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Sight Screen

Friday, September 30, 2005

TGIF Round Up

1. Amitabh Chaudhary's 'exclusive interview' is the centerpiece of the IE content. There was a deal, the manager says, per which the question of the coach wanting Ganguly to sit out for the Test was scotched, and in return Saurav would agree that the whole imbroglio be kept confined to the dressing room. 'He broke the deal,' is the tenor of Chaudhary's interview. (More on that in this Mid-Day story)
I'm frankly underwhelmed. There is no debate that the recent spate of leaks and counter-leaks have caused immense harm to an already fractured outfit; there is hopefully no debate that the BCCI could have, if so inclined, done something constructive to bring cohesion and order back to the dressing room. The BCCI abdicated its responsibility -- given that, I don't see how all these endless arguments about who leaked what to when and where is going to get us any place.
I am, though, tempted into a tangential question: Ranbir Singh Mahindra at the end of the review committee meeting said the committee members, captain, coach, manager and players had all been told not to talk of the incident, and that transgressions would be viewed seriously.
So how seriously is 'seriously'? Within 24 hours, an unnamed committee member spoke. Within the same time frame, Mumbai Mirror outed the precis of Ganguly's written response to the board. Ravi Shastri, a committee member, spoke on record. Now the manager has spoken, also on record. Seriously, Mr Mahindra, what do you propose to do?
2. Interesting out-take on the whole incident, from Darren Lehmann who suggests that the Chappell-Ganguly pairing actually has a chance to work. I wonder, meanwhile, which enterprising reporter will remember that Lehmann played for SA while Chappell was coach, and sit him down for an in-depth q&a into the coach's methods, his man management skills, etc?
3. Sachin Tendulkar is finally fit again -- or more accurately, fit enough so he feels comfortable about risking his elbow in competition. Good thing, too, that he will be able to test match fitness in domestic competition -- the selectors in a moment of temporary (temporary?) insanity planned, if you remember, to have him play the Test series in Zimbabwe if he was fit enough to walk.
4. Peter Roebuck weighs in on the ongoing controversy in his Hindu column. While much of what he has to say is predictable, this bit intrigues me, makes me wonder who he has been talking to, and what he has heard:
Talk has spread of a renewal of the supposed north/south divide. These are flames fanned only by the self-serving. True patriots understand their danger. Kerala and Bengal count amongst the finest parts of this great country. It is not necessary to take sides. Men must think beyond tribal loyalties. Ganguly's allies have served Indian cricket ill by raising these matters.

5. This unsigned editorial in the Telegraph had me wondering, if only because it takes a tack different from the one preferred by its cricket desk led by LP Sahi.
6. And finally, like it wasn't enough that the Ganguly-Chappell brouhaha was causing such angst in India, we now have people around the world taking sides. He sucks, Freddy Flintoff said yesterday; he is an angel, Glamorgan chief Paul Russell says today.
That's precisely the thing about Saurav -- sort of like Hillary Clinton in US politics, he is a polarizing figure; he forces you to take sides pro or con, but does not permit you the luxury of sitting on the fence.
In passing, had to write a column on this whole thing for India Abroad's currently-under-production issue (and no, the paper does not have a net presence). Writing for a weekly is an interesting exercise. The net is about immediacy -- something happens, you process it and spit it out in so many words; often, there is no time to really line up your logical ducks, make your points seriatim, dovetail it all into a conclusion that can withstand the stress-test of reason.
This way, though? You can sit back, sift through the stuff floating in your head, excorcise emotion, and write with a cold, dispassionate logic that hopefully stands the test of time better.
Can't, here, publish what I wrote since India Abroad hasn't even gone to press yet. But the more time I spend on this, the more I incline to the thought that it is beside the point to debate whether Ganguly ducked out of the kitchen when it got hot, or Chappell forgot he was appointed coach of an adult cricket side and not a particularly unruly kindergarten.
The thing is, Ganguly will head off to pasture, sooner or later. Chappell will likely not last beyond WC'07, if he lasts that long. And even the most impatient of us can wait two years, if the exits of SG or GC or both would solve the problem.
But it won't, will it? They will go -- but we are left with an administrative body that, in the 10 years or so I've covered this game, has constantly astonished us new levels of incompetence and venality. The BCCI -- the Board of Confusion and Chaos in Indian cricket -- will remain; and that is probably the best epitaph to carve on our cricketing tombstone.
Sir Winston Churchill famously said, during the dark early days of World War II, ‘Never have so many owed so much to so few.’ In this week just ending, that line assumes a particular poignance.
Never have so many (so many of us who follow this game, and this team with a passion that, channelled into any other endeavor, would propel us to the top of the heap) owed so much to so few – so much heartburn, so much despair, so pervasive a sense of wasted time spent following the fortunes of a team of indisciplined slackers led by an out of form captain and overseen by a loose cannon of a coach. All this, and more, courtesy your friendly neighborhood BCCI.
What can you say, except TGIF? Chill, you guys -- unless something majorly cataclysmic happens in the interim, see you Monday.

The Indian manager has his say

Gag order or no gag order, quotes about the Ganguly – Chappell rift keep coming through. Now it’s Amitabh Chaudhary's turn to tell his side of the story. The Indian team manager says he is astonished at Saurav Ganguly’s decision to go public with the dressing room goings on.

"We all agreed that this was a matter that should stay between us and should not, under any circumstances, be discussed with the media," Choudhury told The Indian Express. He said he asked Ganguly why he'd gone public, to which the captain replied that he'd responded to a journalist's question.”

So the captain did not really want to spill the beans but was compelled to when a journalist cornered him. Maybe that sounds better than saying ‘ I went public because I felt slighted and threatened by the coach’s assessment of my batting and fielding skills, and I expected my fans and the media to give me a thumping vote of confidence after the hundred I scored.’

Unfortunately the tactic backfired, and Ganguly has put himself under the microscope even more. Was he really so cut off from reality that he could not perceive the growing disenchantment with his captaincy? Apparently not, and it seems even Choudhary is tired of holding in his irritation for the captain, for after weakly condemning Chappell for taking an ‘extraordinary decision’ – wonder if he meant it in the positive or negative way – he cannot resist a parting jibe at Ganguly –

“Choudhury didn't want to comment on Chappell's observation that Ganguly was mentally and physically not fit to be captain, but, added that his `tantrums and `uppishness' might have irritated Chappell. “

A knot in your hanky

Mahindra-saab, with so much on your plate -- including the trifling fact of an election you are yet to win -- can't expect you to keep little, insignificant things in your mind. So, by way of helping out, sir, an aide memoire -- this is what you said less than a month ago.
Very impressive, BCCIboss-saab; I am sure the studio audiences applauded frantically. I have one small question, though -- which September 25 were you talking about? 2015?

Harsha's angst, Ravi's balm

Harsha, even when angry, is polite; you can in the prose of his latest column almost hear the abusive words he wishes he could use, but will not because that is not his style.
There is only that much the Indian cricket fan can withstand. Match fixing crippled him, poor performances disappointed him and now this farce played out with little remorse for the world to see. The world laughs at us, no it mocks us, but when hides are thick and love is thin, it matters little. That was the path many great brands, products and organisations took on their way to extinction.

As against that, Ravi Shastri believes -- correction, says; there is often a chasm between the two -- that status quo ante was the best possible decision the committee could have taken. Here is, to my mind, one of the most startling things anyone has said on this issue:
"There is no doubt in my mind that this is the biggest controversy to have hit Indian cricket since the match-fixing scandal in mid-2000," Shastri continued. "Both on and off the field - and when I say off the field, I refer to the administrative shambles - Indian cricket has hit rock-bottom. We couldn't have afforded another trial by the media and the public at this stage. That neither Greg nor Sourav has a problem working with each other despite the happenings of the last fortnight is a very positive development."

I did a double take there. Did you? This, says a member of the committee, is the biggest scandal since match fixing -- and the wisest thing to do was to do nothing? And why? Because no one could afford a trial by media?!
Excuse me -- why does the media ask awkward questions? Because you do untenable things. For instance, assume the committee had made the effort to examine the allegations from both sides; assume the committee had called in all concerned -- the various players, the physio, everyone. Assume the committee had determined where the fault lies -- and sacked, or suspended, whoever it was. Assume, too, that the committee had suspended those players who were guilty of indiscipline in Sri Lanka (How do we know this? Gavaskar tells us. The same Gavaskar who is a member of the review committee? Yes sir.). And assume, finally, that you had in an honest statement set out your findings, and listed the action taken. What trial, pray, would the media have launched?
Had that been done, the media would have applauded; the public would have been satisfied that the pampered brats we worship have been given the message that the feelings of the fans cannot be trifled with.
Instead of which, you have merely postponed the reckoning -- and you assume the trial is over, simply because you say the two will work together?
One interesting sidelight to all this: Ravi Shastri talked. Amitav Choudhary talked. I presume Saurav Ganguly talked (if the committee members gave back the documents in order to prevent a leak, it follows that he was the only one who could have leaked his response, no?). All this after the board's gag order.
Does it occur to the board that no one takes it seriously any more; that no one gives a fig for its orders and diktats and fiats?

Damn! Stubbed my toe.

In between work, was trawling for some info Rahul Mehra needed; and look what I stumbled on.
No, don't bother reading the whole thing -- the scary part is right at the end. (And if you are wondering why there have been no updates, the reason is simple -- once reporters latched on to the BCCI's financial statements as a ready source of good stories, the board promptly put it under wraps; Mehra, for instance, has been trying for four years to get hold of the accounts of more recent years, without luck.)

For your amusement

It's 5.30 am - and I am still working, and will be through the day. Which explains my absence from on here -- rough patch at work, excuse it, guys.
Been reading the various posts (thanks Ruchir) -- and comments (good on you, guys); notice though that the obsession, pro and anti, with Saurav Ganguly continues.
Let me see if I can provide some diversion for your heated minds. You read, of course, that Raj Singh Dungarpur has the ultimate fix for India's cricketing problems? Appoint Sunny Gavaskar CEO, he says.
Righto, Raj-bhai, whatever you say. But you do mean Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, right? This gent you were talking about earlier?
Or were you referring to this one, who you suggest here was less than the embodiment of discipline in the dressing room?
Or this unbiased gent who, after doing his best to block Chappell's appointment, indicated his impartiality thusly?
Or no, you must be referring to this Gavaskar, no?
Hoo boy, this is fun -- give me a lifetime, Raj-bhai, and I'll remind you of more interesting things you've said of the gent in your lifetime.
In passing, Raj-Bhai, since you are such a vocal proponent of inquiries now, care to let us know why you were so anti-inquiry on this occasion?
Later, guys -- me back to work, after that little interlude.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Leisure time

Nice, very nice, to wake up (what do you mean it's 11? I only went to bed nearing 4!) and log on to this thing and find your work done for you -- thanks much, Ruchir! :-) It also means I can actually get some work done on the edition.
Ahead of which, there is this other story -- sorry, opinion piece; Mid-Day founder Khalid Ansari has his own view on who Deep Throat was.
Elsewhere, the board which yesterday according to "sources" was planning to trim down the Chappell entourage by getting rid of Ian Frazer, now says it is not contemplating any such move (so either the source was wrong, or the board has had a rethink, or there is a lot of heavy duty back and forth bargaining going on behind the scenes that we are not aware of).
Outside of the interesting clips Ruchir threw up from the Rohit Brijnath piece, the interesting point is that he frames the larger question a bit differently. It is not, he argues here, a question of whether the coach's methodology is right or wrong; it is more a question of did he try to sell it too hard, too soon.
Of course, situations differ and every team has its own demands. Australian coach John Buchanan, merely recounting his own experiences and not endorsing a particular method, says he took it "slow and steady" at Queensland, where he was vastly successful, and got a few senior players on his side. At Middlesex, where he was asked to enforce change, he started straightaway, but tensions with a few key players undid it all. "In hindsight," he says, "I might have tried to rush things." Perhaps so is Chappell.

Reminds me tangentially of a story about his admittedly even more abrasive elder brother, Ian. Relates to when Dennis Lillee was trying to make a comeback after injury (Lillee, when I got to chat with him at length in Chennai some years back, said he was not even keen on a comeback because he thought he could never regain his peak; he was pushed, coaxed and cajoled into it, he said, by Chappelli).
In his first game back, Lillee on the first morning of the Test apparently bowled like a dork. And Chappell, after a while, took him off.
During the break, Lillee -- who, by then, wanted nothing more than the earth to swallow him up -- went up to Chappell, hand held out, and said sorry, skipper, thanks for giving me a chance but I don't think I can do this. Chappell ignored the outstretched hand and sneered: I don't shake hands with medium pacers. Lillee was so livid, he punched Chappell in the gut, then held out his hand again. Chappell repeated the message: I don't shake hands with medium pacers; and got punched again for his pains. Lillee then stormed off, fuming -- and, post lunch, the story goes, produced an inspired spell of fast bowling. More to the point, he never had doubts about whether or no to come back, after that.
There, that's your bedtime story told; now I'll get back to work. Catch you guys later.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rahul Mehra update

Been chatting at length with Rahul Mehra just now; the situation is that his updated PIL will be before the courts by October 26.
Am passing on to him links to the various comments you guys have made (oh, by the way, he was profuse in expressing his thanks to those of you who mailed, offering him your support -- my thanks too, guys; battling the BCCI is a lonely business), besides any information in my possession.
Will keep you updated on progress, as and when. I think till date, the single biggest achievement is that Rahul torpedoed the BCCI's contention that it is a private society, and hence not in the public domain. The Supreme Court ruled with Rahul on this one, contending that the BCCI fulfills a public function and thus is very much a part of the public domain -- in other words, the public has a right to know, and the corresponding right to question.
Tell you what -- after talking to, or rather listening to, Rahul for a good 45 minutes, I tend to think all this heartburn over the SG-GC standoff is small potatoes. All of this, and much else, are mere symptoms of the disease; the actual disease is the board's unprofessionalism, and if you can cure that, then the rest will all fall into place.
More power to the guy -- amazing the amount of time and trouble he spends on this, often at the expense of his real work.
PS: Have to get back to work, today is one of those days when editing stuff keeps me up till 2 am or later, so see you all tomorrow.

More leaks

Just when I thought it was all over, here comes another inside story on the review meeting; this time, the source is 'one reviewer who was present at the meeting'.
"It's rubbish to believe that Chappell is quitting. It is also absolutely wide off the mark to believe that Ganguly has gained ground and Chappell has been slighted," said the member.
The member asserted that if the committee had made public its disposition either in favour of Ganguly or Chappell, "the next few weeks would have whipped up extreme public reactions in favour or against the two gentlemen and it would have meant disastrous preparation ahead of the visit by the Sri Lankan team.
"As things stand today, the ball is in Ganguly's court. He would be under pressure to perform in the next two series. If he does well, Indian cricket will move forward. If he fails, even then a new chapter in Indian cricket will take place," said the source. The source admitted it's now a "fight-to-finish" battle ahead for the tenacious Indian captain.

Interesting, that this member of the review committee believes that now the preparation for the two upcoming series will be first rate, thanks to this temporary patch-up.
Meanwhile, Chappell has received an important "thumbs up" for his man-management skills from a member who toured with the Indian team in Sri Lanka in July-August. "It is distressing to see that Chappell is being portrayed as some kind of control-freak in relation to team members. From my Sri Lanka experience, I can safely say that he was most open and honest with team members and encouraged everyone to speak their minds," said a member of the team management on the Sri Lankan tour.
"He has been encouraging everyone to develop their own rationale. It's just not six-hat theory and all. I find it amazing when I read that he is stifling to others because my observation was exactly the opposite."

Said member did not tour to South Africa? Should narrow the options down more than somewhat, no? But more interestingly, who do you suppose the member of the review committee is who spoke to Outlook? My money is on Ravi Shastri -- the arguments, and the language, sound very him. What's the odds, peoples?

The best indication...

...that Chappell's honeymoon with the BCCI is over is the rethink on the role of Ian Frazier. When GC took over, he managed to get all the experts he wanted, with the BCCI not questioning him on his selections and, in fact, even going beyond to volunteer that it would appoint batting and bowling coaches if Chappell asked for them. But now that his copybook has been blotted, the board will move... and has... to whittle down his support staff.

Indian women win

The women's cricket association must be blessing its stars the BCCI has elected to delay the merger of the women's administration with that of the men; while men's cricket stumbles from controversy to crisis, the women are quietly going about their business away from the spotlight. Thus, the U-19 segment has opened its Pak tour with a win.

Bad to worse?

R Mohan, in the Asian Age, sums up the state of Indian cricket today (and, surprisingly, segues into a major role for Dilip Vengsarkar.

The national cricket team is under a cloud even in triumph, though the team they beat is the lowest of the lowly rated in Zimbabwe. The coach thinks our captain is physically and mentally unfit to lead. Our best batsman is not able to lift his bat to play strokes off a cricket ball.
There is not a single umpire from the country on ICC’s elite panel of umpires. The satellite television deal is so bad in law that it will be continually challenged in courts. Our board is in such a mess as to be unable to conduct its own annual general meeting, where the focus is on control and not cricket, on schedule. India’s opinion hardly counts in world cricket today.
Never have things come to such a pass in the national game. Do you get the feeling that the world is laughing at Indian cricket? The sequence of events has, however, been so extraordinary that we have no choice but to endure being the laughing stock. This has happened because we have certain reigning forces that are blind to anything other than self-interest. The administration as well as the captain it blindly supports are hardly bothered by the need to think nationally.

Bad to worse

R Mohan sums up the state of Indian cricket today:

The national cricket team is under a cloud even in triumph, though the team they beat is the lowest of the lowly rated in Zimbabwe. The coach thinks our captain is physically and mentally unfit to lead. Our best batsman is not able to lift his bat to play strokes off a cricket ball.
There is not a single umpire from the country on ICC’s elite panel of umpires. The satellite television deal is so bad in law that it will be continually challenged in courts. Our board is in such a mess as to be unable to conduct its own annual general meeting, where the focus is on control and not cricket, on schedule. India’s opinion hardly counts in world cricket today.
Never have things come to such a pass in the national game. Do you get the feeling that the world is laughing at Indian cricket? The sequence of events has, however, been so extraordinary that we have no choice but to endure being the laughing stock. This has happened because we have certain reigning forces that are blind to anything other than self-interest. The administration as well as the captain it blindly supports are hardly bothered by the need to think nationally.

Indian presence absent

...from the ICC Awards shortlist, that is: outside of Dinesh Karthick, no Indian has apparently made it to the top five in any category. Kumble's take on the anomaly:
"We haven't played many matches in the last season. It (also) shows that we need to perform better," said Kumble, who was among the 15 shortlisted for the Test Player of the Year award before fizzling out.


Saurav Ganguly needs some rest and recuperation, he says here.
Sure thing -- these last three, four weeks must have taken the heck of a lot out of him , and it is not as if there is any very urgent reason to get back onto the ground. The India-Sri Lanka series starts only October 25 (there is a little matter of the Challengers, beginning October 10, but we all know the team for Sri Lanka will be picked irrespective of what happens in that series, not on the basis of it. So... go for it; hopefully, the captain will return refreshed in mind and body.
Come to think of it -- given it's such a slow news day, I could use some rest, too. Or at the least, I could use the time to do some work. Later, peoples... take care.


I know the media is at the heart of all evil -- the BCCI, and even some cricket fans, have said it often enough. I didn't, though, realize matters were so serious the BCCI has actually felt the need to hire a serving armyman to manage the media.
Um, just wondering, this would be the same gent who was manager of the team during the home series against Pakistan -- which was when matters within the dressing room reached such a head, John Wright gave up and played passive spectator rather than active coach, and counted down the days to the end of his contract?

The Outlook is bleak

G Rajaraman's summation, in the latest Outlook cover, basically nails up all the ducks in a pretty neat row, without adding new winkles to the debate.
The central points are both beyond debate: patch-up or no, there is no way Chappell and Ganguly will be able to work together with any degree of trust; and secondly, isn't it time the BCCI, which expects the team to operate to certain standards, is held accountable by, and to, the same standards?
Sure, boss, you got it bang on. Now all you, and the rest of us, need to do is figure out how to bell that particular cat. To hold the BCCI accountable requires a change, a drastic revision, from its constitution on up. Such a revision can only be done by the BCCI itself -- which has a vested interest in preserving the status quo.
I believe a guy called Joseph Heller wrote a book about this type of phenomenon: Catch 22, he called it.

Wrights and wrongs

I've been a John Wright fan since the very first time I called his number and he answered with the words 'Hello, this is John Wright of the Indian cricket team'. Having spoken to coaches who have tried to sell their columns with lines such as 'I control the number one player in the world, imagine what my column can be worth', this came as a wonderfully refreshing change.
His comments, here, are further indication of his operating style: quiet, discreet, not given to talking out of turn.
"I always looked at it this way - the team was selected for me, whoever that was, with a captain, with a player. You didn’t get a vote on selection but my job was to ensure that as coach they were prepared and performed to the best of their ability," he said, indirectly taking a swipe at Chappell’s observation that Indian captain as well as some of the players did not deserve to be in the team.
"It was almost like performance coaching and I hope we made some progress over the four years I was there."

More Wright, here:
Wright said that the issue would have been handled differently had he been coach. "I was very fortunate from the point of view that we always believed what goes on in the changing-room stays in the changing-room," he was quoted as saying by AFP. "Sometimes as soon as things come into the public area they can take on a momentum all of their own."

And also, this:
Wright refused to take sides in the ongoing fracas but defended his approach during his five-year stint as the Indian coach. He said that his success at team building was one of Chappell's alleged weaknesses. "I stand by my record," said Wright. "I worked with the team I was given by the selectors. I worked as hard as I could with the whole team to try and get the performances that the Indian people wanted.
"I had criticism from all quarters during, after and before my tenure, it's part of the role of being coach," said Wright. "The only thing that I tried to do was ensure that we played well as a team and we got results as a team, that was it. I've moved on, I'm no longer the coach, I believe we made progress during my time with the team, I thoroughly enjoyed it."

At times, you wonder if hubris wasn't at work here. When Wright first took over, the seniors all backed him to the hilt, the juniors loved that he was adding value to their skill sets, the team fired as a unit -- and success came their way.
With success, also came more than a touch of arrogance -- and increasingly, the players got to thinking Wright with his continued emphasis on fitness, and discipline, and single-minded focus on the basics, was a nuisance; they were way beyond all that, weren't they? Just one step away from the world champion side?
And so, the problems, that eventually made up Wright's mind for him, convinced him that he had done all he could, and there was no point in renewing his contract. The team -- which, on two earlier occasions had fought the board, and Dalmiya in particular, when there were moves (Sunil Gavaskar could tell you about those) to axe the coach, this time stood by, and "wished him well".
Now look where they are, and what they got -- a coach who by all accounts believes in the 'my way or the highway' philosophy; a fractured dressing room; a plummetting performance graph; and eroding public support. Serves you right, you are almost inclined to say.

What, no leaks?

Good morning all, aren't you impressed that nothing further has leaked in the what, 10 hours or so since this blog was last active? I am. Very. Apparently all concerned now really have the best interests of Indian cricket at heart.
In fact, after the excitement of the last two, three days, the lack of news is so startling, I don't know what we would do without Raj Singh Dungarpur (sorry for asking you to shut up, in an earlier post, Raj-bhai) -- who now says Wright quit because of the Dalmiya-Ganguly axis.
Let's assume -- for the sake of argument, at least -- that this is true. Does it not make you wonder?
Raj Singh -- who for four decades and more has been going around introducing himself as Indian cricket's greatest well-wisher -- knew this. Sunny Gavaskar -- and of course, no one has the best interests of Indian cricket at heart more than he does -- knew all this; knew that players had abused him, threatened to hit him, conducted team meetings without the coach (all of this, mind, are what he himself has written in his columns).
So why, in the 'best interests of Indian cricket' did these gents not put a stop to it when it happened? Why, as senior members of the administration and highly influential voices in Indian cricket, did they not talk openly -- while Wright was still here -- about what was going on? Why did they not report the matter to the board hierarchy, and use their position as spokespersons of Indian cricket to get the board to take action?
Why does all this insight, this wisdom, surface only when it is in the individual's best interests? And why, finally, take us all for fools and expect us to buy into the 'best interests of Indian cricket' line you keep parrotting, ad infinitum, ad nauseum?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

More on Rahul Mehra

Thanks, Flute, for this link: The Hindustan Times in this piece lists various items Rahul submitted before the Delhi High Court, which said court has asked the BCCI to consider, and respond to.
Sometime over the next couple of days, am supposed to talk to Rahul about the additions he wants to make to the PIL -- if you guys could read the above story, then post your additions, recommendations etc in the comments field here, will make sure Rahul gets it.
PS: Given this could be the most important thing this blog manages to do today, am nailing this post down to the top of the tree; later posts below.

More reviews, more committee

News is, vide NDTV, that coach Chappell and captain Ganguly will face the review committee all over again, at the end of the ODI series at home against Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Indian cricket has come to a pretty pass, if the two seniormost members of the actual team -- its leader, and the head of its back-room staff -- are no better than truant schoolboys who need to be periodically hauled before the headmaster.

Speaking through the gag

It had to happen, didn't it? Gag or no gag, a 'BCCI official' managed to get word to the media about Saurav Ganguly's response, in the review committee, to Greg Chappell.
Ganguly told the committee that Chappell tried to undermine his authority right through the Zimbabwe series and even went out to toss with the opposing captain without Ganguly's knowledge during a warm-up game while the team was practising in the nets.
In his note, Ganguly called it a "huge humiliation for any captain". But, he wrote, he let the incident pass as a joke because he did not want to make a scene and create an "unhealthy dressing-room environment".

Very weird, this -- no one other than the captain (or, if he can't take the field, the vice captain) can actually represent the team at the toss; any such toss is invalid. Curioser and curioser, this.
In his e-mail, Chappell had denied directly telling Ganguly that he should quit. But the skipper told the committee that Chappell had come to him on the eve of the first test and categorically asked him to step down as captain and "go back home to play domestic cricket".
He said Rahul Dravid explained to Chappell that his suggestion could have huge repercussions in India since Ganguly had been appointed captain for the whole tour by the selectors, and the coach was in no position to tell the captain to sit out. Chappell then "pleaded sorry that his timing was wrong".

And if this is what Chappell said -- the whole situation is now down to he-said he-said; this could have been solved so easily had the committee called in the vice captain, and others -- then this truce is frankly no truce; there is no way the two can work together. More to the point, makes you ask -- why then did the BCCI allow Greg Chappell to continue? If Ganguly's statements here are accurately reported, he appears on the right side of the controversy -- why then the 'compromise', especially one so shaky it's sure to collapse at the first stress?
Chappell had alleged in his mail that Ganguly was destroying the morale of the side by changing the team repeatedly on the morning of the match. But the skipper pointed out that they played the same 11 for almost the series, and only discussed some minor changes.
Accusing Chappell of misrepreseting facts to prove he had faked a tennis elbow in the warm-up game, Ganguly explained the exact nature of his injury and said he couldn't get scans done because there was no facility in Mutare or Bulawayo. Both physiotherapist John Gloster and manager Amitabh Choudhary supported Ganguly on this. Even Ranbir Mahendra, when he addressed the media, called Chappell's injury allegation "far from the truth". Ganguly also submitted trainer Greg King's fitness report, which shows he had actually completed more training sessions than he had been prescribed.
He vehemently fought the charge that he used a policy of "divide and rule". Ganguly stressed on how the Team India concept had emerged under his leadership and gave incidents of how he had backed players, even fought for them with the selectors on occasion. Secretary Karunakaran Nair, who sits in on selection meetings, backed Ganguly on this.

Wow! The rebuttal is comprehensive enough, wouldn't you say? And these two actually kissed and made up and promised to stay in bed with one another? Why? What is the deal here? If Greg Chappell was in the wrong, it is easy enough to understand why he would have welcomed a compromise, rather than an ignomious exit. But Saurav clearly believes Greg Chappell is a control freak, and not fitted to be coach -- what inducement, then, prompted him to accept this marriage of inconvenience?
And there is one final question that merits asking: Who among those present leaked this story? Ganguly has been repeatedly insisting he will tell what he has to, to the board, not the media. Now the review committee is over -- and judging by public reports, the six worthies who sat on it even returned all the paperwork to the Indian captain, claiming they did not want a leak from the BCCI. So -- who leaked? Mahindra, Nair or Dalmiya among the administrators? Gavaskar, Shastri or Venkatraghavan, among the ex-captains?
Will you ever know?
PS: My thanks to Rahul Nair for alerting me to this link.

Open thread for the day

The dust, for the day, appears to have settled, so will leave this thread open for you guys -- for any thoughts, comments, opinions, links you want to share. Till tomorrow, guys, take care.

Telegraphing the story

Finally, the Telegraph heard from, on the review committee's deliberations -- there is, though, nothing spectacularly revealing in the copy.
The gag order seems to be taken seriously for now -- no one has said anything downright revealing (a touch of unintended hilarity, here, when LP Sahi pointedly says 'Nobody went on record, but sources confirmed...')

Whoa, there

Indian Express, for some reason, appears to have taken the ongoing developments harder than most -- a veritable flood of 'what the hell is going on' pieces on that site; here for your edification is the latest.

The point being?

This article in the Indian Express attempts to make a point about the Australian way.
You mean the real point -- that this is not Australia -- still hasn't gotten across?

Aha, the next circus

Didn't realize there was a Challenger series coming up. Last time around, the Challengers were so badly marketed, the stadia went 3/4th empty, television coverage was desultory at best, the whole event turned into a no-show. This time round, it is the Punjab Cricket Association, read IS Bindra, who seems to be pulling out all stops to make a domestic cricket tournament a commercially viable proposition.

Value erosion?

A few days back, I had this email from a Mumbai-based friend, who said he had noticed a drying up of Saurav Ganguly endorsement ads on TV; is it a fallout of his loss of form and more recent confusion, or could it be just the fact that it is not cricket season, he asked.
No idea -- though brands being what they are, even an India-Zimbabwe Test series is reason enough to blitz the viewers with all kinds of cricket-celebrity endorsements. Was wondering just who would be first to look at this phenomenon; turns out it is the Times, with this story.

Home video

Christ, it's getting so you can't even use the washroom these days without some bloke filming you! I mean, if a cop can't accept an honest bribe from a bookie without it becoming the latest thriller to hit the marquee, things have come to a pretty pass.

Talk of hubris

Just earlier today, I'd put up a post about a former South Australia player's remarks on Greg Chappell's ineffectiveness as coach, during his five-year stint there. "It's only now," former Redback pace bowler Paul Wilson was quoted in that article as saying, "under Wayne Phillip (the current coach) that lost ground is being recovered."
Indeed -- this story sets out just how much ground has been recovered. I mean, really.

The civilized way

In many ways, it is such a pity Jagmohan Dalmiya is no longer the BCCI president (okay, no longer officially, et cetera).
No, don't laugh. Consider, instead, all the angst we routinely go through each time the national selection committee meets; consider the time we spend on each selection, wondering for instance which quota was satisfied when a whatsisname Jadhav was picked as replacement for Sachin Tendulkar, say.
If Dalmiya were president, none of that would have happened. For proof, consider this story on how they carry out selection exercises in Bengal, where JD is boss.

Managing the media

It's as predictable as Christmas -- every time there is a crisis connected with the team, the BCCI announces the imminent appointment of a media manager.
Last time round, they actually appointed one -- Amrit Mathur, whose columns you can read in Sportstar. As of the Pakistan tour of India earlier this year, my impression is Mathur was still media manager -- I remember talking to him, in Bangalore, when the officials acted funny about giving my colleague in Rediff, Deepti Patwardhan, access to the ground.
So either Mathur has been dumped/quit between then and now, or Mahindra doesn't know the board already has a media manager -- not sure which.

Inside out

The next few days should bring a host of insider stories relating to the review committee; gag order or no, the various parties are going to talk to their friends, and word will out, in little trickles.
The first such comes from Anand Vasu, on Cricinfo; the most significant part of the story relates to the review committee believing it's time to change the composition of the selection committee.
A dramatic change in the composition of the national selection panel is on the cards after the review committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India recommended that the system of picking one selector from each zone be done away with. The review committee believed that this would greatly reduce the chances of players being picked on regional bias rather than merit.

And secondly, this:
The review committee made several recommendations that will be taken up at the next working committee meeting of the board, to be held early next month - a salient one being that the selectors are considering a two-captain format, splitting the captaincy of the Test and one-day teams. The review committee believed that this would pose no problems for the players, for several senior members of the side had anyway played under more than one captain in their time.

I'd love to believe some at least of this will happen soon -- the sceptical (okay, cynical) part of me recalls an earlier post, relating to Mahindra's comment about the working committee:
Replying to a question, he said the committee's decision would go before the Board's working committee which can review. However, he expressed confidence that the working committee would not review it and these decisions would be implemented.

I hope this means the working committee will simply say yes boss, and institute review of the selection committee -- it's an issue commentators, journalists, past players, former coach John Wright, current coach Greg Chappell (heck, everyone except the BCCI honchos) have been calling for, for quite a while.
Meanwhile, that other bit about two captains makes me wonder if it's part of the compromise formula: That Saurav Ganguly will continue to lead the Test team, and in the 'best interests of Indian cricket' (damn that phrase, I'll start hearing it in my sleep soon), a new captain will be installed shortly for the one day series?
Finally, from Vasu, this merits attention:
Another aspect the review committee took strong exception to was the behaviour of certain members of the team on and off the field, and spoke of specific instances of misbehaviour during the tri-series in Sri Lanka.

Hopefully, action will follow?

From the tech files

For those of you monitoring (I even know of one guy who routinely clips and files stories on the subject; there are likely others) the benefits of high-tech help for sportspeople, here's one. On how tech helped Liam Plunkett rehabilitate himself. One immediate candidate I can think of, to benefit from this, is Ashish Nehra.
PS: And this is likely the last update in a while :-)

Ladies' day

Do note, the junior Indian women's team is now in Pakistan, for a four-game series. Might be worth keeping an eye on this, for early clues on who is coming through the ranks and making a claim to a senior berth.

Not serious, say Supremes

This by way of an update: the Supreme Court apparently has ruled that the ongoing fracas in the BCCI -- no no, not the SG-GC one, the other one -- is not serious enough to bust a gut over, and October 3 is early enough to dig through that mess.

What, amity is bad?

Anand Vasu on Cricinfo is a bit miffed that no matter how rocky the road, the Board somehow manages to resolve matters amicably.
"Don't put words in my mouth. The matter has been resolved amicably," said Mahendra, when it was put to him that the board was once again sweeping a delicate matter under the carpet. Allow yourself a chuckle, for it was only days ago that an acrimonious annual general meeting of the board was "adjourned amicably", after a whole day of haggling, court cases, counter cases, and mudslinging. Then, it was unclear what made Sharad Pawar's camp change their minds and "adjourn amicably". Now, it is unfathomable what could have prompted Chappell and Ganguly to resolve their issues in a similar manner.

More, from an exasperated Vasu, in his review of the day:
There was no-one from the board to disseminate information, and to cap it all, Mahendra announced that, in future, the captain, coach, and players were all gagged from speaking to the media about the issue.
Ironically, the most explosive leak in recent times emerged from a board official, not the captain, the coach or any players. And Mahendra said the matter was being investigated. The gravity of a confidential email from coach to employers being leaked seemed to be lost on Mahendra, who dismissed the matter saying no committee was needed to investigate this matter, and that the board "has its ways" of conducting its own investigations.

And this:
Mahendra seemed to forget that he was addressing 100-odd journalists who had waited all day in mounting anticipation, amid a mad flurry of reporting every tiny morsel. He spoke like a clown would to a group of toddlers at a birthday party, expecting laughter at the right points, silence at others, and wonder and amazements at the revelations. When asked what was going to be done about the reported indiscipline in the team - a very, very serious matter - Mahendra retorted, "What should we do? Hang them?" If the board president believes indiscipline is a laughing matter, then you have to wonder what exactly goes on in his mind.

To add to Vasu's comments -- if the indiscipline within this team was bad enough to prompt John Wright to quit (no less than Sunny Gavaskar said so, remember?), did the board conduct any 'inquiry', take any action?
Oh but I forget -- the board has its own ways, no?

Dream come true...

For 17 year old schoolboy Manjot Singh of Eastwood, who will this weekend line up for UTS-Balmain against Mosman in the Sydney first grade cricket competition at Rawson Park -- and get to face Brett Lee.
Anyone from Sydney reading this? Appreciate any sort of updates -- and a pic, if possible, of this lad.

The things men do

Darren Lehmann -- who, by some accounts, was the real brain behind Ricky Ponting's captaincy -- is headed India-wards. To, of all things, promote trade and business.

More on Chappell

In its article on the Chappell-Ganguly issue, the Age, Melbourne, quotes a former South Australia player on the coach's abilities, or lack thereof:
According to former Redback pace bowler Paul "Blocker" Wilson, Chappell did not do a good job as coach of South Australia and was not suited to the role.
Wilson said the team floundered under Chappell's leadership.
"Greg Chappell's a fantastic individual skills and batting coach, but he was a poor coach when it came to looking after a group of people," said Wilson, who left SA for the 2002-03 season to play for Western Australia and now coaches the WA women's team. "When he was with SA, a lot of guys fell by the wayside. Greg didn't seem to worry himself with a lot of the guys and they really didn't feel led. It's only now, under Wayne Phillips, that the lost ground is being recovered."
In Chappell's five seasons with SA to 2002-03, the Redbacks finished no better than fourth in the Pura Cup.

For the record, in the current season, South Australia is placed 5th in the Pura Cup.

Order in court

The Supreme Court will, Monday, hear petitions related to the BCCI's stalled AGM.

Rahul Mehra update

For those who have been following Delhi-based advocate Rahul Mehra's ongoing legal battle aimed at introducing accountability into the BCCI's functioning, an update: At a hearing earlier this month, Mehra contended that many issues that occured after the filing of his original petition, in 2000, have necessitated a revision.
The High Court has agreed, and given him leave to enlarge the scope of his earlier PIL and bring in issues that have developed subsequently. He will, as before, tap into journalists, ex-players and such for information and insight, and update his PIL shortly. More, as this particular situation develops.

The season of togetherness

Saurav Ganguly heard from, on the spat and the resolution:
Asked about the controversial e-mail, wherein Chappell, among other things, said he often feigned injury, Ganguly shot back: "I am relieved that the issue is finally over.
"It was a big issue; it has finally been resolved. We [Chappell and I] can work together."
On his plans for the future, he replied, "It is up to myself, the coach and players to keep trying and working hard, especially in One-Day Internationals. I am looking forward to the season ahead."

Delayed reaction

Hoo boy... the battle is over, the war is won and lost, and *now* Sharad Pawar fires his salvo?
Aren't you damned glad this guy is not our defense minister any more?

Laughter therapy

If Ranbir Singh Mahindra were a car, you would need to send him to the garage for a tune-up -- his mouth works faster than his mind.
Consider this, from the PTI story on the review meeting:
Replying to a question, he said the committee's decision would go before the Board's working committee which can review. However, he expressed confidence that the working committee would not review it and these decisions would be implemented.

Excuse me while I laugh -- we all know the various committees within the BCCI are mere rubber stamps (expensive ones, sure, but rubber stamps all the same); but did Mahindra have to be quite so blatant about it?
'I will put this before the working committee but they better not work on it' -- *LOL*
Oh, and on a related note, this:
He said any decision on Ganguly's captaincy would have to be decided by the national selectors.

How precisely will the national selectors decide, and when? This selection committee has, for one thing, already expired, and is now on life support system. Secondly, you have clearly indicated that Chappell and Ganguly have to work together as captain and coach, so where is there anything for the selection committee to decide?
Is this like, 'We have left the decision to the selection committee and I am confident the selection committee will not decide anything contrary to what we have'?

PS: Since the Telegraph has nothing new, nor does DNA, which dropped the email bomb in the first place, will head off to get some work done, and come back here later in my day. Cheers for now, guys.

Journeys end in lovers' meetings

1. Thanks to Cricinfo, we have a chronology of the meeting; we know how much time each player in the drama spent with the review committee, and how much time the committee spent considering its verdict.
Tangentially, thanks to Indian Express, we also have word of another, related, meeting.

Do you want a liar as national coach?

Ahead of the roundup, one little conundrum for you guys to think about: Every report I have read on the issue is silent on some things, but vocal on one particular point.
It is silent on the accusations Harbhajan Singh made about the coach causing schism in the ranks; it is silent on the imbroglio with VVS Laxman as its centerpiece, that was one of the main points in Greg Chappell's mail.
Put differently: There is division in the Indian dressing room. If Bajji is right, Chappell is the cause. If Chappell is right, Ganguly is the cause. And you will agree that a person -- captain, coach, whoever -- who deliberately sets out to cause divisions cannot be tolerated in the, what was that phrase?, oh yes, 'best interests of Indian cricket'. (Bloody hell, careers have come to an end on such grounds, most famously Nayan Mongia, who when he was dropped, was among the best wicket-keepers in the world -- yet, though no one accused him openly of causing schism, it was this that spelt finis to his career).
So, given that, it is interesting that the six wise men, who undoubtedly have the best interests of Indian cricket at heart, are totally, completely silent on the question.
But one thing they are -- speaking through frontman Ranbir Singh Mahindra -- very vocal on:
The committee rejected Chappell's view that Ganguly appeared to be faking injury to avoid facing fast bowling. The criticism was contained in the e-mail's excerpts published in the media.
"Some of the points, particularly with regards to injury, the captain Sourav faking injury etc after hearing the concerned people, the committee came to the conclusion that whatever has been said is far from the truth," he said.

Say what? Chappell's famous email was an essay in explaining why Saurav Ganguly was not fit to lead the team. Ganguly was, Chappell said, physically and mentally unfit to lead.
The 'mental' part relates to the accusations of causing division, a la Laxman and others -- which, of course, has been treated with silence. The physical part relates to his blowing away training sessions, and feigning injuries.
Bear in mind that Chappell makes the further point that when he got that impression, he checked with several players, and they all told him that Ganguly clutching an elbow and going oo-aah-ouch was nothing knew.
Nothing of the kind happened, Mahindra says. Phrased differently, does that not mean that Greg Chappell lied?
Lied, with one single motive -- to paint the national cricket captain in as bad a light as he could? Worse, does it not mean also that he tried to make the team a party to this heinous lie?
Will the BCCI explain how it is in the 'best interests of Indian cricket' to have, as coach of the national side, a man who has -- by the BCCI's own admission -- lied so blatantly; in the process libelled (it *is* libellous, that statement, is it not?) a national cricket icon with over 15,000 international runs, not to mention a sterling string of triumphs, under his belt?
Why, Mahindra-saab, having branded Chappell a liar -- surely, after this, you don't expect the fans and the media to give much credence to anything Chappell may say in future -- have you not sacked this liar outright?
Will you explain? Oh shut up what's wrong with you? When does the BCCI 'explain'?

The simplicity of true genius

I don't know about you guys, but my eyes are opened; enlightenment has dawned -- okay, it is close to 10 am, a bit late for 'dawn', but still, it has dawned: the BCCI review committee met in extended session in Mumbai last night, while I was blissfully sleeping, and came to the conclusion that I need to get a life.
For near on two weeks now, here we all were, scanning the media for the latest bit of information/gossip/leak, examining the developments from every conceivable angle, contemplating solutions -- and it turns out the answer was simple, really: The coach, Greg Chappell, and the captain, Saurav Ganguly, needed to be told that they had to work together for the good of Indian cricket.
Call it a slight slip up in communications -- what actually happened (and this is official) was, when the BCCI committee earlier met to appoint the coach, they forgot to tell him that it was important to work with the captain for the 'best interests of Indian cricket'. And -- you know how, per Murphy's Law, such things can happen -- when the selectors picked the captain ahead of the Zimbabwe tour, they forgot to tell him that he had to work with the coach.
Once this error had been diagnosed, the rest was simple -- the message has now been conveyed to the two gents, Indian cricket has turned the corner, and now we are all set, no worries.
Oh, and just to make sure the captain and coach work together, they have been told not to email/talk to anyone else; the players (who really have no business pre-empting the wise men and trying to determine what the problem was) have been told not to talk, period.
There now, problem solved. Corner turned. Best interests of Indian cricket duly accounted for. Everyone's happy -- so why aren't you, dammit?

PS: Will, in about an hour or so, do the paper rounds and see what everyone is saying about the crisis that wasn't.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Wither goest BCCI?

I have always favored Sanjay Manjrekar when it comes to cricket commentary or cricket analysis, and his views on the Indian Captain – Coach imbroglio enhances his stature as one of the truly wise men of cricket. Particularly, pay attention to how he unerringly sums up the problem that has stopped Indian cricket from going places, in a few choice words:

“ Now on one side, there is that typical Indian way — not restricted to sports, mind you. Which is all about compromises, adjustments, emotions, respect, egos and lastly politics. “

How true. One would have thought it was all about discipline, hard work, patriotism, playing by the rules and sacrificing the ego for the good of the goal. Many players do start out with the best of intentions, cap in hand and song in heart, but somewhere along the way they learn that playing the game on the field is as important as playing the game off the field.

How well Saurav Ganguly has played the political game, we will find out tomorrow. It is interesting to note that every writer from east to west has had his/her say, and while they strive to remain objective, almost all of them let peep through their desire to see things go the Australian way. The BCCI will not sack Ganguly in a coldly efficient manner, for that is not the Indian way, but it can hardly ignore a public bristling with anger at seeing Kaif sitting on the bench. It might be unfair to expect the captain to give up his place for a younger player in his prime, but it is not unfair to expect the captain to give up his place when he is past his prime.

And so Indian cricket has come to the fork in the road, once more. Past experience tells us that when the clamor gets too loud, the right way is usually chosen by the Board. The Australian could well come away with a smile on his stern face. Not at once, but in the near future, with the captain retiring ‘gracefully’ on his own. That is if things are not bungled too badly by bitter officials and warring bosses. That is a far bigger problem than Ganguly’s ego. Unless the people who run Indian cricket look to become a little more Australian, a little less Indian, there will always be a couple of Gangulys or Harbhajans in the team. As Manjrekar remarks:

“ Coming back to the current issue, before the decision is made, the BCCI will surely talk to Chappell and Ganguly and if after that, they feel they need to go the Chappell way, it’s important they also find out whether the rest of the team and not only the new captain is ready to go the Chappell way. For, you are talking of those players who found much of their success the Ganguly way.”

Open thread

Here you go: Thoughts. Comments. Analysis. Critiques. Links. Even abuse, as long as it is temperately phrased. All welcome, between now and my morning. Take care all.

Revisionist history

Was working, but figured this particular development needed a brief return to blog. In South Africa, even Harry Potter's legendary appeal has proved unequal to a ghost story: The legend of Hansie Cronje. Here's a sampler:
The book's thrust is that Cronje took the rap for others who were also implicated in matchfixing.
It suggests Cronje was delivered to the authorities by Indian gambling denizens to punish him after he refused to act in accordance with their wishes.

Must read this book -- if only to find out why this poor chappie, victimised by the heartless Indian betting mafia and the police (who are even more heartless, witness the way they continue to hound the likes of Herschelle Gibbs and Nicky Boje), blubbered all over live television, confessing he had taken money to throw games and saying greed got the better of him.
Oh I forgot -- he didn't say any such thing, the words merely seemed to be emanating from him; our bookies are highly skilled ventriloquists, didn't you know?
Righto, folks, till tomorrow.

And finally...

Another off topic story for your reading pleasure -- the secret to Don Bradman's greatness? He was a freak.
A unique player whose freakish perfection - extraordinary hand-eye co-ordination, unorthodox technique, uncoachable skills - was developed during countless hours of backyard practice, spent hitting a golf ball against a water tank with a cricket stump.

Check out the whys and wherefores. Meanwhile, am off to work. Adios for now, guys, unless something develops in the interim, see you tomorrow in my morning.
Update: A friend called just now, asking whether I would be updating through the Indian day time, with information about the review committee. Nope. The thing is, those guys will meet around 11 or so; by the time they are done meeting with coach, captain and manager, it will be late evening; they will then put out some innocuous, say-nothing comment; meanwhile, 'inside sources' will busily plant self-serving leaks all over the place. None of this warrants lost sleep, guys; will begin updates (assuming by then there is something substantial to update) around 9.30 am NY time. Adios, for now.

By the way...

Enough already -- every word that could possibly be said (and a lot of words that should not have been said) appears to have been said, and written, in media outlets across the country; time now to step back and await the noises coming out of the review committee tomorrow.
For me, time to go do what I earn my bread and butter doing -- but before that, thought I'd toss a couple of interesting articles into your in-tray for consideration.
Ray White, the former chief of the South African cricket board, figures it is time for video replays to play a larger role in the adjudication of appeals of various kinds. It's worth a read, and one particular bit in it underlines a long-standing grouse of mine:
I also think that it is unfair on the umpires and embarrassing for them that everyone else watching the game has the benefit of replays and they do not, except for line decisions.

Exactly. Consider this: A Test is being played at the Gardens; the noise is so intense you can't hear yourself think. Huge appeal for caught behind, but the poor umpire never heard the nick (Remember the last Ashes Test? The clear caught behind not given, in England's second innings?). He can't ask for the third umpire's take on this -- not allowed. So he plays safe, and rules the batsman in.
The fielding team is stunned. They gather around, looking up at the giant screen where, within seconds, the replay, complete with snickometer, shows up and clearly indicates the umpire goofed.
So the poor goof has to stand there, knowing the fielding side thinks he's cheated them; the batsman's thinking thank god they got this deaf and dumb bloke to stand in this game, here is where I cash in; the crowd thinks he is a dork.
Everyone got to use technology -- except the umpire, who needed it most. Tell me how it makes sense? Tell me, too, how come Sunny Gavaskar, wearing the hat of commentator, reacts to an on-field appeal with 'I'd like to take a closer look at that', and pontificates on the rightness or otherwise of the decision after watching a half dozen replays; but wearing his hat of chairman of the technology committee, the same Sunny G decides replays are not yet proven evidence, and there is no real need to let umpires refer to them?

Please define compromise?

Ex-players, says this story, are increasingly speaking out in favor of a compromise. Sample quote:
Chetan Chauhan puts it pithily: ‘‘The captain and the coach are two pillars of a team. Remove one and the team will fall on itself. Anything other than a compromise will have a negative impact.’’

Reminds me of this friend who, while discussing marital relations, once made a rather pithy remark on 'compromise' as it applies to marriage: 'It's like this -- I want to go to the movies, he wants to go to the sports bar, so we compromise and both go to the park where we can sit under a tree, feeling miserable but happy the other person is miserable too'.

Who's zoo

The best part of an Indian Express article on the code of conduct imposed on players is the sidebar -- a brief take on the elements of the review committee that will do duty Tuesday India time. The most interesting bit?:
S.K. NAIR: His tenure as secretary is up. This post will be up for grabs at the AGM, whenever that is held. He needs the Dalmiya coattails. Also the captain’s, whoever that is.

How will the cat jump?

The review committee has one wild card -- Jagmohan Dalmiya, who holds no post that justifies his presence, but is there anyway as pater familias. This story, by LP Sahi in the Telegraph, could indicate which way his thoughts are tending:
“Our priority is to ensure that the image of Indian cricket doesn’t suffer any more. Yet, if the divide can’t be bridged, the option of removing both is bound to be considered. It’s also possible only one could be done away with,” a well-placed source told The Telegraph on the eve of the review meeting in Mumbai.
The source added: “Much, of course, will depend on how the captain and coach put forward their views on Tuesday.… The contents of Chappell’s e-mail (to the BCCI) are known, let’s see what Sourav has to say...”

That's the operative part of the email. Here's another part, offered up sans comment:
Indeed, the e-mail could boomerang, particularly the bit about the three-dayer in Mutare when Sourav came off for treatment of his right elbow before resuming and scoring 46.
That portion reads: “The next day I enquired of a number of players as to what they had thought of Sourav’s retirement. The universal response was...”
Chappell accused Sourav of dividing the team, but he himself was divisive. And, should a coach go around seeking an opinion on the captain, thereby belittling him?
Intriguingly, Chappell didn’t mark a copy of his e-mail to Choudhary, he simply informed him after it was sent.
Given that the e-mail runs into thousands of words, somebody has to ask whether the coach was preparing for the second and final Test (Harare) or trying to finish Sourav’s career.
The e-mail, as is known, was sent before the fake patch-up in Harare. Even a “genuine” one will need very special adhesive.

Um. Strictly off tangent -- I appear to have, in course of my working day today, read thousands of words on Indian cricket, and posted easily a thousand plus of my own. I hope like hell my bosses are not going to turn around and ask me whether I spent any time at all on the work I am supposed to be doing; the only thing I could possibly say in my defense is, hey, I type fast.

Bygones be gone byes

Christmas, says this article in the Indian Express, is in the air. Oh sorry no, that was a typo -- that should read compromise, not Christmas. The most interesting bit?
The final decision, officially, will be taken by the BCCI later.

Aha! How much 'later' would that be?

Firing with a full magazine

In the Hindustan Times, Pradeep Magazine in his latest think piece attempts a summation of the situation ahead of the crucial review committee meeting.
By the way, every news report over the past couple of days refers to the 'crucial' review meeting. Why, precisely, is it crucial? It can hear Saurav; it can listen to Chappell; it can call on the manager for input; it can conceivably talk to the players (though it merits noticing that no player has thus far been summoned to appear before it -- not VVS Laxman, who is directly mentioned in Chappell's email, or Harbhajan Singh, who has emerged as attorney for the defense).
But then what? Can it take a decision to, say, sack Chappell? Nope. Can it decide to axe Ganguly? Nope. It's function, do note, is purely 'advisory' -- and even assuming the advice it gives is good, who is to say it will be followed?
Which kind of begs the question -- why, given the momentous nature of issues to be discussed, is the selection committee not sitting in?
Ooops, I forgot -- the selection committee can't take any decision either, because its own tenure ends September 30 and a new committee can be appointed only after the BCCI elections, which there is no telling when it will take place.
Bottomline? For the life of me, I can't see what in practical terms tomorrow's meeting will achieve -- except to give us the impression that something is being done.

Et tu, mian?

Now that rounds it off -- no less than Mohammad Azharuddin has seen fit to make his first public comment on the team; and it is no surprise, really, that he suggests Saurav should go.

Wah, Waugh!

The former Australian captain weighs in on the Chappell-Ganguly furor in his column in the Hindu.
The column is worth a read in its entirety, but here are some choice bits:
Both the coach and the captain are equally to blame for the current impasse because their conduct has been surprising and neither can be accused of being discreet and measured in their words and reactions.
The review committee that meets on Tuesday might try to work out a compromise, but I think that would be unrealistic. The spat has been too ugly, too public and too bitter, and therefore one of the two gentlemen at the helm of Indian cricket will have to leave. If the two are made to continue on the basis of an uneasy truce, they will take Indian cricket further down the road to disaster since the members of the team will be forced to side with either one or the other. In fact, signs of this polarisation are already emerging.

Waugh makes the point that he had always preferred Tom Moody for the role (I'll take a certain guilty pleasure, at this point, in pointing out that when the choice was being made, I said on here that I suspected Chappell would get the job, but that my personal preference was Tom Moody).
What generally happens in cricket is that when a coach and captain are appointed, they are made to sit together and decide the extent of power and control each of them will have in the team. A free, frank discussion between Sourav and Greg shortly after the latter was appointed would have helped both parties start off on a clean slate. I don't know whether that happened, but seeing the current finger-pointing it's unlikely such an exercise was undertaken.

And this:
Sports fans are fickle all over the world, and while Sourav's form is constantly a talking point, the public was happy to have him back at the helm, only because Rahul Dravid lost the final of a tri-series in Colombo. This is why decision-makers should guard against being swayed by public opinion. If India's selectors have a vision for 2007, then they have to take some tough decisions regarding players who they feel won't last the distance. Their counterparts in Australia made that difficult call when they decided to leave Matthew Hayden out of the one-day team.

Hitting where it hurts

Here's a story on NDTV.com that ties in with something I heard over the weekend. The existing sponsorship contract for the national cricket team is nearing its completion date -- and unlike in past years, big-ticket sponsors have been rather lukewarm about bidding for the rights. And that tells you better than anything else can the state to which the administration, with some help from the players, has reduced cricket.
Another interesting point to note is this:
Meanwhile, Zee Sports have signed a Rs 275 crore deal to telecast all football in India for the next 10 years. The contract comes at a time when Indian cricket has hit its ultimate low.

Even football, run by an ancient body headed by the ageing Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, has managed to get domestic fixtures covered; Indian cricket, meanwhile, has no such luck; despite frequent noises, there are yet no moves to ensure coverage of Ranji games.
But I can't really blame the BCCI on this one; it is a function purely of time. See, end September is normally when new office bearers are chosen. By the time the various court cases are sorted out, it is late October or early November. The newly elected board has to then spend the next six, seven months rewarding those who voted for them and punishing those who didn't. By the time this is done, we are into July-August -- which means the officials have to get busy lining up votes for the next election cycle. Given this, it's unrealistic of you guys to expect the administration to find time to think of domestic cricket and suchlike irrelevancies, sheesh.

Vote for change

Raj Sing Dungarpur (ever notice how this bloke surfaces every year, mid-September, makes a few pronouncements of dubious value, and vanishes for the next 11 months?) has spent much of the last week navigating with foot firmly in mouth -- but one suggestion he has made is worth listening to:
"Why only the coach, the captain too should have a vote in the meetings as these are the two guys who are directly connected with the team," said the former national selection committee chairman.

Precisely. This is an argument I -- and other journos -- have made, off and on, through the years. It is the captain and coach we hold accountable for results; it is the captain and coach who face the axe when those results are less than satisfactory -- yet, results depend at least in part on the composition of the team, and neither captain nor coach have any say in that (besides, the selectors themselves have job security -- there is in the history of Indian cricket no instance, to the best of my knowledge, of a selector having been sacked for incompetence, or worse).
How fair is that? The coach and captain work directly with the players; they know their performance, attitude etc more intimately than anyone else; they need a voice, and a vote, in the process of picking a team.
The ideal solution, one I recall mooting on Rediff earlier, is a three man selection committee comprised of ex-cricketers, plus captain and coach as full voting members. When the team goes on tour, the chairman of selectors needs to accompany the team, and all decisions regarding choice of playing eleven need to be made by captain, coach and selection chairman, with vice captain sitting in as a non-voting member.
Raj Singh, of course, suggests that three men can't do the job.
"I feel five is the right number as India is a vast country and nowadays a lot of talent is found in rural areas. It's not possible for a three-man committee to do the job effectively," he said.

He he he. Excuse me while I laugh. When last did you hear of selectors picking some promising bloke from Jhumritalao? Selections are made not from our villages and small towns, but from the ranks of the state sides -- what's with this stuff about 'vast country'?
Never mind that -- when last did you see a selector attending a Ranji league match?
The real solution lies not in the number -- three, five, whatever -- but in the modus operandi. Currently, the selectors come to meetings armed with stats (sometimes, even doctored stats) relating to players from their individual zone, and push for their own people.
A better system would be to have three selectors who are professional employees, drawing a decent monthly salary. Their job definition would be to spend their time touring the country, attending domestic matches, and maintaining dossiers on promising players, which will be tabled during selection committee meetings, for the benefit of captain and coach who can draw on this for insight into promising players who are not yet on their personal radar.
This way, you avoid zonal bias; you ensure that selectors see all the available talent (and not just their scoreboards). Makes sense -- which is precisely the reason it will never be implemented.

Time to interfere?

In the readers' letters section of the Financial Express, a letter that suggests enough is enough, it is time for outside intervention to resolve the chaos.
In the last few decades, Indian sports has been stagnating, mainly due to the stranglehold of politicians, former bureaucrats and businessmen. The inability to nurture talent in sports is due to its administration being in the hands of vested interests.
The Prime Minister should intervene in the management of sports and enforce some guidelines for the selection of office-bearers for sports associations and boards. Only sportsmen who have participated in international events should be allowed to become office-bearers in sports bodies.

I don't know that having played at the international level innoculates a sportsperson from bias, politics and all the rest of the wrongs that plague cricket; there is, however, much to be said for the need to shake up the system.
For starters, a constitution that is open and transparent -- not one that is hidden from the public; secondly, basic criteria for seeking election to administrative posts -- and no, the ability to bribe, coerce, and/or cajole votes are not among those criteria; thirdly, a mandatory provision that all office bearers should be full-time professional employees, paid for by the board and accountable for results; fourthly a rule mandating that the board should publish its annual financial statements so the public knows exactly what it is doing with its money.
There's much more than can be done towards a clean administration -- but this makes for a good start, wouldn't you say?

Former board boss heard from

Been a while since the SPIC boss weighed in on matters cricketing -- but Dr AC Muthaiah now breaks his self-imposed silence and asks the one question that I can almost guarantee you will never be answered: To wit, who leaked the email?
Tangentially, Muthaiah also questions the locus standi of this review committee. By all accounts, this body was decided upon at the time of Chappell's hire, to periodically review progress -- but Muthaiah has a point of sorts, in that there now seems no real hierarchy. Can this committee do more than recommend? Are its recommendations binding? What happens when this committee, which is ostensibly supposed to meet every once in a while, review progress and make recommendations, does so and the selection committee over-rules it and does its own thing?
That last question is what really puzzles me: if you say that this committee is meant to periodically review the team, with a view to monitoring its progress towards WC2007, should its suggestions/recommendations not carry weight? Does it? If not, what is the point anyways -- just another committee to keep some people happy?
And while on the committee itself, SK Nair makes an interesting point about the reason for its constitution:
Nair said it became necessary to have the Committee as it was felt that there remained a communication gap between the coach and the Board in the days of John Wright, Chappell's predecessor.

Um, what was that again? Wright wrote reports he sent to the board; he emailed; he spoke to the board officials time and again and occasionally, also to its de facto chief, Jagmohan Dalmiya. Care to elaborate, Nair-saab, on exactly what form this 'communication gap' took?

Manjrekar weighs in

On my way out the door -- this blog's door, that is, and back to work -- I stumbled on this column by Sanjay Manjrekar, that frames the situation this way: There are two roads Indian cricket can possibly take, and the time to decide is now. It's worth a read, and some thought; of all that he said, this one line is true not just for the current chaos, but as a leitmotif of our administration:
Ironically, we find the simple way too difficult.

Too true. Common sense, it sometimes seems, is wrongly named -- it is none too common a commodity.
PostScript: Now, really off to work. Unless something major breaks in the interim, further updates four, five hours down the line. Adios, guys

Silver lining

A sliver of a one, but in these troubled times, every little helps: the India Under-19 team has taken a 3-1 lead over its Australian counterparts.
Oh damn, I think I'll take a break from this blog and get back to it maybe later in the evening -- right now, even when I look for silver linings, all I can see are clouds. Has it struck you as odd that year after year, our Under-19 teams earn high honors in competition -- and yet, those promising boys never really seem to step up to the next level?
Sure, in any such team, you will find boys who are precocious for that particular age group, but not talented enough to step up to the next level -- but surely at least one, two of these promising boys who play for our U-19 sides each year should be heard from since? And that in turn leads to the cloud I noticed in this silver lining: Where, in our cricket structure, in the way we administer the game, is there a set-up, a provision, for picking these kids, nurturing their skills, shepherding them along to the next level so there is a feeder base of talent for the national team?
Where, in all this fuss about who should coach the national team and how, is there any appreciation for the fact that it is these lads who will really benefit from high quality coaching?
Reminds me of a chat I had with Robin Singh a couple of years ago. He was fresh from coaching the U-19s, and was in Detroit, Michigan, to attend a cricket function at which both of us were guests.
Robin spent some time talking of the real talents among his wards. The greatest praise, at the time, was reserved for Ambati Rayudu, but Robin made a very perceptive comment at the time: The boy, he said, has oodles of talent, but he will benefit from a strong guiding hand, he is the kind who should work with a quality coach who will keep his nose to the grindstone and make him perform time and again; if you don't do that, Robin said, Rayudu's talent will dissipate.
Sure enough, those words have proved true this past year and a half -- left largely to his own devices, without the board and the selectors giving him a feel for what his place in the scheme of things is, Rayudu appears to have fallen away in terms of performance.
And that brings up the tangential thought I had -- Robin, for instance, has done superb work with the juniors. So on that occasion I casually asked him how long he was contracted to coach the youngsters.
What contract, was Robin's surprising answer. He told me he didn't have a clue what his role was -- the BCCI, he said, will call, maybe a week before some tournament, and ask him to coach; once that is over, he goes back home with no clue when, whether, and if he is going to be needed again.
Robin is a very placid sort of bloke, not given to bitterness -- but it was hard to miss the angst in his tone when he said, so what is new? As a player I never knew what my future was, now as a coach, it is the same thing, I am used to this.
Right -- enough depression for one morning, let me go get some work done, talk to you guys later in the day.

Some cons, some pros

On Cricinfo, Rahul Bhattacharya questions perceived wisdom on Greg Chappell.

Why separately?

If you step back, beyond the allegations and counter-allegations, it seems obvious that one major reason for the current situation is a total, complete breakdown in communications.
This review committee, that meets tomorrow, has a huge problem -- but also a wonderful opportunity. It can, if it wishes to, do a much needed spring-cleaning within the team, the support staff, and even the selection committee and process (sure, the body is purely advisory in nature -- but it does contain the top two officials in the Board, and the one non-official who is higher up than even those two; if they can't between them act on the advise of a committee they are part of, then what purpose do they serve?).
I suggest that one way to start is to put an end to the game of Chinese Whispers; to end this business of people talking behind the backs of other people. If the Chappell-Ganguly dynamic is the problem, then the only solution in sight is to call them before the panel together; for them to air their problems before each other.
Calling them individually leaves you exactly where you are now -- Chappell speaks his bit, Ganguly speaks his bit, but neither answers the questions the other raises.

Courting confusion

And now the question of the BCCI's annual election is with the Supreme Court. What an advertisement for the administrative skills of this body -- it has for two years in succession been incapable of conducting a smooth annual general body meeting -- and we expect it to conduct cricket in the country? As Harsha pointed out in his latest column:
Every country has two sides playing for it. India’s cricketers, one of those two sides, were playing in Zimbabwe. India’s administrators, the other side, were scheming, politicking, adjourning, quarrelling...choose a word from that family and you won’t be wrong. If what they were doing had anything to do with Indian cricket, it was remarkably hidden.
These are serious times in Indian cricket and the administration cannot be a burden. Teams must play the opposition, not get derailed by their own. An extraordinary degree of shrewdness has been demonstrated in the effort to either gain, or hold on to, power. Hardly any part of it is visible in the development of Indian cricket.

Enough already

The match-fixing controversy was, I thought, the lowest Indian cricket could sink to; after this, I thought (optimism, you sometimes think, is a vice that needs to be quit cold turkey), nothing can ever be quite as bad.
Hoo boy -- was I wrong! A cricket administration that spent two days in five star luxury in Kolkatta first battling for the pie, then figuring out how to share it, and adjourned without a stroke of work being done is now busy using a critical situation within the team to score political points.
Raj Singh's latest diatribe makes me ask: For someone who constantly describes himself as a 'well-wisher of Indian cricket', how is it that instead of doing what you can to repair the enormous damage the last few days have caused, you are busy trying to make political capital by attacking your friend-turned-foe? How is it that you, who constantly accuse Dalmiya of interfering in team selection, now attempt to pre-empt the work of the review committee and the selectors by calling for Ganguly's immediate sacking? Tritely put, Raj Singh, who are you and what business is it of yours?
Elsewhere, he also suggests that John Wright quit because of the Dalmiya-Ganguly axis. So okay, when did RSD get to know what was going on -- yesterday? Or did he know it at the time? If yes, why did this 'well-wisher' not say a word then; why did he wait for a contentious election to make the allegation? (A bit like Sunny Gavaskar, once Wright had officially quit, writing about how senior players ill-treated the Kiwi coach -- as batting consultant for a while, SG was in the dressing room; he was witness to what happened -- the question is, why did he as a senior Indian cricket official and member of the team dressing room not draw the board's attention to what was going on? Why did he not haul up the concerned players then? Why wait till the man quit, and then write a column on how bad the behavior was?)
Makes me wonder -- the BCCI was quick to put a gag order on the team, presumably in the interests of not making a bad situation worse. Why then is there no gag order on the officials themselves?
You think Raj Singh is the only one playing politics here? Check this out: The Punjab Cricket Association is 'taking serious note' of Harbhajan's comments against Greg Chappell and in support of Saurav Ganguly. The PCA, it needs noting, is aligned with Sharad Pawar and is home turf to Inderjit Singh Bindra.
Harbhajan is a centrally contracted player; he signed his contract with the BCCI, not the PCA. The pre-tour agreement he signed, forbidding him to speak of anything concerning the tour (a standard clause all players sign before every cricket series, that bans you from speaking of team-related matters for a period of up to six months after the tour ends), is a BCCI contract.
As such, it is the business of the BCCI to question him for breach of contract, if any -- so where does the PCA get in on the act?
Isn't it enough that the imbroglio of the past few days has caused long term harm to the team and its prospects, without various power-hungry factions within the cricket administration stirring the pot and making a bad situation infinitely worse?

Today's story (by worma)

Here is what Sanjay Manjreker has to say on 'the issue'...this portion is the theme of his opinion
For me, this difficult choice that they have to make, is not so much between two people as it is between two ways to go ahead in Indian cricket.

..but before choosing, those in the say must also heed to this:
Coming back to the current issue, before the decision is made, the BCCI will surely talk to Chappell and Ganguly and if after that, they feel they need to go the Chappell way, it’s important they also find out whether the rest of the team and not only the new captain is ready to go the Chappell way.

For, you are talking of those players who found much of their success the Ganguly way.

Peter Roebuck also has a look at the controversy, and has advice for sides.

Meanwhile, there's even a leak of the questions that the committee is supposedly going to put up to GC and SG!

This story, in HT, gives a list of names supposedly on 'one side' and this one carries Bhajji's explanation on what he 'actually' meant, while giving statement in support of SG(and supposedly against GC)

Meanwhile, news doing the rounds that the dices are getting loaded in favour of SG, for the review meeting. Calling up the tour manager, who has already started giving statements refuting GC's claims, is one of them. Ahh...looks like big mess-up coming up.

A personal note, there would be a week-long blogging hiatus from my side...am on 'vacation' as they say here (yes in my part of the world they do have it!). Anyways...will keep a close eye on the 'news' around the showdown....and may the 'best' side win :-)

update : Do read this piece from Rahul Bhattacharya on the current situation. So far, probably the most balanced analysis of all the issues.