India v SA: Test 2

“It’s funny how things change in a matter of weeks, or just about five days,” Kohli said on the eve of the second Test. “Before the first Test, no one thought that he should be in the XI, and now suddenly people are looking at the other option. For us as a team, it’s all about finding the right balance. If players fit in in the kind of balance we want to go with as a side, then they will fit in. We certainly don’t go on opinions that are created outside, and ‘talk of the town’, and all those sort of things.”

That’s Virat Kohli speaking, ahead of the second Test starting today at Supersport Park. Which makes you wonder who he has been listening to — pretty much every member of the commentariat, and large sections of the fans, were sure in their minds that Rahane would be playing; Rohit’s inclusion came as a rude shock. So yeah, not sure who those “people” are that Virat heard.

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That thing Jasprit does

The most jaw-dropping pick in India’s playing XI in the ongoing first Test against South Africa is Jasprit Bumrah, ahead of the likes of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma. The two latter are both tall, have pace and bounce and movement — all suited for South African tracks; Jasprit, on the other hand, has none of those attributes.

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India-SA day 2

Writing in Cricinfo, Siddharth Monga puts the focus where it belongs: on the personnel choices India made, and its negative impact on the course of the first day’s play.

Despite the start provided by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the answer lay in the run rate at which South Africa went in difficult batting conditions, which has left India an immeasurably long way back from a stutter with the bat. Mohammed Shami began with the same problems he had in Australia in 2014-15: bowling the Asia line, on the stumps. He was also too short too often, which is the length that hits the stumps in Asia.

A bigger culprit was Jasprit Bumrah, a shocking selection in the squad – forget the XI – given he has not played first-class cricket in a year. Bumrah is an intelligent young bowler. He has a hyper-flexible arm, which makes his variations difficult to pick. He is the best quick going around in limited-overs cricket. His coaches, his mentors, his team-mates all talk about how quick a learner he is. He is, however, not that quick a learner that he will rock up in South Africa, having not bowled more than 10 overs a day in more than a year, not having had to work out a batsman not under pressure of scoring a run a ball, and five net sessions later become the messiah to save India.

Hard to disagree with the above, and with the rest of Monga’s analysis. Arising from which, a few random thoughts after watching day one:

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India versus South Africa: Test 1, day 1

And that is that for the day, play ending with three overs of the allotted quota unbowled. Rohit Sharma and Che Pujara walking off, with India on a perilous 28/3. The biggest problem for the side now is the fact that it is a batsman light — Saha in next, then Pandya, and Ashwin.

The situation India is in reinforces the point about the need for openers to settle in, not try and get too far ahead of themselves. Vijay played at one he normally leaves alone; Dhawan played a pull at one that no batsman in the world could have pulled successfully, and Virat Kohli got a brute of a delivery from Morkel to wreck the innings.

It lets the team in now for a back to the wall fightback, made all the harder by the lack of batting depth. But then, the side has been talking of its new-found character, of its never say die spirit and ability to fight back from any position. No better time to find out just what that spirit is all about.

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How money changed cricket

My friend Amit Varma, who you should follow for informed libertarian commentary on contemporary affairs, blogs at India Uncut and edits Pragati magazine.

Amit is a two-time winner of the Bastiat Prize for libertarian writing. And, happily, in less than a year of its revamped launch, Pragati has two writers (by a happy coincidence, both good friends) in the shortlist for this year’s Bastiat awards (the only Indian media house of any type to make the shortlist): Devangshu Datta for his series on victimless crimes and Shruti Rajagopalan for an astonishing eight-part series on the right to property.

A brief segue: Besides her writing skills, Shruti is an excellent teacher. The two of us once met up for a pub crawl through New York City. The hours passed, we hopped from pub to pub and finally, well past midnight, came to roost at an Irish pub in midtown Manhattan. That is when I said something incredibly ill-informed about the economy. Shruti went on a tear. She grabbed up a heap of napkins from the bar, borrowed the bar-bloke’s pen, and with sketches and charts, began explaining macro-economic concepts oblivious to the fact that she was collecting something of a crowd around her. It was a magical moment; I ended it stone cold sober and considerably more well-informed, proving the point that you have to lose something to gain something else.

Anyway. Amit also hosts a podcast, The Seen and the Unseen — an always insightful, occasionally quirky series of conversations between Amit and various guests on matters to do with the economy, with polity, and with society. Here are the archives. And here is the latest: a three-way cricket conversation featuring Gideon Haigh, among the best cricket writers of this or any generation, Amit, and me.

And oh yes, apologies for the radio silence. After reading your various inputs  — for which I cannot thank you enough — and also reading what seemed like a rainforest’s worth of commentary on demonetization across websites, I finally managed to figure out what I want to say and how to say it. The finished piece, as of a few moments ago, is with the BuzzFeed editors, and should go up at some point tomorrow. Also tomorrow, I’ll get to my shamefully delayed responses to your inputs and questions, and ease back into daily blogging. Apologies again for the silence, stay well, keep in touch.

Adios, Ashish, and thanks for the memories

A Twitter mention of Ashish Nehra, who is set to end an 18-year career in international cricket this week at the Firozeshah Kotla, Delhi, produced this gem from a fan:

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On Rahul Dravid, and distortions

On the sidelines of the Bangalore Literature Festival this weekend my friend Amit Varma, who edits the excellent Pragati magazine when he is not commenting on affairs of state through reasoned prose and catchy limericks, talked to me of the bubbles we live in.

To underpin his argument, Amit referenced a book written by Walter Lippmann that feels as fresh and relevant today as when it was first published in 1922. In the opening chapter Lippmann argues, broadly, that our one world is actually many worlds. There is, for instance, a real world; there is a world that our overlords, our rulers, would have us see; and then there is the world we construct in our heads, made up of the bits and pieces of information we collect and force-fit into a highly personal worldview.

Amit brought the book up in context of contemporary problems roiling the media landscape — the media’s role in creating such artificial worlds, the dawning realization that this is leading us into dangerously ill-informed waters, and the increasing difficulty in now penetrating the bubbles and setting records straight.

I then logged into Twitter at some point yesterday and discovered yet another example of Amit’s argument at work. On my timeline, I found considerable angst, neatly split between two contrasting viewpoints. One side of the argument was that Rahul Dravid had criticized Virat Kohli’s in-your-face aggression, and also attacked him for his statements on how Anil Kumble’s tenure as national cricket coach had ended. The other side held that Dravid had been wronged, that the media had misreported both his words and his intent through selective quotation.

What baffled me was this: Dravid spoke with great clarity and nuance; rather than court controversy, he did his best to play them down as largely the confections of the media. There was no ambiguity whatsoever in all that he said in course of a nearly one-hour interaction. So wherefrom the dissonance? How do two sets of people construct two such wildly contrasting worlds for themselves, in one of which Dravid is a villain and in the other he is the wronged figure? Where do they get their basic facts from? Here is a sampling:

The Financial Express ran a story under the bold headline:

Do not follow Virat Kohli blindly, says Rahul Dravid; makes big anti-Virat statement

The Hindustan Times ran its story under the headline: Cricket Controversy: Rahul Dravid says Anil Kumble’s axing was ‘unfortunate’.

A strapline below the main headline says:

“Rahul Dravid, former Indian cricket team captain, has said that Virat Kohli’s statements before the start of a major series are sometimes ‘cringe’worth while the Anil Kumble sacking was a sad affair for the team”

For its part, Times of India front-paged the story under this headline:

Cringe on reading Virat Kohli’s pre-match statements: Rahul Dravid

The organizers estimate that somewhere between 500-600 people were present at the event. These people needed no external agency to tell them what was said, and what the context was. But the vast majority gets its information through the lens of the media — and in this case, the reports I cited above dangerously distort both the statements and the intent, of the speaker.

I use the word ‘dangerously’ with deliberate intent. Never mind political and societal issues where distortions and misinformation can have life or death consequences, during my time covering cricket I have at first hand witnessed the risks inherent in such manipulations of fact. There have been instances of reports that took facts and statements out of context to create a controversy; this, in turn, has led to anger and heartburn in the team dressing room between the person who spoke the words and the person(s) who the media portrayed as targets. Such anger has taken a lot of time and effort to dispel and, in some instances, the conflicts persisted despite the affected player’s best efforts to set the record straight.

And all this for what? A few more clicks that, at the very best, bring in a few rupees — measured not in lakhs and crores but literally in mere hundreds and thousands — to your bottomline? At what point do we ask ourselves if this is really worth it? At what point do we stop bemoaning our vanishing credibility while simultaneously, by our every act, we continue to erode what remains of that credibility?

Or to put it bluntly: The three stories cited above are flat out false. Not in the sense of fakes, but in how the reporters cherry-pick words and thoughts, bowdlerize statements, and create an impression that is at variance with reality.

I know this because I was there. The question in my mind now is, now that I have seen at first hand how grotesquely the media houses in question distort events, how do I believe any report I read in their pages or on their sites?

Here is the full video of the event featuring Rahul Dravid and Rajdeep Sardesai at the Bangalore Lit Fest this Sunday morning. Watch, and make up your own minds:

In passing, here is a lineup of stories that adhered to what was actually said and, in all cases, provided the context necessary to understand the words:

#1. An Anand Vasu report for Cricbuzz

#2. Another piece, also by Anand Vasu, for the Economic Times

#3. A Saurabh Somani piece for Wisden India on the Kumble question, and another on Dravid’s thoughts on the game and on Kohli

#4. An Ashwin Achal piece for the Hindu

#5. Two stories on Cricinfo

#6. A Scroll piece on the event

This is not an exhaustive list, merely an indicative one. And even here, it is interesting to see that every single piece focuses on two statements that came at the very end of an event in course of which Dravid spoke with such clarity on so many contemporary cricketing questions.

In passing, this: At the tail end of our conversation I asked Rahul Dravid when he will write a book on his life as a cricketer. His response was that he knew what would happen if he wrote an honest book, and he didn’t want to put his family through the fallout.

At the time, I thought Rahul was being a bit paranoid, a little bit over the top. I now understand why he said what he did.