It is time to hang up your boots, MSD

It was the 49th over of the Indian batting, the period of play referred to as slog overs in cricketing lingo. After what was a quiet previous over, Dhoni dispatched England pacer #JamesAnderson’s indipping yorker ball over his head on the leg side for a huge six. The year was 2006 and the shot was the soon-to-become-legendary #HelicopterShot. Many batsmen had attempted it before (including a certain Sachin Tendulkar)but none with such devastating effect. The sight of Dhoni bringing his (high back lift) bat down with great speed to hit the ball while his body swivelled in a direction opposite to that of the shot was something else. The icing was the #365Degree rotation of the bat. Over the last decade MSD has made this shot all his own, a trademark of sorts. And in the process he has built a reputation as one of the best #Finishers that the limited overs game has ever seen.

Of all batsmen who have figured in at least 20 successful run chases in ODI cricket history Dhoni sits right at the top with a #Bradmanesque average of 105. He reads the game better than anyone, is always busy at the crease with his running between wickets and he has all the big shots. Who can forget his masterful 91 in a World Cup winning cause in 2011 while chasing what was a stiff target? Sadly none of this was in evidence at the beginning of the week in #Antigua. Where India’s famed batting lineup messed up what should have been a routine chase of a paltry West Indian score of 190 runs. As Dhoni laboured his way to a half century off more than a 100 balls it seemed evident that he was not half the batsman that he once was. After all he has amassed close to 10,000 runs in his career at a strike rate of 89. Is it time for Dhoni to gracefully step aside and let young talent take his place?

One of the trickiest decisions for any cricketer to make is regarding #Retirement. Hang around too long and tongues start wagging. And fans can be quite unforgiving in this matter even disregarding past achievements. Like how they did with India’s finest all rounder, #KapilDev who was accused of prolonging his career just for the sake of records. Let us discount the fact that Dhoni still runs the fastest between wickets, is the best bet behind them and surely has the sharpest brain in the game. The trouble is the ability to hit big shots at will. Something which Dhoni seems unable to do as regularly as the team would like him to. Remember the previous World Cup where in the semis against the #Aussies Dhoni simply failed to get going? And chasing a huge score of 300 plus, he came a cropper with a run-a-ball 65 before running out. Or the recent #ChampionsTrophy final(in which India got thrashed by arch rivals #Pakistan) where Dhoni seemed all at sea.

To be fair to #MSD he has won everything that there is. Both the ODI and T-20 World Cups and if you add the Champions Trophy (2013) to that it makes him the first captain to win all the three premier #ICC tournaments. He guided his club team #ChennaiSuperKings to #IPL glory twice. No other Indian captain in history has more wins in ODI and T-20 matches. Heck he even had a biopic made on him making him the first cricketer to have this privilege before even retiring. Perhaps it is the motivation that is lacking. The question before the Indian think tank is simple – should MSD be part of the team for #WC2019? The answer, one suspects is far from.

Is DRS a game changer or a necessary evil?

In the year #1945 the US dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of #Hiroshima and #Nagasaki. The effects were disastrous in both places with thousands of civilians killed and many other injured but for many who defended this controversial move it was a #NecessaryEvil. For it was done for greater good, the end of the #WorldWar. Sure enough within 10 days of the Nagasaki bombing Japan surrendered signalling the end of War. Point being that sometimes tough decisions have to be taken while looking at the larger picture, cliched as that sounds. And change is something that is inevitable as time passes by. Talking of change, it is something that the game of cricket has been averse to and the connoisseurs have often scoffed at attempts to usher in modern technology. When #ODI cricket first made it’s appearance thanks to visionary media mogul, #KerryPacker the purists were dismissive calling it #PyjamaCricket. Now we all know who is having the last laugh on that one.

Likewise when the #ThirdUmpire was first brought into the fray (in the #1990s) not many were pleased least of all the onfield umpires many of whom felt that the role of such an officiating authority must be as minimal as possible. Not surprisingly, controversy broke out when the DRS also known as #UDRS (short for Umpire Decision Review System) was proposed to be introduced in the longer version of the game that is Test match cricket. The DRS gave players the opportunity to get umpiring decisions(that they deemed to be wrong) to be reviewed. Those supporting DRS talked of umpiring errors that had quite inadvertently changed the course of a match and argue that when there is technology available why not make use of it? It was first tried in #2008, in a Test series between two sides from the subcontinent India and #SriLanka. Though most #Cricket boards agreed to start using DRS technology, India strongly opposed DRS.

The fact that India opposed DRS was worrisome for the game what with the Indian board being one of the most cash rich cricket boards of the world and the team itself drawing huge crowds wherever they went. India’s contention was that DRS was ineffective if it only relied upon #BallTracking (they felt the one field umpires had a better view) and it needed to incorporate others like the #HawkEye, #HotSpot & #Snickometer into the mix for decision making to be more accurate. Both the above mentioned are handy tools in determining where the ball hit the batsman, the bat or the pads. And if it was both then which was first. And with the rule being that both teams had to agree for DRS to be used in a series India’s refusal to use it was a matter of worry for the ICC (the world body of cricket) There are those who question the need for having a limit on the number of reviews per innings and/or match. And some who argue that DRS further diminishes the role of onfield umpires.

Some argue that DRS goes against one of the basic tenets of cricket, that the benefit of doubt in any tight decision must go to the batsman. But fact is cricket, as it is played right now is
already batsman friendly so one rule that helps bowlers cannot be all that bad. Fortunately in the last decade since DRS first came into the game technology has grown astonishingly and DRS in it’s revamped avatar is getting a large number of decisions spot on. Additionally using DRS in real time has only helped the administrators of the game understand shortcomings in the system. So that it is tweaked accordingly. As of 2017 the DRS is still a work in progress, albeit making good progress. So much so that umpires having an off day can get caught on camera. Ask former Sri Lankan offie and umpire #KumaraDharmasena.

Ten years of a juggernaut called the IPL

  As we look back at ten years of the zany cricketing extravanza called the Indian Premier League (IPL) must admit that it has been one roller coaster of a ride for one and all. For the franchisee owners, for the cricketers (and ex cricketers) the sponsors & advertisers and above all the paying public. It has been a heady decade filled with fun, frolic, controversy, colour, glamour and big bucks. And a bit of cricket along the way. But more about that later. The IPL owes it’s inception to a rebel league called the Indian Cricket League (‎ICL) started an year before, in 2007 to be exact. Also modelled on Twenty20 format, the ICL was threatening the very existence of the official cricket board in India (read BCCI) and the BCCI got controversial businessman and sports administrator Lalit Modi on board. He proposed the IPL which was evidently inspired by the franchisee model of the NFL in the US (right down to the cheerleaders) The year was 2008.

It was high drama (some would call it cacophony) it was completely unpredictable and it was superb entertainment. It was organised chaos. It was reality television in the best sense of the term. The world of cricket (and it is not a big world with seven and a half countries playing it really) had not seen anything like the IPL, not even close. And if you thought that watching an IPL match on the telly was great fun, make sure to watch one live in a stadium. The atmosphere in these places is quite electric & not all that different from a carnival. Here you have lots of people dancing, singing, drinking and making merry while egging on their favorite team. More often than not, the accent is on having a jolly good time and less about who won in the end. In most Twenty20 matches, there are so many twists and turns that at the end of it all it is the enthralled crowd that turns out to be the winner. The first season of the IPL was a historic success.

The second season ran into trouble with dates (of March 2009) of the IPL clashing with the general elections in India. At what was the nth hour, the chairman of IPL Modi took an unprecedented decision to move the whole tournament to South Africa. Belying all expectations the tournament was well received with those in the know saying that it made more money for all than the first time around. IPL was the darling of the advertisers as well with unheard of sums being asked for and paid to back the event. The biggest of cricketers got auctioned (happily) and made the kind of money that would put an investment banker to shame. By the end of the third year there were widespread rumors of match fixing and black money in IPL. The chairman of the IPL found himself at the centre of all the allegations, was made to resign and subsequently as legal cases resumed in court, Lalit Modi left for London.

In the middle of all this what kept IPL going (and strong) was the quality of talent that the tourney was able to unearth, year after year. Purists would scoff at the slam-bam variety of bombastic cricket that Twenty20 seems to espouse but truth is that this 50 day (or is it 45?)long cricketing spectacle has proved to be a great platform for uncapped players to rub shoulders with the best in the game. Of course the big bucks is a part of the attraction too but be that as it may the world of cricket owes it to the IPL for making it a sport to pursue professionally and make a career out of. That is no less achievement. The range of shots that batsmen have in their armour nowadays, the deception that bowlers have added to their skills and the high standards of fielding that has become a norm all must give due credit to Twenty20 cricket in general and IPL in particular.

Now in the year 2017 that the IPL completes ten glorious years, there is a new question doing the
rounds. Is it time for DRS (Decision Review System) in IPL? Watch this space for more. Much more.

The art of sledging – A brief history

What do WG Grace, Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan and Jeremy Roenick all have in common? Apart from the fact that they were all legendary in their respective sports of cricket, boxing, basketball and ice hockey that is. These gentlemen were equally well known for their #VerbalGamesmanship turning it into some sort of a fine art. Ali widely regarded as the greatest boxer to have ever graced the game was known to verbally taunt his opponents both inside the ring & outside it with the sole aim of mental disintegration. #MichaelJordan would mercilessly ‘slam dunk’ his opponents as much with his intimidating #TrashTalk as with his fiesty moves on the court. And NHL fans back in the US would readily agree that all that #Chirping (the term for verbal heckling in ice hockey) by Roenick made for an enthralling viewer experience. So when some well meaning #Cricket writers became aghast at all the sledging in the ongoing series between the top two Test playing nations of world cricket, all one can say to them is – Keep your wig on, folks !

A doctor by profession, #WGGrace was an enigma in the truest sense of the word. Acknowledged by historians as one of those instrumental in the growth of cricket, W.G. (as he was affectionately called by fans) had a dubious reputation of refusing to leave the field when declared out by on field officials (read umpires) And there is enough evidence to suggest that it was not the Aussies but rather the English led from the front by W.G. who were the first to do the ‘yapping’ on a cricket field. W.G. would browbeat not just his opponents but even the assembled spectators with his incisive repartees. Now this certainly flies in the face of ‘Cricket is a gentleman’s game’ theory espoused by some purists to oppose the practice of sledging. If one of the founding fathers of the game itself was himself a motormouth of sorts what is all the fuss about?

There are those who reckon that sledging is something that happens quite naturally in the heat of the moment due to intense competition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sledging is a powerful tool of psychological warfare that can turn the tide in one’s favor as long as it is done the right way and with the right amount of finesse. Now using the words sledging and finesse in the same sentence might sound like an oxymoron but there is really much more to sledging than just cussing and swearing. Sledging is as much about wry humour as it is about timing the banter to perfection. Even the men from Down Under who have dominated world cricket (even in sledging) for the last couple of decades will readily agree that sledging is not such a bright idea when a batsman from the opposing team is in the form of his life. Or if that batsman happens to be a certain #SachinTendulkar.

Getting under the skin (of an opponent) Ask ex Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell the reasons for which sledging was usually done in the heydays and that is the reply you will get. He should know. Chappell was captain of the team in the 1970s that got dubbed as the Ugly Australians for brandishing profanity like a weapon that could get them out of sticky situations on the field. So when one read his statements in the last couple of days admonishing the hot headed Indian team captain Virat Kohli for giving the Aussies a bit of their own medicine, one can only smile at the irony of it all. The shoe, it seems, is well and truly on the other foot. Watch this space for more!

The BCCI imbroglio – What is brewing?

January 30, 2017, is surely a red-letter day in the annals of Indian sports. On this day, the apex court of the country appointed a four-member panel consisting of eminent personalities to take over the reins of #BCCI, the cricketing body of India. A suggestion by the government at the center to appoint the sports minister’s secretary as one of the panelists was rightly shot down by the courts. That these four members have their job cut out is but obvious. To reform the richest cricketing body of the world (50 million dollars in profits as of 2011) that has some of the most powerful politicians of our country as office bearers will take some doing. But it was something that was long overdue.

BCCI New Administrators
BCCI New Administrators

 

After an investigation into charges of spot fixing in the Indian Premier League by retired Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal in January of 2015, a committee was formed to decide on the quantum of punishment for those found guilty headed by the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court, RM Lodha. Also there were grave allegations of corruption, nepotism and an appalling lack of transparency against the BCCI that needed looking into. To nobody’s surprise, the sweeping reforms suggested by the #LodhaPanel met with stern resistance from the BCCI leading to a bitter battle in the courts. As BCCI failed to comply, heads rolled. Quickly. Now, this four-member panel is essentially a stop gap arrangement that will be in place until the next BCCI elections. A quick look at the #FourMemberPanel.

Vinod Rai – Here is the man who perhaps does not need any introduction. The eleventh Comptroller and Auditor General of the country, Rai became one of the most enduring symbols of corruption after his damning report on the license & subsequent allocation of the #2G spectrum by the government of the time. A mind-boggling 1.76 lakh crore of loss to the exchequer, screamed the report. No less explosive were his audits into the Coal Mines allocation, the CommonWealth Games, the Padmanabha Swamy Temple as well as his slamming of the government over favors granted in power & oil sector to big corporates. If there is one man who can set right the mess in the BCCI, it must be #VinodRai.

Ramachandra Guha – One of the most interesting choices on this panel is of famed historian and staunch Nehruvian #RamachandraGuha. Though the Twitterati (that boisterous mob with unlimited access to social media) is abuzz with jokes about how excavating the pitch to look for artifacts might become the norm henceforth, what cannot be denied is Guha’s unflinching love for the game of cricket. His trashing of the shortest format of the game, T-20 (” disband #IPL “) is clearly old school and it remains to be seen how he takes to his new role in this panel.

Vikram Limaye – Another eclectic choice is that of Vikram Limaye who is considered one of the best financial minds of the country. With over two decades of working for the top investment Banks, Limaye currently is serving as the CEO of IDFC. Here is a man who worked at the famed Wall Street for eight years and there are few people in India who understand economics as well as he does. He has time and again evinced a deep interest in public service. Well, here is his chance.

Diana Edulji –  The panel would clearly be incomplete without the presence of someone who actually played the game at the highest level. And who better than the most well respected woman cricketer of India, #DianaEdulji. A former captain whose specialty was as left arm orthodox spinner, she has handled no less than thirty sports as the head at Western Railways. It was not too long ago when the then head of BCCI had made his disdain for women’s cricket loud and clear to Edulji. Since then life has indeed come a full circle. It is payback time.