Testing tolerance

We are going to play against Sri Lanka. Again.

So over the last two years, India and Sri Lanka have played a whopping 32 matches against each other across three formats – six Tests, 23 ODIs and three Twenty20s. That’s 52 days in all. And they want more.

Like a kid discovering a new toy, the BCCI appears to have discovered Test cricket once the Indian team took pole position on the ladder. The good bit is that its marketing boys saw the opportunity to hype ‘world dominion’ and managed to arm-twist South Africa into truncating a lengthy one-day schedule and play a couple of Tests instead [the compelling nature of the two-Test series just ended is the best argument you could make for playing more Tests — and less one day games]. Those two Tests were especially welcome in a year that would otherwise have seen the ‘world champions’ play only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in Tests. But like the proverbial kid with the new plaything, the BCCI is now on a mission to schedule Tests against whoever has a spare five days on the calendar — and if there is one team that always has time to spare for us, it is the Lankans. So here we go again…

That said, India pulling off a win in the second Test, with about nine legitimate deliveries to go, spares the team of criticism that its ‘champions’ tag needs the legitimacy of defeating Australia and South Africa. India now have four wins and a draw in the last five Test series played [even if one of those wins is against Bangladesh and the other against Sri Lanka, the sequence also includes wins against Australia and England at home, and now a drawn series against the Proteas [and while on things to look forward to, the highlight for me personally is India’s tour of South Africa end-2010 — that should be a cracker, with SA most likely creating the kind of wickets that will help Dale Steyn and company, setting up a clash between the Indian batting and the Proteas strength in quick bowling].

Before the start of this series, S Rajesh of Cricinfo had done a stat-piece that breaks down South Africa’s enviable record in India. The key takeaways were that South Africa scored more runs per wicket than it conceded — in other words, its batting outperformed the Indians at home, making the Proteas the only team that can claim that cachet in recent times. Significantly, then, India’s win has come on the back of a mammoth batting effort [by a line up sans Rahul Dravid, and sporting two new-comers and one senior player coming back from injury].

In all of this, Harbhajan’s role has come under greatest scrutiny — and rightly so. All said and done, the exit of Anil Kumble pushed the off spinner into the position of India’s lead bowler. While no one expects that he will run through every side he comes up against, on every wicket he plays on, there is at least the bare minimum expectation that he will perform at all times like the leader of an attack [Kumble, incidentally, is the perfect example you could find for this — throughout his career, he earned the respect of his international opponents because, as Steve Waugh once said, “There is never a time when Kumble is not coming at you hard”]. It is this expectation Bajji hasn’t fulfilled as much as he is capable of, and it is this that has fueled criticism in the past, and will again.

His diatribe at the post-match press conference yesterday is, therefore, out of place.

“I have been hearing a lot of things from them [the media], but today they were on the receiving end,” he said in response to an unrelated question. “They should be getting that kind of treatment because they should know what to play on national television and what not to play. We play for our country with a lot of passion and it disappoints all the players sometimes to see what characters they make out of us. If I don’t do well on the ground they will show us as 3 Idiots (a Bollywood flick). Harbhajan is one of the idiots, MS Dhoni is the other. That is not right. I know it sounds funny but it is not.

“It’s a shame and it should not be done. But if that is the way you want to sell your programmes, we are not worried about that. I was there for a bigger purpose. I was playing for my country, which means more than anything else for me. I won a game for my country and that is a special feeling.”

Congratulations on the five-for and for winning the game for your country and ours, dude — but you need to get that hype is the function of your press agent, it is not the business of the media or of the fans. If your bowling gets praised when you do well, it is equally apt to get slammed when you do badly — as at Nagpur. To avoid the media when things are not going well, and to then come out firing when you do something good, smacks of immaturity. And again, on this a good example to emulate would be Anil-bhai, who you clearly respect — despite winning more games for India than any other bowler of whatever kind, Anil has repeatedly been slammed for being ineffective, and he has invariably tackled such criticism with grace and good humor, while never once crowing when he was on top.

Rajesh, again, makes the statistical case. And again, the key takeaways are, (1) that Bajji is a case of diminishing marginal returns, as should be clear from his average and strike rate progression; and (2) that he has been most ineffective where his team would have maximum expectations of him — to wit, in home conditions.

As far as the game goes, what with traveling and work I could watch only in sporadic bits — certainly not enough to comment. Two things did strike me, though, as I watched what I could of days four and five: the Eden Gardens effect, which is celebrated at some length in this piece by S Aga, and the sheer wtf nature of field setting and bowling for the entire afternoon and evening sessions of day five.

As early as the first session, it was clear from the run rate and the attitude of the Proteas batsmen that South Africa was playing time, and had no intention of reprising the positive mindset that had helped it negate the Indian bowling in the first Test. This meant that India could attack flat out — and it is against this that I couldn’t see the point of India’s tactic of spreading the field when Hashim Amla was on strike, and permitting the batsman to play without pressure and take singles at will.

Why? Such a tactic is so clearly counter-productive. The batsmen are gifted a comfort zone; every ball he is allowed to play without pressure is one less the team has to survive. From the bowler’s point of view, too, constantly switching from aggression to defense plays hell with performance. Against that, or so it seemed to me, the far better course would have been to ensure that pressure was applied at both ends, that there were men crowding the bat right through the day, and that Amla [whose batting this series it is impossible to over-praise] was made to work hard for survival, rather than be assured of it. It was only towards the end of the third session, with time ticking down, that India ratcheted up the pressure even when Amla was on strike. And from that point on, survival became considerably trickier and, in the event, the vital wicket fell.

To point this out now might seem churlish in the aftermath of the win, but this is one of the most consistent mistakes India makes, and maybe it is time the think tank paid some attention to this.

On an unrelated note, Harsha in his latest column makes the case for why India should go flat out to stage IPL-3 [a call that is counter to Shane Warne’s recent pronouncement that the tournament needs to go back to South Africa, and to the players’ association that has been talking of pull outs]. This is where I’d love to see the Federal Home Ministry and the home ministers of the respective states step in. When My Name is Khan was threatened by the lunatic fringe, both P Chidambaram and the Maharashtra government stepped in with strong statements about beefing up security and not permitting the lunatics to take over the asylum [ironically, I noticed in one of those news clips that the cops had installed night vision cameras in theaters to forestall trouble — cameras that CS Terminus and other targets on the terrorist radar in Mumbai are yet to get].

Surely, then, you want the government, at both central and state levels, to now take an equally strong stand, to step forward and state the collective intention that India will not be held hostage to random terror threats? Last year, the government abdicated this responsibility, on the rather specious grounds that there was an election scheduled around the same time. This year, that excuse does not exist — so hopefully we’ll see a statement of intent from the government [and hopefully, the GoI won’t just stop with making statements, but will do everything necessary to walk that talk].

Elsewhere, the IPL continues to generate news for all the wrong reasons. The broadcast media has decided to boycott the event, citing Modi’s draconian rules on what can and what cannot be aired;  my understanding is that international photo agencies are currently talking among themselves prior to announcing a similar boycott. Good — Modi’s attempts to redefine the nature and functioning of the media need to be challenged, through such boycotts and where possible, through legal action [stand by for a PIL on the subject, unless my guess is way wrong].

Elsewhere, the Ravindra Jadeja case is another indication of the kind of chaos that can result from hasty, ill-judged action. Modi says that all factors were considered; if that is true, how does Modi and the IPL justify acting against a player who was no longer under contract? The key element in this story is that his contract with the Royals ended December 31, 2009. Since there was no talk of renewal, that makes Jadeja a free agent; as such he has every right to seek employment elsewhere. So how can he be deemed to have contravened the IPL guidelines? [Typically, rather than question the basis for the action taken against him, Niranjan Shah’s “support” for the player comes in the form of negotiating the extent of punishment]. Jayaditya Gupta, meanwhile, riffs off the incident to raise a legitimate, larger question:

The issue of Jadeja’s ban is not the ban itself. If he has violated the rules, he must be punished, and if the penalty is a ban, so be it. The issue is this: Did it have to come to this? Who is looking after the interests of a young man with unimaginable riches suddenly at his command? Who is providing him the counsel to separate right from wrong? Simply put, who is his minder?

It’s not just about Jadeja, of course. Every IPL franchise has young players – four mandatory “catchment” players apart from internationals like Jadeja – who are suddenly faced with more money than they could have ever dreamed of. The temptation is huge, it is natural. All that is needed is some sage advice; the kind every young fast-rising professional gets: Don’t chase the money, chase the work; the money will take care of itself.


Back to work [oh, and part of this work involves cricket — if all goes well, should have something of interest to share with you before the end of the month]; will swing by again sometime this weekend.

23 thoughts on “Testing tolerance

  1. well prem seems to live in some lala land , what does he mean bhajji is in consistent , he has won more matches than any one else except Kumble , but he is still just 29 and he has taken more 5 wicket per innings and 10 wickets in a match more than any one else except Kumble , so he has performed and yes he is hyper , but if it was not for Bhajji Aussies would have not stopped taunting Indians , you cannot be saint in these days in any sport.

  2. Jazzy, then let’s not expect the media to be any less annoying than it is and wait for the next spicy headline. I’m sure it won’t take long.

  3. Couple of factual errors here. Firstly, it was CSA that asked for the test series to be scrapped by citing a hectic schedule. They weren’t willing to compromise on their home series against England, a series that lasted almost three months yet it’s the BCCI that is held responsible for scrapping the tests and is then accused of arm-twisting CSA into scheduling a two-test series. Secondly, Zimbabwe don’t have test status right now so we’re not going to play a test series there. However, we are playing a full series at home against New Zealand and you seem to be unaware of it.

    A lot of people read your blog and value your opinion. Please don’t compromise your credibility by providing factually incorrect information.

  4. 1. Prem is part of the professional media, and hence not an uninterested party to comment objectively on this, however much he may convince himself otherwise.

    2. Yes, Bhajji can’t take criticism, and has a public history of having a short fuse. Kumble is more polished and reacts differently. So? I fail to see the point. Is Prem implying that Kumble’s is the only acceptable method of dealing with criticism, no other method is allowed/acceptable/worthy? A. Acceptable to whom? The media? Is a player answerable to the media? B. Why the value judgment? Its a preference for one style over another, without necessarily making one style better than the other. In short, its a personal opinion and Bhajji or anyone else is not bound by Prem’s or the media’s opinions.

    3. Would we have it any other way with Bhajji? Everytime he has been pushed or riled up he has produced a magical performance. Obviously this guy thrives on confrontation and uses criticism to motivate himself. That is his style. Why should he change himself to suit our thin-skinned media’s delicate sensibilities? I’d say leave him alone and maybe needle him a bi more from time to time to keep bringing out the beast. When he’s happy and complacent is when he does not perform. Rather than criticising Bhajji for his anger, we should stoke it further and direct it towards the benefit of the Indian team’s fortunes.

  5. I would lean towards Jazzy’s point on this one. We have a way over the top, sensationalist media who’s sole claim to fame is non-stop diatribe or hype. The affected party has a right and should give back as good as it gets, especially when the opportunity presents itself. Sure Bhajji should learn to take and accept criticism; so why should the media not be able to do that? He was clearly reacting to the over the top stuff. What’s sauce for the goose…

  6. Very well compiled post.
    Would like to hear your views on the comments being made by few sports news journalists and experts about the future of test cricket.
    My view is : Why reck up the issue when India is playing tests regularly and more so when we are the number one ranked team?
    Based on the success of ICC T-20 world cup 07, India took T-20 seriously and conceived and successfully staged a competition like IPL for two years. If India’s victory in ICC T-20 world cup was a reason for helping T-20 format to come to the fore then it is for all of us to imagine what tests stand to gain if India remains at the top of ICC tests ranking.

  7. agree with jazzy above, not so much on bhajji, but w.r.t your doomsdayish piece after the nagpur test. A bowling performace like that would’ve taken pretty much any batting line-up apart. I thought Samir chopra got it bang on in his post written after the 3rd day at nagpur – an excerpt below (to see the full post, go to http://eye-on-cricket.blogspot.com/ and scroll down to the post titled ‘a pack of pretty strong cards’ – btw, he has also posted on bhajji’s celebration yest, which i think is also spot on)

    “This current Indian team is by far, the most accomplished, and perhaps most consistent, outfit that has taken the field in a while. They are deservedly ranked #1 in the world. But given all that, they still remain a team with distinct patches of weakness that has the tendency to go off the boil a bit too quickly. Some of this is because old, classical weaknesses remain.
    In a cricket world where no one team dominates, this is par for the course. Let us not forget that South Africa just lost at home to England by an innings. Inconsistency of this sorts seems to be commonplace. The world of cricket awaits a true dominator. Till then, lets enjoy this sort of back-n-forthing.”

    • Caught this on my way out the door. Thanks for the link to the Samir Chopra blog — good stuff. As to the other, will pick up the thread when I return to base, most likely Monday morning



  8. The SA series is SA is not just about SA bowlers versus Indian batters. It will also about our fast bowling versus their batsmen. On current performance, if Zaheer Khan is not available for the series, we are in deep shit. Ishant has been doing a great impression of Steve Harmisson in his decline and Sreesanth is blow hot blow cold. Theresthave just not been given the chance. I hope the Zim tour is used to blood some young pacers.

    On Jadeja, it is best not to comment considering that we just do notknow the full story. The chap has been picked for the ODIs which means that his franchise is the one that has a problem, not the BCCI. Though this could be untrue.

    Regarding the broadcast issue, Modi had tweeted earlier that the problem was between SET Max and the NBA. He might not be telling the truth. But still.

    While on Modi’s tweeting, the man has ambitious plans. Wants to screen the IPL in HD and 3D. If he manages it, more power to him.

    • when thinking of upcoming SA vs India in light of the recent series, a point comes to my mind: we did not prepare any delivish spinning track for SA. We prepared very good tracks with no particular home advantage. Now, there is every probability that we will go down in the upcoming series if played in fast tracks, and people will start screaming India reached No1 by fluke. Which, to my eyes, is sheer hypocrisy.

      The only way India can get out of jail in SA is: 3 out of our top 6 should fire- and fire brilliantly- in every innings, thereby ensuring we dont lose. In one test where our bowlers get rid of 20 SA wickets, we can win that test.

      • On fast track, iit is difficult to play long innings consistently. Traditionally, Test tracks there are really inviting for express bowling. We do not have one. Big trouble. South Africa will reamin the Indian “final frontier” as far as I am concerned till the time we have at least one 150+kmph. bowler with a 140+kmph. bowler to back up. Till then we can only hope for a freak of nature bowling performance to win one Test or another(eg. Shreesanth last time).

        • The last time South Africa prepared a green top for India they were the ones at the receiving end of a mauling. I don’t have any problem with whatever pitch they roll out, we have the batsmen and bowlers to cope with it. It’s only the fielding that worries me.

  9. Prem:

    Actually I want to know if Jayaditya Gupta knows anything more about this that is making him find fault with Jadeja.

    See, first thing I heard, when the news got out that he got banned, Cricinfo quoted a letter from Jadeja where he said he had no news from RR about contract extension and so he talked to another team. So as you said, he was technically a “free agent” after Dec 31st. So why the ban? When I tweeted this question directly to Lalit Modi, he tweeted back with a “he knows what he did”, basically implying that Jadeja was lying.
    So the ban (going by Modi’s reaction) rests on the implication that Jadeja was negotiating even before his contract ended. Even then, does that give enough reason for the league’s governing council’s intervention? I would think it’s a franchise vs player issue.
    Btw which is this team that Jadeja negotiated with? Lalit Modi wouldnt answer this question from me. If this other team negotiated with Jadeja, it should be penalized too, no? Unless this team was approached and it immediately went crying to Daddy Modi not knowing how to react to such an approach.
    What disturbs me is that Modi & the IPL want to ape the American model to run a league without several key working components – sound contracts, free agency, a semblance of TRANSPERANCY & player representation. And about that garish auction, lesser said the better. But then this is nothing new. Anything the BCCI has gotten involved with has been done without transparency or accountability.

    • I’ll try and ping Jayaditya and see what lies hidden behind the scenes here. My comments were based on what is in the public domain — to wit, that Jadeja does not have a contract, hence he is technically a free agent, and it is no business of the IPL to restrict his fair attempts to make a living.

      I agree with the last para — the IPL, if it wants to sit in judgment, needs to be totally transparent about the rules and regulations it supposedly enforces; the trouble with the IPL is it is taking the BCCI model to a whole other level, where you first take an action, and then retrospectively “frame guidelines” to suit whatever it is you decided to do.

      • Prem: If Jadeja talked to another team while still on contract with RR, he deserved to get punished. However whether it merited this ban, I dont know. May be said contract had those terms. We may never know.
        I think for the IPL model to work, players need representation. This is too much control in the hands of the league. And to be honest, I think Lalit Modi knows this too, but is happy right now because the stakes loaded on his side.
        I’m going to keep tweeting repeatedly to Lalit Modi and see if he responds.
        And oh, on an unrelated personal note, would you know what’s up with CSK & the MAC Stadium in Chennai? Someone told me that the stadium is still not ready. And CSK is the only IPL team whose tickets are still not available for sale. You know anything?

        • Actually, why cant Jadeja _talk_ to another franchise? You dont wait until you are fired or until after your last day to talk to another company if you are employed. Why should it be any different with Jadeja?

          I for one, dont really understand what the man did wrong. His contract is expiring, RR has not renewed it, he talks to other interested parties. Where is the harm? There is no conflict of interest as there are no games going on in the period.

          so, unless there is some kind of match-fixing hanky-panky, there is no crime known in the public domain that the punishment fits.

  10. Prem, with all due respect to your argument, I have to side with Bhajji on this particular one. He failed in Nagpur, and he rightly deserves CRITICISM, not being callled “IDIOT”. I thought that was the point Bhajji was making.

    And when it comes to criticism related to Sports, there is one thing to keep in mind: that sportsmen are bound to fail, that too frequently. It is part of their job. Please do not compare it with a routine job with no competition. You can have some excuse for not bringing out with the “best” writing. But you cannot have any excuse for writing sheer trash. But if I am a sportsman, I compete with other guys. Even if I am trying my best, I could still be taken to cleaners on a given day. A media, covering a sporting event, should show that basic awareness about Sports. Frankly, I do not see that awareness. They behave as if India SHOULD win if they play well. That is a very wrong proposition. A lot has been written about Indian batting after Steyn’s masterpiece in Nagpur (Even you joined the chorus). But I do not think that most of those people took a second to put things in persepective- that is was an incredible bowling performance, and if that happens, the batting obviously fails. When the sporting media prepare reports that does not include this very basic idea of sports, yes, sportsmen have every right to complain. Bhajji was not incorrect. He might not have philosophized about it. But he is not an orator or philosoper, is he? But media guys should philosophize based on what he says and understand what exactly he meant, because that is their job.

    • I’m not justifying that kind of over the top commentary, mate. Merely pointing out that at this level, he needs to learn to take — and where justified, accept — criticism.

      I’m not even aware of which idiot channel went with the 3 idiots meme.

      The other point, about say when I am writing I have no competition — you think? But that is a debate for another day, when more time affords. Will ping you.

      • When i talked of competition, I meant the direct I WIN-YOU LOSE type of competition. In most of the other professions,including writing, I dont think competition rises to that level. There is pressure to perform better. But I dont think we can compare that with the competition in sports.

      • So, who is going to ask the media to shut up? I dont see a problem with Bhajji doing that. At least he is the interested party, isnt he? In the end of the sequence of events:

        Bhajji underperforms-gets two slaps on the face when one was enough. Bhajji performs- and gives back two slaps when one was enough.

        It is fair play, isnt it?

        • Sorry…my comment above is in response to the above conversation! 🙂

          I would lean towards Jazzy’s point on this one. We have a way over the top, sensationalist media who’s sole claim to fame is non-stop diatribe or hype. The affected party has a right and should give back as good as it gets, especially when the opportunity presents itself. Sure Bhajji should learn to take and accept criticism; so why should the media not be able to do that? He was clearly reacting to the over the top stuff. What’s sauce for the goose…

          • I wouldn’t have a problem with Harbhajan’s rant if he doesn’t milk the media when he is doing well. If he has a problem with them calling him an Idiot, he should also object to them going overboard with his praises when he is doing well. If he doesn’t do that, I’m sorry but he doesn’t have a leg to stand on no matter how insanely irritating all these news channels have become.

            • mahek, thats human character, right? who doesnt milk opportunities if someone else provides it? at the same time the same human does not tolerate any wrong-doing from the same party…lets not expect our cricketers to be some sages in himalayas…

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