Anatomy of a newscast

Sunday levity:

Courtesy jcalamur on Twitter.

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Move over Ekta Kapoor

A well-informed source tells me that over at the Balaji Telefilms headquarters, they are beginning to worry. Ekta Kapoor is understood to have called her producers and told them in no uncertain terms that they have to immediately come up with ideas to combat the emerging threat to their soap opera dominance from the IPL and the sundry noise-makers associated with it.

You can see her point — with all the drama around in the real world, who needs TV?

A day after welcoming the news that KKR has approached Abdur Razzaq with a view to securing his participation in IPL-3, reading those tea-leaves and finding among the dregs signs that there is a thaw in Indo-Pak relations, and suggesting that maybe the climate is now right for bilateral talks, Pakistan did an abrupt volte face and decided to cancel the NOCs to Pakistan players to take part in the IPL.

Let’s see, now — the PCB seems to be saying that India has no business insulting Pakistan players; any insulting that is required will be done by the PCB itself, thank you very much. [And that is not surprising either — after all, it was the PCB that pointed a match-fixing finger at its own team captain not so long ago].

Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena and its gracelessly aging leader decided to take up cudgels against a sea of troubles. That is to say, against Shah Rukh Khan, with the party’s Thane unit led by its MLA Eknath Shinde ordering a ban on all SRK films until further notice. You can’t blame Shinde, really — the Sena is a monkey-see, monkey-do party, and its loyal ‘leaders’ know nothing better than to blindly jump in whatever direction Mr B Thackeray points his finger.

Khan’s fault, apparently, is that he spoke up for Pakistan players. If the Sena means to say that anyone expressing a personal preference for seeing some of Pakistan’s T20 World Cup-winning stars in action in the IPL is to be banned, then I wonder what the Sena plans to do about Dr Manmohan Singh? Who, while remaining mum about a host of pressing issues ranging from price rise to the growing intel that India is apt to be the target of a major terrorist attack sometime soon, did manage to find time to “signal his displeasure” at the IPL and at Lalit Modi for shutting a “growing window of opportunity”.

Seriously, Dr Singh — what window of opportunity was that? Is it your contention, and that of your mouthpiece, that if the IPL had allowed a half dozen Pakistan players to feather their personal nests by turning out for sundry franchises, Indo-Pak relations would have improved to the point where Islamabad would have immediately handed over those it now acknowledges as having had a role in 26/11 to India for punishment, shut down all terrorist camps, thrown every member of the LeT into prison for life, and abjured the use of terrorism as state policy for ever?

Or maybe you were not so ambitious — you only wanted to create a conducive climate for talks? But then, isn’t it you, and your government, that has been consistently saying there can be no talks with Pakistan without Islamabad acting and being seen to act to end terrorism?

So again — could you throw your tame mouthpiece please explain what “window of opportunity” got shuttered by the IPL?

Back to the Shiv Sena: So now that the Federal Home Minister has, at the behest of the Prime Minister of this country, expressed a desire to see Pakistan players in action on Indian soil, what are you going to do?

Do you have the courage of your stated convictions, and the cojones, to threaten the Home Minister and the Prime Minister with “dire consequences” for their words? Do you have what it takes to publicly suggest that Mr P Chidambaram and Mr Manmohan Singh [not to forget the Federal Sports Minister, who also expressed similar sentiments] will not be allowed to set foot in Maharashtra? Or is your soap-operatic rage so small in scale that it can only be used against small, soft targets — a film star here, a movie theatre there?

Could it be that you are, as your friendly enemy Mr Sharad Pawar once told me in an interview, a coward after all?

PostScript: Irrelevant to the above, but interesting: Aakash Chopra talks of the futility of having premier games in the domestic circuit played out on dead tracks.

The recently concluded semi-final between North and West Zone vindicated my point of curtailing the maximum number of overs at a team’s disposal for the knock-out matches. It was, as usual, a batting paradise in Rajkot and both teams knew that the toss might just decide the fate of the match. And boy it did…that too with style.

West scored nearly 800 runs, perhaps the highest in the season, and batted North out of the game. Yes, North could have fought harder and got closer to the total but overhauling it was a forgone conclusion. But what followed after West got a mammoth 465-run lead devalues the importance of a first-class century. West opted for some batting practice instead of going for an outright win which was perhaps there for the taking. But since a first-innings lead was enough to see them through to the finals, they can’t be blamed for not forcing the issue.

See you Monday.

Dear Mr P Chidambaram

When you have a moment, do consider this:

“This is not Shah Rukh, but the Khan in him that’s saying all this. Let Shah Rukh go and stay in Lahore, Karachi or Islamabad. He is not needed in Mumbai. (Shiv Sena chief) Balasaheb has made it clear that Pakistani players wouldn’t be allowed to play in the IPL or set foot in Maharashtra,” Raut said.

Raut did not stop at that. He warned Shah Rukh not to defy the diktat of the Sena. “There will be dire consequences if Shah Rukh defies the orders of the Sena chief. Shah Rukh must think twice before speaking. This is Maharashtra and the Shiv Sena chief’s writ runs here,” he said.

As a person who has publicly, vocally, expressed his desire to see Pakistani players participate in IPL3, do you have any thoughts/comments on this?

As the Federal minister directly responsible for maintaining law and order in the country, what is your reaction to an extra-constitutional authority laying down the law on who it will and will not permit to travel/play in the country? In that same capacity, how do you react to said extra-constitutional authority threatening all and sundry with “dire consequences”?

It says in there that the Shiv Sena’s writ runs in Maharashtra. Care to tell us in what parts of India the government’s writ runs?

Appreciate a response, when you have a moment to spare.

Thank you

Why the Eden?

Hype has it that watching cricket at the Eden Gardens is an unrivaled experience — and for once, hype is not misplaced. Further, it is a pity that politics — namely the antagonism between Jagmohan Dalmiya and the honchos who currently run Indian cricket — has kept the Gardens from getting its due share of international fixtures. International cricket deserves to be played in the best possible venues, and there is no doubt that the Gardens, when on song, is as good as it gets.

Not this time, though; not for India versus South Africa. The short series  against the Proteas has come as manna from Test heaven; had the two boards not worked this out, we would have through all of 2010 contented ourselves with games against Bangladesh, now over, and Zimbabwe. Oh, and of course, Sri Lanka. At a time when India is statistically the world’s number one and, more to the point, the Test team has confidence and a degree of form going for it, what you really need are marquee games that can create excitement among the fans — and India-RSA, marketed right, can provide exactly that.

To get the buzz going, though, you need to guarantee butts in the seats — and right now the Gardens is in no position to do that. In December 2009, when India played Sri Lanka, the CAB opted out of selling tickets and reserved all available space for its members. [That game as you recall was marred by a fiasco to do with the floodlights; an inquiry was promised, but thus far what we have got is a tentative agreement on the inquiry committee, so no point holding our breath waiting]. The CAB now says it won’t sell tickets for the upcoming Test either.

Closed for maintenance

The reasons may be valid: ground upgrade, renovation with an eye on the 2011 ODI World Cup, whatever. Fact remains, though, that a marquee contest between India and South Africa, with the notional standing of the world’s number one Test team at stake, will be shut out for the fans — whose energy and passion is what gives cricket at the Gardens the aura it currently enjoys.

Did we really need to shoe-horn a Test into a venue that is currently capable only of catering to a closed group of ‘members’, while leaving the fans in a cricket-crazy city standing on the outside looking in?

On a tangentially related note, the Test team is out — and it is either predictable, or predictably surprising, depending on where you stand. With Laxman reporting fit, the selectors only needed to fill the slots currently occupied by Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh [in the latter’s case, I’d think it is about time the selectors made a long term call about his fitness, or lack thereof, for Test cricket]. The committee could have gone in many directions: bringing in Cheteswar Pujara, to see if the much-talked about lad has what it takes to eventually step into the shoes Dravid will one day vacate; bringing in Rohit Sharma, to see if he is finally ready to match his talent with the discipline and commitment required at this level; bringing Suresh Raina into the ranks, swapping a left-hander who can bat, bowl and field with another young talent in the same mould…

In the event, the committee seems to have played safe. Vijay is already in the side; the selectors brought Badrinath in, and a case can be made that he has deserved the call up for his consistent performances at domestic level over the past two, three seasons, and by virtue of the fact that he has a game well suited to Tests. You don’t need to agree that this was the best possible direction for the selectors to go, but you certainly can’t make a case that the selections were flat out wrong. Mithun being brought in, just when he has the wind in his sales, was a good move [though it seems improbable that he will play, just being in the frame, and in the dressing room with the seniors, will do the lad much good]; I wish the selectors had on similar lines punted with Manish Pandey.

The Mithun pick is interesting — and timely — from another aspect. Here’s Harsha [who, incidentally, believes Badri merits the chance to debut], at the tail end of his latest column:

The greater fear though is with the bowling. Ishant Sharma took wickets but looked well short of top form in Bangladesh, Sreesanth is injured, RP Singh hasn’t demanded the world look at him, neither has Irfan Pathan with the ball and Munaf Patel, I’m told, is around somewhere. It leads to a rather scary conclusion. If Zaheer Khan breaks down, India might just be the side to queue up to bat against.

Arising from that, here’s a thought/question: Does India want to go into the first Test with its traditional six batsmen, one keeper, two seam and two spin bowlers formula, or does it want to cover for its inconsistent bowlers by being a batsman short, and lining up Zaheer, Ishant, Mithun, Bajji and Ojha? The five-bowler line up is the one I fancy; I’m fairly certain though that the team will stick to its favorite template.

War, or something like it

Thanks to a reader commenting on one of the earlier posts, I just stumbled on the wtf line to end all wtf lines. From Pradeep Magazine, on the IPL ‘fiasco’:

What the Mumbai terror attacks could not achieve — an Indo-Pak war — this fresh row could well do that.

I wonder how we managed to escape going to war last year — when this happened:

Pakistan barred its cricketers on Monday from travelling to India and playing in the Indian Premier League tournament. The decision has been taken because of security concerns.

Five Pakistani cricketers —Yasir Hameed, Yasir Arafat, Asim Kamal, Danish Kaneria and Mohammad Hafeez — were to attend the IPL auction of players for the second season in Goa on Feb 10.

The government has earlier stopped hockey and squash teams from going to India for the same reason.

Will the noise-makers on both sides explain why it was okay for the PCB to ban Pakistan players from participation last year [a decision taken and announced just a week ahead of the auctions]?

Over the past week, everyone and his uncle has been going on about the ‘snub’, and how it has vitiated the atmosphere. The best response to that?:

“These are the harsh realities of life.”

The speaker is Saleem Altaf, the PCB’s CEO. Exactly — so enough already.

I don’t mean to go banging on about this — but each time I raise my head and glance at the TV screen, or check the net to see what’s new, there is some other bloke beating his breast over the whole thing, and quite frankly it has gone beyond being amusing.

Fear factor

I so totally love Rakhi Sawant. Here’s the latest example for why:

“Fearlessly I’ve sent a legal notice to the censor board. This is the first time something like this has happened. Others do chamchagiri of the censor board. Not me. I’m Rakhi Sawant. Main ishwar ki beti hoon (I’m god’s daughter).”

You go, girlfriend.

SRK for foreign minister

So hey, CNN/IBN is ecstatic.

Largely through the channel’s fearless reporting [at least that is the impression the tone and tenor of the coverage conveys], aided by Shah Rukh Khan’s equally fearless ‘speaking out’ in a series of non-sequiturs, India has narrowly avoided a potential catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions.

In other words, Abdul Razzak will likely play in IPL-III.  Or, more accurately, the Deccan Chargers Kolkatta Knight Riders have expressed interest; Razzaq is interested in this interest, and all concerned are waiting for ‘clearance’ from the IPL, whatever that means [I thought the IPL had said there is no institutional ban on Pakistan players? So why then does Razzaq/KKR require clearance from on high?] A tangential note for Razzaq: dude, when you do come over, make sure you get your payment up front. Shoaib Akthar can tell you why.

But never mind the IPL’s inability to speak with one voice – larger fish are being fried. Wazir-e-Azam Syed Yousef Raza Gilani tells Barkha Dutt that it is now time for India and Pakistan to move beyond the IPL – a statement that clearly marks a breakthrough in bilateral relations.

Seriously, are we losing all sense of perspective here? In the original instance, the franchises took a practical call that having Pakistani players in their sides could lead to potential problems [no, not law and order problems so much; the problems relate more to guaranteed availability]. That got transformed into some kind of bilateral face-off, fit to rank with Kargil, and the confrontation along the LoC in the wake of the attack on Parliament, in order of importance.

Now KKR, caught up in the hype of its owner [within the space of 24 hours, SRK has said that it is sad Pakistan players are not playing, but has also said a climate needs to be created for Pakistan players to play — the second statement assumes such a climate does not currently exist, so why is he sad, again?] is trying to get one particular player to play in IPL-3 — and that is at best grist for school quiz masters on some future date, but not a ‘breakthrough’ in relations between the two countries. So please could we cease and desist?

In passing, here’s a Dawn think piece on the whole IPL fiasco:

The Pakistani players ignored at the auction were justified in feeling humiliated because they were obviously not judged on merit. A quiet withdrawal should have been a proper option — in the case of Pakistan’s official and non-official meddlers too. Instead they were keen to turn the slight caused to some commercial-minded players into a matter of national disgrace.

The retaliatory measures announced by them — cancellation of the visit to India by parliamentarians and the election commissioner and calls to boycott all sports events scheduled to be held in India — made little sense. All such decisions normally advance a demand till the fulfillment of which the protest is supposed to continue. What do the angry Pakistanis want IPL or India to do to satisfy their bruised ego? They cannot be unaware of the fact that the disruption of sports ties with India, or ties in any other area, cannot be sustained forever. The Indians, too, are learning this all over again.