The views, in briefs

THE Greek fabulist Aesop told the story of a horse that once quarreled with a stag. The horse approached a hunter and asked for his help. The Hunter agreed. “But,” he said, “if you desire to conquer the stag, you must permit me to place this piece of iron between your jaws so that I may guide you with these reins, and allow this saddle to be placed upon your back so that I may sit steadily on your back as we follow the enemy.” The horse readily agreed, and the hunter saddled and bridled him.

With the hunter’s help, the horse chased down and overcame the stag. Having thanked the hunter, the horse said “Now please get off my back and remove these things from my mouth and my back — they hurt me.”

“Not so fast, friend,” said the hunter. “I have now got you under bit and spur, and prefer to keep you as you are at present.”

The moral of the story: If you allow tyrants to use you for your own purposes, they will end up using you for theirs.

I was reminded of this story (which, IIRC, I first read as preface to one of the many books on authoritarianism in my collection) while reading Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s latest essay. PBM argues that Modi is showing all the signs of a tyrant; that he is bent on not merely decimating, but totally obliterating, all traces of opposition by whatever means necessary.

Took him — us — long enough to realize that, didn’t it? When Modi first made his bid for national power, various Opposition parties made common cause with him because they believed he would help them vanquish their enemy (the Congress, Muslims and other minorities, the “Lutyens’ gang”, whatever). And now they are busy in meetings — in Kharge’s chambers, in Sharad Pawar’s home, wherever — to try and figure out how to get rid of the bit Modi has lodged firmly between their teeth, and the spurs he is using to rake their sides with till he draws blood.

“Better late than never” doesn’t work in this context — what we have in India now is a case of the horse having well and truly bolted.

The BJP is well aware that the Opposition has finally woken up and is attempting to cobble together some sort of alliance that will create a joint front to oppose Modi and his basket of deplorables (thank you Hillary Clinton) in 2024. And if anything is certain, it is that the regime has already begun work in the background to divide, so they can continue to rule — and they have both the carrot and the stick at their disposal.

PBM is right when he says tyrants have an existential fear of losing power — what he forgot to add is the ‘why’. For Modi and gang, power was initially necessary for its own sake — an extended ego trip at the exchequer’s expense. But now it is about survival, pure and simple — they know that once they lose control, there is no counting the number of skeletons that will come tumbling out of various cupboards.

Holding meetings over samosas and tea, and then going back to business as usual is not going to help, though. For instance, a day after the Opposition meeting at Kharge’s place to chalk out a combined plan, Uddhav Thackeray was slamming Rahul Gandhi for criticizing Savarkar — a face-palm moment if ever there was one.

Non sequitur: The one thing anyone opposing the BJP can count on is that the party is predictable in its actions. In a post on March 25, I had inter alia suggested that the regime will lose no time in asking Rahul Gandhi to vacate his official premises and that RG can seize the initiative by immediately vacating it himself. Two days later, sure enough along comes the official notification to that effect (Gandhi’s response here).


THE last one month has been a fairly difficult time thanks to health issues (first me, then more seriously, the wife). What kept me going through it all was the Women’s Premier League, and now that it is over I find myself going back to watch random clips.

There is one aspect of the inaugural tournament that I intend to write about for my upcoming column in The Morning Context (which I will link to here when it goes up this coming Tuesday). In the meantime, a few random thoughts in no particular order:

When will the Indian media take women’s cricket seriously? I went to Cricinfo the morning after to read the match report — and wished I hadn’t; it was, not to mince words, a pathetic example of a scoreboard rendered in prose.

Who will come to watch women playing?, has been the BCCI counter ever since at least 2017, when the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj publicly asked for a women’s edition of the IPL. Jay Shah, who heads the BCCI, and Brijesh Patel, who is the figurehead, along with sundry other dignitaries got their answer — the crowds have been fantastic, not just numerically but in how engaged they were in the action, in how vibrant the atmosphere (a favorite buzzword when the male version is on) was at both stadiums. But it is really all about this mini-Jemi (in the screen grab below), and all the other kids like her who came to watch, and to cheer, and who will hopefully be inspired to emulate their idols.

Was Shefali Varma out to that Issy Wong full toss? My take is, yes. The rule is that the ball has to be above waist high when the batter is upright for it to be ruled a no-ball, and in real-time and in slow motion, the ball was at — not above — Varma’s waist. My problem is not with the decision itself, but the way it was given. There was one slow-mo replay, then a long lag, then one static ball-tracking image, and that’s all there was. Worse, throughout the decision-making process, the third umpire’s mike was mute. So none of us — the players, the spectators at the ground, those of us watching at home — had any inkling into the third umpire’s interpretation of what he was seeing. Why on earth can’t we get the little things right?

What was the idea of playing the national anthem before the start? The two teams feature players of mixed nationalities, no?

I found this scribble in my running notes taken during the tournament: “Over 12, Sophie/Parshavi”. Cue the real reason so many of us have been rooting for a women’s IPL for so long now. Parshavi Chopra, all of 16 years old, was bowling just her second over (having taken out Hayley Mathews with the first ball of her first over). Facing her was Natalie Sciver-Brunt, arguably one of the best all-rounders in the women’s game in this or any era. NSB pulled the first ball from Parshavi for four; followed it up with a loft over long-off, against the turn, for a six, and then stepped back and square-cut the third ball for four. Parshavi’s head visibly dropped; she looked lost — understandably, because she had tried three different lengths and been punished thrice in a row. Sophie Ecclestone was waiting for her near the bowling crease; the senior pro put an arm around the teenager’s shoulder and spoke to her earnestly. The stump mike picked it up clearly: Slow it down, Sophie told the youngster; pitch it further up; rip it. Still talking, Sophie walked Parshavi back to her mark. Ball four was fuller, around off, turning away. NSB was forced into an ungainly pull for a single to midwicket. Ball five — the googly. Harmanpreet Kaur, no less, stepped back to cut, misread the wrong ‘un totally, and saw it turn back in and hit her in the box. Ball six, full again and with flight and loop and dip; Kaur managed to eke out a single. Parshavi was smiling again as she collected her cap; Ecclestone had an even bigger smile on her face when she went up to pat the youngster on the back. This is the real value of the WPL — the opportunity for talented youngsters to learn from seasoned pros, to accelerate the learning curve.

The final was both low-scoring and enthralling — but I’ll save those thoughts for my column. My favorite part, though? Someone had the brilliant idea of doing away with all the male commentators and putting an all-woman team to both call the play and analyze it. Such joy — no high-decibel hype; just clear, calm commentary and superb insights.

My pet peeve about commentators is that they describe exactly what we are seeing: “Aaaand that has been smashed to the extra cover boundary, GLORIOUS shot!!!!!” Contrast that with — to note just one example out of many — a moment in the sixth over of the Mumbai Indians’ innings, Rajeswari Gayakwad to Hayley Mathews. On length, just outside off. Mathews went deep in her crease to shorten the length, and hit it over extra cover for four. Kate Cross, calling the play: “Such good use of the depth of the crease to create the length she wanted — but what I liked is how she opened her left shoulder up to access the extra cover region.”

If you want to hit through the point-cover region, you need to close the left shoulder to give you traction; if you are targeting anywhere from extra-cover to mid-off, you open up to get the leverage you need. That is what good commentators do — they don’t describe what you can very well see for yourself; instead, they provide the nuance that helps you understand better what you just saw.

Right, that’s that from me for today. Be well all.

Match ka mujrim

In my Morning Context column this month, I wrote about India’s semifinal exit at the Women’s World T20 championship and the narratives that proliferated in the wake of that defeat.

Harmanpreet Kaur (who was hospitalised with fever the evening before, and who played on a diet of paracetamol) was too casual in taking the second run. The fielders were crap — misfields gave away 20 or so runs; Meg Lanning was dropped shortly after she opened her account… Our lower order batters didn’t keep their nerve once Kaur got out…

Fair points, all of them — except that they count the trees while missing the forest. And alongside it runs a parallel narrative: that the WPL, which began on March 4, is the solution to all these ills; that the domestic league will produce so much talent that we will soon draw level with, and overtake, serial champions Australia.

I’ve been arguing for a while that the Indian women have the potential to be world-beaters — but the WPL is in and of itself not the solution the sport needs, any more than the IPL was for the men. There have been seven editions of the World T20 championships since the IPL started back in 2008 — and the Indian men haven’t one a single one of them. QED).

The crux of my piece is this: “In the past decade, the Indian women’s team has churned through as many as six different coaches, some of them holding office more than once. Anju Jain (2011-2013); Tushar Arothe (2013-2014); Purnima Rao (2014-2017); Arothe again (2017-2018); Ramesh Powar (2018); WV Raman (2018-2021); Powar again (2021-2022) and, taking office just a little over a month before the World T20, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, who as batting coach doubled up as head coach because the BCCI couldn’t be bothered to appoint one.”

It’s a fairly simple argument, really — it is not high-profile domestic tournaments that will help you build a team, but steady, focussed, year-round effort not just by the players but also by the board.

Here is the piece (It’s behind a paywall, apologies to those of you who are not subscribers).

While on that, I’d written about the WPL in the previous edition of the column as well, focussing on the opportunities waiting for a smart board to take advantage of. And there is also this excellent Sharda Ugra piece in the Hindustan Times, where she talks of how the women’s team has gone from being a curiosity to be patronised to earning a growing fan base in its own right.

Also read this Forbes piece on how the WPL can build value over the coming years.

Let the ladies come out and play

Give us more Tests, says Raj. The women’s team, since debuting on the international stage in October 1976 against the West Indies, has played 36 Tests till date; its last Test was on November 16, 2014 against the South African women (which, by the way, India won by an innings and 34 runs). Raj herself, arguably among the best players in the world, made her Test debut in January 2002 and, over the next 14 years, has played a grand total of ten Tests.

The likes of Raj and Kaur have consistently claimed for their peers the opportunity to play, to showcase their skills and to improve in the heat of competition at the domestic and international levels. The men have a Future Tours Program, a schedule, to tell them who they are playing this time next year; the women however have neither a program, nor a schedule, nor any sense of what the future holds.

A clip from my latest column for Scroll, which starts with Narendra Modi’s Mann ki Baat and ends with my own kaam ki baat.

PS: Reminds me, I now write a fortnightly cricket/sports column for Scroll. Past columns are here.

The zen of Mithali Raj

In a Women’s World Cup final marked by more ‘clutch moments’ and ‘turning points’ than you can count, there was for me one moment that defined this Indian team and its leader.

The last wicket had fallen, the cup was England’s and Heather Knight’s mates were celebrating. Off in one corner of the field, the Indian team milled around, with drooping heads and tear-blind eyes. And in the thick of it all, captain Mithali Raj walked from player to player, giving each a hug, a few words of solace; on occasion, her hand reached up to wipe away the tears.

As she walked over to the next player, you saw the eyes of the player she had just left following her, fixed on her as you would on the light of a candle in a dark and dismal world. In her actions was a sign of how much she felt for her players, girls who she had inspired when they were mere toddlers, and shepherded into the big leagues and, on this day, onto the biggest stage the game has to offer. And in their eyes you saw just what Raj meant to every single one of them. Defeat was their lot, but they were finding it bearable, just, because Raj was there with them.

And then, with the same imperturbable calm, Raj walked over to the presentation area for her post match press conference. With her smile in place, she spoke of how well the opposition had fought and how they had deserved to win, she spoke of her disappointment at the result but immediately leavened it with fulsome praise of her mates, calling them the lodestars for the next generation of Indian talent. With no change of expression, she said she hoped to be able to play for a year or two more, but added that this was her last World Cup.

If at any time she felt the hurt, if at any time the most prolific batsman in the women’s game felt the pain of being unable to add the ultimate accolade to her impressive collection of laurels, it never showed. On this day, on this stage, she was careful to never reveal, by word or gesture, her own disappointment. Her wards, she must have figured, were feeling bad enough without being reminded of her own angst.

And thus, with that zen-like calm, she exited a stage she had adorned for 18 years. And in the manner of her exit she taught one last lesson: that sport, when you come right down to it, is not just about skill and fitness; finally, and at its best, it is about grace, about being able to “treat those two impostors just the same”. And thus, in the manner of her leaving, she left Indian cricket, and the game itself, just that little bit richer. And poorer.

Jarrod Kimber, arguably the freshest, feistiest voice in cricket writing today, sums up what Raj has accomplished, and against what odds, in this lovely example of writing to tight deadline.

Mithali Raj ran for 18 years, all around the world, for her women, for her India, and she ended up a foot short. Some say she should have dived for the crease, thrown herself, but she had already thrown every part of her into cricket all her life.

Here, read.