Srinivasan should go — but why?

So it is all down to numbers. Which, in other words, means open bidding for votes, promises of largesse, and which faction can make the more potent promise (or threat) to buy votes.

Just the great Indian democracy in action, and isn’t that such a heartening sight to see? Not.

Meanwhile, the news channels are all about highlighting those voices that say Srinivasan should go. And yes, he should.

Srinivasan should go because of the illicit manner in which he acquired a franchise; because of the way he manipulated the IPL to his own personal ends and institutionalized corruption on a grand scale. Remember how Mumbai Indians complained vociferously that he had ‘fixed’ the previous auction to favor his own team? Remember the complaints about him tampering with the duty roster of umpires, and even the schedule, to benefit his team? Remember the way he manipulated the salary caps so he — and MI — could retain select players while still retaining sufficient money to bid for top talent at the auction?

All of this is fixing; it is corruption on a grand scale. And once you create such an atmosphere of corruption, you open the door for lesser mortals to be tempted. After all, if the Srinivasans of this world can earn in crores, what harm in a Chandila, a Sreesanth, a Chavan earning a few lakh?

I don’t know about prosperity trickling top-down, but corruption certainly does that. And for this, Srinivasan should bear the blame, more than most.

Also, Srinivasan should go for his arrogance, for the sheer contempt he has displayed towards the public, as most recently evidenced by his blatant, repeated lies. “Gurunath Meyappan has nothing to do with CSK… Gurunath Meyappan is just an enthusiast…” Good grief!

But let us not be under the illusion that Srinivasan’s exit signals the end of corruption in Indian cricket. The malaise is way more deep-rooted than that.

Remember that it was Sharad Pawar who facilitated Srinivasan’s ownership of an IPL franchise in the first place, though it was clearly against the rules of the body of which he was then president (And to think today he has the gall to say there would have been no corruption on his watch!)

Pawar wrote to Srinivasan on January 8, 2008, permitting the latter to participate the bidding process. He said he had examined the bye-laws and there was nothing there to prevent Srini from being part of the auction. He was lying — and later, when that lie was brought home, when the relevant bye-laws were aired in the public forum, he got his tame executive committee to rewrite the rule book, and amend the relevant clause (Clause 6.2.4 of the BCCI constitution).

Originally, the clause stated that no member of the board could benefit either directly or indirectly from cricket. The amendment, authored 6 months later, exclude the IPL from the ambit of that provision. This move was so egregious as to evoke scathing comment from Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra, one of the two judges who heard the case filed by former BCCI president AC Muthaiah; Justice Mshra suggested in her opinion that Srinivasan had to chose between being a board member or owning a franchise, but he could not be both, and do both, simultaneously. That case is now before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Remember also that when the IPL was hit by a series of scandals that cumulatively led to the ouster of Lalit Modi, Pawar was the board president; it all happened on his watch. So when he emerges as the flag-bearer of honesty and probity today, it is a truly jaw-dropping moment.

Remember, too, that the IPL has a commissioner. His name is Rajiv Shukla.

When the IPL was mired in scandal earlier, the then commissioner had to go (and Shukla was one of the first to ask for his ouster). Today, the IPL is mired in scandal again, but Shukla’s role, his responsibility, doesn’t even merit a mention. How come the buck never seems to stop at Shukla’s doorstep? What is he made of, teflon, that nothing seems to stick to him?

There is another point worth keeping in mind. Remember how in his letter, Pawar said that he had discussed Srinivasan’s participation in the auction with fellow board members? Who were those board members? None other than Shukla, Arun Jaitley and gang — all of whom, by Pawar’s own admission, agreed to bend the rules to breaking point and let Srinivasan dip his grubby fingers in the pie.

Isn’t it funny that today, it is the same troika of Pawar, Shukla and Jaitley waxing indignant at Srinivasan’s misdeeds?

All of this is why Srinivasan’s exit — and the way things are shaping now, it is merely a matter of hours, or at most days — will change nothing. The BCCI honchos and their supporters in government will claim that it is a sign of the board getting tough and not respecting personalities or positions; they will trumpet it as a sign of their earnestness to clean up the system.

But it will be no such thing — because those now gunning for Srinivasan are the very ones who enabled all of this in the first place. Cutting Srinivasan out therefore solves nothing, because the rot is within the system, and the rot runs deep.

What the board needs right now is a systemic clean-up; it needs men of probity and unquestioned integrity at the helm — men of character empowered to do whatever it takes to bring credibility back to the game, and restore faith to the fans.

Instead, what we will get is Pawar. And Shukla. And Jaitley.

Somewhere in London, meanwhile, Lalit Kumar Modi is laughing his head off.

PS: There have been many cricket-related disappointments in recent days — but there is nothing more disappointing than the complete, total silence of senior players past and present.

Particularly the stone cold silence of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar — a man with unparalleled goodwill in this country; a man who, if he took a stance on this issue, would have the unqualified support of the fans; a man whose stature is so large that even this cabal of politicians will not be able to go against him.

If a Tendulkar will not use the goodwill he earned from this game for the good of this game, then what use is it? And what is the point of asking lesser mortals to speak out?

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‘Interviewing’ Sehwag

Hey, had you guys read this piece in the New Yorker’s blog?

It came apropos, in a way. I had just finished re-reading two books on tennis that take a match-eye view of the sport: L Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius [sample here for those new to this book; and here’s a treasure trove of Wertheim’s classic writing for Sports Illustrated] on the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, aka ‘the greatest tennis match ever played‘ [another excerpt], and Peter Bodo’s The Clay Ran Red.

One thing about books is how reading one inevitably prompts you to read, or in my case re-read, another, related book — thus, those two books and a brief conversation about Genius with a friend on Twitter led me back to my fairly shopworn copy of Marshall Jon Fisher’s A Terrible Splendorwhich then prompted a re-visit to John McPhee’s Levels of the Game [sample chapter], which had first appeared as a two-part essay in the New Yorker [You’ll see links in the blog post linked to at the start here].

Besides being among the finest examples of sports journalism imaginable, those books share another commonality: they look at a sport through the prism of a singular rivalry: Rafa/Fedex, Ashe/Graebner, Don Budge/Gottfriend von Cramm… [In this, the construct differs from Johnette Howard’s The Rivals, where the focus is on the rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, with the sport forming a broader canvas against which this story plays out [Sample Chapter].

Tennis with its gladiatorial, one on one action uniquely lends itself to rivalries unlike say cricket — and yet, I sometimes wish a quality journalist had attempted to interpret the sport through the prism of the clash of individual practitioners [Shane Warne versus Sachin Tendulkar down the years, anyone?].

Actually, I’d argue that in comparison with the great books on tennis and even team games like soccer, cricket just has not produced any outstanding literature down the years. You are left either with (auto)biographies of varying quality, or ‘tour diaries’ and such. Wonder why. [And while on that, two of the finest writers on cricket/sports are in the final stages of publishing their books this year. I don’t know what their books are going to be about, yet — but, can’t wait.]

So anyway, to continue this ramble, here’s the money quote from the blog post cited above:

Williams plays with a certain stern aloofness, a level of evenness that has no doubt helped her as she has won seven major championships. This is also how she talks to reporters, and as I sat listening to her and to other players answer questions one after the other, I thought about the theory that their individual styles of parrying with the media matched closely with their individual styles of play. John McPhee made a similar point when he wrote in this magazine,

A person’s tennis game begins with his nature and background and comes out through his motor mechanisms into shot patterns and characteristics of play. If he is deliberate, he is a deliberate tennis player; and if he is flamboyant, his game probably is, too.

Is that true? Can we, based on how a player behaves and how he talks, gain pointers to how he will likely play his game? Here’s a little thought experiment, in the form of an “interview” with Viru Sehwag. [Note that this interview never happened — I’m merely reversing the process, looking at what he has said at various times on Twitter, and framing probable questions that could have elicited those responses.]:

So — you don’t really like giving long interviews, do you?

Successful people always have 2 things on their lips…smile and silence..!

Right. Anyway. Of late, your career seems to be cyclical: you get into awesome form, then injury intervenes, you are off the map for a bit, then you come back and have to build up to that form all over again. After a point, doesn’t this get hard? Wouldn’t you far rather have an uninterrupted run at the top of your game?

Hard times r like washing machine,they twist,turn n knock us around,but in the end we come out cleaner,brighter n better than before

Smooth roads nvr make u gud drivers. Problem free life nve makes u strong person. So nvr ask life, WHY ME?Instead challenge it & say TRY ME!

Your mates say you are not a good one for taking advice — you’ll listen, but do your own thing anyway. Surely there is someone you listen to?

Listen2our elders advice nt bcoz thy r always right but bcoz thy’ve more xperiences of being wrong.how true but v still dn’t want2understand

So what is the best advice you ever got?

“If we play with energy poise and unselfishness, we will be playing the game the right way.”

Cricket right now is in turmoil, with corruption allegations surfacing all over again just when we thought that was a thing of the past. Your thoughts?

sea is common to all,some take pearls,some take fisheset n some out with wet legs. World is common to us.We take what we look for.

People say,”Find good people & leave bad ones.”But it should be,”Find the good in people & ignore the bad in them.”No one is perfect.

But surely all these controversies are unwanted obstacles at a time when cricket — especially traditional cricket — is struggling for survival?

Obstacles r those frightful things u see when u take ur eye off frm ur goal.

To change the topic: you missed what would have been a great century thanks to Suraj Randiv’s no-ball. Reactions?

Right effort has to do with unselfishness and working to benefit the team.

Yeah, well, with the benefit of time and distance you can be philosophical, but at the time you must have been desperately unhappy?

If u wait for happy moments,u will wait forever. But if u start believing that u r happy,u will be happy forever.

Oh come on — you’ve always been scrupulously fair in your on-field dealings so when someone cheats you out of a landmark for sheer cussedness you must have felt pissed off big time? You are human, no?

expecting from the world to be good to u coz u r good to them..is just like expecting from the lion not to eat u coz u r a vegetarian..!!

The depth of ur Personality will b revealed by the way u respond to situations u dislike…

Okay, but still — do you think such needless gamesmanship is justified?

In our real life,v know very well,what is right,true n justified. Problem is,v can’t follow it from our side,but v expect it from others.

So you never got angry at the time?

Remember, even iron becomes weak when its hot. Stay cool & u will always be strong.

Time and again, you play sublime cricket — and then your mates stuff up, give their wickets away. It is almost as if there is one set of bowlers bowling to you, and another, far better, set to them. It’s almost supernatural, the way you make it all look easy.

champions r not supernatural,they just fight one more second whn everyone else quits,sometimes one second of effort gives u the victory.

Every time we see you bat, we are left with one thought: if only you had batted longer! Have you ever thought of curbing, or at least tempering, your natural game so you can maximize the time you spend at the crease?

fight with ur strength,not with others weakness bcoz true success lies in ur efforts not in others defeat.

And so on. Here — go make up your own interviews [the media does it anyway, vide this PTI story at the height of the Suraj Randiv fracas, so why not you?]; there’s tons of good material on Viru’s Twitter stream.

By way of bonus, here’s another way of doing this — an ‘interview’ with Kanye West. Brilliant! And, tangentially related, here’s a favorite writer, Susan Orlean, on why a crowded city is just one big Twitter stream.

And just for fun — there is a weekend coming up, and I don’t intend to log on and give you guys company — here’s some related reading matter: A Chandrahas Choudhary classic, where he sat with Viru and had him talk through a seminal knock; and here’s Hash on watching Viru bat.

Enjoy your weekend; see you Monday.

Man and superman

Here, read.

The man, and the magic

For a long time now, I’ve steered well clear of the temptation — and fresh temptations arise every single time he walks onto a cricket field — to write about Sachin Tendulkar.

It is – and there is no shame in admitting it – a cop out; it stems from the realization that the ability to string words together to convey a sense of wonder has its limitations.

You can do it once, twice, even a dozen times. But this one man forces you to find new words, new thoughts, to reinvent language – and he has been doing that for over two decades now. I don’t know how Harsha Bhogle, Rohit Brijnath, Sambit and some of the other top cricket writers cope with this challenge. Speaking for myself, I prefer to bail, to use “It’s all been said before” as an excuse to avoid confronting the limitations of the written word.

And then he goes out there and does something you cannot but take notice of – like in the game yesterday against the Rajasthan Royals.

It is not that he paced his innings to perfection [his 50 came off 45 balls, the next 14 balls produced 39 runs). Or that he has emerged as the highest scorer in this edition of the IPL. Or that he has accumulated all those runs without ever needing to play an unaesthetic stroke, to go airborne (with the two sixes he hit in the final over of his innings yesterday, he now has three for a tournament where the current tally is over 500) .

What rocked me back in my seat yesterday was the two braces he ran off Sidharth Trivedi’s final over. On both occasions, there was only a single to be had as his drives off the front foot raced to the fielder in the deep; on both he was so hungry for the strike, so keen to maximize every single ball that remained, that he turned and ran the second even as the throw was airborne; on both occasions the throw was straight and hard to the keeper — and yet, he easily beat the throw both times.

How does he do this? Where does this seemingly inexhaustible well of energy, this relentless drive, come from?

And – this for me is the really scary thought – just how much has he still got left in the tank?

His longevity has been admired almost as much as his playing record. On his blog feed, Anaggh [Twitter] recently had this post:

When Sachin Tendulkar traveled to Pakistan to face one of the finest bowling attacks ever assembled in cricket…

  • Michael Schumacher was yet to race an F1 car
  • Lance Armstrong had never been to the Tour de France
  • Diego Maradona was still the Captain of a World Champion Argentina team
  • Pete Sampras had never won a Grand Slam

When Tendulkar embarked on a glorious career taming Imran and company…

·       Roger Federer was a name unheard of

  • Lionel Messi was in his nappies
  • Usain Bolt was an unknown kid in the Jamaican backwaters
  • The Berlin Wall was still intact
  • USSR was one big, big country
  • Dr Manmohan Singh was yet to open up the Nehruvian economy.

At a more personal level, Sachin made his international debut November 15, 1989. Two weeks later, I got my first regular job as a journalist.

I love what I do, just as much as I did December 1, 1989 when I first took my assigned place in a newsroom, thrilling to the knowledge that I was now a ‘byline’ and more importantly, that I would henceforth be paid to do what I loved doing anyway – to wit, play with words.

That love, that thrill remains undimmed. But as the years go by, it is increasingly difficult to keep the motivational levels up through the day, through the working weeks and months and years. With each successive year, it becomes harder to summon up the same energy; to, if you will, take those short singles at work and to convert those ones into twos.

So how in hell does this man do it? How, after all these years, does he not only maintain the phenomenally high standard he set at the start, but constantly raise the bar even further? And how in hell does he convey the impression that his enjoyment has only increased with time?

On Tests, captaincy, and a chicken soup moment…

“I am irritated by own writing”, AdviceToWriters quotes Gustave Flaubert as saying.

Me too. 🙂

Must be one of those blah moods. Whatever — no point irritating you as well, so will leave you with some interesting reads from the past 24 hours.

Harsha Bhogle discusses the art of captaincy with Aakash Chopra and Adam Gilchrist. Nice reading — not sure I agree with the takeaway that the captain’s importance increases as the format grows shorter, though. Sid Vaidyanathan nailed it when on Twitter just now he asked if the Hong Kong Sixes had produced the best captains of all time. Related, a recent Aakash Chopra piece on captaincy, especially in the T20 format.

Another good Harsha interview is the one with Steve Waugh. Again, I am not sure I agree with the takeaway that it is time to introduce day-night Tests.

Test cricket at night is definitely possible. I would have loved to play day-night Test cricket. I think it is exciting, brings another dimension to the game. People want a bit of a change, they want that excitement. Why not bring that in Test cricket? We have got it in Twenty20s. Let’s get a pink ball in and play a day-night Test, if it is possible. Obviously in England it is not really possible because it doesn’t get dark till 10 o’clock in summer. Maybe in the subcontinent the dew might make it impossible. So you’ve got to have common sense around it as well.

So then, given those problems and others, day-night Tests could remain at best a curiosity, an innovation specific to certain countries but not to the ICC universe? Don’t see the larger point of that.

Never mind all that — here’s a chicken soup story on the meeting between an authentic cricket legend and his octogenarian fan.

Oh, and today I am back to hosting the live show. Questions, suggestions, links worth throwing up there? Post them here, and I’ll “do the needful” 🙂 Link to the show, as always, on Twitter. Mine, and the Yahoo stream.

The fan

A day after Sid Vaidhyanathan and I vented some angst about “doing” cricket for a living, comes this piece in the Hindu about an octogenarian fan of Sachin Tendulkar, that makes us see the other side of the coin.

Sceptical of the statistics available on the Internet this octogenarian keeps track of her favourite cricketer’s achievements in her own way. Tiny scraps of paper with all the scores painstakingly written in neat handwriting are tucked away along with other prized possessions that include a couple of books on the cricketing genius gifted by her grandson. She secretly pulls out a few bits and shows them to me ensuring I handle them with care. All of a sudden, she chuckles. Saraswathi’s face is bright with enthusiasm as she narrates another incident. “After the1998 Sharjah Cup, Shane Warne said he used to get nightmares about Sachin. Sachin ko ‘Man of the Series’ ke liye car mila.” Here, Saraswathi’s son interrupts, saying, “She is very sure some day Tendulkar will meet her. Once when she was asked if she wanted to meet her grandchildren in Australia, she said, “I don’t want to meet anyone, I only want to meet Sachin Tendulkar.” Saraswathi now looks coy, blushes and says, “If I ever meet him, I’ll tell him to keep playing with confidence and keep entertaining us.” And with that she goes back to telling me more anecdotes about the Little Genius and his numerous records.

Maybe the trick for Sid, for me, for many more like us who have over time lost that fine edge of enthusiasm, is to rediscover the delight that this game can provide — and to write from that delight, not from “duty”, “professionalism”, whatever.

Related, Harsha Bhogle in his latest column celebrates Sachin’s captaincy in the IPL:

In the first game he backed his youngsters, Saurabh Tiwary, Ambati Rayudu and R Sathish, and played only three overseas players. In every game thereafter he has given these young players the confidence they need by sending them out at crucial moments. Tiwary, for example, has retained his No. 4 slot ahead of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, Rayudu gets to bat at No. 5, and even Sathish, just returning from the ICL, has a clearly defined role: if he gets 15 or 20 in quick time at the end, and does little else, his captain seems quite happy with him.

Bravo and Pollard occasionally get the No. 3 slot to allow themselves to rediscover form, but I think the best move of all has been to put Ryan McLaren in the side and, in doing so, freeing Lasith Malinga to play the role Tendulkar likes him to: bowl after the new ball and at the death. It helps that McLaren can bat, and indeed the Mumbai Indians now have three allrounders in crucial areas and a floater in Sathish. McLaren doesn’t mind bowling up front and that allows Malinga to bowl no more than one over early on, leaving his captain with enough options at the end.

More than his use of personnel, I’d think the standout feature of Sachin’s leadership this IPL is that he has freed up his team to play without fear. Harsha makes the point that in the last game, against Kings XI, the team seemed to slip into a complacent mindset. Perhaps — but even in that game, the noticeable characteristic was that even as wickets fell, the collective belief that they cannot be beaten seemed unshaken.

Sometimes, that is all that separates the good sides from the great — as any member of the all-conquering Australian side of the 1990s will tell you.

Sachin, redux

I know I said the previous post was my last on the topic for now — but this deserves marquee mention. Greatbong has a piece up on the achievement that sums up what Tendulkar has meant for so many of us for so long. And he does it with three delicate brush strokes:

The old Sachin radiated heat. The new Sachin gives light.

But he still remains the sun.

Perfect. And yet another example of what I keep talking about: the best cricket writing invariably comes not from the bylined ‘cricket correspondent’, for whom this is a profession, but from the fan for whom cricket is a passion.