Thursday, June 28, 2007

It gets better

Its a rare day when one gets email from the Managing Editor of Cricinfo (who sounds like a very young and defensive man). Here is our latest exchange. Martin Williamson responds:
Thanks for the mail.Just because we are a global website does not mean that every article has to be regionalised or qualified. Not does it have to cover the whole world. That would be unworkable and unnecessary. I am suitable impressed that you are an academic. However, your argument does not hold water and the article, and the brief for it, was never to find instances from across the world. I will be more than happy to write a follow-up with XI more from other countries. I will set about that straight away! I appreciate that you consider my writing and approach unprofessional but, with respect, do not really need to be told what standards to aim for and would not make any attempt to lecture you, a complete stranger, on how best to carry out your chosen career.
And I wrote back:
Martin, Charming attitude for the Managing Editor of Cricinfo. Please read your second paragraph again, and I suggest you then put it on your website's home page. I'm sure all us "perfect strangers", the readers and users of your website, that have made it the hot property that it is (ESPN did buy you guys out, right?) will find it very edifying. Since you are impressed by me being an academic, I suggest a little homework for you: try explaining why my argument doesn't hold water. Please do. And please explain why a more descriptive title for the article is so hard for you. By the way, check out the column that preceded yours. Animal Antics, the one you wrote with Andrew Miller.10 of out these 11 instances involve cricket played in, or by England. This is like shooting fish in a barrel. Would you please make a decent point so that I can expend some energy in trying to refute it? Lastly, if you want feedback, be prepared for criticism and 'advice'. Otherwise, disable that page, and put up a button that says "Click here to send hosannas, bouquets, and hurrahs".


A response from Cricinfo

So, Martin Willamson wrote back pronto:

I am English. Terribly sorry about that, but there it is. It is fairly understandable that just as my knowledge of the game is more in-depth about England and that research of newspapers etc is far easy for me using archives here.Thanks for the ONE instance. I am aware there are more abroad. I challenge you to come up with an interesting and varied XI.
And I wrote back:

Fair enough. Would you mind then, changing the article's title to "Eleven Unusual Interruptions in Cricket in matches played in, or by, England"? Cricinfo is a global website, and surely its writers can put more accurate titles on their pieces, when the scope of the article is not global.

Incidentally, this was the same response I received from Andrew Miller. I don't suppose you have any idea how incredibly lame it sounds for a journalist, writing for an international website (I dare say the top website for the game), to write a supposedly general, global in scope, piece, and then respond to someone pointing out that its completely England-centric, that "Sorry, I'm English"?

As for your 'challenge', well. I thought of one instance from memory. (by the way, what about the Kingston test in 1998(?) called off because of dodgy pitch conditions? On the first day? Yeah, that involved England too, but that was a test.) You guys have access to the best archives in the world - by far the best - and your only response is, "Sorry, I'm English, lets see if you can do better"? Thats poor journalism, and a lame response. I'm an academic, and if I wrote a piece that was supposed to be global in scope (say, about intellectual property) and someone pointed out to me that it was US-centric, my response would not be "I'm sorry, I'm an American academic, now bugger off, and see if you can do better". I would either add a disclaimer, pointing out that I'm not a specialist in global intellectual property issues, and hence my piece would reflect this focus, or if I had the time and inclination, I would work on making my pieces more accurately reflect the global dimensions of the issue. I dare say, that would be the professional response.

I'm sorry Martin, you can do much better. You work for the Wisden Group, and for the world's biggest sports website. You need to set higher standards for yourself. Telling readers that your ostensibly global pieces are unapologetically England-centric is, (have I said it before?), lame. I'm sorry if this sounds patronizing, but there it is.

Have a good summer.


A letter to Cricinfo

Folks, I think you need to acknowledge you have a problem with your England-centric coverage. I wrote an email some months ago, referring to an article by Andrew Miller (on eleven great comebacks in test cricket), which sparked an irate, defensive response from Andrew himself. Now, check out this latest piece by Martin Williamson on unusual interruptions for play. This article is the best illustration of how it seems to some of your writers that cricket is only played in, or by, England. Look at the interruptions listed:

  1. Snow - county cricket
  2. Plague - county cricket, school cricket in England
  3. Cold - county cricket
  4. Heat - county cricket again
  5. Sun - oh, wait, now its one-day cricket in England
  6. Eclipse - a test involving England
  7. Bomb threat - woah, England again!
  8. Elections - oh, its the Rest of the World against England
  9. Death - a test involving, wait for it, England!
  10. Politics - of course, who else, England

Just off the top of my head, I could point you to the Bangalore test in the 1978-79 series between the West Indies and India (sorry, England wasn't playing). The last day was called off because of the fear of political unrest in the city (the test was poised for a great finish; check out the archives).This was a test, and a real, high-quality cricketing situation was developing, and it was cruelly denied us. But the test was played in India, and it didn't involve England. Perhaps thats why it doesn't register on radars anywhere.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

We hardly knew ye

Siddarth Vaidyanathan offers this thoughtful piece on the failure of Yuvraj Singh to live up to his potential. India's new youth brigade, arguably, showed up first at the ICC Nairobi tourney in 2000 (see, I don't remember which tournament it was, possibly the Champions? but I do know it was a one-day tournament). I remember that cup clearly, partly because I was living in Sydney, and always needed to go to pubs to watch most cricket on FoxSports (Channel 9 covered the domestic season, and some overseas tours), but mostly because of the debuts that Yuvraj and Zaheer made. To be honest, I thought the next generation had well and truly arrived. Yuvraj looked very feisty, fielded well, and was a lefty - what more could one ask for? And Zaheer? Well, all of a sudden, India had a quick who was a left-armer, who hit the 140s, who also didn't lack in aggression. Well, seven years have gone by. Zaheer has opened a restaurant in Bangalore; I'm not sure if Yuvraj has opened a pub in Chandigarh. But their cricketing careers have been a series of frustrations: injuries, inconsistency, the occasional dazzlers (to be fair to Yuvraj, he has at least put in stellar performances in a couple of famous Indian one-day wins) and in sum, a failure to live up to their 'potential' (I use scare quotes because I'm not sure what that means). The other youth brigade, which included Kaif, Balaji, Pathan, Raina, Nehra etc is also gone, perhaps never to return. I don't know where young Indian hopefuls go after their brief careers; is there a large island somewhere off the Coromandel Coast where they live in some gated residence? I miss you all; send us a postcard sometime, and please tell Zak, Yuvi and the rest that you wish they don't join you on that island.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tiny notes and two steps backwards

India lost again to a team that they seem to have developed a losing streak against: South Africa. While its silly to read anything into a one-day international as a preparation for a test series, little things must be paid attention to. To wit, Tendulkar and Dravid can be relied on to dig in (but not necessarily counterattack) in moments of crisis, that Ganguly and Gambhir can be relied on to have problems with the ball angled across them by right-handed quicks (the latter, bears the minor unfortunate distinction of being The Delhi Cricketer Viewed with Most Suspicion by Samir Chopra), and that India's bowling is slightly underdone at the moment, despite featuring a much-improved Zaheer Khan and the promising RP Singh. No more for now, but different aspects of this team will come to light in the next couple of weeks before the real business of the tests start. Still, with all the illnesses thrown in, it was a decent effort, one perhaps a bit too reliant on the Tendulkar/Dravid combine, but one that should improve enough (in the one-dayers) to take on England with real confidence (the tests are another matter).

Meanwhile, Bangladesh are continuing to disappoint in test matches with their performance against Sri Lanka in the first test at Colombo being their latest shambolic performance. I was impressed by their one-day side during the World Cup, but their continuing run of ludicrously poor performance in test matches is dispiriting. Getting bowled out for 89 on the first day of a test match and then conceding a lead of nearly 500 is so, like, retrograde.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Theres a bug in my whites

A mystery illness sweeps the Indian team (perhaps, now, the team will give Akash Chopra another go? and Ian Chappell offers his take on the challenges the Indian team will face in England (no, he didn't list that mystery bug, preferring to concentrate on matters cricketing). Such an outbreaks suggests food poisoning (or perhaps viral entritis). Whatever the particular diagnosis in this case, can someone please adjust the score on the England-India scorecard that keeps track of how many cricketers from each side fall ill while touring the other country. England has long boasted a healthy lead in this department (with the injury count on last year's series being particularly impressive). Indian requests for years to keep boredom, palms brutalized by early season catching practice and stomachs tormented by English cuisine on the list of eligible afflictions have been turned down, but surely, theres no arguing with a viral infection. When it comes to the cricket, of course, theres other threats that lurk.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Letter to an Indian cricketer

So I read about the BCCI's letter to the Indian team as they leave for England, and thought I could do much better.

Dear Indian Cricketer:

Congratulations! You have been selected for the Indian team which will be touring various parts of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England. Though you might have thought these were all the same at some point in your life, by the end of the tour you will know the difference. (For instance, you will be able to confidently tell a Barmy Army member who struts around wearing a shirt with the Union Jack that says "England's Barmy Army", that he is an absolute twerp for making that mistake). But there are some things you need to be careful about. Firstly, avoid talking to anyone. This isn't as much of an imposition as it seems. You'll be sick of your teammates by the end of the tour so that problem will solve itself. Talking to the locals is out of the question; most of them will have incomprehensible accents, especially up north, and they don't want to hear what you want to say anyway. They'll want to tell you whats wrong with Indian cricket, and for that, we have plenty of television channels at home. Don't talk to the press in particular. They're all Pakistani agents (have you seen the number of Pakistanis who live in London?). Secondly, watch out for your diet. You might have heard bizarre concocted stories about how good the Indian food is in England. It isn't Indian to begin with, and its not very good Have you heard of a place called Sylhet? Thats where its from (yeah, we didn't think you knew). (yes, you might find the odd exception but how long will that take you? You have to keep practicing against swing bowling in the nets). Thirdly, watch out for Monty. Don't think he'll be friendly to you like the other Sikhs you might have known. He is from Luton, and spends too much time taking tips from Nasser Hussain on how to be nasty to Indians. If you do insist on chatting with the English team, make sure you tell Kevin Pietersen he has a lovely South African accent. But other than that, have a good time, give our love to the Queen and the boys, and make sure your sponsor logo shows at all times. Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan!


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The missing leather sphere

I can't believe I don't own a cricket balll; one I could keep on a shelf, and occasionally pick up just to sense that old familiar weight, to run my fingers over its seam, to toss it up a bit, twirl it around just a little to evoke those old fantasies of being able to bowl a leg-break (I never learned how to; instead I bowled googly after googly, effortlessly bowling offspinners with a legbreak action). But mainly, the cricket ball would be a good technology demonstrator, useful in so many different ways. I could show my New York friends just how hard the ball was, so they could understand why it was such a fearsome thing in the hands of West Indians in years gone by, and in Pakistanis' in the 1990s, why bowling spin was such a black art, why taking catches in the slip region and at point was such a skill (maybe I could walk them down to Prospect Park and make them go through a little catching practice, and just to be a little mischevious, would throw the odd ball a little harder just so that it could smack their palms with that satisfying 'splat'). Maybe I could do the same with my wife (except the bit about catching practice in Prospect Park). But mostly, I'd like to have a cricket ball at home because it would make daydreaming a little easier; it would be so much easier to go the whole hog - when it comes to conjuring up those memories - with a cricket ball in hand. I couldn't mark out a run-up in this small living-room of mine, but just the act of tossing the ball up would tickle that part of my cranium that acts as repository for those flickering memories, some real, some imagined.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Losing it

Have the folks over at Cricinfo lost the plot completely? According to them, the 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa, an exciting enough match to be sure, was
The greatest one-day match in history, and arguably the greatest game of cricket anywhere
Pardon my French as I address the unknown writer of these words: are you freaking nuts? It was a one-day international with a close ending (like hundreds of other one-dayers), it benefited from its placing as world cup semi-final, and its final out involved a twist involving tournament rules that meant that a tie ensured one of the teams won. But the greatest one-day ever? The greatest game of cricket? Look laddy, grow up, read a book or something. And get real. There are plenty of great games of cricket played every year. Some of them believe it or not, are not played in England, and are not one-day games.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sir Ian?

Ian Botham gets the tap on the shoulder from the old German lady. Ah, gee, Ian, did you have to accept? Well, whatever, I'm not going to be calling him Sir Ian anytime soon.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Not business as usual

Hold on to this link if you can, where Tom Gleeson says it will be business as usual at Cricinfo in the days to come. Though when things get embarassing, I suspect it will go missing. So perhaps the best thing to do might be to make a local copy of it. ESPN has acquired Cricinfo, as everyone knows by now, and I expect lots of things to change. Some for the worse (and in that article, some of the problematic possible changes are dismissed as non-possibilities by Gleeson). We'll see. What I'd like ESPN to do is to buy some new servers, so that the next time India plays a test match or an ODI, they can handle the traffic. Despite all their trumpet-blowing about being the best sports site on the net, come the time of a big match, their servers creak and groan like a geriatric pensioner's knees. And despite Gleeson's protestations, I suspect the days of free content on Cricinfo are numbered.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Another conspiracy theory?

So the New York Times finally deigns to cover cricket again - to talk about the non-murder of Bob Woolmer, of course. No way that the Grey Lady will bother to actually provide any real coverage of cricket. Interestingly, in Marc Lacey's May 16th article on the subject, the ethnic origins of the pathologist, Ere Seshiah, were not mentioned. But now that the reversal has come about, every report on this business has mentioned that is he is of "Indian-origin". Gee. Can we let the conspiracy theories be put to rest? Or is this matter so possessed of a life of its own that it won't go away? (Over at Cricinfo, the Pak Spin Blog has already seen a few spats break out because of this "Indian-origin" pathologist - absolutely hilarious stuff). I wonder how many people realize that being of Indian-origin in the Caribbean is pretty darn common? You know, like, if you'd bothered to pay attention to West Indian cricket you might have realized that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

That sinking feeling

The more I think about it, the more the prospects of the Indian cricket team in Ireland and England trouble me. The bowling attack does look very inexperienced (it'd have been better for RP Singh if he could have just spent all his time playing county cricket till now), and I'm worried about what is going to happen when they go up against a decent English batting line-up at home, one equipped with fair amounts of test cricket experience this summer. India look all too reliant on a batting line-up that needs to deliver in huge amounts if they are to have any chance of putting pressure on England, and traditionally that hasn't happened away (and when it does start to happen, it happens too late on tour). Of the two notable omissions, Sehwag and Harbhajan, I think India will miss Sehwag more in cricketing terms. But overall, India will miss their general combativeness.

Sigh; last year, when I looked at the cricketing calendar and saw the South African, English and Australian tours lined up, my immediate thought was that this represented a golden opportunity for the Indian team to move into the next bracket if senior batsmen and junior bowlers came to the party. That hope fell apart in South Africa, and while the English tour hasn't even started, as an Indian fan its hard to feel too optimistic.

Go ye forth, young men

The Indian team for the one-days and tests is out. And Sehwag, Patel and Harbhajan fail to make the cut. I'm happy to see Patel out; he is a dud, and all he would have done on this tour is break down again (or lope in to bowl amiable 125k'ers). I feel bad for both Sehwag and Harbhajan - but on personal, rather than cricketing, grounds. I've admired them both a great deal, and enjoy their presence on the ground. Sehwag though, is a trifle more unlucky than Harbhajan; his recent test, as opposed to his ODI record is not so bad. Harbhajan, of course, has been fading steadily, and needs some rethinking of basic strategies before he makes his way back in. Gambhir can count himself lucky to be touring India; I've no confidence in his ability to survive outside England, but of course, with Karthik in there, he might not even get a look in. Anyway, here's my XI for the first test: Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, RP Singh.(I would rather play Yuvraj than Ganguly, but this selection is more a prediction than anything else).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Square one

Chuckle. Graham Ford has turned down the job offer to be Indian coach. The money might have been good, but perhaps dealing with seniors reluctant to do fielding practice, a ferocious, man-eating media, and a billion or so fans wasn't his cup of tea. Can't really blame him. (Ford must have known too, that expectations were too high, "Oh, he's now going to set right everything that Chappell got wrong"). Will Emburey get the gig? I doubt it - as I doubt he was a viable candidate to begin with. Perhaps India should look for a bowling and fielding coach, and appoint a stop-gap manager for the England tour. And give Dravid full control over the team.

Meanwhile, the West Indies are putting on a great chase at Old Trafford. No matter what the end-result, they'll have done a great deal to restore some West Indian pride with this effort. I guess Chanderpaul's innings thus far shows that grit and sheer bloody-mindedness can take you a long way (whats that? we already knew that? Fine, have it your way).

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Now for the real thing

Well, thats out of the way. The BCCI names Graham Ford as coach of the Indian cricket team. The silly business of naming a total no-hoper like Emburey is over and done with, and now the real business can begin. Cricket's conception of the coach has become increasingly Americanized, and the captain's role has been disturbingly decreased. Hopefully, Ford can restore the balance; and hopefully, Dravid and him will get the selections they want. A very good South African friend had written to me earlier this morning asking me what I thought of Ford as Indian coach, and I wrote back saying he looked like the more qualified of the two candidates (by a long shot) and I would be happy to see him appointed. I realized later that Tommie was actually asking about whether I felt comfortable with the notion of a furriner being the Indian coach. I couldn't care about the nationality frankly. A Pakistani or a Martian would do just fine for India, so long as they had a good cricketing brain, and didn't try and be captain as well. Good luck to Ford; he's going to need it, especially with the media storm thats going to hit him. Hopefully, he'll check in with John Wright for tips.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

'Nuffs 'nuff

I've given up on the kind of debate that features in my last post. Its depressing; I see no hope of mutual understanding in this recurrent flamethrowing. Read the comments at Kesavan's blog. The lines are so clearly, so frustratingly clearly drawn, its staggering. Not one of the people criticizing Kesavan seems to have read his post and Miller simply talks past the points that Kesavan makes. The color lines that people worry about in cricket are there in the comments (read the names attached to the comments). Enough for me. I've got better things to worry about (and besides it just reminds me of those idiotic flame wars that took up so much time back in the days - phew, thats one place I'm never going back to). Everyone misses the intense critique that Indian fans level at the BCCI; and a new 'political correctness' is at hand - the one that says "boo-hoo, we can't criticize the Indians without someone jumping down our throats". Oh, yes, you can. Try it. Just don't hanker for the "old world".

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Indians are coming?

Mukul Kesavan again pens an excellent piece on the usual BCCI-Anything-do-with-Indian-cricket bashing over at Cricinfo. And then, Andrew Miller pitches in (Kesavan was responding to his piece on Sonn). Check it all out. I found Miller's response irritating and in a slightly intemperate mood, I sent in the following comment. I'm not sure it'll get accepted, and in a way I regret not having said something more except to point to an emotion that gets triggered in these exchanges:
Andrew, your long response to Kesavan's piece is clearly written with feathers ruffled. But you don't get it. As you didn't get it when I wrote in complaining about the English-centric coverage on Cricinfo. You are still speaking from an English perspective, which still sees itself as the center of the cricketing world. It isn't. India is. And you're going to accept this - whether in the end it means a split of the cricketing world so that England can continue to remain the center of a smaller empire. Identifying English views with "those good for the game" is asinine, and you got called out for it. Nothing in Kesavan's piece indicates any lack of concern for cricket, or a reluctance to call a BCCI spade a spade. What Kesavan reacted to, and what lots of Indians will, is this constant treatment of the Indian presence in cricket as a noveau-riche embarassment at a garden party given by the genteel English. The party continues because Indians pick up the tab. If you want to snigger about us in private, by all means do so. But the days you could get to do this publicly and not get called out for it are over. Once again, deal with it.
I agree, theres tons more to be said.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A little nostalgia

India last won a test series in England in 1986. That series used to get mentioned a lot whenever people talked about India's "win-outside-the-subcontinent" drought, which fortunately ended last year in the West Indies (it wasn't the most distinguished venue in which to end the drought but what the heck, it did the trick, as South Africa and Australia continued to look out of reach). Beating England at home will be a bigger achievement than beating the West Indies, no sensible cricket fan would dispute that. I briefly commented on why it would be difficult in my last post, and I will stand by that assertion. For now, I'd like to wallow in nostalgia and dwell on all India did right in 1986 (and mercifully, we were only subjected to three one-day internationals, which in the older format, were dispensed with before the tests started). It was the one of the highpoints of a very good Indian outfit that had gelled in the 1983-1986 (even though that time frame included a fearsome thumping at the hands of the mighty West Indies). A year later, that same outfit would start to unravel. But that summer, led by Kapil Dev, India did lots of things right. The bowling was just effective enough to get early wickets most of the time. At Lords England were 98-4 in the first innings (after being 66-0) and then 113-5 in the second. India were 253-7 before making it to 341 and a vital 47 run lead - all thanks to Vengsarkar's epic, unbeaten 126. Even then, as I listened to the last wicket stand, I felt India would not be denied. The second test saw one of India's most comprehensive wins abroad: 279 runs being the margin in the end. Vengsarkar again scored a ton, and India's seamers did the rest. I would have liked a clean sweep, and while that was denied, India's win could not be. Tough, determined batting, a quality, disciplined seam attack and decent fielding did the trick. That English team was not a world-beating outfit and neither is the current one, but the Indian team they will face lacks cohesion, and is a slow learner in alien conditions. (And if the South African tour taught us anything, its that it still fritters away advantages that were very hard-gained).

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Not so optimistic

Mukul Kesavan has been in fine form recently over at his Cricinfo blog, and this post, with its synoptic take on Indian form on the Bangladesh tour and the business of Tendulkar is a typically solid effort. And from that post, this little response of mine. Little can be surmised after this Bangladesh tour (where, lets be honest, Bangladesh disappointed more than India excelled) about how India will do in England; its all too easy to imagine a situation where India do exceedingly badly in the early part of the series, slowly claw their way into some form by the end of the tests so as to leave everyone with the usual "if only there had been more time for serious match practice at the beginning of the tour". For the usual mix of worries remains: a dodgy top-order situation where a opening problem remains half-solved, two unfinished comebacks awaiting final resolution (Ganguly and Tendulkar); the need to figure out a place for Laxman in the order, and finally, the worries about whether Indian spinners will ever do well in England. For their part, England are, despite the substandard opposition, building up a decent reservoir of batting confidence, and despite the inconsistency in their bowling line-ups (and the worrying injuries to Flintoff), they are getting serious match practice in an effort to try and sort them out. I fear for India in this series; much as I always like to see India do well in English conditions, it rarely seems to happen, and the kind of form displayed at Headingley 2002 is only shown all too rarely.