30 September 2006

Betting on the batting?

It would seem that the forecast for India at the Champions Trophy is all too bleak. Save for the pedigree of Tendulkar, our batting was, it has to be said, an abysmal failure in Kuala Lumpur. Sehwag’s technical deficiencies were exposed for all to see, and Dhoni’s impatience exploited. Dravid, the wall, consistency personified over the last year, did not enjoy too much success at the top of the order. Yuvraj never lasted too long to make the kind of impact he is capable of. Mohammed Kaif, the only batsman to emerge unscarred from the ODIs in the Caribbean, wasn’t given too many opportunities to prove his mettle. Pathan, with the limited opportunity that he was given, proved at one drop, that at this point in this career, his batting is certainly better than his bowling.

The question that must be asked, and the question that everyone has been asking, is whether the DLF failure of the Indian batting signified a failure of Chappel-Dravid’s experimentation policy. Ravi Shastri seems to be in favour of the idea of fixed batting spots, and was particularly vitriolic with Dravid’s opening spot. His argument made sense. Dravid was prolific at number six, scoring runs in the manner that only Dravid can, consolidating when the situation demanded, rotating the strike, running fast – barely a shadow of his initial one day self when he never seemed to be able to get off strike. He even seemed to be able to slip out of the wall robe and accelerate the scoring – sometimes even to skyscraper heights, and was briefly the best batsman in the world in both ODIs and Tests.

The question of Dravid’s batting spot is inextricably connected to that of Sehwag – whose form at the top of the order has not of late, reflected his destructive ability. It is clearly slump time in his career, and maybe he really needs to think about overcoming his technical deficiencies. To say, “o, that’s just the way he plays”, is clearly misjudged because the longer Sehwag stays at the wicket, India’s chances of victory can only multiply. And true champions make us fans forget they ever had a slump. Just take a look at Sachin.

So who should it be then, to partner Sachin? It has been argued that a Sehwag explosion at the top of the order would enable Sachin to bat with pressure free ease. On the other hand, Sehwag can be equally destructive at the death – an area where India has struggled in the recent past. Dravid in one word is solid, and brings to the table an unparalleled ability to milk the bowling. It is not an easy choice to make. Having Dravid at the top of the order puts pressure on Sachin to exploit the powerplays – which is not necessarily a bad thing if it works. But a choice has to be made, and I would be more inclined to have Dravid open for the sole reason that Sehwag is struggling with the new ball. For now.

Technique is not Sehwag’s problem alone. For years, the Indian batting has been suspect against the seaming ball. Yuvraj and Kaif have a problem, but they have shown in the past that they have the ammunition to tackle the problem and come up trumps. When the Indian batting collapsed in KL, it was more because of the weakness against the seaming ball than a problem with experimentation. What should not be forgotten is that most of India’s success from the last season was crafted on insipid subcontinental pitches.

What is experimentation? Would Ravi Shastri ever have opened the batting for India, had it not been for an adventurous captain? And for that matter would Sachin Tendulkar ever have been able to display is explosive best at the top of the order if Azhar was experiment shy? Both Dhoni and Pathan are products of the situation-specific batting order policy.

Is there a case for settled batting spots where every batsman knows exactly what his role is? To be able to bat to the demands of a situation is the batsman’s greatest skill – forget light feet, a straight bat and a still head. Except for the openers, no batsman ever knows the kind of situation in which he will be called in to perform. By this reasoning, the team just needs a settled opening pair. Every other spot, demands a batsman who has the specific skill set to tackle the specific demands of a situation. And thus, as Chappel is so fond of putting forth, experimentation is no longer an experiment, but a policy.

27 September 2006

Bombay Boyzone v. Hyderabad Hailstorm

Apparently, we are soon going to be able to watch more cricket than ever before.

That domestic cricket in India was not getting the market it deserved had been a constant itch in the BCCI crack. In fact, slick hockey marketing made domestic hockey more watched than domestic cricket. PHL did have its faults: like overcooking the golden goose, but then PHL is an excellent lesson for those who are going to market Indian domestic cricket.

Spotlight wont be an entirely bad thing. In fact I am certain that those at the fringes of our national consciousness will love it. Endorsements will come in, more money for the players and the Railways team will never have to travel second class again. Hopefully, the dream will be sustainable, and the BCCI - its coffers full, has the gumption to stick on with this experiment even if it fails at the first go. Right now, the safety nets are dime a dozen, which gives the domestic cricket product enough time to make mistakes and evolve. Jazzy (or so it seems the intention is) names are never going to be enough.

But aren't we watching too much cricket already? Of course for junkies like me, the more the better to fuel and sustain my addiction. Be that as it may, there is clearly a case for the 'too much cricket' argument. On the one hand players past and former harp on about the strain on bodies, and the shortening of careers. There is also the a different kind of former cricketer who will snidley let slip a 'sissy' remark: 'you better fuckin play all 365 days for the fuckin money you're gettin'. Player fitness apart, is the ODI brand killing itself? In sport, context is everything. Why were the English cricketers willing to kill themselves for a bloody urn? Why is the FIFA World Cup so important? And how is spectator interest sustained when football clubs have to make money, making their thoroughbreds play through the year? By having a championship or a league where most matches mean something! A dead match is a rare thing.

Take the DLF cup. Five months from now, I will be lucky to remember Sachin and Chanderpaul. Apart from a random trophy that Ponting pocketed like all else that comes his way, did it mean much in the larger scheme. Or is the larger scheme insignificant in the business of making money? Yes, cricket does have a championshiop. Does it make sense? Does my presswallah understand how points are earned and rungs climbed? Thats food for thought. Question: when Ganguly's men went on a rampage, flaying the Aussie attack in Australia; when they finally had a forgettable end of tour one day competition, which other team(s) were part of the mix? My point exactly!

23 September 2006

Wicket Alert

I have been reduced to following cricket online. Just a month back, only train travel and dire attendance requirements could prevent me from watching at least the Indian batting. Once, in the chill of the Bangalore winter, when play would start at 3 a.m, I wrapped myself in a blanket, in front of the hostel television, with only a dog for company. That was the accursed tour of New Zealand just before the previous world cup. Ashish Nehra and Zaheer were making a name for themselves, and the Indian battting was taking its pants off for Bond, Shane Bond.
So this state of affairs, when I follow instant written commentary and Java-powered wicket alerts, should have been a dampener. And no doubt, it has. But it has its own charm. Dont get me wrong. I'd prefer Michael Holding's rum flavoured voice any day.

But what saves the situation is BD, a colleague, persistent gambler and fellow fan. BD is system adminstrator and has the luxury to lounge until something screws up with the computers. On a match day, he sits in front of his computer, read commentary, and frequently get very excited. BD makes this office a lovely place to work in, on match days. In the morning when I walk in, he would be with a notebook, scribbling down bets: and bets can only be made with bottles of beer. During the DLF series, I lost and regained three bottles.

12 September 2006

Eyes on Irfan

Tomorrow, the unlikeliest of cricket venues will light up with BCCI largesse to bear witness to India and the Windies attempt to knock a rusty Australia off their pedestal. The Aussies have no doubt been boosted by the return of a certain Glenn McGrath, him of the metronomic accuracy. The Windies have been on an upward swing in the one-dayers, on the back of a Dwayne Bravo shot-in-the-arm. India, throughly humiliated the last time they played the limited overs game, will have a point to prove. If ratings are anything to go by, it will be an India-Australia contest, with Lara's men providing the colourful sideshow. But as we have seen so often in cricket, ratings mean next to nothing. India hasn't played any competetive cricket for a while and the Aussies haven't got their flannels dirty for even longer, and the last time they did so was against Bangladesh.

Everyone will be watching the great Tendulkar make his comeback. Is his shoulder okay? Will he be sedate? Will he and Sehwag set KL on fire? All these questions have been posed ad nauseum by the media in India. Several other questions deserve greater scrutiny. Such as Irfan Pathan. Two years back, he was the ICC's Most Promising Young Player. Picking up early wickets for India with a consistency that brought back memories of Wasim Akram, and contributing usefully with the bat across the globe, and all over the batting order, he seemed set for a long and glorious career - definitely the next Kapil Dev, this-time-we-got-it-right. Sadly, that hasn't been the case. Irfan has dissappointed with the new ball, most memorably in the West Indies when he became India's fourth choice seamer. And in the middle of it all, Chappel decided to open his mouth. We do not know, and we will never know perhaps, how Pathan reacted to those comments on his lost confidence. All manner of experts have been expressing their hope that Irfan will make a comeback, putting even more pressure on him.

Anyway, we will know soon enough.

09 September 2006

Mysterious Disappearance

Tell me, what can be more annoying than a lost wallet? First the realization, one of outright panic, followed by a frenzy of searching. Deep breathing and half hearted attempts at calming yourself down, followed by more sedate searching and retracing of steps. And then you face up to the truth: the wallet is lost. That uncomfortable feeling under your right buttock is no more, together with currency notes, an ATM card - modern banking's umbilical cord substitute, and several visiting cards - most of them unnecessary. Some soul searching. Why am I like this?? Why do I lose things so easily?

And then, the gradual return to normalcy, stalled by gnawing doubt. Aaaaah.. it's just a f***** wallet, man. Nothing is indispensable. But I loved that smell of old leather. Sigh.

08 September 2006

Aur yeh hamaara khet hai, aur yeh hamaara ghar

What is atounding about technology in India is not the almost everywhere. It is the almost everyone.

V stands right at the digital divide, one leg on either side. He is from hilly Gharwal in Uttaranchal and arrived in Delhi a year back, with practically no knowledge of computers or modern telecommunications. He now has an Orkut profile and a Gmail account. Monday last, he pointed out to me his house in the village, where his parents live, on Wikimapia. It proudly bears the tag, V's house.

V knows such little English. He is twenty and yet to clear his tenth standard exams. Truly a revolution.

Vande Mataram

Who first used the words 'compulsory singing' in the context of Vande Mataram? Was it Arjun Singh? Someone in the Gujarat government? A central government order? Or did the media jump the gun?
It doesn't matter.

Why did BCC first write the song? In praise of Bengal the motherland or India?
It doesn't matter.

Is it un-Islamic to sing Vande Mataram? Does the Quran proscribe the 'worship' of the motherland? Does Vande Mataram contain elements of worship, in addition to 'respect'?
It doesnt matter.

None of these matter because 'compulsory singing' as an idea is antithetical to the Indian constitutional ethos. Compulsory speech abrogates the freedom of speech and expression. Article 19(1)(a) also means that I have a freedom not to speak. More importantly, it strikes at the root of a principle that is basic to our democracy: the freedom of thought. The state cannot compel any person to think in a manner that it desires, and the tendency of 'compulsory speech' is to do exactly that. In Rangarajan v. Jagjivan Ram, the Supreme Court had echoed these sentiments when it said that a healthy democracy required the active and intelligent participation of its citizens.

A parallel may be drawn from the United States. A New Hampshire law compelled the State motto "Live Free or Die", to be embossed on car license plates. A follower of Jehovah's Witnesses objected. The Supreme Court held that the State's requirement invaded First Amendment rights and could not be justified as facilitating the identification of passenger vehicles or as promoting an appreciation of history, individualism, and State pride.

Of course, there may reasonable restrictions. But the reasonableness of a restriction can only be judged in the context of the right invaded, and the purpose of such restriction. And in the case of free speech, any restriction will face the strictest scrutiny. In Union of India v. Motion Pictures Association, provisions of the Cinematograph Act came under scruntiny because it compelled theatre owners to screen selected short films. The law however escaped mostly unhurt because most of these films served the public purpose of extolling laudable goals like adult literacy.

The only purpose of a 'compulsory singing' of Vande Mataram is the display of patriotism. Far from helping the cause of the nation's integrity, it has only made the schisms wider. It cannot be justified.

07 September 2006

Guilty Until Otherwise

It was in DPP v. Woolmington that the phrase 'golden thread' entered common law and immortality. The principle that an accused is innocent until proven guilty is the 'golden thread' than ran through all of criminal law. This principle is the fault line at which the criminal law of any civilized society distinguishes itself from the Napoleanic or Kafkaesque. However, what is true of criminal law, need not be true elsewhere. Particularly in politics.

Bill Clinton was guilty long before the Starr Report, much less a trial. Natwar Singh's image of adroit Nehruvian cleanliness was forever tainted by Volcker and Pathak Inc., much like Rajiv Gandhi's at the first whiff of Bofors. Scandal in politics cannot be wished away. Once a decision to enter public life has been made, the risk of a tainted image is inescapable. Unlike a criminal trial, a comeback is not always possible; an accusation remains - atleast in newspaper and video archive.

The most problematic part of a scandal is that it stalls governance. If the accused is an office-bearer of government, then there is little chance that any work gets done. Endless public time is spent on refuting allegations, so much so that the most prudent course of action might be to resign without fuss. But politicians as a breed are street-fighters and a resignation is an admission of defeat. No one wants to go that way.

P J Joseph, veteran Kerala Congress politician, was accused of misbehaving with a co-passenger in an aeroplane. Yesterday, he submitted his resignation. The IG's report on the matter did not indict him. It merely suggested that further investigation may be required.

The tacit agreement is that he will return to his portfolio when his name is cleared. All things considered, that was probably the best route to go.

06 September 2006

Merra style southu, waperations northu

I saw Sarkar. Finally. People had been telling me to just see it for its own sake, but somehow an opportunity never materialized.
Part of the reason I never saw Sarkar before was that I don't watch too many Bollywood movies. Yes, I am snooty. So? See, in this case the snootiness is well worth it. Too many Hindi movies had delivered too many crushing blows. From Dil To Pagal Hai to Border, I suffered enough bad dialogue to last me a lifetime. Now, as a matter of policy, I don't watch Hindi movies unless someone (someone reliable, someone whose taste I trust which is not a ToI review) recommends it. I haven't watched Rang De Basanti.
Don't get me wrong. Some of my favourite movies are in Hindi. When I was twelve, I spent most of time watching an Andaaz Apna Apna tape again and again. Like everyone else, I love Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I wanted to be Don! I screamed my lungs out during the climactic cricket moments of Lagaan. And yet, I know that if I make a random selection and go watch a movie on opening Friday I am likely to be dissappointed. Like I was with Shabd - easily the worst movie ever, for the kind of hype it had. An experience like that was enough to scar me for a lifetime.

But Sarkar was a different matter altogether. Sarkar, I wanted to see. Not because of the hype, not because it was inspired by Godfather - one of my favourite movies, but because I was very very impressed with what RGV can do on a canvas of crime. I loved Satya and I loved Company even more. Making a movie where the protagonists' are criminals (or outlaws, a term preferable to 'criminal' in the Sarkar context) is the toughest of tasks, because if an audience is to empathize with the protagonists', an unpopular set of values have to be imbibed very early on in the movie.
RGV does that by unapologetically borrowing Francis Ford's method in Godfather. With certain contextual changes, the introduction of Subhash Nagre isn' too different from Vito Corleone's: essentially, using the powers at his disposal in the aid of a broken man. Immediately, the audience loves him. I loved him.

Anyway, as anyone who has seen that movie is likely to report, the movie doesn't dissappoint. RGV's trilogy of crime and punishment in India are landmark moments in Indian cinema. They might not have generated KANK revenues, but the next time he makes a crime movie, I'll watch it. Maybe even on opening Friday.

Super Supreme versus the Evil J&K Bar Association

Over the years, the Supreme Court of India has earned all manner of aprobation, for its many rescue acts. From the environment to human rights to upholding the Constitution, this Bhagwandas Rd building and its robed inmates have repeatedly shorn procedural shackles to save the day. Popular culture breeds people with similar attributes: the superhero. Bruce Wayne, millionaire playboy shirks off stereotype and Armani, slips into costume and zooms off in the Batmobile to fight criminals by night. Shy, stuttering reporter Clark Kent is actually Superman! Teenaged and confused, Peter Parker becomes Spiderman in the face of great evil.
As far as superheroes go, the Supreme Court has to be in a class of its own. Lumbering and lethargic by day, a constitutional breach tends to bring out the superhero within. As happened yesterday when the J&K sex scandal case was transferred to Chandigarh. The J&K Bar Association, true to form, used the sex scandal to whip up secessionist sentiments and issued a statement that no advocate would be permitted to defend the accused. It did not take long for the matter to come to the attention of the Supreme Court, clearly infuriated with a denial of the basic right to a fair trial. Green muscles ripping through clothing, eyes aflame, the Court did a repeat of the Best Bakery scenario, where the case was transferred for retrial to Maharashtra, resulting in a conviction.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.

05 September 2006


Today is Thiruvonam, and for me, was far from celebratory. I woke up late, smoked several cigarettes and read the Hindu. Back home in Trivandrum, several yards of clothing would have changed hands by then.

My associates at the Mal Mafia refused my company too. What's the point of an Onasadhya where you can't be with friends and family; even if you're eating off china plates. I dropped the idea. And I went to work, even though I had been given the day off. Yes, I am a loser. Yes, this was the worst Onam in history.

Talking of history, I wonder whether Maveli had a policy on NRMs. (Non Resident Malayalis, for the uninitiated) Today, the Kerala government has an entire ministry dedicated to their welfare. Anyway, its a blurry area of the legend that has been passed on. To those not in the know, Onam is celebrated to remember the reign of King Maveli, during whose reign prosperity reigned supreme in Kerala; and poverty and want was unknown. Maveli is believed to visit Kerala during the days of Onam and many of the rituals associated with this day rely on this piece of legend.

Even Sreesanth must have had a fairly bad day. Poor guy got dropped from the team yesterday. And that after an impressive Windies tour where he was among the wickets consistently. The marginally more economical Rudra Pratap was chosen ahead of him on the strength of superlative performances with the India A side in Australia. At least, that's the rationale if you believe the media. Only, there is something fundamentally wrong with dropping someone from the national side because somebody else performed well at the A level. Sreesanth's performances haven't been bad enough to merit an exclusion. In fact, in tandem with Munaf Patel, India was slowly beginning to boast of a settled, wicket-taking (albeit expensive) fast bowling pair - something that we had lacked ever since Javagal Srinath operated with Venkatesh Prasad, all those years ago.

An Indian fast bowler is that breed of cricketer who has to keep ploughing hard on unresponsive surfaces, sometimes with nothing but hope and a willing back to guide him. An exclusion might mean next to nothing to someone who fights the odds for a career.

Paraochialism doesn't have too much to do with the above rant. Promise.