money come from, if no one watched and hence there was no real sponsor interest?

    • Try “option” instead — his future with the national team was pretty much dead, because he had a drink while watching football with a bunch of buddies. Two years ago, he would have been finished. Now, he has a choice.

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