Friday, May 24, 2013

Regain the Faith

"You are blinded," said Dumbledore, his voice rising now, the aura of power around him palpable, his eyes blazing once more, "by the love of the office you hold, Cornelius! You place too much importance, and you always have done, on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognise that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be! Your dementor has just destroyed the last remaining member of a pure-blood family as old as any - and see what that man chose to make of his life! I tell you now - take the steps I have suggested, and you will be remembered, in office or out, as one of the bravest and greatest Ministers of Magic we have ever known. Fail to act - and history will remember you as the man who stepped aside and allowed Voldemort a second chance to destroy the world we have tried to rebuild"

- from Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 36- The Parting of Ways

Very wise words indeed from one of the wisest men in fiction. Also totally contextual when you think of the current IPL spot-fixing scandal. Replace Cornelius Fudge by the current cricket administrators and Voldemort by match-fixing and you have an apt parallel. Unfortunately with the slew of allegations & rumours flying around, we haven't identified the sane voice of Dumbledore around whom the true cricket lovers can rally and attempt to save the game they love.

This message is intended not just for N Srinivasan and the BCCI but for all the cricket boards, ICC and FICA. They have to work together to weed out the corrupt. And the faster it  is done the better for the game. ICC removing Asad Rauf from the umpire's panel for Champions Trophy due to him being under investigation is a good step towards regaining the paying public's faith.

There are two views being taken -
(a) by the "breaking news media" & the "trigger-happy" social media - everything is fixed and
(b) the official line of just three rotten eggs.
The truth, as it always happens, lies somewhere in between. Not everyone is corrupt and I would be quite surprised if the entire racket involved only the three players. BCCI lost one chance to come clean a year ago. It has been given another chance. It MUST conduct a proper enquiry into all charges/allegations while working along with the government agencies. But with allegations now hovering around the BCCI chief itself, it maybe quite difficult for anyone to accept the results of such an investigation.

The Spot-fixing scandal in the IPL has hurt. Despite all the murky goings-on in the past few years, there is a corner in my heart which still believes in the game. However with every new scandal that space is getting smaller and smaller.  Because the fixers take out the one element which makes sports  glorious - its uncertainty.

Personally I have been taking out my angst on the broadcasters by not watching the live telecast and doing my bit to lower their TRP (still following the IPL though). With lower TRPs, sponsors are unlikely to pay the huge amounts to come on board specially given the financial troubles the world is already in. Lack of sponsors will make the television rights less lucrative further lowering revenues. Stadium attendances world-wide are anyways going downwards. With lower revenues, BCCI loses its financial muscle and the power balance in the cricketing world shifts again.

A scenario which is quite likely to happen in the long run if the game does not clean itself. The paying public has enough other entertainment avenues. Hence its very important from the board's perspective to ensure that the fans who love the game keep the faith. It is a very difficult task to regain the faith once lost. And only concrete visible steps will ensure that people may want to trust again.

Act Now and then hope that you regain the cricket fan's faith

Friday, May 17, 2013

IPL6: Spot-fixing - What Next?

Disgust, Anger and even a Sense of betrayal - these are the feelings with which I write this blog post. Yet somehow the feelings of shock and surprise are missing. Anyone who believed that the game was completely clean and had no murky dealings ongoing was living in a fool's paradise. Yet, when the story of the arrests of the three players broke, it still did come as a shock. Though the shock can be attributed to the fact that all three players belonged to my favorite IPL team Rajasthan Royals.

In summary, 3 current and one former Rajasthan Royals players have been arrested along with a clutch of bookies. And the rumor mill is on full swing with the "Breaking News" media - both conventional and social diligently spreading all sorts of unsubstantiated rumors. Request them to better wait and watch and not comment while official investigations are on. It is very easy to destroy a reputation built over years of hard work. And mud slinging never helps anyone.

What really boggles the mind is the amount of money involved, some 60 lakh for bowling a bad over !!! Not difficult to see why some of the uncapped players (Chandila & Chavan) with salary restrictions as compared to the others might get tempted. But seeing a current Indian Test player like Sreesanth throwing away his career like this is difficult to understand. I always thought he was a weirdo but his idiosyncrasies were a result of his passion for the game. But guess he lost even that.

Personally I am happy that corrupt are getting weeded out of the game. And the more it happens better it is for the game. Sports does not have any place for fixers. They are much, much worse than the drug cheats who are at least trying to win. Fixers take out the one element which makes sports truly lovable - its uncertainty. Now every single activity will be looked at with suspicion by the watching public (from this IPL - the RP Singh no-ball, Pollard's drops etc). And for cheating the watching public they MUST be punished. Now that the fixing saga is out in the open, the authorities must decide the path forward. Here are some of my suggestions for doing the same.

Stronger Punishments -  Have no mercy on errant players. The law may take its own sweet time but the boards can act tough and give immediate ban the players concerned while investigations are on. For the game to regain its credibility, it would be better to have some innocents punished and not let anyone guilty go unpunished (the opposite of the prevalent legal practise). Also the punishments should be of duration long enough (minimum 5 years) to make them a strong deterrent.

Uncapped players also going into auction - Bringing the Indian uncapped players into the auction pool will certainly help in reducing some of the pay disparity. Also fixing the uncapped player salaries has the added benefit of reducing (nothing can be completely removed) the under-hand dealings betweeen the players and the teams as has been shown in the sting conducted by India TV last year.

Legalize Sports Betting in India - Now this will be a controversial move as it is against  the so-called Indian morals and values (bloody hypocrisy in my opinion). Betting exists and as shown by the payouts to the players, the numbers are mind boggling. Why not legalize and regulate the same? Government will get an extra revenue source. Some of the murky dealings will be reduced. Also the regulated betting agencies can  help in detecting any weird betting patterns. Thats how the match-fixing in football tennis has come to light. The revenues can also be used for funding the anti-corruption monitoring.

Disband IPL - This will the one with the most vocal support. Given that many consider it to be the source of all evil in the cricketing world, why not? Though in itself that won't be a solution because most of the problems have been there since time immemorial. Disbanding IPL is certainly not be a feasible solution. Too many genuine stakeholders (Sponsors, TV rights owners, team owners (?)) will be badly affected. And this will have severe repercussions on the entire sport. Turning the entire T20 business into pure entertainment like the erstwhile double wicket & Hong Kong sixes would be better. I would go onto suggest removing T20s from official records. And keeping records restricted to 1st Class & List A games.

Keep the faith - At times like these, it is the most difficult thing to do. Though most likely there are more such morons but HOPEFULLY this malaise is restricted to a few.

These are some suggestions to clean up the mess my loved game is in. There can't be one deterrent to match-fixing but something is better than nothing. And the faster the game comes clean, the faster you regain the lost faith from the watching public.

Monday, May 13, 2013

IPL6: The Slog Overs

The Yes Bank Maximumth edition (or the 6th edition in normal lingo) of the Indian Premier League has now reached the slog overs stage. Some teams have been thrashed out of the competition (Delhi Darevdevils, Pune Warriors), some barely clinging on (KKR, Kings XI) and an intense 5-way fight going on for the 4 play-off spots. As the IPL reaches its business end (finally), here are some quick thoughts on each of the teams.

Teams being discussed in the reverse order of ranking as on date:

Pune Warriors India: (2 wins from 14 games) - They have been outplayed by one and all. Constantly changing captaincy (Matthews, Taylor, Finch), a misfiring star (Yuvraj Singh), poor death bowling (Dinda in particular), spinners whose mysteries have been sorted out (Mendis, Rahul Sharma) have all contributed to another very bad season. However they have had a solid opening pair (Uthappa & Finch) and one good bowler in Bhubaneswar Kumar (best Indian seamer on display). But thats not enough to see the side through.Would like to see more of Pervez Rasool in the coming games.

Delhi Daredevils: (3 wins form 13 games) - A top-order of Sehwag, Jayawardene, Warner with support cast of Unmukt Chand & Naman Ojha, a bowling line-up of Morkel, Pathan, Umesh Yadav, Nadeem. On paper a match-winning combination. Yet somehow all seems to have gone wrong with the Daredevils. They have been hit by injuries (Pietersen, Ryder, Aaron) but what has hit them most is the lack of form of most of the main cast and almost the entire support cast. When they have fired, Warner and Sehwag have single-handedly won the games. But no one's been consistent enough.

Kings XI Punjab: (5 wins from 13 games) - Kings XI haven't been performing well since IPL1. But they have managed some stunning performances this year mainly thanks to David Miller. Praveen Kumar has been the amongst the best Indian seamers on display while Piyush Chawala  has been making regular contibutions. The domestic Indian players like Mandeep Singh and Manan Vohra are utilizing the opportunities that they have got. However its the under-performing foreigners (Gilchrist, David Hussey, Mahmood) who are pulling down the team.

Kolkata Knight Riders: (6 wins from 14 games) - The defending champions are not having a good time this year around. This despite having retained the same team. A rock-solid batting line-up of Gambhir, Kallis, and Morgan is getting undone by the wretched form of others specially Yusuf Pathan. While Sunil Narine is holding up the bowling department and Rajat Bhatia is executing his bits & pieces role to perfection, the others are just not pulling their weight and as a result KKR are languishing mid-table just holding on to their play-off hopes.

Sunrisers Hyderabad: (8 wins from 13 games) - They have been the surprise package of the tournament. Their batting line-up which was almost non-existent at the beginning of the tournament has been boosted by the arrival of Shikhar Dhawan. The bowling line-up however has been doing more than its bit to cover the batting faults. Steyn, Ishant, Mishra, Perera and Sammy are a real good attack to have. Unlike some other teams, the poor form of their captains (Sanga & White) have been a blessing in disguise for the team. And the domestic players like Hanuma Vihari & Karan Sharma have put their hand up and bailed out the team when required. 

Royal Challengers Bangalore: (8 wins from 14 games) - RCB bring extreme firepower to the IPL. Gayle at top, Kohli to consolidate, if required at all, and de Villiers to finish. Pujara coming in as Gayle's opening partner makes it potentially the most explosive batting lineup possible. Yet a misfiring bowling lineup (Vinay Kumar, RP Singh, Unadkat, Rampaul etc) and over-dependence on their top-order has ensured that they are still not  certain of qualification to the play-offs. 

Mumbai Indians: (9 wins from 13 games) - A team which is doing quite well, yet at the same time not  giving the feel of a top favorite. Poor opening partnerships (with due apologies to the legends at the top) and under-performing Pollard & Malinga have been offset by the performance of Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Mitchell Johnson and others. Some more consistency in performances is needed.

Rajasthan Royals: (10 wins from 14 games) - Rahul Dravid's team are like Rocky, the people's champions. They may not have the big names on their roster, but they certainly know how to make full use of their limited resources. The most flexible line-up in the tournament, they keep re-jigging the team depending on the opposition and ground conditions. And more often than not, their strategies have worked. Whether its the big guns Dravid, Watson and Rahane or the relatively unknowns -  Faulkner, Samson, Binny, Yagnik, Chandila, Cooper, Trivedi everyone has come in and contributed to the team's cause. The Royals have kept a perfect home record, though not so successful outside Jaipur. 

Chennai Super Kings: (10 wins from 14 games) - Its been said IPL is a competition in which 8/9/10 teams play and in the end CSK wins. Like every dominant champion they have their share of haters who do not want to see them win. But even the haters agree that the cricket is not the reason for hating CSK. Its a team making the most of its formidable resources (inlcuding non-ground ones). And in Mohit Sharma they have found one genuine local talent from this year's edition.

So thats the team's reviews as we enter the final stages of this year's IPL. For the IPL finals, I would love to see Rajasthan Royals beating Sunrisers. And the team carrying Dravid around Eden Gardens in a victory lap. A fitting finish to a legendary career. 

P.S. Hope that I have not jinxed the team.