Mein Fuhrer Modi

In a recent think piece, Ian Chappell made some pertinent points about IPL fuhrer commissioner Lalit Modi:

Modi has had moments of brilliance interspersed with occasional lapses. His outstanding manoeuvres have resulted in IPL franchises, the IPL-Google deal and the BCCI’s finances rising exponentially. On the debit side there have been his indiscretions in the USA during his student days and a rampant ego massaged by appearing more often on the IPL television coverage than the sponsor logo.

Modi is an administrator for the modern game. He’s decisive and forward thinking. However, like Sehwag needs a steady opening partner to balance the combination, Modi requires a strong lieutenant to watch over him and temper his instinctive brilliance with a liberal dose of discipline.

Bang on. Such a person would also be able to rein in Modi’s instinct for playing dictator. Consider this example: players from South Africa asked for access to the security arrangements being put in place for IPL-3. It’s a reasonable request — with the idiot brigade(s) of the Shiv Sena, RSS et al talking of doing battle over the presence of players from certain countries, even a Jacques Kallis [who is so out of it generally that once, while walking on the beach with the late Bob Woolmer, famously asked the then coach how far they were above sea level] would have felt the odd niggle of concern.

No way, says Modi — as usual, not deigning to explain what the problem is with providing this detail. To add gratuitous insult to injury, Modi tells the players’ association that he does not recognize it, and will only deal with national boards [ironically, however, it is the Australian players association, not Cricket Australia, that is dealing with the IPL on matters of security, so Modi’s stance is not even consistent].

The attitude is both short-sighted, and untenable: the national boards and even the ICC have nothing to do with the IPL, which is a private league run in India. When it comes to bilateral tours, the national boards deal directly with each other on questions of security [while in the case of world level tournaments the ICC plays point on the question]. When it comes to the IPL, however, it is not the business of the national board to guarantee player safety; it is therefore up to individual players to look out for their own best interests. Given the number of international players participating, it makes eminent sense for one body — logically, the players’ association — to fill that role, and to play point on issues of security.

Modi does not see it that way — he is not too good at seeing anything that does not have a cash component attached. And he does not explain why — he never does. And it is precisely this kind of authoritarian, l’état c’est moi mindset that not only earns him a bad reputation and makes enemies for him within the BCCI hierarchy and outside, but also causes him to make monumental cock-ups, as for instance in the mishandling of the issue relating to Pakistan players in the IPL-3 auction.

#3. Thanks to Karun through the open thread of earlier today, found this interesting story on pitch preparation in general, and on the recent wicket at the Gangotri Glades that facilitated a crackling contest between Karnataka and Mumbai in the Ranji finals. First up, the problem:

The statistics are chilling. In the 2009-10 Ranji season, only 30 (36.14 per cent) matches out of 83 resulted in outright victories. In 2008-09, 53 out of 88 games (60.22 per cent) saw a team winning. And it was 51 out of 85 (60.00 per cent) in 2007-08.

On the rare occasions when the BCCI troubles itself over the issue, the solutions it comes up with are typical of the bureaucracy it is. And largely, this consists of announcing grandiose ‘visions’ and ‘plans’ — such as the ‘Green Revolution’, a BCCI announcement that gave me considerable grounds for amusement back in the early 2000s. It appointed Kasturirangan to spearhead the ‘initiative’; soon thereafter, he resigned. And spoke of why.

The BCCI went back to sleep. And then sometime in the mid-2000s, invited a Kiwi ‘expert’ to travel around the country, ‘studying’ Indian wickets and making recommendations. He studied, and recommended. Nothing happened. Then, like Abou Ben Adhem, the BCCI woke again from a deep dream of peace, sometime in 2008, and organized a ‘curators’ seminar’. Check this out for pomposity:

Board secretary Niranjan Shah said it was important to provide good playing surfaces to junior as well senior cricketers.

Right. Till Shah had that moment of epiphany, none of us was seized of the importance of providing good playing conditions. Anyway, so the curators met and Shah pontificated — and in the period since then, more than one ground has earned a bad rap for lousy wickets; a couple of them are this close to being banned [the BCCI lawyers are working on the Eden Gardens case; had the BCCI gotten its curators to do their work right, the lawyers wouldn’t have been needed in the first place].

Conventional wisdom is we don’t make good pitches because we don’t know how — hence the constant spam in the BCCI mailbox from foreign ‘experts’ wanting out of the goodness of their hearts lured by the prospect of a hefty pay-check to help. [Terry McAuliffe is not the first, merely the latest].

The thing though is, curators right here in this country are perfectly capable of producing lively wickets that can stand comparison with the best, worldwide — if they are left alone to do their jobs without interference, that is. On a different avtaar of this blog, I’d written of one such curator and his experiences. Nagaraj, the curator at the Gangotri Glades, is another. From the same Hindu story:

And preparing a sporting track is no rocket science. N. Nagaraj of Mysore University, a soft-spoken curator, has come up with an absolute gem at the serene Gangothri Glades ground.

When Australian legend Greg Chappell visited the arena with a bunch of budding cricketers from down under last year, he was pleased with the good and consistent bounce in the surface. “He walked up to me and congratulated me,” remembers Nagaraj.

“The foundation is strong. We have strived to make the surface hard and firm,” says Nagaraj. This unassuming man is a hero for his outstanding preparation of the pitch.

Talking about the surface, Nagaraj reveals, “We have one and a half inches of boulder, six inches of jelly stone, eight inches of gravel, six inches of clean sand, eight inches of red soil, and the right amount of bricks and black soil. Then the surface is rolled well. How and how much the surface is rolled is extremely important for making a hard wicket.”

The watering of the pitch is looked after closely by him. “A week before a big match, we stop the watering of the pitch with sprinklers. We water, with a can, only those areas that need to be watered. The live grass that sprouts from the pitch is from Srirangapatna. The pitch is a combination of different ingredients.”

Oh by the way — we are heading full-on into a hectic schedule, with South Africa here already, with the IPL to follow, et cetera. The BCCI had unceremoniously sacked its entire Pitches and Grounds Committee including its autocratic chairman Daljit Singh, after the abandonment of the India-Sri Lanka one dayer. Do you recall reading anyplace that the BCCI had identified replacements so pitch preparation can proceed unhindered, and we have wickets ready in time for the IPL? No? Thought not — most likely, the “issue” will be “taken up” at the next “working committee” meeting before being “tabled” before the “executive committee” for its recommendations, which can then be “placed before” the “general body”.

#3: Unrelated reading matter: Peter Roebuck on racism in Australia; Rob Steen on redefining the role of the third umpire.

Pace and bounce

Spotted this on Cricinfo’s scoreboard at the tea interval in the Bombay-Karnataka Ranji game:

Darshan: “Update From Mysore – My colleague just got back to office from the Gangotri glades & said the ground is jam packed with lots of Buzz, Hats off to the curator for making such a CRICKET FRIENDLY PITCH!”

Tells you all that talk about the soil in our country not being conducive to creating lively pitches is pure bunkum; tells you too that we have in India the expertise to make good pitches that offer testing conditions. This game might be worth keeping in mind, the next time we get apologists explaining why a track prepared for an international contest is so duh!

Watching the play, as much as I could between work, put me in mind of one other aspect. Structurally, the premier domestic competition should be just one rung below international standards — that is how you get to identify and hone talent that can make the progression to the next level

So we are watching the two top sides in the country this year, playing in conditions that ask questions of the batsmen — and the takeaway is, the batsmen are not equipped to answer those questions. No batsman on either side has managed to counter swing, negotiate seam, or look remotely comfortable against bounce.

And yet we wonder why, when we face tough conditions abroad, we struggle — because batsmen mollycoddled on designer batting wickets have neither the opportunity, nor the need, to develop those larger skills.

The board routinely pays lip service to the need to prepare good tracks for the domestic competition; as routinely, it ignores its own diktat and allows its pitches committee [now defunct] to create tracks guaranteed to burn bowlers out before their time, and to give batsmen a false sense of their own abilities.