And the rest is silence

Going unnoticed in all the World Cup-related hype is the fact that another powerful franchise, the Royal Challengers, has added its weight to Mumbai Indians on the question of the last minute changes in IPL auction rules.

“I look forward to clarification from the IPL or response to Mumbai Indians letter. I have further gone on records to say that I wish there would be an inclusive process, where the franchise, the principal stakeholders, would also be given a greater consultative role in the entire IPL administration process.”

That is Vijay Mallya, expressing the hope that the IPL will in fact respond in some detail to the MI missive. To know how futile that hope is, read the letter in full — paying particular attention to the items a-j sought for per #6 in this note:

Hilarious, that wish-list. How in heck can there be agenda details, minutes etc for decisions that were made arbitrarily, with no reference to the governing council besides its usual post facto rubber-stamping duties?

While on that, said GC never seems to learn. When the Modi imbroglio hit the headlines and questions were asked about why the GC had not been more active in forestalling corruption, the response trotted out by worthies like Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri was that their brief was related to cricket and related matters alone; finances were not their concern. So here you go — an issue directly relating to the cricket, and the GC as always remains invisible. (Ironically Pataudi, who for a brief while won kudos for “introspecting” and suggesting that GC should have been more aware of what was going on, was in September 2010 retained on the Council alongside Ravi Shastri, who in contrast to his garrulous commentary avtaar has absolutely nothing to say about anything to do with his IPL governing council duties. Since his retention, there has been a scad of other controversies culminating in the murky doings around the January auction — and lo, Pataudi remains mute.)

Then again, the reasons for the GC’s inertia inadvertently came to light last year thanks to the mini-furor over Sunil Gavaskar being dropped from the Council, and the former India star in turn claiming that he had not been paid for his three years of turning a blind eye as a member of the GC. Remember how that argument went? Gavaskar said he was not paid; on behalf the board, N Srinivasan said of course he was paid. It turned out that both were right — the BCCI had paid Gavaskar what it was supposed to on paper, which is a sum of Rs 1 crore per IPL season; what Gavaskar was claiming was the larger sum “promised” by Sharad Pawar, in his capacity as then BCCI chief, for his “services”.

As is our way, the public debate at the time was all sound and fury, with both parties posturing for the media — but substance there was none. For instance — did anyone ask Pawar why he would pay Gavaskar a sum over and above that promised? What was that additional payment for, and what ‘service’ was Gavaskar supposed to render in return for that additional amount? Did anyone pose those same questions to Gavaskar, asking him to explain the sub rosa deal, and why he had agreed to accepting an undisclosed sum over and above the princely amount he was getting for doing the three monkeys act all in one go?

In a post earlier, I had argued that corruption to be eradicated or at least curtailed had to be tackled at source. On a related theme, read Gideon Haigh. And at the end, know this: this furor, too, shall pass. With no answers to the questions raised. The BCCI will sync up with the franchises behind the scenes, paper over the whole affair, and it will be back to business as usual — because that is the nature of this particular beast.

On a happier note, some good reading in the Outlook special issue on Sachin Tendulkar, now out on the stands. The roster of writers is excellent — the cream of the crop, really, from India and abroad. Buy it, savor it, keep it. In passing, my friend Krishna Prasad had called, asking if I was interested in contributing a piece to that special. Would have loved to — only, the call came at a particularly inopportune moment, with little or no mindspace to deliver what the subject required. In retrospect, of all the articles and blog posts on Sachin written over the years, I think the one I would have submitted for the special is this one — one of the last pieces I wrote for Rediff, as it turned out. My attitude today to Tendulkar the cricketer is what I tried to capture in this segment:

What does it say of Tendulkar that having raised the bar to impossible heights in 1998, he is able to effortlessly vault over it 11 years later?

We have for the space of two decades repeatedly witnessed the alchemy of genius effortlessly convert the impossible into the seemingly inevitable.

Do we, then, treasure each such glimpse of divinity in and of itself, painstakingly weaving them into the Tendulkar mythos and marvelling at our fortune that we were eye-witness to events that will provide grist for a generation of sports balladeers to come? And in the process of thus celebrating the genius, do we refrain from questioning the mortal who, in the lengthening interregnums between individual outbreaks of brilliance, needs the deeds of the past to justify his presence in the present?

Perhaps there is no pat answer to the conundrum. Writing in Mint, Dileep Premachandran quotes Mathew Hayden as saying: “When Tendulkar goes out to bat, it is beyond chaos — it is a frantic appeal by a nation to one man.”

Maybe we should just stop parsing the numbers; maybe we should be grateful that every once in a while, Tendulkar hears that appeal, and responds as only he can.

In passing, another good read — Wasim Akram on the art of pace bowling.

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Too rich even for MI?

Didn’t take long for the prediction made yesterday, with ref the Eden Gardens losing out on its marquee WC match, to come true now did it? Kolkata was waiting to happen; a couple of Sri Lankan venues, and the Wankhede in Bombay, got away by the skin of their collective teeth or this fiasco could have been much worse.

The real WTF element to this was provided by the BCCI president. In the past, I’ve lamented that Shashank Manohar has little or nothing to say for himself or for the organization he heads, leaving all the talking — and doing — to his successor in waiting N Srinivasan. Judging by Manohar’s latest attempt at articulating a position, I’ll withdraw that crib — it is far better for all of us if he just kept his mouth shut. Here’s his latest sally:

BCCI president Shashank Manohar has said that the Indian board cannot be blamed for the events that led to the shifting of the World Cup match between India and England at Eden Gardens. The responsibility for organising the World Cup, Manohar said, lay with the ICC. “According to me this (World Cup) is an ICC event,” Manohar told ESPNcricinfo. “The venues were selected by ICC. The inspection was made by ICC. The board [BCCI] was not at all involved in this.”

Well, duh! You mean the responsibility for constructing/renovating stadia, among other things, was that of the ICC? In other words, the BCCI had given up its control of the various venues to the global body, and they were the ones contracting for the work to be done?

The excuse is laughable. And what is more, it underlines how the BCCI functions. That stadia were not ready to meet deadlines has been an open secret for weeks now; sections of the media have constantly highlighted that, occasionally with telling images. And what was the BCCI response to that?

With 25 days to go for the 2011 World Cup, Ratnakar Shetty, the tournament’s director, has dismissed concerns about the preparedness of venues for the event.

There had been worries over the redevelopment of grounds in India and Sri Lanka, which had overshot their initial deadlines on November 30 and December 31, but Shetty said they were now on track.

I think the concerns are more in the media than anything else,” Shetty said following the ICC’s inspection on Monday of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, one of the grounds that was running behind schedule. “As far as we are concerned, all the 13 venues which are going to stage the World Cup are coming up very well and we don’t see any reason of concern.”

Ostrich, sand. So why blame the ICC now? The BCCI stuck its head deep in the sand, refused to acknowledge the problem let alone do anything about it, and now that it got bitten in the arse, its best response is to come up with a typically self-serving statement that only makes matters worse.

Oh, and who said that about the readiness of the grounds being a media concern? Professor Ratnakar Shetty — who, among other things, is “tournament director” for the WC2011. If the ICC is organizing the tournament, why is a BCCI official the designated tournament director? Incidentally, even when Shetty was calling it a “media concern”, he knew — or as tournament director, should have known if he had bothered to read the papers streaming across his desk — what precisely the problem with the Eden was. Here’s a story in the Telegraph that elaborates.

Stand by now for the next fiasco — the wickets. No one from the BCCI has thus far bothered to examine their state of readiness; pitches are being prepared by local bodies with no central guidelines; some have been dug up and relaid, but not tested; others have been patched over. And it is all going to come to the boil when the competition begins. At which time, Manohar can of course shrug and say none of this is the BCCI’s business.

He is right, in a way — the BCCI’s “business” is just that — business. Vide the latest load of excreta to hit the IPL fan.

After the auction earlier this month, I had in two posts pointed to many vagaries in how the auction was run (Apres the Auction, and The WTF Sequel). In another related post at the same time, there was this passage:

The buzz is that franchise owners were seriously miffed over Srinivasan sitting in on the auction while it was in progress. Friends in some of the franchises pointed out, through SMS and calls, that this was just one hat too many, one conflict of interest too much to stomach.

First, they point out, he almost single-handedly rammed in the player retention clause when, besides CSK and Mumbai, all other franchises were against it. ‘If the IPL is democratically run, how come decisions are taken just because it suits one or two franchises?,’ one person closely connected with an under-rated franchise asked on phone. Further, Srinivasan set the norms for the auction, decided which player would go in which category, and when each name would come up for auction — which is just dandy since, as a team-owner, he could in advance plan the CSK strategy, then tailor the auction process to suit his team.

At the time, some friends in the comments section had questioned whether I had definite information that this part of the auction was rigged. So here you go — Mumbai Indians has now formally protested that very act (Ironic that it is MI now protesting abrupt last minute changes in rules — they weren’t shy of doing just that very thing, as for instance when the franchise rammed in the player retention clause over the objections of other franchises). Excerpt:

In a two-page letter (a copy of which is available with ESPNcricinfo), Mumbai referred specifically to the clause in the ‘Player Auction Briefing’ dated December 17, 2010, which stated that the auction of player sets would occur in random order. But on the eve of the auction (held on January 8 and 9), two hours before the final auction briefing, the franchises were sent an email containing an amendment which stated that the random order would be replaced by pre-decided ‘order of the auction list’.

The clause was in paragraph 18 of the original Player Auction Briefing, which read: “Players in the auction would be divided into ‘sets’. The initial sets would comprise marquee players. Subsequent sets would each comprise players with the same specialism (batsmen, bowlers, allrounders, wicketkeepers). The order of these subsequent sets would be determined by random draw that will take place in the auction room.”

According to Nikhil Meswani of Indiawin Sports Private Ltd (parent company of Mumbai), who signed the letter, there was a sudden and unexplained change made to the above clause the day before the auction. “The final sentence of paragraph 18 is to be deleted. The sets will be presented to the auction in the order of the auction list.” Meswani noted that this was a “fundamental change” to the auction process.

In other words, “someone”, at the very last minute, decided the order in which players would come up for auction. That same “someone” then sat in on the auction. Thus, he had inside knowledge of which player would come up on the block when, and could thus help his franchise fine-tune its strategy while the others stumbled around in the resulting haze.

Now what? Err… nothing. The BCCI — or more accurately, its president in waiting — models his modus operandi on the Sphinx. Or PV Narasimha Rao, if you prefer a relatively recent example. You can question, you can shout yourself hoarse — but the body, and the man now running it de facto, will gaze back, impassive, knowing that after a while the heat and dust will die down, and everyone will accept the fait accompli.

Does MI seriously think something is going to come of the letter it has sent to the BCCI, assiduously forwarding copies to anyone with a publishing platform? MI, do note: when you arbitrarily got the rules rewritten to avoid the situation of Sachin Tendulkar going into the auction pool, the other franchises had written similar letters of protest.

Nothing came of those. Nothing will come of yours.

PS: Since MI has discovered the concept of “fair play” in a moment of stunning epiphany, will the franchise answer a question? The salary cap fixed is $9 million dollars. The idea is to prevent one franchise from using its money power to tilt the playing field unfairly. MI, along with all other franchises, signed on to that. So here’s the question: Are you paying Sachin Tendulkar the on-record sum of $1.8 million to retain his services? Really? After an auction process where far lesser players went for much larger sums? Will MI — since the auction, and wages being paid to players is supposed to be a matter of public record — reveal how much they are actually paying Sachin? And is it true that sum is close to half the total cap?

PPS: If you are looking for laughs, try this early reaction to the Eden Gardens fiasco:

India, the powerhouse of modern cricket, became the game’s laughing stock yesterday. Only 21 days before the start of the Cricket World Cup, the match between India and England in Kolkata was called off because the Eden Gardens stadium is unfit.

Tournament directors were last night searching desperately for an alternative venue for the match on 27 February. But though a ground will surely be found, the clear lack of readiness was a severe embarrassment for the organisers and, with only three weeks to go before the start, casts doubt on the country’s ability to stage a major sporting event for the 21st century.

More than 100,000 people had been expected to attend the game, which hardly needed any promotion – the new power in the game against the old and, at its most basic, the once ruled against the once ruler at the seat of its old power. It was a hugely anticipated match and its cancellation may yet have repercussions for the whole competition.

Four other scheduled venues – three in Sri Lanka and the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai where the final is scheduled for 2 April – are still not ready. The International Cricket Council has given them another 14 days to be complete and, although the work left is said to be no more than a lick of paint, nothing is now certain after the fiasco at the Gardens.

“Searching desperately” for a venue, Mr Brenkley? In India? Really?

And what’s with that glorious riff about the empire, and the clash of the old and the new in para three, culminating in the ominous warning that the “cancellation” could have repercussions on the whole competition? Isn’t it time England, as represented by its often infantile media, got over the Raj hangover? No one cancelled the game, you silly little schoolgirl — all that has happened is there will be a change in venue. Sheesh!

A little bit of everything

That trip to my hometown took longer to recover from than I anticipated — not so much physically as mentally. Maybe when I feel more settled, will use the trip, and feelings emanating from it, for a more personalized blog post.

Just back at work, and trying to clear the backlog. So I’ll leave you with a prophesy of things to come, something to listen to/debate, and a stray thought that occurred to me the other day, when I saw the lead headlines in the print media.

First, the stray thought: What do you make of the Congress-led government at the Center finally “getting tough” on CWG corruption? The other day, to big-type headlines, the government announced that it has sacked Suresh Kalmadi from the post of Chairman of the CWG Organizing Committee. This move, apparently, is to “prevent him from interfering in the ongoing investigation”.

Did a mouthful of scalding hot coffee go down the wrong way when you read that?

I don’t know what I dislike more: that there is widespread corruption of humongous levels, or that the government, under whose umbrella most of this is happening, takes the public for idiots.

The CWG is over and done with — ergo, the “Organizing Committee” is de facto defunct because there is nothing left to “organize”. So how does sacking Kalmadi from a defunct body become a punitive measure?

That leaves the “interfering in the investigation” bit — which is if anything even more laughable than the other. If such a move was to have any impact, Kalmadi should have been suspended from that post, pending investigation, when corruption allegations first surfaced. That is something the government carefully refrained from doing — instead, it allowed the man to continue in that post for months; it telegraphed its intention to probe the various scams, thus providing the officials plenty of time to get rid of the evidence; it allowed Kalmadi and gang to derail the investigation in every way possible — and now that the damage is all done, the government makes a move that is intended to fool everyone, but is so amateurishly transparent that it only makes the government a laughing stock.

What I don’t get is, why did the media — both print and electronic — which played up the news of Kalmadi’s sacking like it was a bold move for the government, not ask these questions?

Next, a straw in the wind: Kolkata, at the rate things are going, will likely lose its rights to host the World Cup because the stadium is nowhere close to being ready. Professor Ratnakar Shetty, who has for the duration been named the official Dr Pangloss of the BCCI, will tell you this is one more instance of the media being alarmist. What he will not tell you is that not only is work at the Gardens proceeding at less than desirable pace, there is within a section of the BCCI the hope/expectation that Kolkata fails to meet the final deadlines. If that happens, the games to be staged at that venue will have to be re-allocated — and Chennai would love to add the India-England game to its kitty, since it believes India-West Indies is not sufficiently attractive enough to ensure a full house and maximize the money-making potential.

Then again, what do I know? Shetty says everything is kosher, all work is on schedule and will be completed “on deadline” (never mind that two deadlines have been missed already). And Shetty should know — shouldn’t he?

Now for the listening matter: on Cricinfo, a debate on the increasingly intrusive advertising that spoils our experience of watching cricket. I have some thoughts — but I’d like to hear from you guys first:

The Cricinfo debate

Leave of absence

And while on that, why do people talk of “leave of absence”? Tautology, no? Anyway — two ODIs in three days for the team; for me, a quick trip to Kerala (Calicut, specifically) in the offing. Leaving about now, back Monday night, back here Tuesday morning. Will leave you with a blog a friend pointed out to me on Twitter yesterday, and with a piece that is all kinds of fun.

The Cat in the Hats — the sequel

The selection of the national team for the World Cup. Another back from behind win by India in the one day series, just when South Africa was salivating over the prospect of taking over as number two in the rankings (and while on that, would you say Zaheer Khan to Graeme Smith, at the start of the South African innings, ranks among the best spells you ever saw that did not get a wicket?). And in other news, a Prime Minister besieged by allegations of corruption finds the perfect solution: a Cabinet reshuffle that takes the corrupt ministers out of the departments they are practicing (practice might actually be the wrong word to describe their depredations — they are perfect in what they do, no?) their corruption in, and moves them into other departments to practice their corruption in. Lewis Carroll foretold this Cabinet reshuffle, and parodied it before the fact in the famous Mad Hatter’s Tea Party scene.

In passing, and thanks to a conversation with friends like @sumants and @kskarun on Twitter while the reshuffle exercise was on, I was prompted to dig out my well-thumbed copy of the Jonathan Lynn/Antony Jay classic, Yes Prime Minister, to find a passage I could only vaguely remember at the time. Here it is (from the Man Overboard episode):

Hacker: ‘What I want is to show the public that there are no divisions in the Cabinet.’

Bernard: ‘But there are divisions.’

Hacker: ‘I don’t want to multiply them.’

Bernard: ‘Prime Minister, if you multiply divisions you get back to where you started….’

Tip to political analysts: When trying to make sense of what is happening in your area of specialization, you will find the two Lynn-Jay books, Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, a far more valuable resource than all the scholarly tomes on politics. For instance, on the whole Niira Radia-privacy-wire-tapping issue:

Sir Humphrey: “Surveillance is an indispensable weapon in the battle against organized crime.”
Jim Hacker: “You’re not describing politicians as organized crime?”
Sir Humphrey: “No…well, disorganized crime too of course.”

Could anything sum it up better?

Okay, enough non-sequiturs. In what has been a busy few days, a story that merits attention slipped under the collective radar. Remember when a Parliamentary Committee decided to question the BCCI honchos about foreign exchange violations and other skulduggery? Questions were asked about the source of funding of some IPL teams, and also about various foreign exchange transactions relating to the IPL edition held in South Africa.

The BCCI’s defense was the classic SODDIT (Some Other Dude Did It). And the sod they said did it was, but of course, Lalit Modi. (This move prompted Revenue Secretary Sunil Mitra to inform the Yashwant Sinha-led committee that for all legal and tax purposes, the IPL was a subset of the BCCI and that therefore the BCCI was responsible for any and all decisions taken by the IPL).

Turns out, even such distinctions are unnecessary. While we were distracted with the national team selection and the SA ODI, CNN-IBN broke a story that received surprisingly little attention in the media. This one.

Never mind that the source of our very own mini-wikileaks is fairly obvious, what the released documents (Here’s the cache) indicate is fairly obvious: N Srinivasan’s (Earlier post: The Cat in the Hats) fingerprints are all over the thing.

#BCCI President Shashank Manohar was formally authorized to take, on behalf of the BCCI, the final decision on the venue.

#The payment process for the SA edition of the IPL was detailed by N Srinivasan, who signed the agreement with CSA.

#N Srinivasan approved, and signed off on, all payments, transfers of funds, etc.

An under-reported story is the extent to which N Srinivasan’s insidious control over the Board extends. (For example: An India Cements employee is chairman of the national selectors — in fact, the first chairman after a rule change that ensured that the selection committee would not be changed after each board election — and also brand ambassador of the franchise that is owned by India Cements. A sports management agency owned by the CSK skipper represents, among others, India Cements. And so on. Tug on any thread you see before you, and it unravels endlessly.)

In continuation of that theme, consider this clip:

Every case for approval was made by Prasanna Kanan who was the CFO of IPL and otherwise an India Cements employee seconded to BCCI. He reported all expenses to N Srinivasan who approved them. No money was paid except after go ahead by N Srinivasan who controlled the entire expenses.

That is to say, the Chief Financial Officer in “Modi’s IPL” was an India Cements employee “seconded to” the BCCI. Reminds me of when I was transferred from Rediff.com to the newspaper India Abroad. The same organization owns both entities, so my shift was in the nature of an inter-company transfer. In the same spirit, would you say the same entity/person owns both India Cements and the BCCI?

The last time I wrote about the president-elect of the BCCI, a friend asked in email why I was banging on about this bloke. There is a reason: The story of Indian cricket follows an endless, destructive cycle. Some matches, some triumphs, some disasters, then a monetary scandal; some noise about said scandal, some ‘inquiries’ calculated to buy time till we forget; some more matches, some ‘give them bread and circus’ distractions; another monetary scandal… rinse, repeat, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Back in the day, there was a big brouhaha about the corruption of the Jagmohan Dalmiya regime; hosannas were sung when Dalmiya was replaced by Team Sharad Pawar (what irony!), which sought an electoral victory on the plank of introducing transparency (more irony — Pawar and his hand-picked successors have if anything been more devious, their corruption more subterranean, than anything Dalmiya ever did). The Modi regime at the IPL was deemed corrupt; it has since been replaced by the N Srinivasan regime (Chirayu Amin is nominally in-charge of the IPL, but discount that — as must be painfully evident now, all decisions whether they relate to the BCCI or the IPL emanate from the office of India Cements the Board Secretary). Come to think of it, the shuffling of the board bears parallels to the various Cabinet reshuffle exercises at the center, no? Same problem — endemic corruption. Same solution — move the corrupt around the party table, Mad Hatter style.

A sub-set to this problem is the very real danger that corruption does not begin and end with the Board honchos — increasingly, wittingly or otherwise, players get drawn into this web, as pointed out in passing in these two posts: Apres the Auction and its sequel, and Putting the Free in Markets.

If it is not important to “bang on about this”, as my friend characterized the posts in this series, then what is?

The no blog day

I did say a resolution for this year was to blog on every working day — with the codicil that it applied to only those days where I was at my desk. Today, I am not, for the better part of the day — so blog in limbo; consider this an open thread for the WC teams as they are being picked, and for the game later today when we, hopefully, will bring into the team players like Yusuf Pathan and Piyush Chawla, both of whom have been picked for the WC — if they don’t get to play a few games ahead of the Cup, it is hard to see how the team can assess their current form and factor it into their strategies. Back here tomorrow with thoughts on the game, and other matters, people — be well, meantime.

No surprises…

Pleasant or otherwise. India’s World Cup squad:

Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar, Piyush Chawla and Ravichandran Ashwin.

#Questions on the fitness of Sachin, Gautam and Viru

#Questions on the form of Yuvraj and Nehra

#A question about whether we need three spinners

#A question about whether 6 batsmen plus Yusuf is enough, sans cover in case of injuries.

Rohit misses out thanks to his own inability to seize opportunities, and comes as a wake up call for a talented but wayward player who most needs a kick in the butt. Nice to see Ashwin in the squad, but the key is whether, with India’s 4 bowler formula and propensity to pick Bajji almost as reflex, he will get a chance to play.

As a friend points out in comments, this makes for possibly the slowest-moving fielding side in the competition, in a format where keeping runs down in the middle overs is crucial.

Thoughts?