Shashi Tharoor and the politics of Twitter

I’d planned on staying off blog for the duration, and re-surfacing only after my move to Bangalore was complete. And even the farcical happenings at the Firozeshah Kotla didn’t tempt me back onto this platform — but the whole “controversy” about Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor and his recent post on Twitter is a whole other story.

Everyone and his uncle seem up in the air about those 140 characters, so how about backing up a bit and taking a look at the back-story?

George Headley, a United States citizen, reportedly entered India multiple times to scope out possible terrorist targets. So our government in its infinite wisdom decided to “do something about it”.

The “something” was a tweak to existing laws, which now mandate that holders of multiple entry visas cannot re-enter the country within a two-month period of their last exit. That is to say, if you leave India tonight, you have to wait two months before you can come back in. [You can, however, apply to the Indian consulate/embassy in your native country for an exemption].

First question: does this cripple the plans of terrorists? Have we, by asking a potential terrorist to wait two months between one recce mission and the next, made this part of the world any safer?

Clearly, the answer to that is no. This is classic governmental syllogism in action: We have a problem. We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do this.

The government had no clue what Headley was doing when he was here. Despite the best post-facto investigative efforts of various “intelligence” agencies in this country including the newly formed NIA, no hint of Headley’s involvement surfaced on our radar — in fact, the revelations re Headley have come as an embarrassment to our cops, who in their FIR had named others as being responsible for scoping out the 26/11 targets.

Now that the extent of Headley’s activities has become common knowledge, the government, typically, has to be seen to “do something” — and as per usual, the “something” happens to be a half-baked measure that does not address the problem.

What it has done is created a national embarrassment. Britain and the US have officially protested — and their protests are based on complaints by their citizens [including, in the case of the US, various Indian Americans living in that country]. These include the story of a family who came on a month long visit to India. While here, they decided to take in the sights and sounds of Sri Lanka, and flew to Colombo. Three days later, when they tried to re-enter India — where the bulk of their luggage was stored in their hotel — they were told that they could not get in; they had to go back to wherever they came from, wait two months, and then come back if they wished to continue their holiday and/or reclaim their property.

That is one story among the dozens that are pouring into foreign missions on a daily basis — stories of people unable to enter the country for a wedding, a funeral, because two months have not yet elapsed since their last visit; stories of unaccompanied kids turned back at the airport because they had visited India en famille within the statutory period and so were deemed a threat if they re-entered…

Much of these problems arose because the government did not take the trouble to brief its consulates about the intent behind the rule change; nor did the Home Ministry/MEA properly brief the immigration officials at our international airports, leading to considerable confusion in the application of the new law.

An embarrassed government has since had to back track, and dilute the provisions of its hastily passed, ill-conceived edict.

So much for the back story. Now for Tharoor’s tweet. These are his posts:

#Is all that worth it just in hope of making it difficult for a future Headley to recce? R we going 2 allow terrorists 2 make us less welcoming?

# Making it more difficult 2 visit India, return here frequently or stay long hurts large nbrs of innocents, costs us millions of$ & alienates.

Those are his posts. Did the minister say something that is demonstrably wrong? Clearly, no.

So what then is the fuss about? Why did SM Krishna feel the need to reprimand his junior?

The answer, I suspect, lies in the growing gap between an antediluvian India and the more modern one. Our governments, state and central, are packed with ministers of varying levels of literacy; they fear the light of questioning and tend, wherever possible, to shut themselves away from the public gaze. The very concept of talking directly to the public is — horrors! — anathema to them.

Therein lies the central irony of this manufactured controversy: the crime Tharoor has committed, apparently, is to talk to the people of this country without the intervening filter of the “media”.

So why do we call ourselves a democracy, again?

For instance, had a journalist approached Tharoor after the new visa norms were introduced and asked him if he, as a minister, thought the new rule would make India safer, what should he have said?

Yes? That is a patently stupid answer, since it clearly does nothing of the kind. What if he had answered, no? What if he had said to the journalist what he ended up saying on Twitter? The media would have  lauded him for his frankness, and trained its guns on the twit who framed the asinine law in the first place.

While I was writing this post, I had a call from TimesNow, asking me to appear on Arnab Goswami’s show tonight, on a panel that will debate this issue. The Times journo who called told me there are two sides to this debate: one, the side I am on, which says there is no harm in a minister speaking his mind, whether in a news forum or directly through social media. And the other, he said, was the side, represented by the Krishnas of this world, which says Tharoor had broken the rule governing what ministers can talk about.

Wait a minute, I asked — is there a rule that says ministers cannot speak on Twitter or through any other means, directly to the people?

The journalist said, actually, no there isn’t.

Repeat: there is no rule, no norm anywhere that prevents Tharoor from posting his thoughts directly to the people who elected him. Yes, there is the Official Secrets Act — but that does not cover a law that is public knowledge anyway, nor does it cover a man’s opinion, even if that man happens to be a minister.

So here’s the question: by what law do the Krishnas of this world seek to hinder Tharoor’s freedom of speech?

Frankly, this nonsense needs to stop. And the media — large sections of which appear to be angst-ridden that a minister, rather than give them “exclusives”, talks directly to the public — needs to play the lead role in stopping this, where today it is acting as an echo chamber that amplifies “controversies” where none need exist.

You can, too. Follow Shashi Tharoor on Twitter — at last count, over 500,000 people already do. In doing that, we encourage openness among those we select to represent us in Parliament, to make our laws for us. And you flip the bird at those in government who would treat us, the citizens of this country, as farmers treat mushrooms: by keeping us in the dark and feeding us unadulterated bullshit.

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Season’s greetings

Dear all:

Last official day at work @ Rediff. The obligatory Christmas-related festivities follow immediately after, and the mandatory dismantling of a 20-year life in Mumbai, and the shift to Bangalore, immediately after that. Off blog, therefore, for the duration — and will be back on air around January 4 or so. [Will be around, though infrequently, on Twitter]

Best wishes for the Christmas-New Year season — and here’s wishing you, in 2010, the very best Life has to offer.

Cricket in the noughties

So we return to our questions. The last 10 years have been breathless, tumultuous, acrimonious, chaotic, crass, and unintentionally seminal. How the coming years will shape up will depend largely on the beliefs and wisdom of the men who govern the game.

The biggest challenge before them is to find a semblance of coherence in the cricket calendar. The number of Tests increased from 347 in the 90s to 464 in this decade, and ODIs from 933 to 1402. Add the IPL, the Champions League and the World Twenty20 and the quantity is simply unsustainable. Forget what it might do to the players, the bigger threat to the game is what it might do to spectators.

This decade began with an abominable crisis. It will end with a crisis of a different kind, but fuelled by the same vice: greed. Match-fixing shook the foundations of the game and tested the faith of its followers. Cricket overload is robbing the game of all sense of occasion and context and testing the passion of the fans.

That is Sambit Bal, reviewing the decade just ending. In the second in a series of planned reviews, Gideon Haigh looks at the ICC’s decade-long decline into irrelevance:

Consistency is an elusive quality in cricket. Not at the International Cricket Council. It began the decade in crisis. It finished the decade in crisis. In between has been sandwiched one crisis after another, in some of which it has been the unwitting coat-holder for two nations duking it out, to others it has contributed by sheer ineptitude: who can forget the “database error” that last year led New Zealand judge John Hansen to believe that Harbhajan Singh had a choirboy’s disciplinary record?

In some ways, you have to hand it to them: in absorbing punishment to its authority and credibility, the ICC has shown a chin like Jake La Motta’s. But surely only the ICC could transform a source of celebration, like a World Cup final, into a debacle like the one at the Kensington Oval 30 months ago, then reward the perpetrators with further appointments, so that Rudi Koertzen, for example, could turn his 100th Test, at Lord’s six months ago, into another fiasco.

Many commentators on this post appear to have taken jingoistic patriotic umbrage at Haigh’s strictures; such natural (?) choler notwithstanding, the points the writer makes about the international cricket calendar are worth noting. Cricinfo promises more in this series; for now, end with Sidharth Monga’s ‘RIP’ riff on all that cricket has lost in the decade of the noughties.

Planning commission, and omission

Suresh Menon’s latest article should resonate with all who watched the game yesterday, and cringed at Dinesh Karthik’s performance with the gloves [the Keystone Kops nature of his let off of Dilshan was bad enough; the fumble as prelude to the Sangakkara stumping was downright embarassing].

It would be foolish to depend on a very small group of players and then discover when the need arises that the replacements are not ready. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni for example, is now forced to miss two matches because of India’s poor over-rate in the Nagpur one-dayer. This means a wicketkeeper, who hasn’t kept for a while, will have to do the job. Yet an intelligent policy of rotation would have ensured that such a person is ready to deliver. This is not to say that Dhoni should be dropped from the team at regular intervals, only that there should be a plan to introduce one or two players into the team just so they keep in touch.

Successful teams have skillful players both on the field and on the bench ready to step in at short notice. You do not experiment during a tournament like the World Cup. But during the build-up it is necessary. And sometimes you learn more from a loss than a victory, which tends to hide the shortcomings.

Yesterday’s win hid a whole laundry list of shortcomings. We are an incisive opening attack short; the bench strength in the seam department is suddenly non-existent; the middle order remains unstable, so much so that had opening batsman Sachin Tendulkar not anchored the chase, the hard work of our spinners could still have been undone; clearly we have no viable understudy for a wicket-keeper who, as captain in all three forms, is the most over-worked player in the side…

Another clip from Menon:

India can no longer afford to define victory in narrow terms, on the basis of matches actually won. It is when substitutes perform well, when the bench strength rises to the challenge that from a long-term perspective it may be assumed that a team is doing well. Australia showed that when they won the one-day series in India with what was in effect their second team, injuries having eliminated many frontline players.

It is not necessary for India to go for broke every time. There is such a thing as building a team. If Virat Kohli, for example, is not ready to replace a top player like Yuvraj Singh or Sachin Tendulkar in the middle of a World Cup, then the selectors have failed. But batting is not really a major problem, although there is a call for ensuring that everyone gets enough rest, and that the replacements can hit the ground running. The World Cup is the making of a player, and if one or two matches in the build-up are lost while someone is given the chance to establish himself, then that is a fair trade-off.

The Sehwag factor

# It’s faintly curious that Viru Sehwag, who earlier this year renounced captaincy ambitions “to concentrate on his batting” and even promoted the cause of his Delhi mate Gautam Gambhir as the logical captain in waiting, was picked to lead during MS Dhoni’s enforced absence.

If Sehwag is serious about not wanting to lead India [the buzz at the time was that he was miffed that the captain’s armband had slipped past his grasp and gone to Dhoni, and that his renunciation was an expression of his unwillingness to be permanent bridesmaid, with no real prospect of ever becoming the bride], this seemed like a good time to give Gambhir a go, always assuming the selectors have identified him as a future captain.

# Viru and MS share certain characteristics as captain; the ability to remain collected and refrain from excessive hand-wringing and on-field gesticulation being the chief among them. The most notable difference between the two is their approach to defense [A codicil: We only have six random games to judge Sehwag’s leadership by, so perhaps what follows is a bit of a reach. But still.]

When the momentum is with the opposition, MS tends to try and slow things down; his preferred tactic is to pack one side of the field, get his bowlers to bowl those lines to the extent possible, make it as hard for the opposition batsmen as conditions and his resources allow, and then wait for the game to break his way.

In similar situations, Viru tends to attack a bit more proactively. For someone who loves to get his runs through boundary hits, he has as a batsman always been aware of the importance of the single as an attacking weapon; on the field, he carries that same awareness into field settings. Thus, and not for the first time, he yesterday started the turnaround by ignoring the boundaries the likes of Dilshan, Sangakkara and Upul Tharanga were hitting at will; he brought his fielders well inside the circle to make singles difficult to take [Dilshan had one, and not for want of trying to turn the strike over; Tharanga played out 42 dot balls to 27 singles] and banked on the fact that this would force batsmen intent on pushing the accelerator through the floor to take increasing risks with their hitting.

The other noticeable aspect of his captaincy was the recalibration of bowlers’ roles. Ashish Nehra as first change works far better than having him bowl with the new ball. The corollary of course is that Ishant Sharma went for plenty in the opening overs — but that is proof merely that the quick bowler is yet to fully find his rhythm, and not of the tactic itself [incidentally, Ishant looked a lot better when, during his second spell, he took to pitching the ball right up; makes you wonder how long it will be before the coach, or even senior pro Zaheer, talks to him about this].

Similarly, where Dhoni prefers to hold Harbhajan back as long as he can, often bringing him on after Jadeja and a part timer have had a go, Viru invariably uses the off spinner as early as possible, and in an attacking role [It helps that Bajji has in recent weeks rediscovered his bowling rhythm and now tends to bowl a little less like a wannabe seam bowler and more like the offie he is supposed to be].

None of this is to suggest that Viru is better than MS or vice versa — I doubt there is enough evidence on the table to argue the case one way or the other; suffice to say they are subtly different in their on-field thinking. There’s one more game to go with Viru at the helm, and that’s another opportunity to check out his captaincy style in contrast to MS.

#For once, India got a target to chase that did not require a boundary hit off every other ball, and that translated into a calm, measured response kick-started by Sehwag and guided throughout its course by a Tendulkar batting with clearly defined purpose. The 7-wicket win with 44 balls remaining was almost too easy — but personally, I found yesterday’s game far more absorbing than the two preceding thrash-fests.

#Back to recent events in Australia [for the last time], a couple of friends Down Under mailed, signaling their disgust with the behavior of their team at the WACA in particular. Neither wanted their mails reproduced, but the gist is that they had developed a respect for the West Indies thanks to Gayle and his men refusing to be written off, and the behavior of the likes of Haddin and Watson therefore stuck in their craw. In parallel, there is a tendency on the part of some to dismiss critical comment as the ravings of “crazies” — what this section of readers don’t get is that the Australian cricket team is almost universally admired for the all-round skills they bring to the table; hence some of us find it hard to stomach when the team blots its copybook with infantile behavior not consonant with what is expected of a champion side.

On those lines, here’s Greg Baum in The Age. An extended clip:

In this context, the sanction against Watson — 15 per cent of his match fee — was pitiful. A cricketer’s chief income is his base payment. The match fee is the icing on the cake. Fifteen per cent is a few specks of icing sugar. It is open to Cricket Australia to apply its own punishment and essential that it does. Otherwise, its code is merely a piece of paper.

The unexpectedly robust showing by the West Indies made for an engrossing series, but it also exposed an old Australian tendency to tetchiness under pressure. Three Australians other than Watson were disciplined in the series. So was West Indian Sulieman Benn, who got the most severe penalty, a two-match suspension.

In this, it was not hard to detect a familiar undercurrent. “Word” emerged from “contacts” in the Australian rooms that Benn had been a rude, precious and prickly opponent all series, and that in engaging with Benn in Perth, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson had merely been standing up for their mates. These “contacts” remained nameless.

It is hard not to be cynical. If Benn has shown himself to be volatile, you can be certain that the Australians have not missed an opportunity to prod and provoke him. When he reacts, they throw up their arms, as if shocked and affronted, their innocence plain for all to see.

We have seen this demonisation path before: remember Harbhajan Singh, two summers ago? Here is one line the Australians have found that they can scuff without crossing it.

Of course, some of the Australian cricket public love this. As far as they are concerned, there is “us” and there is “them”, and they are fair game, a schoolboy mentality.

But a sizeable proportion of cricket fans were disgusted by Watson’s display of triumphalism and discomforted by the brawl over Benn. These incidents jar on their sense of how cricket should be played.

Cricket clips

# The admin interface on this blog shows you the latest comments right on top — and as it happens, the first comment I saw this morning was tagged to a Chris Broad post, from a certain John who apparently gets his jollies reading all the “crazies” who ramble on in the wake of controversies. I hate disappointing the public, so here’s more “ranting”:

The Australians always seem to get away. Whatever their transgressions on the field, invariably it is their opponents who end up paying a price. Somehow or the other, teams playing against the Aussies seem to invite the match referee’s wrath.

That is why I am not looking at the most recent incident in the Australia-West Indies series in isolation. In the Delhi Test against us, my last, the one that earned Gautam Gambhir a ban for having a go at Watson, the same umpire and the match referee were officiating.

At that time, the umpire Billy Bowden didn’t see it fit to report Simon Katich who had later obstructed Gautam and the match referee Chris Broad too didn’t bother to act on his own or follow it up with the onfield umpires even though it was very much evident on TV. And as on that occasion, the provocateurs got away in Perth too, with Haddin and Johnson receiving minor reprimands.

There doesn’t seem to be any punishment forthcoming for someone who provokes and that to me is against the principles of natural justice.

Dear John, the “crazy” who wrote that is former India captain Anil Kumble (who, most famously, also said this). Getting to be a fairly crowded asylum, innit? Here’s more “lunacy” — from Chris Gayle. And strangely, Ricky Ponting seems to think us crazies may actually be on to something.

#The weekend’s action at the Centurion and the WACA provided the perfect coda to a couple of months of fascinating cricket. Make that Test cricket. For all the tons of runs that were scored in the “thrash the bowlers” versions of the game, the final quarter of the year has been memorable for Test cricket action between Sri Lanka and India; between a New Zealand and a Pakistan intent on examining the limits of their own frailities; between an Australia that prematurely wrote the opposition off and a West Indies unit that re-discovered talent, spark, and the will to fight; and between a conservative South Africa hoping for a win and a tentative England hoping not to lose. Ian Chappell’s summation of the field comes apropos.

# Test cricket has been compelling, but the crowds haven’t felt compelled to come out in their numbers. That’s the sort of thing that triggers laments on the ‘Test cricket is dying’ lines — but perhaps there is another explanation? Here’s Gideon Haigh:

Frankly, for what English cricket fans pay to watch Test matches, the security indignities they undergo, the general dilapidation of grounds and the killjoy prohibitions of administrators, they should be allowed to parade in the nude if they so wish. But there’s the rub. Crowds, in general, are simply assumed, like sightscreens and drinks breaks, and reported with a similar degree of understanding by journalists high above them in air-conditioned comfort, who haven’t had to pay to get in.

Nobody speaks for them: they have no association, no lobbyists, no agents, no spin doctors, no ghost writers. Who has protested the scurvy treatment of fans in Kolkata and Johannesburg, deprived of international cricket by ludicrous administrative turf wars? Where were the thundering denunciations in England when the ECB cancelled a Twenty20 Cup quarter-final 10 minutes before the start because of a dispute about a player’s registration, thereby wasting the journeys of 4000 hapless fans? When wronged, fans have no recourse but the withdrawal of their interest – a self-penalisation.

The main reason for this indifference to the spectator’s lot, in administrative circles at least, is television. For 20 years and more, cricket has been obsessed with its telegenia – how to improve the experience for viewers, and so to maximise the value of the game as a media property. And as viewers have grown in financial importance, so live spectators have diminished.

Crowds flowing through the turnstiles — or not — have become irrelevant to the game’s financial health. But to therefore dismiss diminishing live audiences is, Haigh suggests, short-sighted.

In this unspoken shared belief among administrators that somehow it is immaterial if crowds no longer gather, and that only the vast, diffuse, invisible audience of viewers counts, lies the seeds of a grave crisis for cricket. In the most straightforward sense, crowds matter aesthetically, in a way ratings never can. They ratify by their presence an occasion’s importance; they dramatise by their passion a game’s excitement; they negate by their absence an event’s significance. Tendulkar’s 12,000th Test run should have been one of the great moments of Indian cricket; it will be remembered instead, as even ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat noted, with dismay and disillusionment.

Those who trouble to attend cricket are also its core constituency; to set aside a day for a Test or a one-day international involves a huge investment of time and money, which deserves proportional return. Yet the members of this core are being treated as political parties sometimes treat their most loyal voters, and listed corporations their most steadfast small shareholders: marginalising and alienating them as they take them for granted – and no party or company has done this long and prospered. On the contrary, commercial organisations dependent on public patronage lavish extraordinary efforts on keeping their most loyal customers, encouraging them to return by loyalty cards, bonus programmes and other incentive systems. Why does cricket, so purportedly savvy in the ways of commerce, care so little? Australian golf might have looked a little ludicrous at the Masters last month with its serpentine queues, star-struck melees and striving for church-like quiet – but at least it was trying.

#Headline writers have been having a field day with the outing of Tiger Woods’ latest mistress, bringing the tally thus far to 18 — the puerile golf course analogy apparently proves too hard to resist. Meanwhile, in Cuttack and in their homes across the country, Indian cricketers must be laughing their heads off — the newest among them has notched up far more ‘conquests’ than Woods with his stature, his charismatic looks  and all his billions can only dream of.

I’ve never been able to figure this out. We expect a Gandhi, a Mother Teresa, to provide us a moral compass to chart our lives by, but we do not simultaneously expect them to entertain us. Why then is that not the case in reverse? Why is it not enough for our athletes, our sports stars, to entertain us? Why must they also set “moral examples” for the young?

The two most common answers I get are, oh, but they are in the public eye and, two, our children idolize them. As far as the first goes, so too are politicians — but we accept their affairs, their involvements in crimes ranging from mega corruption to murder with equanimity and even pick potential jailbirds to lead our states, our country. Apparently it is okay for those who would chart our futures to be morally flawed, but not our sportsmen. And as far as our children’s idolatry goes, what then are parents for if they cannot steer their children towards heroes more worthy of moral emulation?

My friend — and favorite sports writer — Rohit Brijnath nails it in this lovely piece in the weekend edition of Mint. An extended clip:

But I rarely go to stadiums expecting lessons in morality. These aren’t arenas of real bravery for this isn’t real life. These weren’t my guides, not my North Stars. My heroes are different, they are ordinary people taking on life, they are my parents, teachers, friends who grapple patiently with troubled kids, they are families who take care of the ill with a selfless love, they are preachers of tolerance.

I have expectations of the athlete, especially the great ones, for with fame arrives responsibility. Certainly he must obey the rules, stay away from gunfights in nightclubs, respect the law, conduct himself appropriately when representing his country. It is not a difficult list. Roger Federer meets it nicely. But not everyone.

But then it gets tricky. What moral standard do we hold the athlete to, a higher one than we have for ourselves? Marriage is beautiful and we are unimpressed by the adulterer, but do we hound them from our groups of friends and from our offices? Is Tiger Woods different, worth such public scorn, because he portrayed himself as a virtuous family man? It would appear so. And as much as the tawdriness of it all, the sheer number of infidelities, what seems to upset people is also the deception. He fooled us, this billionaire hero. He made us buy his shirts while he was taking his off.

What we tend to forget is that the great athlete presents to us an image. On that basis we claim to know him, but we really don’t. Andre Agassi’s revealing autobiography, Open, suggested our view of him was almost entirely inaccurate. Woods is similarly a mystery. We know him as outrageous golfer, bland interviewee, smiling salesman. Beyond that he is hidden. It suited him. His golf was perfect, his trousers creased, his shoes shined, and so he let us assume the rest of his life was as polished. The point is this: He should have known better than to do what he did, but so should we have to have swallowed his myth.

# There’s a one-day game due to be played this afternoon, but all that, and more, tomorrow. Have people to meet, and a packer coming home for a preliminary ‘recce’. Later, peoples…

The perils of disarmament

The Rajkot game [previous post on the topic] moves Harsha Bhogle to philosophize on the nature of cricket as contest.

At the heart of cricket’s magic, the reason all of us are so enamoured by it, is the fact that every ball is a contest. The bowler conceives the challenge, sets his line, his length, his movement, the placement of fielders, and presents it to the batsman, who must then unravel it and respond.

And then there is another challenge. It is relentless and it must be that way. The moment the delivery of the ball to a batsman is no longer a challenge, the contest ceases. It is no longer cricket. Or maybe it would be to the same extent that boxing would remain a sport if each boxer is allowed three minutes at a punching bag and the winner determined by who hits the bag better.

And so it is imperative that we get the surface right. The vagaries of the surface, and therefore their role in the presentation of a challenge by the bowler to the batsman, lies at the heart of cricket: favouring the batsman a bit one day, then ensuring that he has to hop against the bounce or crouch to smother the turn the next day. It is the inherent mystery in the surface that defines the contest. And that is what cricket’s administrators have to protect. They must be obsessed by the need to retain the contest. Chocolates must have their cocoa, cricket must have its contest; neither exists otherwise.

And having said all that, Harsha goes on to suggest that maybe the job of leveling the playing field is too crucial to be left entirely to the ICC.

Maybe we can start, us in the media, by defining what a good pitch is; not one on which batsmen can score a lot of runs but one on which ball and bat have equal opportunity. Every time a curator says, “I have prepared a good wicket”, let us ask him what he really means.

Bowlers are not waiters, they should not have to serve deliveries on a platter at a batsman’s command. We have already produced monster bats and brought the boundary rope in so much that on some days it looks like we are playing in a small park. And increasingly we produce pitches like the one in Rajkot. Is it inconceivable that a day will come when a bowler is given a list of balls he can bowl, it is announced on a public address system, and then we all wait to see what the batsman does with it?

Hopefully that is a doomsday scenario, but it doesn’t reduce the great need for the cricket world to come together to ensure that every cricketing occasion is a contest between ball and bat. We must be obsessed by the need to maintain it.

Right — I’m off to finish work on India Abroad, and then head out for the weekend. One of the few remaining weekends in Mumbai for me, so hopefully much fun will ensue. See you guys back here on Monday; be well meantimes.