Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tape-delayed cricket in 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Willow TV Saga - update

Sorry for the lack of updates on the Willow TV saga. As of now, here are how things stand:
  1. After Devanshu's story on how Willow TV seemed to have gone out of business was posted, the Willow TV CEO, Vijay Srinivasan contacted both Devanshu and myself, stating that they were still in business
  2. I spoke with Vijay on the phone, who went on to explain that the site had been undergoing back-end maintenance after the World Cup
  3. I pointed out that a simple notice on the site explaining this to customers would have been useful, as would have an automated reply from the support account
  4. Over the next couple of days, I spoke on the phone with support in India, who repeated some of Vijay's information, and also told me the Pakistan-West Indies series was in fact, not to be shown in the US. Again, I suggested a notice would have helped
  5. As of now, it appears there is a notice that the Pak-WI series is not available for US viewers and finally, it appears monthly subscriptions are available again

Finally, I hope Willow have learned from this experience. If your website is the face you present to the world, it behooves you to keep it looking good i.e., informative, topical and easy-to-use.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sources for the Willow TV story from Deep Backward Point

The Scoop on Willow TV

Thanks to some intrepid journalism by Devanshu Mehta, who blogs at Deep Backward Point, we have the scoop on why Willow TV has gone dead. Read it and weep.

This constitutes a spectacular Jonty-like catch at Deep Backward Point. Well done Devanshu!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Willow TV Fail - Spreading the Joy

As comments on my posts on Willow TV(on this blog and over at Bored Cricket Crazy Indians) show, its not personal. They aren't just dicking me over. Many of their customers are getting screwed. Yesterday I heard from Peter Della Penna, who runs the Stars, Stripes and Stumps blog over at Cricinfo:
[Your experience is] Pretty much a carbon copy of my experience, from historical failures to this current debacle for access to matches post-World Cup. I've been subscribing to Willow since 2006. They wouldn't know what customer service was if it came up and bit them in the ass. The fact that they've never ever had a phone number to call for customer service and instead rely only on the address for (nonexistent) communication has always lead me to believe that this was a boiler room operation and that they are completely taking the piss when they say they have a headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. I used to subscribe to the Setanta Sports broadband package in 2007 to get Champions League and Rugby World Cup matches etc., and Willow is a million miles beneath the standard that Setanta provided in every way imaginable, from customer service to web site organization to stream quality. I'm not sure who has been a worse steward of cricket in this country, Willow or USACA. It's certainly a very competitive two horse race. I'm a strong advocate of buying proper services instead of going the pirate route, but just about the only thing Willow hasn't done to piss off anyone trying to follow that path is moon them. It would be wonderful if someone else took over the rights packages they still possess.


Friday, May 13, 2011

The Willow TV Fail Saga Contd.

An update (a bizarre one, I promise you) on the Willow TV snafu has been posted over at Bored Cricket Crazy Indians (I'm trying to see if other folks in the US have had the same problem).

I'm really, really perplexed. Are the folks at Willow offended? Are they hurt? Why can't they answer emails?


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Willow TV's Epic Fail In Gory Detail

I've complained about Willow TV before. Here are the details of my latest complaint. For starters, check out It still advertises the World Cup, which ended 40 days ago. And it doesn't just advertise it, it is the main attraction, even though new offerings have shown up below it on the left hand bar. Right off the bat, thats a lazy, complacent website for you. Second, check out the new offerings, because thats where the trouble begins.

Three new tours are advertised. Pak-WI, SL-Eng, and India-Eng. So, like an innocent, I decided I want to watch Pak-WI, and clicked on watch. I get taken a to match menu. I click on one of the match buttons. I'm asked to sign in. I sign in. I'm told I am not subscribed to the package and should subscribe. Fair enough. I'd like subscribe. So I click on sign up. And then I'm told I'm already signed up. To the World Cup package! Right. So I email support. This is where the fun begins.

But, as prelude, note that on February 1st, I sent an email asking them whether their claim to be supporting all OS's was accurate. NO REPLY and on April 8th, I sent an email asking about IPL 2011, availability, NO REPLY,

Then the following sequence:

Mail#1, Dated April 21


1. Is the Pakistan-West Indies series and the Sri Lanka-England series included in the monthly package or is it in the World Cup package?

In general, by signing up for the monthly package, do I automatically get subscribed to any and all cricket shown by Willow TV?

2. I watch Willow telecasts on my Roku box. When will the streaming interface through that be updated (right now it shows World Cup on the live portion and has nothing on upcoming). Will all live telecasts be available through this streaming interface?

In general, I would say your website needs some updating.


Mail #2, Dated April 21


When I click on the live video button I am told I am not signed up for the event. When I try and sign up, I'm told I'm already subscribed via the World Cup package. What is the real situation here?

Also, will this game be streamed live for those watching via Roku boxes?

Please reply at the earliest.

Mail #3, Dated April 23

Dear Support,

This is my fourth email in the last couple of days trying to elicit a reply from you regarding the availability of the Pakistan-West Indies series on Willow. You website shows links for the live telecast but the Roku channel continues to show a button for the World Cup channel, which ended three weeks ago. There are no links under "upcoming" for the series either. Is the Pakistan-West Indies series being shown through Roku? (The fourth time I have asked this question without an answer).

Please reply to customer emails and please fix your Roku service. Googling for "willow" will show that in many customer forums online, people are frustrated with Willow's service.


The last email was copied to the owner of, Vijay Srinivasan, who I happen to know, from our IRC chatting days. No reply from him. Bizarrely enough, in the meantime, I had emailed him as well as follows:

Mail #1, April 21st:
Hey Vijay,

Whats up? Hope all is well. I'm just trying to figure out what is happening over at The Pakistan-WI series is advertised, but when I try and watch, it says I'm not signed up. When I try and sign up, it says I'm already subscribed to the WC package. My Roku box interface doesn't show a link for the game either.

I've sent multiple emails to support but haven't heard back yet. Any clues? The T20 game has already started.

Vijay wrote back:

Are you a Willow monthly subscriber?

I replied:

I can't subscribe when I click on the link to watch. It says I'm signed up already. In fact, there is no "sign up" button on the monthly package section, just a "watch" link. When I click on that, it says "not signed up". When I try and sign up, it says I'm subscribed to the WC package.


I then followed up with:


Incidentally, I also sent an email to support, asking them about the IPL but never heard back then. I would say the website is a little disorganized at the moment, honestly. If you guys were not going to carry the IPL, you might as well have just put up a small notice. I'm sure tons of folks must have asked the same question as me!

BTW, I really enjoyed watching the World Cup through my Roku box. Great quality, nice interface. It'd be nice if we could get the same interface through Roku as we have on the website with links for highlights, replay etc. Or is that technically impossible/difficult?


Frankly, this is easily the worst customer service I have encountered in my life. The disorganized website, the lazy updates, the poor interface, the lack of response, it all adds up to an incredibly unprofessional operation. If anyone has their ear, let 'em know they suck.


The best of times could be better

First off, I'm glad to see Krishna is off the mark with his post, which makes eminent sense. One thing Indian fans are used to is the sinking feeling of the false dawn. Most great wins in Indian test cricket in the old days like Madras 1952, Kanpur 1959, Bombay 1964, Port of Spain 1971, the Oval 1971, and Port of Spain 1976, were heralded as the start of something new, but in most cases it turned out to be a case of one step forward, two steps back. With Kolkata 2001, a greater consistency entered Indian test cricket, and even though some depressing old patterns persist (like over-cautious captaincy, weak bowling attacks, and less-than-exemplary outcricket), the team did enough, and riding both the decline of Australia, and the failure of South Africa to transcend their own inability to seize the moment, have risen to the top. Those same structural weaknesses have meant that India's stay at the top is not guaranteed, and some key challenges still remain. Beating Australia in Australia for one, and repeating their 2007 triumph over England. So, even though its a nice feeling to be ranked No.1, January 2012 could feel even better if those tours go off well.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

The Best of Times

As this is my first blog on Eye On Cricket, its nice to be able to begin on a cheerful note. If you are an India cricket fan, times couldn't be better. Most of us are still walking on air after the World Cup triumph. For what its worth, according to the byzantine calculations of the ICC we are the #1 ranked test team. We won the T-20 world championships not that far back; triumphed for the first time in a one-day series in Australia; and came back from a South Africa tour with a tied test series. What is more, of late we've repeatedly snatched victory (or at least a draw) from the jaws of defeat instead of the other way around. This is heady stuff for those of us who remember entire decades going by with little or nothing to show - barring the odd individual performance. That we've managed all this with a fairly weak bowling attack and one of the least athletic fielding sides is remarkable.

I think we should take a moment and savor all this. Not merely because, chances are, its going to come to an end fairly soon but also because as fans we are so focused on what comes next that we forget to enjoy the present. We know that our brilliant middle order (Sachin, Rahul, and VVS) is saddling up to ride out into the sunset and that our only bowler who can take wickets anywhere (Zak) is aging fast. Unlike the Aussies under Waugh-Ponting or the legendary Windies teams under Lloyd-Richards, there is no question of India dominating world cricket for anything longer than a season or two. And even at that, 'dominating' sounds too strong a word.

So, every now and then, I've gone onto youtube and watched the final moments of the World Cup and the revelry that followed, or the highlights of the quarterfinal against the Ozs and the semis against Pakistan. Just to relive the moment and to appreciate what these guys have been able to accomplish. To put in perspective, I'd just like to remind everyone of the sort of pressure the India XI constantly play under. After his fabulous knock against Shoaib-Wasim-Waqar in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, Sachin mentioned that he had not slept properly for the previous ten nights, and had been thinking about the match (or more accurately was constantly reminded about that match) for at least a year prior to that day. More recently when Dhoni was asked how various players reacted to the pressure of expectations, he said that it varied from person to person. And almost casually he went on to say that Yuvraj had been unable to keep his food down now for weeks now.

To be able to play their game as brilliantly, and win as often, as they do amidst such enormous tension and stakes, is just incredible. So, lets enjoy this while we can, and appreciate what the men in blue have been able to pull off in recent times. The good times will inevitably be followed by dark days - making it all the more important to savor this here and now.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Introducing another new blogger

Folks, it gives me great pleasure to welcome yet another blogger to Eye on Cricket. This time it's Sankaran Krishna, who teaches Political Science at the University of Hawaii. Krishna's academic work spans globalization, postcolonial studies, nationalism, identity politics; in short, he's precisely the sort of guy you want writing on cricket today. On his webpage, Krishna says:
I am a life-member of the world’s largest club of the perennially disappointed – the Indian cricket fan – and firmly believe that behind every sub-continental academic lies a failed cricketer.
He is right, of course, and I'm looking forward to seeing him blog on here. (He has distinguished himself in the past in the comments section of Cricinfo as well! Seems like the few coherent ones do stand out).


Fire in Babylon - Teil Funf

My last post, I promise, on Fire on Babylon! I still intend to buy the DVD; its still a lot of fun to watch, and the footage is great. It's still a must-see. So there.

Lastly, what a great feeling it is to be able to talk about a cricket documentary at all, here in the US. Just for that, I have to thank the Tribeca Film Festival and New York City. And Stevan Riley.

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Fire in Babylon - La Cuarta Parte

Over at Ducking Beamers, Rohan thinks Satadru and I don't appreciate the "amount of work" the filmmakers put in to make Fire in Babylon. I think I appreciate the amount of work they put in, but in any case, thats beside the point, surely? If a work of art fails, it fails; my job as viewer is to point out what I felt missing and why it didn't work for me in particular, someone that has a particular perspective on cricketing and West Indian history. When Martin Scorsese produced a bunch of turkeys after The Age of Innocence, I didn't think it was because he wasn't working hard enough; it was because he wasn't doing things right. Hard work can still go wrong; thats what makes producing good works of art so frustratingly hard.

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Fire in Babylon - Take Three

Russ Degnan, in responding to my wondering about the lack of good cricket documentaries, brings up the question of paying for archival footage. Indeed. Permissions for archival footage are perhaps the single biggest stumbling block in any documentary maker's work. The unfortunate extension of copyright terms in the US has made this business even harder. I remember attending a documentary on Sacco and Vanzetti a few years ago at the CUNY Graduate Center, and was struck by the filmmakers' frustration: they had spent more time navigating the thickets of permissions and rights than in editing and writing. This is an occupational hazard in that business and thanks to "intellectual property" talk having gone completely batshit in the US, its become worse.

But I don't think the problems in Fire in Babylon were due to lack of archival footage; they were due to bad storytelling. Matching up the wrong footage with the voice-over narrative; misrepresenting the facts; letting a story emerge that is considerably at odds with a narrative familiar to most cricket fans; these are what I would indict Riley of, not the lack of archival footage. The superiority of Burns as a documentary maker is not due to his having access to more footage; for the Civil War series, he had none. But he is a conscientious historian, one who makes sure he isn't compromising it in order to do justice to a feel-good agenda. And best of all. he manages to tell a crackling good yarn. I found the footage in Fire in Babylon compelling; the story that was being told about it suffered in comparison.

Incidentally, one interesting reaction I had while watching Fire in Babylon in an American theater was that of pride. Somehow, strangely, I felt vindicated. After years of listening to Americans talk nonsense about how cricket was a genteel game, meant for landed layabouts on village greens, here was the fire and brimstone of willow, leather and the cricket pitch. Thank you West Indies.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Premature Exits

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Patrick Eagar eye candy is here

A couple of weeks ago, I splurged: I bought eight Patrick Eagar books through AbeBooks. Now, they are all here. Hours and hours of gazing at cricket photographs lie ahead; I will write a review very soon.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Misfire in Babylon - Part Deux

I'm glad Satadru has written a critical view of Fire in Babylon; my initial take over at Different Strokes seems to have concentrated almost exclusively on offering thanks for being able to view the West Indies' might again in an era of rapidly sanitized test cricket and where the presence of the current West Indian team is a depressing reminder of what we miss. I do have a particularly emotional reaction to the West Indies because I've come to realize over the years that one's first contact with the game colors our perceptions of everything that follows; for me that occurred during the West Indian tour of India in 1974-75 when Andy Roberts became synonymous with 'scary fast bowler' and Viv Richards with "powerful hard-hitting batsman'.

But the more complex, and nuanced story that actually sits squarely at the heart of West Indian cricket is one that gets trampled in the process of providing us this wallow in past West Indian glory. For what it is worth, I think the Empire in Cricket documentary made by the BBC 'did' better history and framed West Indian cricket better.

In one of my closing paragraphs, I noted that purely as a documentary Fire in Babylon suffered; I suspect that is because Fire in Babylon works better as an extended photo album: look at the highlights, see the cricketers in action, but do not assume you are being a told a good, complete, or even accurate story. It is an extended highlight reel - and we don't use that for story-telling.

Indeed, I found, like Satadru, the filmmakers' claims (in the question-answer session that followed the movie) about 'authenticity' to be bizarre: why would interviewing batsmen, or noting Frank Worrell's contributions, have made the movie less 'authentic'? I think they were struggling to say that they wanted to tell the West Indian story, but how is that achieved by a one-sided emphasis on intimidation? Ironically, the emphasis on intimidation might make the point Christopher Martin-Jenkins sometimes seemed desperate to make: that the West Indies won because they battered their opponents into submission, not because they possessed genuine fast bowling skill. Its worth pointing out that Michael Holding's 14 wicket haul at the Oval in 1976 was achieved on a flat pitch during a hot English summer where temperatures hit the high 30s. Someone relying exclusively on the bouncer doesn't get to do that.

This complaint about Fire in Babylon reinforces one of my pet peeves: why can't we get a truly outstanding documentary about cricket? Why has cricket not produced a Ken Burns? There are gigantic archives of test cricket footage out there with the BBC, ABC, Channel 9, Doordarshan etc. Is it really so difficult to put something together that does justice to the needs of the historian and the cricket fan alike?

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Misfire in Babylon

                Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Stevan Riley’s Fire in Babylon, a documentary about West Indies cricket that I had eagerly awaited. I had the added pleasure of seeing it with Samir Chopra and dissecting it with him afterwards over a cool drink on an unseasonably warm New York afternoon. Since Samir had already decided to blog about the film, I was a bit hesitant to write about it myself. Having read Samir’s piece, however, I think our perceptions were sufficiently different that there is no danger of redundancy.
Let me begin by reaffirming that Fire in Babylon is a well-made and very, very enjoyable cricket film. An important test for any good sports film is the question, is it fun for people who know nothing about the game? At the screening, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the native-born Americans in the audience and decided that the answer in this case is unequivocally ‘yes.’ (What American would not respect a game that apparently consists mainly of bloodthirsty crowds and stunning blows to the head and the crotch of the batsman?) For fans of game, especially people who remember the Clive Lloyd era, the film is a treat, with fascinating interviews with West Indies players and yards of spectacular footage. One slow-motion clip of Michael Holding in profile, running in to bowl, is nothing less than cinematic poetry.
            Ultimately, however, I was disappointed – to some extent with what the filmmakers did, but more so with what they did not do. In their quest of a fairytale about a team of black cricketers who triumph over a history of racism and adversity, they managed to iron all the nuance and complexity out of the most complex and richly nuanced sport of all. The film gave, for instance, the impression that intimidatory bowling had not existed before Lillee and Thomson subjected the hapless West Indians to it in 1975. Bodyline, anyone? Even Bodyline was not as unprecedented as the Australians made it out to be. And what about Gilchrist and Hall terrorizing batsmen in the fifties and sixties? 
            Controversies about fast bowling were nothing new in the mid-seventies, and the West Indies were hardly naïve victims who belatedly learned to hit back.  Just months before that tour, the same West Indies batsmen had faced Australia in England and made a mess of Dennis Lillee.  Lillee and Thomson on Australian wickets were a formidable pace attack, but so were Holding and Roberts, and let's not forget that the one Test that the West Indies won (by ten wickets)  on that tour was in the fast-bowler's paradise that Perth used to be. Not dealing with the context and setting up a dubious premise might provide a dramatically satisfying sense of novelty, but it effectively reduces the film to a work of feel-good fiction, not a documentary.  
             Not surprisingly, the narrative occasionally takes a fictional turn: Malcolm Marshall is described as a 'youngster' (or something along those lines) first making an impact during the 1984 tour of England! Never mind that by 1984, 'Mako' was already established as one of the three best quicks in the world, alongside Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee. It's the only way the writers could find of fitting him into the story they've chosen to tell. (I dimly recall Marshall from his pre-Mako days in 1978, when he came to India as Sylvester Clarke's deputy. The seniors were playing for Packer. That's when he was a youngster.)
            Fast bowling is at the heart of Fire in Babylon, as it should be, since it was at the heart of the Caribbean hegemony of the mid-seventies through the mid-nineties. But it is not enough to say simply that fast bowling won matches for the West Indies, or even that it generated black pride. Since Lloyd’s bowling tactics were undoubtedly controversial, the other side of the controversy ought to be explored, by interviewing cricket writers, umpires and opposition batsmen. Why does Tony Cozier not get a word? Is it not likely that Sunil Gavaskar, Anshuman Gaekwad, Geoff Boycott and Brian Close would have interesting insights about what it was like at the other end of the pitch? Were the Lloyd/Holding tactics in the Kingston Test in 1976 – bowling beamers, etc. – actually legitimate? Is there not an issue of 'sportsmanship' in bouncing tail-enders in the era before helmets? The footage goes from bare heads to helmets with nary a comment about headgear – surely a lapse when the subject is intimidatory bowling. How does bowling six bouncers an over affect the game as a whole? What effect did the relentless emphasis on pace have on spin bowling in the West Indies? Was Roger Harper teased in the dressing room because he bowled at 50 mph?
It was as if the filmmakers were terrified that somebody might say something critical about Lloyd’s juggernaut and disrupt the uplifting fairytale. That fear does not do justice to the West Indies fast bowlers: Gavaskar made appalling comments about Jamaican crowds after that Kingston Test, but he was also an open admirer of Andy Roberts and of Caribbean cricket, and he scored thirteen Test centuries against the West Indies. Likewise, it is unlikely that Boycott would be less than generous to his greatest adversaries. Even if some batsmen were critical, that would be valuable from a dramatic and historical point of view. Leaving out hostile and neutral voices (in the name of ‘authenticity,’ which to the filmmakers seems to mean ‘telling only one side of the story’) constitutes a lost opportunity to document an intensely interesting moment in the history of the game. One of the best parts of the film is the section on the South African boycott and the rebel tours of the early 1980s, because here, we get to hear not only from those who chose to honor the boycott, but also from those who joined the rebels. Colin Croft, who falls in the latter category, does not look like a greedy fool as a result; if anything, he comes across as sympathetic and human, showing what can be accomplished when the filmmakers have confidence in their subjects and in their own narrative skills.
On the subject of race, the film pushes too crudely, and not in the right places. Any discussion of race and cricket in the Caribbean has to be provided with a context that includes C.L.R. James, Learie Constantine and Frank Worrell. They, and not Clive Lloyd and Michael Holding, were the original insurgents.  Sobers, leading the Rest of the World in Australia in 1971, was already the most respected cricketer on the planet and Clive Lloyd was on his team. There is very little of that in the film. Nor is there any acknowledgment of the other racial tensions of the Caribbean, such the black/Indian divide in Guyana and Trinidad, which consistently ensured local support for touring Indian teams. Cricket is not immune from these tensions, and it can make excellent dramatic material. The West Indies victory in Kingston in 1976, for instance, came on the heels of the defeat in Port of Spain, and there is a powerful, although not edifying, racial story in that sequence that deserves to be explored. It is also worth noting that Lloyd’s all-conquering team had no players of Indian origin at all; the list of great Indo-Caribbean cricketers has a longish gap between Alvin Kallicharran and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The film also neglects the opportunity to pick up on the irony that the West Indies side is now indeed a paler shadow of its old self, with a suspiciously white batsman in Nash and an Indo-Trinidadian opening bowler in Ravi Rampaul.
During the Lloyd and Viv Richards captaincies, the West Indians were exceptional both as a unit and as individuals. Watching Holding bowl to David Gower, or Roberts to G.R. Vishwanath, was as good as cricket can get, and certainly we need some of that pace magic now. (Thank God for Dale Steyn, even if the South Africans don’t have four of him.) But the factors that made those teams great are also those that made them controversial and interesting. About Holding in Kingston in 1976, Gavaskar wrote that the man who looked like an angel running  in to bowl had become the devil (or Dracula?) incarnate. It does Holding and his colleagues no favors to portray them naively as spotless, aggrieved angels. The devil is always more interesting than the angel (not least because he is a fallen angel), and as Mick Jagger knows, quite capable of holding his own when it comes to our sympathy.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Introducing a new blogger

Folks, it gives me great pleasure to welcome Satadru Sen as a blogger to Eye on Cricket. Some of you might know Satadru Sen because of his academic work on South Asian history, including a wonderful book on Ranjitsinhji, which I reviewed over at Different Strokes. Others might recognize that name because he frequently pens thoughtful comments on Cricinfo blogs (those stand out, don't they?). Satadru is a friend, neighbor and colleague (he teaches at Queens College of the City University of New York) of mine, and I'm looking forward to his contributions here. (Oh, and yes, I'm hoping Satadru will post links to some of his other academic writings on cricket, all of which make for a good read).

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