Enter title here

If I wrote a book titled Lover in the Lords, will you guys buy 100s of copies and make me so rich I don’t have to write any more? Or how about The Seventh Game?

Still no? Okay I give up — here, use this and come up with a title for a book you will buy — the objective is to make me rich, like my friends Amit Varma, Sidin Vadakut et al, and I really don’t want to sweat the details.

On a related note, play free association: I’ll give you a book title, you tell me what you think it is about. Ready? Go:

Be Bold With Bananas [I found that one here]

Or how about this:

Games You Can Play with Your Pussy [here. Now go wash your mind out with soap. And then check out the whole list. Much fun.]

Okay, enough random nonsense — a more productive use of your time is this piece by one of my favorite bloggers on books and writing: Sanjay Sipahimalani, on Y! Opinions, on books and their titles. Enjoy.

Update: Found this thanks to Ashish, in comments: a blog on how books got their titles. Fascinating stuff.

The TGIF cricket clips

#1. Today marks the start of a ‘series’ I have no intention of watching. A bunch of cricketers who have lately been exposed against speed, swing and bounce get to fill their boots with free runs against arguably the slowest attack in world cricket — I’ll take a pass, thanks.

You can make a case for why Zimbabwe cricket needs a leg up [while on that, a segue — as Dhananjay pointed out to me on my Twitter stream, stories such as this one about Harbhajan Singh helping Zimbabwe cricketers out with basic equipment merit fair amounts of play in the media — but won’t get it, because there is no ‘controversy’ here, of the kind that kept the ‘brawl in a night club’ story on the front pages and on TV for days on end].

But that said, I’m not convinced that the board should have shoe-horned this series into its calendar — or even that such tours are in fact the best way to help Zimbabwe. From the Indian point of view, the players have just gone through the IPL and the World Cup, back to back. Almost all the players have during this phase exposed deficiencies in technique and skill sets, and underlined fitness concerns. The down time was an ideal opportunity for the board to work with the coach on ways to bring the players back up to speed, and for the coach to work on individual players to iron out their particular problems.

Harsha makes the point well in his latest column on Cricinfo.

That is why this series against Zimbabwe, though it seems to give young players an opportunity, isn’t the best idea. Yusuf Pathan, for example, would have done well to work on batting against the short-pitched ball, which is so clearly going to block his international career. Suresh Raina, who has much more going for him, could have worked on a similar theme to try and earn the Test place that seems so distant at the moment. And Rohit Sharma could have worked on trimming a few inches off his middle – but more on that later.

While discussing Rohit, Harsha makes the tangential point about the need for mentoring. Earlier this week Suresh Menon, another cricket writer I follow regularly, made that point the centerpiece of his latest column.

This is not to suggest that all players are saints, merely to point out the range of problems that confronts them.  India have been fortunate in recent years to have had quality players and men of the stature of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman, Anil Kumble as the backbone of the team. We have been spoiled by their immaculate behaviour on and off the field, and have forgotten how pressure can get to a player. There has been no need for a psychologist or mentor outside of the playing group.

Now thanks to the IPL and the opportunities it provides, players are coming into the Indian team incompletely educated, and with their ideas skewed by the money they make. While a professional coach with the requisite certificate can handle the cricketing problems on the field, it takes a special kind of professional to instruct players on how to handle themselves off the field. Perhaps the time has come to put players through a finishing school before they are qualified to play for India.

Here, to round things off, is an earlier post on mentors. What strikes me, not for the first time, as most remarkable is how much sense there is in the domain of the commentariat — and how little there is within the BCCI.

#2. The battle over John Howard’s [the ultimate cricket tragic, a Cricinfo profile earlier this year had dubbed him as] appointment as the next chief of the ICC becomes more amusing by the minute — and there is nothing quite as risible as India’s explanation for its opposition: apparently the board, with Sharad Pawar wearing his hat as the ICC head beginning July playing point man, says it does not want yet another politician heading cricket. Distinctly duh! Sri Lanka’s opposition is easier to explain — Howard, going beyond his then brief as Australia’s prime minister, was caustic on the subject of Muthaiah Muralitharan way back when; for the Lankan board, this is long-delayed payback. Peter Roebuck is scathing on the subject:

Make no mistake, the case against Howard is as dishonest as it is inconsistent. A board that welcomed Percy Sonn, who declared the 2003 Zimbabwe election free and fair though he knew it was a lie, thereby condemning Zimbabweans to years of torment; a board that accepted Ray Mali, whose co-operation with the apartheid government was exposed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; a board that listens to Peter Chingoka and Ozias Bute, apologists for evil in Zimbabwe, is poorly placed to turn its back on Jack the Ripper, let alone a former PM and cricket fanatic.

The cricket boards of India, South Africa and Zimbabwe are leading the campaign to prevent the antipodean nominee taking up his position. Their reasons are different and mostly false. India says that it does not want another politician to become involved in the game, let alone one as contentious as Howard. India’s real reason is that they fear Howard’s strength and skills and resent his high-handed conduct in the ongoing debate about uranium exports. After decades watching the West run the game, they intend to retain complete control. No less pertinently, they have always been backed by the Zimbabweans and now return the favour.

Against that, Rick Eyre has been consistently blogging on Howard — and from that perspective, posts on why Australia needs to pull the plug on the candidacy, and that right quick.

John Winston Howard is clearly not going to be the unifying face of world cricket for the years 2012-2014 or any other years, and the numbers are shaping up against him. Time for Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket to go down to the corner bakery, buy the biggest humble pie in the shop, and come up with another candidate. Sir John Anderson, even.

Keep your eye on this story — if nothing else, the manufactured outrage from various quarters, and Australia’s possible reaction, promises considerable amusement for the rest of us. And ultimately, none of it matters — the ICC has in recent times become almost irrelevant to the conduct of the game, so why would we need to get worked up on the identity of its next chief?

#3. For more than one reason, this column by Mike Atherton should resonate with us. Check it out.

#4. Today is a Friday. Enough hard work — come chat cricket, live. 3.30-4.30 — here.

Do children get 72 virgins/raisins too?

Watch this:

Oh, and about the virgins? Here — fancy white raisins?

And a recent post in Slate about the female of the species. Bombers, I mean, not virgins.

10,000 hours

Imitation is the sincerest form of study

Way back, before I even knew for sure that writing was what I wanted to do for a living, a friend who was then editor for a feature section in the Indian Express, based in Madras, interrupted a random crib about a badly written newspaper story with a suggestion: “You think you can do better? Try it!”

At her prodding, I spent a couple of hours trying to figure out just what was wrong with the story, and then rewriting it. She took my effort, ripped it — deservedly — to bits, and left me with a suggestion: ‘Everyday, try rewriting one news story, one editorial piece, one sports story, and one of some other type.’

The exercise was a drag, to start with. But comes a time when the process begins to fascinate you — looking under the hood of the piece to see what makes it tick, separating fact from hype and hyperbole, then figuring out how best to present those facts, crafting the piece so it has structure and style, so that each thought leads seamlessly from the previous one and sets up the next, each graf is a natural successor to the previous one…

Typically, I did this late at night while the house was asleep, laboring for three, four hours each day and, once a week, presenting my friend [I mentioned her by name once, in a blog post, and got an earful, so I’ll leave her unnamed here] with the results for her critiques.

She also gave me another valuable — and ultimately, time consuming — bit of advice. When you come across a passage that particularly appeals to you, she said, try copying it out in long hand. The point, according to her, was that writing out great passages helped you absorb a sense of the rhythms and styles of writing; over time, they’d become part of muscle memory.

I was skeptical. She was not amused. Have you, she asked me then, ever visited an art gallery? Have you seen budding artists sitting in front of great paintings, and painstakingly copying them? Why do you suppose they do that? Because the process teaches you about strokes, textures, techniques of the masters — and over time, such exercises help make these techniques an integral part of your own skills.

It didn’t make sense at the time, but I did it anyway. [It was fairly hard to refuse my friend — she had the habit of asking what passages I had liked enough to copy down, lately]. And in time, as journalism went from being a vague notion to a dream to my profession, I realized the value of her advice.

I was reminded of all this by Amit Varma’s latest column: “Give me 10,000 hours.”

Natural talent alone isn’t enough to make you good. You have to work damn hard, and practice damn hard. Some researchers have even put a number to how many hours of practice you need to achieve excellence: 10,000 hours.

Go read. [And if you are, like me, clueless when it comes to all things money, check out Deepak Shenoy’s latest].

Another visual, to drive home the message 🙂 And a song, to round it all off.

10,000 hours... and more

M for minefield

I’ve never seen a real live minefield. Until now.

Lalit Modi’s central demand, that the BCCI president and secretary recuse themselves from the disciplinary hearing, is easily handled by the BCCI — its constitution provides for the composition of the hearing committee, and the president and secretary are on it [the secretary is in fact the convenor of said committee]. There is no provision constitutionally for such recusal, and that is the push back you can expect from the board.

The real problem for the board is the multiple land mines Modi has strewn throughout his 14-page email. As under:

Manohar, Modi alleges, was responsible for the controversial decision to scrap the initial opening of tenders for the franchises and went out of his way to entertain former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and accept the Kochi bid much after the lapse of deadline.

He denies the allegation that he tried rigging the bids in favour of two business houses for the two new teams added for the fourth edition of the IPL; instead he claims the bids were processed and vetted by the board’s corporate lawyers and counsel Akhila Kaushik, appointed on Manohar’s recommendation.

That Manohar was responsible for scrapping the initial bidding is no secret. He had said so himself, alleging that the process was flawed. The problem for him is Modi’s push back that the clauses were vetted by no less than a lawyer who was once Manohar’s father’s junior, and a good family friend who the board president recommended for the BCCI job. Again, no surprise — the board routinely treats various well-paying positions within its structure as Christmas goodies to be handed out to favored friends. But if Kaushik was involved in the initial bid process, it’s going to be damnably difficult for Manohar.

What is really interesting is Modi’s diabolical mud-slinging ability. Note that Modi has conflated two events into one. The first was the aborted bidding process for the auction, replete with highly restrictive clauses — a process he personally stage-managed. The second is the final auction, which saw Kochi and Pune walking away with the winning bids — a process that had BCCI oversight, with Kaushik as part of the team. What Modi has done is cleverly created the impression that Kaushik, and through her Manohar, had somehow been part of the original flawed process, and that it was the board president, not Modi, who was responsible for the restrictive clauses in the first instance.

He claims Manohar was party to the decision fixing the net worth of the bidder at $1 billion and that he discussed the issue of deposit also with him at the Governing Council meeting on March 7 and got his approval.

Nice exercise in twisting facts around, this. The impression conveyed is that Manohar had discussed all details of the bid process with Modi. What is camouflaged is the actual sequence of events: March 7 was a Sunday. It was the date originally scheduled for the auction. That morning, Manohar insisted that he be shown all the relevant paperwork — which Modi had kept to himself till then. At that point, the board president discovered some of the more prohibitive clauses inserted into the tender document.

[For instance, the requirement that bidders had to establish their net worth at $1 billion — a clause that did not apply during the first IPL auction; also the clause that bidders had to give an advance guarantee of $100 million and a rolling bank guarantee for the total sum of the winning bid. Note that if both clauses had been operational during the first IPL bidding, neither KXIP nor Rajasthan Royals would have gone to consortiums that included Modi’s relatives, as both those franchises were in no position to comply with those terms].

So, painting by numbers: Manohar saw the clauses on March 7 morning and blew the whistle on the auction at the last moment. Modi today twists that around and says the auction details were “discussed” on March 7 — to convey the impression that all of this had the board’s official imprimatur.

Modi has brought up the issue of the controversial IPL TV contract with Sony and MSM, claiming that Manohar was aware of the termination last year of the contract with Sony and the subsequent litigation and eventual settlement. The litigation process was, he claims, supervised by Akhila Kaushik, “who reports directly to you”.

Another classic instance of facts being used to convey a contrary impression. The sequence: Modi finagled the abrupt cancellation of the Sony contract. When Sony threatened court action, the board got into it. At that point Shashank Manohar, then the president in waiting serving under Pawar, was given the onus of sorting the issue out. He did just that — with Kaushik being one of the fronting lawyers in the process.

The impression conveyed in the Modi email, however, is that Manohar is somehow complicit in the shady dealing that saw Sony abruptly deprived of the rights it had won in a lawful bidding process. Nice. Also, typical.

It is where the role of Srinivasan is concerned that Modi is on a firmer wicket.

Among the charges levied, Modi said he had “sufficient cause to apprehend bias” on Srinivasan’s part and that he had “consistently frustrated and exposed his attempts at misusing his position as Honorary Secretary of the Board, so as to confer a wrongful benefit to his team at the cost and expense of other teams and the BCCI.”

Modi alleged that Srinivasan had tried to “alter or propose panel of umpires” officiating in the IPL matches and had circulated an email “directing a panel of umpires handpicked by him”. He claimed Srinivasan had attempted to ensure umpires from Chennai or Tamil Nadu stood in his team’s matches.

Another charge Modi made against Srinivasan was that he had “consistently pushed tailor-made policies” intended to benefit the Chennai franchise. In support of this charge, Modi cited the proposal of franchises retaining seven players (four Indian, three foreign) for the 2011 season and beyond. Modi’s reply to the show cause says Srinivasan tried to get franchises to agree to the proposal and that the “only reason for doing so was to ensure that Chennai Super King retained its players.”

Modi also alleged that Srinivasan had tried to ensure Kieron Pollard, who was bought by Mumbai Indians during a silent tiebreaker in the 2010 auction, could not play “by raising some frivolous issues with the West Indian Cricket Board.” Modi termed Srinivasan’s action a “brazen act of abuse of power”.

He claimed Srinivasan had used his power to “alter the auction rules” so that Chennai’s purse would be $2 million as opposed to the $1.85 million that was mentioned prior to the auction. “Despite my opposition he used his clout as secretary to pressure the management to accept back-dated player contracts and cancel the contracts of one of his players so that he could have his full purse and thereby have an advantage in the bidding process vis-a-vis other teams.”

The first charge, about getting TN based umpires to officiate in matches involving the side, could potentially raise the whiff of match-fixing, if there is in fact an email trail detailing that charge.

The second, about the retention of players, is clever use of facts to convey an entirely different impression. When the proposal for adding two teams to IPL season 4 came up, Modi initially proposed that at the end of season 3, all players would go back into the common pool — a nice trick to have a massive auction all over again, and mop up incremental revenues. The franchises, without exception, pushed back. Their argument was that the only real value they had, besides the ownership of the team name, was the brand building they had done around various players. To lose that, the franchises argued, would defeat the purpose behind the whole franchise model. At that point, the board fronted by Srinivasan, with Modi a party to the negotiations, attempted to arrive at a via media, and after much deliberation hit on the 7-player retention idea.

What Modi does here is create the impression that somehow, Srinivasan pushed through a model that was intended to benefit CSK in particular. How? Is it anyone’s argument that Mumbai, for instance, would have been totally happy tossing its players, including Tendulkar, back into the pool?

On the last two — the Keiron Pollard issue and the bit about altering auction rules — I personally have no clue what exactly happened; how this develops, once Srinivasan responds, will be interesting to watch.

Overall, the email accomplishes one purpose: it signals that Modi is officially done playing defense, and that going forward the play is to sling lots of mud in lots of directions, in particular targeting the vulnerabilities of his chief opponents within the BCCI. The message clearly is: either you let me off the hook, or I wrap my arms tight around the pair of you and take you down with me.

PS: More bits of the email are quoted in this HT article. More links, when I am done with a day’s worth of meetings and am back at my desk.

#2: Ruchir Modi, Lalit’s son, gets an alcohol bath.

Cricket clips

#1 With Sahara now becoming a franchise owner, the BCCI has a bit of a problem on its hands. Or rather, an existing problem got escalated:

The board’s existing sponsorship deal with the Sahara Group ends on June 30. Sahara originally won the right to sponsor the Indian cricket team for a period of four years beginning in December 2005 for Rs 400 crore. But the BCCI was unable to find a new sponsor last year, failing to attract even a single bid. So Sahara agreed to continue its sponsorship of the team for an additional six months on the same terms.

That said, indications are the BCCI has learnt nothing from the recent auction fiasco involving the IPL. Check this out:

According to PTI, the bid document is available for a non-refundable fee of Rs. 5 lakh. The notice requires all bidders to satisfy the eligibility criteria laid down by the board, which has also reserved the right to “cancel or amend the entire bidding process at any stage and to reject any and/or all bids without providing any reasons, including calling for a re-tender.”

In other words, I get to shell out Rs 5 lakh for the privilege of bidding to sponsor the Indian team — and that money is non-refundable. I have to satisfy certain criteria — and I don’t know what they are until I shell out said five lakh and get the bid document in my hands. And after I go through this entire process, the BCCI might decide to scrap the entire process “without providing any reason”, which is a nice clause to have if you intend to manipulate the process to favor any one particular party.

And to think it is Shashank Manohar and N Srinivasan, the architects of this process, who are the most vocal when it comes to complaining about the IPL and Modi’s idiosyncratic ways of running things.

#2. In a Rohit Mahajan piece in Outlook, spotted this bit: when India was knocked out in the league stage of the last ODI World Cup, former captains waxed indignant about player endorsements and demanded that it be capped. The BCCI promptly — and unilaterally — issued an edict restricting player endorsements. When then captain Rahul Dravid — prefacing his remarks with the usual diplomatic language about there being no conflict between the board and the players — suggested that the issue was best resolved through dialogue, Shashank Manohar responded thus:

“I do not think there is any scope for rethinking on the endorsement policy already announced,” Manohar told PTI. “The rules and conditions are set. A player may or may not accept [them] but it is not a problem of the BCCI.”

Manohar dismissed suggestions that the board’s decisions could be questioned in the court of law because they infringed on the players’ right to earn.

“Nothing will happen in the court because the players are not models,” said Manohar. “If they want to play for the board and India, the board is putting conditions. You may or may not accept them. If a player is not willing to sign the contract and uphold the conditions of the contract, it amounts to saying that he is not willing to play for India.”

Manohar said there was no question of the board having a dialogue with the players’ agents who have come out strongly against its decisions. “Who are the managing agents when it comes to the board. We don’t even recognise them. When we recognise the players, why should we talk to the agents.”

Consider the sum of those statements: The Board won’t talk to the players because there is nothing to discuss — we have decided, you can take it or do the other thing. The Board won’t talk to players’ agents, because it is talking to the players [to whom it is not talking]. If a player wants to play for “the board and India”, he can do what we tell him to. Or else.

That response is indicative of the ‘tail wags dog’ arrogance that permeates all levels of the BCCI, from the top down. [Note that around the same time, the BCCI “brushed aside” Dravid’s concern that the team was being over-scheduled — a frequently voiced concern, that has as frequently been ignored by the board, up to and including the latest T20 WC fiasco].

Back to Mahajan’s Outlook piece — in which he makes the point that while India’s performance in the latest world level competition was equally disastrous, the once combative captains who demanded caps on player endorsements have been suspiciously silent. He tells you why:

Thus, three years after that noble effort to create practice time for players, India again travels to the West Indies, this time for the Twenty20 World Cup. The team is jaded—45 days of non-stop play, travel and party for IPL-3 has taken its toll. However, this time around, six of the seven ex-captains are silent. Three of them—Sunil Gavaskar, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and Ravi Shastri—are massively compensated members of the IPL. A fourth, K. Srikkanth, is the (paid) chief selector and also brand ambassador of the winning IPL team, the Chennai Super Kings. S. Venkatraghavan is the director of BCCI’s umpires’ committee. Kapil Dev has spoken, but perhaps only because he hasn’t been part of the BCCI structure (since 2007), penalised for floating the Indian Cricket League. Wonder why Chandu Borde remains silent? Perhaps to show his gratitude to the BCCI for the stray crumbs that fall his way—he was the manager of the team on the tour of England in 2007. The seven also spoke then, and are now silent, because silence is what the BCCI now wants of them.

So when captain M.S. Dhoni says that the IPL parties were detrimental to the Indian team’s interests, we had Gavaskar, not surprisingly, countering: “Tell me one thing, there were no parties in the West Indies, were there? So how can you say that the team performed badly in the Caribbean because of parties in India.”

In passing, the point about Srikkanth is particularly interesting. Check out what Manohar, with trademark arrogance, had said when the Board decided that players couldn’t sign endorsement contracts without first getting permission from the BCCI:

He also defended the board’s decision to ask the players to seek its permission before signing an endorsement contract. “We do not want to know the players’ figures [of earnings from their personal endorsements]. This is mainly to investigate whether there is any clause that conflicts with the interests of the game or the board or the ICC. We have every right to scrutinise the contracts.”

It’s a wonder the words “conflict of interest” come trippingly on the BCCI honcho’s tongue, no? Also note how easily the board abrogates to itself the right to scrutinize private contracts between players and their sponsors — while the same board and indeed, the same Manohar, was responsible for inserting into IPL guidelines the clause that contracts between the franchises and the IPL could not be subjected to public scrutiny.

#3. Worth a read, one of the more balanced pieces to have come out of the aftermath of the IPL fiasco — from Sharda Ugra.

Thoughts? Comments? Oh, and by the way, will be live today on the Yorker show, 3.30-4.30 PM IST. Link on Twitter, as soon as it is ready.