Hyderabadi what-the-eff-was-that-again?

Not to be crude, but I can think of two reasons why this girl…

Debina Bonnerjee

… has been picked to play this girl in a film titled, hold your breath, Hyderabadi Daamaad:

Sania Mirza

I can’t, however, think of even one reason why Sania’s stop-start tennis career and ho-hum marriage to a Pakistani cricketer who has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons is even worth a movie. Oh, and while on the happy couple, this line in a recent report provokes a chuckle:

Dubai is a neutral venue for both of them.

Eye browse

A random collection of essential reading matter:

#1. I used to think Groucho Marx’s letter to Warner Brothers was the gold standard for laugh out loud letter writing — till I chanced on David Thorne’s efforts. This weekend, I had occasion to add another name to the list — Aadisht Khanna, who was kind enough to cc me on a series of responses to people who had written in to him about his last column, on fighting the Love Jihad. Checked my email at what was not perhaps the best time to laugh out loud, and as a result got, from family members, some harsh words for inappropriate laughter. I’m hoping Aadisht will, one of these days, create a column or blog post around those who mail him, and his responses. In the meantime, here’s his latest: a treatise on how Lalit Modi, Amitabh Bachchan, Deepak Chopra and others can help save the Indian tiger. If laughter is the best medicine, AK is rapidly becoming my go-to physician.

#2. Another favorite columnist, Girish Sahane [the fact that many of my favorite writers are now doing columns for Yahoo is not exactly a coincidence], is insightful on the recent equation of homeopathy with witchcraft, which prompted several people and entities in India to go off like so many misguided missiles.

#3. Following on from the earlier post on Vinay Kumar and the BCCI’s chronic inability to manage its product better, here’s Gideon Haigh, with a good read on the subject.

The dearth is not simply of up-to-date information but of meaningful analysis, and not merely of how money is being raised but how it is being allocated. Indian observers are transfixed by the aforementioned $4.13 billion valuation ascribed to IPL by Brand Finance, a figure almost entirely meaningless: because the IPL is not for sale, the value is unrealisable. They remain perversely incurious about how the BCCI spends its vast resources. During their dispute with the Indian board in January, India’s taxation authorities came up with a figure of mysterious provenance but extraordinary implications: on the actual promotion of Indian cricket, the BCCI spends just 8% of revenues. Never mind Lalit Modi – why is this not a scandal?

#4. Chris Gayle sends Suleiman Benn off to the doghouse. The reason why, is brilliant — and an object lesson for other captains:

“I actually asked him to leave the field,’ Gayle told reporters after the game. “As a captain, it was a situation like you ask a particular bowler to do it and he said he never done certain things before. That why you have practice sessions, to practice. I asked him to simply bowl over the wicket. I don’t see why it should be a problem.

“He wasn’t up for it and if you’re not up for it, why give that particular bowler the ball. I just see it that he [Benn] doesn’t want to take part. It was my call to actually ask him to leave and tell him that he is not needed anymore.”

#5. Curioser and curioser: India apparently arm-twisted Sri Lanka into opposing the nomination of John Howard as the next ICC president. Speculating on the basis of a speculative story is bad policy, but still: how did this go? India opposed; India got those over whom it has some influence to oppose [where would Sri Lankan cricket be without these once a week ‘tournaments’ with India?]; India then had a meeting with Howard; India withdrew its opposition? Now I am even more curious to know what the quid pro quo was.

#6. And while on Howard, a good post by ‘achettup’ that basically poses the question: what the fuck does it matter anyway?

It isn’t as some believe, that he truly is the best man for the job. And it isn’t that he will be Test Cricket’s savior, the readiness of the board to jump into bed with the BCCI over the Champions League should tell you all you need to know about that. Nor is it that he will give a strong voice to Australia’s (once again, NZ’s concerns can be, urm…, well reviewed a little later) interests and counteract the increasingly powerful Asian bloc – I doubt anybody can make a significant impact on that, though there is no doubt that this is one of the reasons Howard has been selected. The real reason is that this is Cricket Australia’s rather lame effort to assert themselves on the international scene by taking a bold and provocative stand. It will win them no friends, renew enmity once dead with certain boards and eventually all they would have engineered is a nice fall flat on their face.

As mentioned before, I don’t honestly see what danger Howard would bring to the most dysfunctional of sporting bodies, the ICC, or for that matter how much his predecessor Sharad Pawar could either. If it were up to me, politicians would be kept a few astronomical units away from cricket administration, but all that said, when was the last time an ICC CEO made any real impact on the sport, positive or negative? And since when has the ICC not been torn by some rift or the other and the formation of these retarded blocs opposing each other for a variety of political reasons. And to be honest I’m sick of hearing about these bungling has-beens and their desperate efforts to grab the limelight. If the game was meant to be about the administrators there would have been deliberate efforts to make their actions more entertaining. Like in the IPL.

More reading matter, as and when I stumble on them. Found any interesting links? Cricket, or anything else at all? Please to share.

It’s the schedule, stupid

There were 12 teams at the World Twenty20. Eleven of them reached the West Indies in advance. They attempted to acclimatise to the time zone, the pitches, the light – the Caribbean morning glare so different from floodlit Indian nights. They played two warm-up games, tested combinations, and did whatever it is that teams do to gee themselves up before a big event. Do guess the missing side.

The Indians were unavailable for this most elementary of pre-tournament disciplines because their entire team, as opposed to a few players, was in the IPL. It is one thing for Australia or England to absorb Cameron White or Kevin Pietersen into their set-ups, which work on in their absence, quite another for India, which cannot run at all.

There was nothing unforeseen about this situation. Gary Kirsten, a good and sensible coach, raised these issues after the debacle of the last World Twenty20. He was told to shut up. Nor were the World Twenty20 dates a surprise. They were announced last July. The Indian board, learning from the last time, ought to have done everything in its power to free its cricketers a fortnight ahead. Four days they granted. It takes 24 hours to reach the West Indies.

Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri claim that their remit on the IPL governing council is over cricketing matters, and yet they ratified a schedule like this. Shameless. No less hypocritical are the reactions of the commentators who are besides themselves when India fits in just the one first-class game on a tour to Australia.

A must-read column by Rahul Bhattacharya.

Those who must read it include the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, who was quick to rubbish MS Dhoni’s use of the IPL schedule as an ‘excuse’ for India’s poor performance at the world level  but forgot to mention that he is a paid apologist for the BCCI and the IPL; Virender Sehwag, who put his shoulder out during the IPL but maintained that the private league was great preparation for the World Cup; and even the likes of Yusuf Pathan, who failed to figure out that hitting DLF Maximums over considerably shortened boundaries and playing the best innings Shane Warne has ever seen in his life wouldn’t be of much use when it came to the world stage.

On similar lines, also read this column:

Coach Gary Kirsten’s dressing down of the team on their last day in St Lucia did not pertain to a new issue with the team. “While everybody is talking about lack of fitness now, I brought to the team management’s notice the fitness problem – not only with bowlers, but the team as a whole – last year,” says Venkatesh Prasad, India’s former bowling coach who was sacked last October, no reasons given. “It wasn’t taken in the right spirit.” Kirsten’s complaints last year weren’t taken in the right spirit either, and he was subsequently gagged.

Something similar, only much more damning, can be said of some of the batsmen’s troubles against short-pitched bowling.

“Everyone is now talking about how this started about 10 months ago,” says a current India player. “Four or five years earlier, when they first came into international cricket, even then they needed to work on the short ball. You need to practise it in the nets, facing bouncers and getting good people to bowl at you. But they don’t like facing bouncers and are upset about it.”

Walking wounded

Vinay Kumar has injured his knee and will take no further part in whatever-the-hell cup it is we are playing for in Zimbabwe.

Do we care? No — why would we? There is always Abhimanyu Mithun to whistle up. And if — make that when — Mithun injures some body part, there is always someone else in line. It is not for nothing that we are a nation of a billion-plus people, no?

This morning, there was a news report that authorities at Mangalore airport have ordered that the runway be extended by another 1000 feet. It took what, 170 deaths and many times that number of human tragedies for wisdom to dawn?

By the same token, how many more iterations of this storyline will it take before we realize that the support structure of our cricket is flawed? That the lack of a proper nursery for emerging talent is the single reason our bowlers have less shelf life than fresh milk?

It’s like Mangalore airport, in a way. The length — or lack thereof — of the runway has been the subject of three separate PILs over the past few years, yet nothing got done. In a similar vein, when John Wright was coach of the national team, he worked on his own time to put together a presentation for the board that had a single, simple theme: bottom-up coaching.

John’s thesis, in sum, was this: In the current system, when a player enters the national ranks, two things happen. One, he is faced with a physical fitness regimen that is far tougher than anything he has previously undergone. And two, he is confronted with a workload far greater than anything domestic cricket has prepared him for. These two reasons working in tandem, Wright argued, was why Indian players tended to break down in their first season in international cricket.

The solution, John argued in his presentation, was to create a pyramidal coaching structure with the national coach at the apex. He asked that the BCCI appoint official — and qualified — coaches for each state association. These coaches would work in close concert with the national coach, to ensure that the fitness and coaching disciplines at the state level mirrored the national model. Thus, the argument went, players at the state level were already being physically prepared for national duty, as and when. Weaknesses, both skill-wise and physique-wise, would be identified at the state level, and corrected in time.

Below this second tier, John said, there needed to be coaches for the various school/college systems — and these coaches would work under, and report to, the state-level coaches. Their responsibility would be to ensure that schools and collegiate cricket, where talent is first spotted and nursed, would have proper oversight; talented young cricketers would have the benefit of coaching/physio expertise that would benefit them in two ways: bad skill would be spotted and corrected early [the time to spot a dodgy action is not after a player enters the national side and gets called, for instance] and their physical development would be planned and overseen, so that the emphasis on fitness is incorporated into their cricket from the youngest possible age.

It was a comprehensive presentation, replete not just with theory but with elaborate thoughts on implementation, and it was made by someone who really cared.

The BCCI’s executive committee of the time listened, nodded, spoke of studying the proposal in-depth, and allowed the proposal to gather dust.

Years later, it was the turn of Greg Chappell to make — to the accompaniment of considerable, and considerably misguided, media hype — a similar proposal. Like John, Chappell argued that team building could not happen at the national level. It had to start with schools and colleges, through the leagues and the state teams, with the really gifted players being brought to a peak at the national level, Chappell argued. And like John, Chappell presented an elaborate proposal for how all this could be accomplished. A board committee [including, ironically, Ravi Shastri the current head of the NCA] listened to the proposal, applauded, offered Chappell a post at the NCA, made statements to the media about how wonderful it all was and how it would herald a new era in Indian cricket.

And then promptly forgot all about it.

Between then and now, players have surfaced on our horizon; their ‘promise’ has been hyped; their early forays in the national ranks met with hosannas. And then, one by one, these players have dropped out. Batsmen have been found out to have imperfect techniques; bowlers have dropped off in pace and/or joined the increasing ranks of the walking wounded; fielders rated, on paper, among the best in the world have become fodder for humor.

And the vicious cycle continues: Vinay Kumar plays a hand in a domestic triumph and in the IPL, and is hyped. He enters the national ranks, plays a game, is found out, plays another game, and falls by the wayside clutching his knee. Enter Mithun. Pretty soon, exit Mithun. Enter <insert name of next hopeful here>. Rinse. Repeat.

If any industry handled its product the way the board handles its players, it would have gone bankrupt by now.

Howard’s End

Okay, all that talk about book titles earlier is directly responsible for the title of this piece.

More like Howard’s beginning: the news is that India is backing the former Aussie PM for the post of ICC chair, to succeed Sharad Pawar.

So now we can begin speculating on just what the quid pro quo is, here. More bilateral series between India and Australia? Australia’s support to push through a proposal for a defined IPL window? What?

Visit Gujarat before it disappears

Seriously. Check out the first name on the list.

Photo Center: Asia’s 25 Places to See Before They Disappear.