Posted by & filed under NFL.

Five thoughts ahead of the Thursday night Bears vs. Packers matchup:

a) It’s early but there’s a lot of signs that this is the best offense the Bears have had since Mike Mccarthy got to Green Bay. An elite top-tier receiver in Brandon Marshall, a slew of complementary #2 and #3 wideouts, 2 healthy running backs who run with contrasting styles and a top-notch kicker give the Bears more juice than they’ve had in a long time. A much-maligned offensive line will slip up every now and then but is likely to be coached up enough to keep Cutler clean. Considering how the Packers defense has played in the last three home games, I predict the Bears are likely to score a lot of points. They have waited forever for a talent like Brandon Marshall to take on the Packers’ defensive backs and I expect him to have his way Thursday night.

b) San Francisco and Chicago are likely to be the two toughest defenses the Packers play all year (possibly Houston but I am not so sure they’re gonna be as good). The Packers offense which has struggled to find rhythm since the pre-season is likely to struggle for the second game in a row. An unsteady running game has never been a surprise but it doesn’t help an offensive line that is still gelling together to go up against Julius Peppers four days after going up against Patrick Willis and Justin Smith.

c) Outside of a game last Christmas when the Bears had basically quit on the season, Rodgers and the offense has gained a lot of yards against Lovie Smith but rarely converted them to points. Considering where the offense is right now, I think there is very high potential of this happening again.

d) Hence my prediction is a Bears’ win. Likely score is 33-30. At this point in the season, I do think the Bears have the better offense, defense and special teams. They have lost their last four and six of the last seven to the Packers. I expect them to steal one back Thursday night.

e) The Packers will thus start 0-2 for the first time since 2006. But I would not panic. This is what happens when a team that is a bit unsettled goes up against two hungry, angry and fierce defenses in the first two weeks of a fresh season. The Packers will then have 10 days to prepare and recover for their next game which will provide ample time and an easier opponent to start turning things around. Mike Mccarthy and Aaron Rodgers have over come significantly harder adversities in the past. This is a new one they’ll eventually get past.

Here’s hoping I am wrong about this prediction and here’s as usual to …..

Go Pack, Go

Shyam

Posted by & filed under NFL.

Would you be mad at yourself or feel bad about your effort if you hired some of the best engineers and designed a phone inferior to the iPhone? Packer fans waking up this morning after a season opening loss (for the first time since 2006) should think the exact same way. There is no shame in losing to the NFL’s Steve Jobs. Swap the turtleneck and glasses for a sweater and headphones and you have the Bay Area’s latest creative and manipulative genius – Jim Harbaugh!

The first Packer game I remember watching live and in its entirety was the playoff win at freezing Lambeau field in January 2002. It was the heyday of the ‘Favre never loses when the temperature is below 34’ stat! It wasn’t a particularly memorable playoff Packer game in a decade where there were several (The Al Harris game, The Atlanta game, The 51-45 game).

But it was my first glimpse at a 20 year-long dominance that the Packers had over the 49ers. Since that November win against a motley crew led by Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, playing the 49ers was as close to a guaranteed win on the Packers’ schedule as possible.

Until Sunday!

Through the last ten seasons, Packers went 5-for-5 and never came close to losing to the team by the bay. .

Until Sunday!

There were hipster teens and young adults draped in Frank Gore jerseys and KNBR beanies who had experienced legal sex, illegal drugs and alcohol but didn’t still know what it was to watch their beloved 49ers win one over the Packers.

Until Sunday!

Over the last five years, Mike McCarthy’s success in developing his roster, coaching up his offense and achieving consistent success had made him the best coach in the NFC.

Until Sunday!

I’m usually quite the trash talker to those fans not fortunate enough to root for the Green and Gold. But I had refrained myself immensely prior to this one as I had a fairly strong feeling the 49ers would be a tough out in-game 1 of the NFL season. While I’d rather have been wrong, here’s the key thought I wanted to get out after the Jim Harbaugh led 49ers conquered Lambeau field today –

There is no shame in losing one to these Niners. Jim Harbaugh’s magic last season in coaching up the 49ers to 14 wins could be viewed as an one-time thing and single season sample sizes are usually recipes for unintended conclusions. But Harbaugh did this in college and has shown a mastery over the preparation and planning phases of the game that it’d be foolhardy to look at him as anyone other than a member of the most elite tier of professional sports coaches alive today. Mike Mccarthy is an excellent top-tier NFL coach who has gotten great at situational calls such as fourth down situations, challenges and substitutions. Today though, he was outcoached as Jim Harbaugh gave him a real-time lesson in game day coaching. Outside of an ill-timed challenge for two measly yards early on, Harbaugh moved his chess pieces masterfully to over come everything the Packers, the replacement refs and the crowd of 80000+ had to throw at him. There was the perfectly executed Colin Kapernick draw, the time killing Alex Smith runs on third down, the limited and optimal use of Randy Moss, the efficient usage of two excellent running backs and holding the team’s composure in the face of a killer mistake by the refs (the Randall Cobb return for a touchdown)…….The list is pretty long and on a day when his quarterback refused to make any mistakes, Jim Harbaugh was pretty close to unbeatable.

While mourning this loss and future such defeats to the 49ers, it is important for Packer fans to remember that we are watching the next great hall of fame coach in action and he will be a thorn in our cheesy flesh for a long time to come. There is no shame in being beaten to a superior product by Steve Jobs. There is no shame in losing to Jim Harbaugh.

The Packers will win some games this season while playing a lot worse.

There is likely to be a lot of panic after the loss today and possible DEFCON 1 sirens across Wisconsin after Thursday. But it is very important to remember that the Packers on Sunday lost to a very good team coming of an off-season of rest and recuperation and coached by this decade’s coach extraordinaire.

Packer fans, it’ll get better and soon. We still have the best quarterback alive, a deep roster and talent that will easily win 10 games a season. Also, we will not have to compete against the mind of Jim Harbaugh for at least another 16 weeks. So let’s tip our cheeseheads to Jim Harbaugh and move on thru the 2012 season…..

As always- Go Pack, Go!

Posted by & filed under cricket, Media.

A few things don’t jive well with me on the recent announcement and Cricinfo’s report that the Champions’ league T-20 tournament for 2012 is likely to be moved to South Africa from India. While the reports only said this was a proposal, this looks like a done deal to me. I anticipate an announcement in a week’s time reiterating everything reported by Cricinfo. The reasons mentioned for the possible move range from the unbelievable to the frivolous. Also Cricinfo’s ‘reporting’ here is not that much more than being a mouthpiece for the decision makers.

First, there was the fishy one-off T20 game between India and South Africa organized hastily in March. Here’s the reasons why I am skeptical of the motivation for the move and why I believe the move is nothing more than one more step in the BCCI-CSA quid pro quo.

1) Monsoons in India? – Cricinfo boldly reports that the organizers are worried about the monsoons wreaking havoc on cricket in India between October 10 and 28. A casual glance thru the excellently compiled archives on Cricinfo’s own site reveals that three tests and 18 one-dayers have been held in India between October 10 and October 28 of the last six years. Only two one-dayers have been washed out completely due to rain in the same time frame.

With such a healthy record for completed games, should the prospect of rain really bother a T-20 tournament?

2) Why the five cities listed? – Apparently the only cities considered for hosting are Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi. Why? If the BCCI and CSA and the mysterious technical council are worried about the monsoons at these venues why not any of India’s fifteen other floodlit venues to host? Mohali/Jaipur/Gwalior and Ahmedabad sound like perfectly good venues to me.

I cannot find the motivation behind choosing these five cities, anywere. Cricinfo apparently did not deem it a valid question to ask of their sources or people running the tournament.

Don’t you think that moving the tournament to different cities in India would be a better preference than shifting the tournament to the southern hemisphere?

3) 5 day festival in Kolkata – The article clearly states that Kolkata cannot host any games during five days of the tournament. Why is this a reason to move the tournament to South Africa? Why cannot games assigned to Kolkata be moved around and outside the window unacceptable to them?

4) Why South Africa? – The CL T20 is a lucrative tournament. Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka may all be keen to host this tournament and may have better weather and pitches than South Africa. Why, restrict it to South Africa? Why was this the first option?

I am cynical of people in power and extremely cynical of cricket’s power brokers. The CLT20 site has barely been updated in a year and makes no reference to a technical council that Cricinfo refers to early and often in their piece. The whole thing looks like an N Srinivasan special favor.

While I would love to be proven wrong, this comes across as a blatant transfer of revenue (gained by hosting a tournament) between Indian and South African boards. In return for this revenue, the CSA is likely to vote in alignment with the BCCI at critical junctures in the next few years. This is naked politics and capitalism at work. For Cricinfo to report and pretend otherwise is sad.

Posted by & filed under cricket, Media.

Shard Ugra has a post up on Cricinfo reviewing the 2012 edition of the IPL. It is a great summary post where she acknowledges the increase in crowds and the improvement in the quality of cricket in this edition. She is also however accurately critical of the TV coverage of the event. She points out correctly that the commentary and studio coverage undermined the rest of the event. I agree with her take and would love to see the commentary improve substantially. It would make the games that much better to watch. Administrators worldwide also want to expand the audience for the sport thru the T-20 format and the IPL is the league often mentioned as the vehicle for evangelizing new audiences. For that mission to be successful, the game commentary has to improve by leaps and bounds.

While Sharda Ugra does point fingers correctly at the bodies involved in the coverage and presentation to television audiences everywhere, she is too polite and Cricinfo is too politically correct to call out individual commentators. But fear not! This blog is never going to be home to the politically correct. So here’s my post ranting about and ranking and rating the various commentators who worked IPL 5.

Disclaimers: All opinions are subjective and commentators are presented in ascending order of performance. Also, I watched all the games on Willow and hence was not privy to any of the pre-game coverage or studio shows audiences in India got to see. Lastly, I don’t remember enough of Robin Jackman, Ackerman, Kepler Wessels or Alastair Campbell at this year’s IPL to have a strong enough opinion of them.

So here without further ado, are my grades for all other television commentators at IPL 5 –

Grade : F aka Should not be brought back as commentators even if they’re the only humans left on Earth

Rameez Raja

In spite of working games for over a decade, Rameez Raja has a very feeble grasp of English grammar. This would not be a problem if he were describing events in Urdu. Unfortunately Rameez is paid handsomely and gets to travel the world, as an English-speaking commentator whose job it is to describe action on the cricket pitch, in English. Rameez has shown zero inclination to work on his syntax and why should he, when television channels and production companies keep employing him. In a tournament with minimal Pakistani presence or influence, Rameez’s presence was an insult to the fans and viewers of the sport. Even the banal, mundane and highly repeatable exercises of the coin toss, innings break conversations and presentation ceremonies are beyond Rameez’s abilities. As a batsman, Rameez was stoic, slow but dependable. As a commentator in this year’s IPL, he was stoic, barely coherent and highly dispensable.

L Sivaramakrishnan (Siva)

L Siva’s rapid rise, meteoric fall and time away from the sport have the potential to be extremely interesting fodder for cricketing conversations. An honest appraisal of self plus a forthright analysis of cricketers far less talented than him combined with some humor would make L Siva the best ex-cricketer turned commentator on Indian television. Instead what we have is commentary that is so plain, so lacking in insight and so insulting to the vast swathes of people watching that I am shocked that none of his peers have insulted him on-air yet. Siva reads everything that is displayed on the screen. I wish someone would inform him that he is commentating on TV and that 99.9% of viewers can see and read the text displayed on the screen. Siva is also so insecure of his role and in such a hurry to whore himself to his corporate bosses that he describes attempts by fielders to take difficult catches as “would have been a Karbonn Kamaal catch”. He also described a missed direct hits as ‘could have been a Citi moment of success’. With corporate whores like him, why wouldn’t people think the IPL is tainted.

Siva also lacks context. He could flip on his assessments of the pitch, bowling and batting in the mere matter of a couple of boundaries. He also attributes causation to every set of events. If a batsman were to score boundaries of edges he is praised for his courage while the same batsman is lambasted for the same stroke if the edge were to carry to a fielder. Every comment he makes is reactive and has the nuance or intelligence of a fourth grader.

Danny Morrison

Danny Morrison is loud. I would have a lot of things to say about his lack of thought, his lack of vocal intonation and his portrayal of the village idiot but all of that is overridden by the fact that he is loud. Danny thinks every boundary moves the Richter scale and needs to be described accordingly. He also has no use for the full stop or comma. Every statement is long prose where the start has no connection to the finish.

Sharda Ugra said “The match coverage is directly under the control of the organisers IMG, who in turn are watched by the BCCI, which controls the panel of presenters and commentators for the IPL.” When the IMG and BCCI define commentary as 25% continuous promotion of the sponsors, 25% lack of analytical thought or criticism, 25% treating the viewers as barely literate kids and 25% yelling in semi-coherent English – Danny Morrison, Rameez Raja and L Sivaramakrishnan are what you get.

Grade : D aka should be removed from their jobs for there’s better options available

Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri – I pair these two doyens of the commentary box cricket field because they share the absolute same traits that annoy one and all. They have done this job for so long that they don’t care any more. They bring nothing new to the table and have such intricate relationships with players, coaches and administrators every where that they will shoot their wives before they actually criticize any one remotely influential. Their clichés are predictable and sad. They offer zero context or history in spite of having witnessed some of cricket’s most epochal moments and changes over the last four decades. At various stages of the IPL, they found themselves defending the city of Mumbai, the team of Mumbai, India, BCCI or the IPL itself. During the crucial climactic stages of a close game, suggestions on strategies are repeatedly conspicuously absent. Why are they in the booth if they are not willing to mae one prediction or one criticism or one tough call?

No one knows why these two are employed any more or why they even want to keep doing this. I always wonder if they haven’t watched enough cricket and made enough money? For the amount of travel and effort that covering cricket today entails, why wouldn’t they put in more thought or effort into their commentary? For ex-cricketers with extraordinary amounts of influence and cachet, these two Mumbaikars are sad, pitiful examples of wasted opportunities. The IPL can do better. Younger, more passionate voices can do a better job. I hope the BCCI and IMG agree.

Pommie Mbangwa – Pommie Mbangwa is the answer to the question “How successful an international player can you be to be a bad commentator employed by the BCCI?” Mbangwa’s bowling career was nondescript. Just like his commentary was and is. He butchers Indian names, game situations and even sponsor cues. Yet for some reason his cheery smile has successfully masked his incompetence. There must be some ulterior motive to the BCCI gainfully employing Mbangwa at the IPL – such as possibly allowing the BCCI to get the crucial Zimbabwe vote at ICC elections. Otherwise his employment makes no sense. Here’s hoping he’s not back for IPL 6!

Grade : C aka not terrible and can improve but I am still not shy of using the mute button

Simon Doull, Craig Mcmillan and Dermot Reeve

None of these three commentators distinguished themselves. Them getting a C grade from me is almost entirely due to the incompetence of names listed earlier rather than anything these three did. Craig Mcmillan and Dermot Reeve showed a sense of humor at various times in the competition. Simon Doull was never too loud or too intrusive on the game action. All three also showed the ability to contextualize situations and games. Dermot Reeve was revolutionary one day cricketer and captain at the county level in the 90’s. It would be interesting to the median viewer to listen to his thoughts and strategies. I hope that is a larger part of his commentary in future editions of the IPL.

I don’t have a lot of profound praise or suggestions for these three. I can watch cricket matches with these three commentating and the sound not turned off. And sometimes that is all I need.

Grade : B aka Mostly good and I watch the game unmuted when they’re on

Harsha Bhogle

Lord knows, this blog has been critical of Harsha Bhogle’s writings. My critique of his ambivalence and inability to use his pen and column as bully pulpits for Indian cricket are here and here.

However within the context of the tournament and other commentators, Harsha Bhogle’s work was outstanding. His focus on the cricket, his interviews including a memorable on of Prasanna, his focus on the big picture of Indian and World cricket (like when he focused in on the performance of Yadav,Aaron and Awana as India’s fast bowling future in the Delhi vs. Punjab games) and his ability to find context at all times make him indispensable in the commentary box. While his desire to not criticize several sacred institutional and public personalities annoys me no end, his description of events on the cricket field leave little to be desired. He integrates the corporate aspects of the league seamlessly. He takes a back seat to vocal crowds and critical moments while flagging key events appropriately. American sport does a great job of separating play-byplay voices from the ones who provide analysis. For cricket play-by-play television commentary there is no one better than Harsha Bhogle. He enhanced the IPL viewing experience for me and should be a must-have at all future editions.

Grade : A aka entertaining and informative and someone I listen to and learn from

Sanjay Manjrekar

Sanjay Manjrekar is respectful, direct and concise. He knows context, is hip with social media and uses his time at the commentary booth wisely. He was a technically sound batsman in his day and puts forward uniquely insightful takes on batsman’s footwork and technique. He does not let the format or the frenzy color his judgement on a batsman’s intent, execution. He respects the audience by providing several examples and incidents from past tournaments and series. He also manages to blend in Twitter rants, gossip and corporate sponsorships seamlessly without taking away from the viewing experience.

Manjrekar still has some ways to go in fully understanding the business side of cricket and the franchise building side of the IPL. Too often he forgot how rosters were built and criticized inaction where franchise action would have been illegal. But that is something he can certainly improve on especially with his attitude which (unlike fellow Mumbai commentators) comes across as earnest, humble and keen.

Here’s hoping one of Indian cricket’s batting underachievers gets to overachieve in the commentary booth for a long time to come.

Tom Moody

Tom Moody brings everything that an ex-cricketer and ex-coach should bring to the table. He calls his shot and one of the memorable overs of the tournament (AB De Villiers destroying Dale Steyn in Bangalore) was made even more memorable by the fact that Moody was profuse in his praise of De Villiers right thru the Bangalore innings. Moody is very secure in his role and calls out bad coaching, playing when he sees it. He challenges fellow commentators and is more critical of gaffes and incompetence than everyone else on the list. He also provides great context, anecdotes from his coaching days and has a sense of humor about his own skills and talents. He is far from dismissive of the league, the format or India while also calling out peers on hyperbole.

He is a great ambassador for the game and should be a part of all ensuing IPL coverage.

In the comments area below or on Twitter, please let me know what aspects of my ranking and rating you agree or disagree with?

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So let’s say you don’t root for either the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) or the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). Let’s say you hate rooting for CSK because they have already won the league twice and you want to see a different winner. Let’s say you believe that Mr N. Srinivasan is the root of all evil and deserves to be punished for wearing dual hats as the caretaker of Indian cricket and the Chennai Super Kings. Let’s say you hate all things Chennai or have no interest in picking a side in Sunday’s blockbuster finale. Let’s say you are about to root for change and the Kolkata Knight Riders…..This post will help you.

Here’s why you should still root for the Chennai Super Kings and not for Shah Rukh Khan’s Kkkkkkkkkkolkata Knight Riders….

Fans – Chennai fans are hip, passionate and cool. They take to the streets of downtown San Francisco to give you this – [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hl7yGR04yTU&w=560&h=315] .

Contrast that with KKR’s fans captured below. You have to dig pretty deep to locate a less talented group of erstwhile no-names to jump on your bandwagon! Sanjay Kapoor and Chunky Pandey – Really? Was Uday Chopra too busy? Was Jimmy Shergill too stoned to show up?

If you are a neutral fan, do you really want to be on the same side as Sanjay Kapoor?

Shah Rukh Khan’s ego -Shah Rukh Khan is the man who has it all. He already believes he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Do you really want to see him and hear him after an IPL trophy? Do you want to hear him mention that at every interview film and non-film related? Do you want to see this embedded shamelessly in all of his movies and songs? Do you want to hear Karan Johar ramble on about the greatness of Shah Rukh Khan and his leadership skills? Wouldn’t you rather he fail at this cricket thing? Plus, this is how he trolled Chennaites the last time he had an opportunity to.

Root for the entertainers – Chennai has been the more entertaining side this year. They managed to score 42 runs off two overs to stun the Mallyas in a game they had no business wining. They conceded 14 off 3 balls in a finish they had no business losing. They scored 5 off the last ball to stay alive in the competition. They needed four out of six results to go their way including this dandy to just make it to the playoffs. They recovered from 1 for 2 in a must-win game. They have defied the odds and fought math and reason to still be alive in the competition. They have been the cardiac kids of the league. KKR on the other hand have been methodical and clinical. Jacques Kallis and Gautam Gambhir are entertaining in the way that Watching Paint Dry is. Narine is extraordinarily gifted and the lone exception in a team full of stonewallers and surgeons. Wouldn’t you rather watch this guy dance than root for this guy below? Wouldn’t you rather that the cool, composed and inspiring good guy MS Dhoni win? Don’t you want to watch another helicopter shot?

Yes, this is an extremely biased post from a biased CSK fan. But look at it as a request for the larger benefit of all. When Shah Rukh Khan loses and when real entertainers win, we all win. Go, CSK!

Whistle Podu!

Posted by & filed under cricket.

Previewing a three-hour playoff contest between two IPL teams is pretty hard. It requires the writer to extrapolate and interpolate based on already small sample sizes. I can look through my lime yellow colored glasses and identify fifteen different reasons the Chennai Super Kings will win the game. For each of those reasons, there’s a counter that involves Malinga, Sachin, Rohit and Rayudu.

So this is not a preview or a prediction of today’s big IPL elimination game between the Chennai Super Kings and the Mumbai Indians. Instead, this is five random but relevant nuggets and thoughts that I think anyone who’s watching the game tonight will find interesting.

Here we go,

a) Chinnaswamy stadium is extremely batsman-friendly – Going back to the T-20 Champions’ league games played in Bangalore in September-October 2011, the average score at the Chinnaswamy stadium is 167. In the seven IPL games held there this year, teams batting first have averaged 173 while teams chasing have averaged 158. All of these are higher than mean scores at every other IPL venue. The ground is extremely batsmen-friendly even by Indian standards and hence I think this game will not be won/lost at the intermission.

b) Mumbai has won four straight against Chennai – Since the IPL final at the DY Patil stadium in 2010, these two teams have met each other four times – Twice in Mumbai and Twice in Chennai. Mumbai has won on all four occasions including this nerve wracker at last year’s Champions’ League. If you believe in the law of averages you will believe that it is going to be very hard to beat a quality side five times in a row. If you’re a reverse jinxing Chennai fan, you probably say that Mumbai has Chennai’s number!

c) Ben Hilfenhaus has some unfinished business – Ben Hilfenhaus has been outstanding and consistent for Chennai. His impact has been Narine-esque. Remove those three extraordinary strokes at the death in the previous game against Mumbai by Dwayne Smith and Hilfenhaus’ figures in that game read 2 wickets for 20 runs. He’s picked up 10 wickets for 146 runs in his six appearances so far and has one blemish to show for it. I think it is reasonable to expect that Hilfenhaus will look at the Mumbai lineup and new opener Dwayne Smith as unfinished business and will produce a spell worthy of the occasion for his team. What say you, Chennai fans?

d) Mumbai’s negative run differentialBaseball and football have their own Pythagorean formulas. They both imply that teams that have winning records but negative run/point differentials tend to fall fairly quickly and are beneficiaries of a lot of luck/good health. Mumbai is the only team remaining in the competition which has a negative run differential. Over 16 games, they have conceded 30 more runs than they have scored. Time for a correction?

e) Rest and crowd support – Chennai is coming off a five-day break. Rest can be fairly precious coming at the end of a draining summer tournament and incredibly long cricket calendar. Rest can also imply rust and a slow start for the defending champions. It will be interesting to see how the rest affects Chennai. Lastly, while the game is in neutral territory I would expect Bangalore to have a very healthy Chennai contingent at the stadium. Crowd support hasn’t proven to make much of a difference in the tournament so far with top teams winning as many games away from home as at home. But in a crunch situation, I expect it’d make a tangible favorable difference. What say you Chennai and Mumbai fans?

Enjoy the game all! If you want to revisit the previous game between these two sides please read this.

Posted by & filed under cricket, Media.

Writing is thinking. It is not about putting fancy words together, but more to do with the clarity of thought. I have been, by nature, a truth-seeker. And this helps. My passion has always been to scratch the surface, dig deep and see sport (and people who play sport) for what it is.” -Nirmal Shekar, Sports Editor of The Hindu in an interview four years ago.

Let me preface this by saying that it would not shock me if there was match fixing in the IPL. The combination of big money, Bollywood and the most powerful politicians and corporate honchos of the 95’th most transparent country in the world is a perfect recipe for corruption and malfeasance. Couple this with the impotence of the Indian judicial and police system, it is probable that there has been some corruption and match-fixing in every edition of the IPL. The recent sting operation by India TV even exposed the ease with which fringe players can be tempted and persuaded.

But expressing doubt is different from assuming crime or guilt. Democracies work on the principle that citizens are innocent until proven guilty. The entire Indian judicial system is built on the premise that it is okay to free many guilty parties as long as no one innocent is jailed incorrectly.

THE HINDU calls itself India’s national newspaper. It has been published daily since 1889 and reaches between 1.5 and 2 million subscribers daily while also sating the news needs of hundreds of thousands of people online. One would hope that the people at this esteemed institution are aware of and believe in – innocent until proven guilty. At least , I hope that the sports writers who report to a truth-pursuing editor like the one quoted above would be aware of and believe in innocent until proven guilty. After all, accusing someone falsely or without evidence is not the truth and truth is all Mr. Nirmal Shekar pursues. He is after all a truth-seeker.

This is why I was surprised to read this article today in ‘India’s National Newspaper’. Someone named Nirmal Shekar working the sports beat at ‘India’s National Newspaper’ said these two things about the IPL today –

“let us have movie-like games where a creative script-writer comes up with a narrative known only to the teams and the actors/players……But the thrills on offer will be so much more and you don’t have to make underhand deals with players to fix outcome. ” and

“It is time the people who control the most prosperous league in the sport gave this a thought, instead of still pretending — and have us believe, too — that it is a clean and genuine sport worth every missed heartbeat.”

Huh!

Here’s the number of things wrong with those statements –

1) There is zero evidence presented anywhere in the article of aforementioned underhand deals. This is the usual criticism meted out to bloggers by those who are blessed to work in corporate media. They accuse bloggers of shouting from the rooftops and not presenting evidence. Noted straight shooter Harsha Bhogle constantly equates excellence with the associated masthead and not the writer or the content. I wonder what he’d say to THE HINDU printing unsubstantiated allegations of an angry man as fact.

2) Nirmal Shekar accuses the people who control the IPL of leading us on into believing that it is a clean and genuine sport worth every missed heartbeat. I am sorry but is is possible I missed the uplifting brochure or infomercial that promised this. The IPL since day one has been about entertainment for an entertainment-starved audience. It is a made-for-tv product. It combined some of the most fan friendly aspects of cricket with cheerleaders, music and the movie industry to appeal to more than the median cricket watcher. It sought to engage moms and daughters. To accuse the people in control for not delivering on things they never promised is very wrong.

3) If the nine teams in this year’s edition of the IPL played a season’s worth of five or 10 over games, there will most likely be more games that ended in the last over or the last ball of the match. Similarly if the teams played a season’s worth of 50-over games, it is more likely that fewer games would end in the last over or the last ball. There have been more ties in One Day Internationals (ODI) than in tests. Cricketing boards have for some reason decided that even when the deliveries available to bowlers reduce from format to format, the resources for a batting team stay unchanged. This arbitrary compression of the deliveries available to bowlers combined with other rule changes that favor batsmen make the limited overs formats way more of a level playing field than tests. It is the same reason why you and I would probably score more runs than Sachin Tendulkar over six deliveries but probably never over 300.

Long story short, the T-20 format is always going to produce closer games than other formats. Anyone accusing individuals and teams of fixing should have more than just close results in their dossier of supporting statements.

4) While this season of the IPL has produced several thrilling finishes, 31 out of the 65 games to date have finished with a team either chasing a score down in fewer than 18 overs or a team defending a score and winning by 20 or more runs. I think it’s fair to call these blowouts. So almost 50% of the games in the league that Nirmal Shekar is accusing of corruption and match fixing have been games that would tune the fan out much earlier than desired. Hell, Chris Gayle has been responsible for some serious duds. Is this part of some massive fixing scheme? If the league was indulging in mischief why did they choose 34 specific games to go the way they desired? Am I the victim of some six-dimensional chess by the BCCI here?

5) Lastly, Nirmal Shekar also says this – “But the big fish who may have indulged in corrupt practices are highly unlikely to be exposed, however resourceful or courageous a reporter might be.”

If these were the words of a dying blogger in coastal Karnataka, they make some sense. If these were the words of a hopeless helpless Indian in the United States ranting away in his personal blog, they make some sense. Instead these are the words from the Sports Editor of ‘India’s National Newspaper’. Why bother writing and working in sports media if you deem the pursuit of truth UNLIKELY. There are millions of Indians who would like nothing more than that corruption, nepotism and match-fixing in their dearest passion be exposed. THE HINDU is one of the few media outlets in the country capable of pursuing that goal. Their Sports Editor even said so a few years ago! Instead we are treated to a “I can’t really verify or validate anything I say and to attempt so is hopeless but I will say it anyways” spiel.

Nirmal Shekar is either covering up evidence that will expose the IPL as a sham or ranting incoherently about a random sampling of cricket results in a format he is not fond of. Nirmal Shekar is yet another media charlatan wasting his bully pulpit and moving far away from what he intended to do as a journalist. I hope he doesn’t run into his Sports Editor from a few years ago……

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad.

I recently attended a memorable concert by my favorite band ‘Death Cab for Cutie’ at the Fox theater in Oakland, California. The concert was unique in that the GREATEST BAND EVER performed in conjunction with the Magik Magik orchestra from San Francisco. Here below is a two minute video of ‘Where soul meets body’ from the same concert. Hope you enjoy it!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QceLsYttNkU&w=560&h=315]

Posted by & filed under cricket, Media.

“Thank God it’s Friday! Harsha’s column must be up.” : No one, ever.

Friday after Friday, Harsha Bhogle occupies premium space on the world’s premier cricket website. It is a position of great influence and enormous visibility. It is one of the few dashboards with which historically static and stoic national and global bodies can be influenced. It is one of the few avenues in cricket media thru which corruption, cheating and hypocrisy can be exposed. Of all the privileges desired amongst Indians, it ranks somewhere between being a Bollywood personality and a successful politician’s kid.

Yet, week after week one of Indian media’s true pioneers and erstwhile good guys chooses to dabble in clichés, platitudes and the lowest hanging fruit. Topics that have been uncontroversial since his birth such as the Indian team not being as physically fit as other teams, whether or not a player can choose his retirement are given the pride of place in his weekly column. To add to this, in spite of being designated an opinion columnist he rarely takes a stance on issues of not.

Want to know where he stands on Decision Review System (DRS)? He is upset about the controversy but has zero guidance on either a resolution or a path to one. Where does he stand on match fixing and what causes it? He preaches and professes a lot of things without really assigning blame to either the individuals arrested for match fixing or the laws and boards in place. He instead uses convenient generic terms like society and culture to paint pictures with the broadest stroke possible.

His lack of a stance on most things would be the target of many a mob if not for a carefully cultivated public persona and impeccably polite demeanor. Being one of the truly nice guys once upon a time helps. Incompetence in the media can be masked with a friendly face and non controversial beliefs. Thomas Friedman has excelled at this for many years and amassed over 25 million dollars in net worth. It took the internet and many motivated bloggers (1, 2 examples of many) to expose him for the charlatan that he was and is.

In his latest piece, Harsha tries to take on switch hitting. The article riled me up even more than his usual columns because it was filled with several WTF gems –

“but at heart the game must be fair to bat and ball. Well, if not in reality, at least in principle.” – The game should be fair in principle but can avoid fairness in reality. Harsha has just proclaimed his approval for incompetent umpiring as no principles are violated.

“It is a shot that is fraught with risk and is difficult to play. But it is neither legal nor fair.” – Harsha asserts the shot is illegal in an article where he is trying to make a point that the shot should be made illegal. Yes, he just did.

“Steve Smith caught a ball by the boundary and tossed it in the air as he stumbled over the rope. The ball followed him over, but, showing great presence of mind, Smith jumped in the air, scooped the ball, both feet off the ground as he did, back into the playing area, landed beyond the rope, and popped back in to the field of play to catch the ball before it landed.For sheer skill and difficulty, he should have been rewarded with the catch, but the law doesn’t allow it. – Harsha just described something that is illegal in the game of cricket and compared it to something that is legal (switch hitting before a bowler commences his run up) and created a false equivalence.

“And so you have to go by the principle of fairness, even if takes away a bit of drama.” – When it comes to a battle between Dharma and Drama, Harsha is Yudishtra, not Shakuni.

VERY NEXT SENTENCE – Unless, of course, you want both sides to benefit, which will happen if you also allow a right-arm bowler to run in and suddenly switch hands to bowl left-arm. – Wait, what? Ambivalence, lack of self awareness and the ability flip sides faster than a tracer bullet! Harsha has it all.

Indeed, I believe there is fair ground to allow an lbw for a ball that pitches either side of the stumps when a batsman changes hands. (It is, of course, different with the reverse sweep, since a right-hander remains a right-hander and the feet do not move differently either.) – I love the completely arbitrary use of the phrase ‘of course’. It reminds me of managers in the corporate world using it in a casual manner to get employees to work thru the weekends. Kind of like, “Of course I have committed to the team working this weekend for this customer.” Semantics and usage of phrases aside, I fail to understand Harsha’s underlying point here.

Do we complicate things too much in the garb of moving ahead? Or is this an inevitable part of the evolution of the game? – Opinion columnists usually like to make their case in the final graf. It is a place to state what they believe. Harsha Bhogle will leave you with more questions than when he started the piece while also not answering any in the course of the piece.

Parting line – I look forward to more evolved thoughts than this article can manage. Truer words have never been spoken:).

All of the above quotes were lifted exactly from his piece. Without the Cricinfo stamp of approval, does anyone read and respect this stuff?

When you state you look forward to more evolved thoughts, I think you speak for all of us Harsha. We would all like Cricinfo’s opinion pages to represent strong, analytical and intelligent opinion. We would like some one with more evolved thoughts.

When Harsha came to the fore in the late 80’s and early 90’s he brought the fresh, clear perspective of an outsider. His life story of an MBA graduate pursuing his passions and being successful in a deeply nepotistic society was an inspiration to thousands of part-time writers/full-time fans like me.

Two decades later, his writing feels forced and his role in the cricket media evokes sadness, anger and frustration. He is not the media voice that Cricinfo or the fans of the game deserve. He is currently blocking the doorway to India’s Bill Simmons. Instead of using his bully pulpit to hold the powerful accountable, he vacillates. Instead of giving a public voice to India’s passionate millions and encouraging the fresh, the new and the smart, he is holding on to his turf. By never saying anything to hurt any one and by refusing to get specific with names, issues and views, he is hanging on to a position he once earned and deserved.

In other words, Harsha Bhogle is India’s Thomas Friedman.

Posted by & filed under cricket.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpH61mPTXKQ]

Here, dedicated to Dwayne Bravo’s stunning last ball six are six thoughts on the absurd, ridiculous theater that is the Chennai Super Kings :

a) Spare a thought for Sunil Narine who dominated an instance of cricket’s unfairest format in a manner that seemed unfair and impossible. Not since Mohammed Azharuddin has a cricketer had this sort of a love affair with Calcutta. Every one of his twenty four deliveries were treated with the sort of respect and deference reserved for senior citizens and dictators. The defending champions may have won the game quicker if they had chosen to chase the target in 16 overs giving the home team a golf-like handicap of Sunil Narine’s four overs for zero runs. Many times in his life, Sunil Narine will bowl a lot worse and be on the winning team. Rarely will he evoke the sort of awe and demonstrate the kind of superhuman control he did this Monday night. It was a spell worthy of the venue and unworthy of the result.

b) Spare a thought for Rajat Bhatia who did all that was asked off him. A couple of inches lower or a fraction of a second slower on the last delivery and he may have been the toast of the town. With the national bowling cupboard bare, he may even have cemented a place in the World T-20 squad as the default bowler at the death. Instead he will be the Chetan Sharma to Dwayne Bravo’s Javed Miandad. He will go on to take a hat-trick and score a hundred but will always be remembered as the guy who let the Chennai Super Kings out of jail that one night in Kolkata.

c) Spare a thought for Shah Rukh Khan. His enormous wealth and fan following have yielded him exactly zero playoff wins in four years. An all-star staff, a moneyball inspired CEO, a cavalcade of diverse talents has made his bunch one of the favorites for this year’s competition. Yet, time after time, his Knight Riders have proven that they are as adept at sealing the deal as he was in his famous Baazigar and Darr roles. He is a billionaire with no real ties to the sport or to the city. Blowing kisses at the camera have never felt harder on the heart. If the Knight Riders choke one more time and fail to win a playoff game for the fifth season in a row, Mr Khan may just sell his prized asset. Owning a sports team is fun and exciting until they lose games. Dwayne Bravo’s six may have just triggered the Shah Rukh sale.

d) Spare a thought for Dwayne Bravo. With five needed off two, he lost control of his bat. The bat went further than the ball and he retained his position at the crease by the thinnest of margins. To undo the mental effects of that just 45 seconds later to unleash the only possible stroke that would win the game for his team is beyond ballsy. It is the sort of spirit that few possess and all seek. It is the kind of spirit that pokes fun at the gods of probability and makes fools out of a million adoring fans. The ashes of the two-time defending champions were just about doused for good when Mr. Bravo played the shot that will be heard around Chennai for a long time to come.

e) Spare a though for MS Dhoni. Surely he was Mr. Rube Goldberg in his prior birth. The wins are never easy, the strokes are never smooth and this generation’s most successful captain takes his fans to a special place every game. It’s a place where the severely constipated party with the ones that are insanely calm. It is a place where expressions are tight, gesticulations are banned and nirvana is achieved one bitten nail at a time.

f) Finally, spare a thought for the city of Chennai. 20 overs cricket run by corporate megaliths should not mean this much. But to the cricket-crazy people of Chennai, it does. And for them to be taken thru a Disneyland ride of emotions the last four weeks borders on the mean and cruel. I know that most fan bases would gladly swap their records for Chennai’s. I understand that. But to be asked to celebrate this many last ball wins and mourn last over losses borders is surely the handiwork of a bipolar god.

Thursday at Dharamsala promises to be another ride thru the grinder.

Until then, Whistle Podu!