Archive for October, 2009

Champions’ league “Blue”

Two entertainment products found a similarity amongst themselves last weekend; one in the field of cricket and another in form of a Bollywood flick. The similarity starts in the way both products announced their “sales pitch”. The product never said anything about the script/teams or the actors/players proficiency. According to  the promoters of both, their USP was the mullah spent in creating the product. Money took precedence over everything else. The product was almost in your face saying” its god damn expensive, so you better indulge in it”.

 

Alas both products did not realize that consumers don’t take to a product just because it is expensive. The operative word for success is “value for money” and that is where both products fail. The metaphor of the failure in both products was two towering figures; unfortunately standing in the dusk of their careers; Sanjay Dutt & Glen McGrath. Unfortunately for them the promoters tried to milk their humongous brand equity without reading their present status. Both are in professions where fitness and form is of paramount importance; their expanding bellies puffed up cheeks read a completely different picture. Another towering figure that did a great damage for himself who coincidently played his part in both products was the Mozart of Madras- A.R. Rehman. What on earth was the brief given to the maestro by the promoters of both products- god alone knows! But both the Airtel Champions League Anthem and Chigi Wigi did not work with the audiences. Somehow it was just not something expected from a genius of the caliber of Mr. Rehman. I would however rest the case in favor of the Music maestro by saying that the main culprit was somewhere in the promoters brief to him, for  both products

 

As Bollywood is not my cup of tea let me just concentrate on the Champions League. There are a few fundamental errors in the league and unless they solve these; they can never reach the status of the UEFA; they want to emulate. T20 cricket today has a few fundamental errors. A T20 format player is caught between loyalties to club or country. This is something Soccer players never face. It is high time players choose the format they want to represent. The way forward is to have a separate T20, One Day and Test side across all major cricket nations’ right from the grassroots level. This is aka Rugby structure of the world. IF you play Rugby league you stick to it and don’t switch to Rugby union. However if a T20 player can represent his country in a test format he would need to give up his T20 code to take on test cricket. This is something Rugby league players do as the world cup of Rugby is played in the Rugby Union format.  This will take away all discrepancies and statements like “T20 is like dessert”. Every format needs to be respected equally. This would also take away the hypocrisy practiced by many players and cricket experts who enjoy the financial benefits of T20 format while praising test cricket. I would seriously like to see how many players would take up Test cricket and forgo T20 league cricket. I am sure after a certain age it is best to not indulge in too much of desserts!

 

Most importantly what the bifurcation of players into three different codes –aka rugby; will create a   proper window for t20 cricket. The present format of the IPL – One month 60 odd matches is too much burden on the players and fans consuming the game as a sport product. It makes the IPL more of an event rather than a league. A league should ideally be played over 3-4 months with no more than 4 days/week itinerary, very much like the English Premier league.

I am sure most of you would see this as a deathblow for test cricket- but let us bestow some trust on the spectators and beauty of test cricket. I am sure it can survive on its own without any protectionism and embargos on other formats of cricket

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Chronicles of India’s T20 cricket

Two years two world cups, two IPL editions and one champions league later- modern day cricket power BCCI, stands at the cusp of changing the very fabric of the game we all came to love. Today some fractions of the same BCCI that economically benefited from the riches of IPL, find that it is killing its golden goose –International Indian cricket. The latest revelations from none less than the CEO of BCCI Ratnakar Shetty questioning  the young Indian players commitment to the national cause, flop show of the champions league( t20 format)  and champions trophy( one day format) and emergence of freelance players has dawned the realization that cricket has  changed for ever. Personally I find it a far more complex issue than just calling it crass commercialization or lack of player commitment from the present crop of players. How the game will evolve will need time. Can the diminishing interest in the ongoing Airtel Champions league be revived in the next round of matches? Will brand “cricket India “survive post r the high profile Australia series? Only time will tell!

 

In my pursuit of the above answers I tried to understand the history of the t20 format of the game in India.  Going through the archives of sports reports; I was marveled at the U-turns taken by the BCCI. A modern day Greek tragedy sees the most powerful cricket board that resisted the t20 format of the game initially do a flip around  to own the biggest T20 cricket property in the IPL. I thought it is right for you the cricket fan to know how the t20 format took birth in India and how the IPL today is proving to be a Frankenstein monster for the BCCI and Indian cricket.

 

My first glimpses of t20 cricket were when English county teams started playing it. I saw a prophetic Ravi Shastri claim in England; on an India overseas series that the format did not make sense to him and could never succeed. Back home the czars of Indian cricket too tried to avoid the format with the primal fear of it eating into the money spinner of those times “One-Day cricket”. As ICC and rest of the world embraced the shortest format of the game BCCI resisted it.

 

Again during India’s tour of England in 2007; BCCI had to reluctantly select an Indian team for the inaugural t20 world cup. Somewhere down, the Indian establishment did not want to add to the success of the T20 format with its humongous financial clout and support base. It strategically asked five of its top players Tendulkar, Dravid , Ganguly, Zaheer and Kumble to withdraw themselves from the world championship. An Underdog side led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni was sent to South Africa. The rest of that campaign is history.

 

At around the same time India was witnessing its first comprehensive private participation in cricket in form of Essel group’s ICL. ICL looked to work around creating a brand out of the much languished and abandoned domestic Indian cricket and its players. Their sport product was packaged with some International players not part of their respective national squads. It was a masterstroke- without affecting the fabric of the international game. The private entrepreneurial effort suddenly was foreseen as a solid sports product with the best of India’s domestic talent pool and high quality broadcast. The BCCI knew that a private entrepreneur had realized the opportunity to create a viable economic sport product at the domestic level never before tried by any cricket board of the world. Instead of collaborating and encouraging private involvement in its operations; the BCCI took an antagonistic approach to the ICL.

 

The situation provided an opportunity for the megalomaniac marketing wizz kid of the BCCI ( Lalit Modi) who also harbored dreams of starting  a private cricket league like the ICL in the 1990s. Modi had flirted with sports broadcast with limited success till then. He brought ESPN to India but soon cut off the tie up. He had invested some money in trying to poach international players to create a private league with the 50 over format but was met with stiff resistance from BCCI. On pretext of countering the ICL, Modi sold the IPL concept to the BCCI – who without thinking of the long term repercussions joined his bandwagon.

 

Most experts had predicted that the IPL was a global giant that would swallow the international fabric of the game. However in their approach to destroy the ICL –cricket establishments around the world (some readily, others reluctantly) agreed to support the IPL and block out the ICL. In reality the IPL was a bigger threat than the ICL for the world cricket establishment. The ICL was based on working with domestic Indian players and mixing them with former or over the hill but recognized international players to create competent t20 cricket teams with city based following. On the other hand IPL was based on creating a league on basis of their star value of present day international players. Imperial franchisees were brought in with the bait of owning the game of cricket. This worked completely opposite to the initial ideology of the BCCI which wanted to restrict the T20 format to protect the other two longer versions of the game, especially its golden goose One day – 50 over format.

The irony of this eventful T20 chronicle today sees the BCCI facing a Frankenstein monster in the IPL . The IPL was created to blunt out a domestic ICL, but more than the ICL it has managed to hit on BCCI’s biggest brand – “ the national cricket team” fondly known as the men in blues.

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Kaminey Part -2 – based on the life and times of lalit modi

Dear percept and Madhur Bhandarkar,

 

Than-thanan, what an idea!  Percept and madhur bandharkar you guys rock. You guys wanted to make a dark movie with a principal character full of grey shades. I am glad your search took you to lalit aka lalisp Modi. Well the most talked about dark character in recent Hindi filmdom has been Charlie of kaminey fame. Well what better for percept to borrow the character from Vishal bhardhwaj and take it forward as lalisp modi. After all Charlie and Lalit have one thing in common their incorrigible lisp. Life for them never sucks…….. ooops never f*ks .

 

Well brilliant idea I must say. Lalit falls completely in the zone of a Bhadarkar genere of movies. Dark, grey, materialistic and go getter.

 

Character profile of lalisp : Born in a rich family . Travels to the US for studies; brushes the law on the wrong side is charged with attempt to murder and other serious charges…… Runs back to India. Gambles away 2 crores in a diwali night card game against another business scion lalit suri. Marries his mom’s best friend…………… Is thrown out of the family business. Works as a points man for his chief minister friend. Starts a cricket league and becomes the most powerful man of world cricket.

 

Alright Shahid kapur enough of hadippa. Time to work  on the lisp again coz its going to be lisp lisp  Lalisp and a great colorful character to portray on 70mm.

 

So tighten your seat belts as Charlie returns with his legendary lisp as lalisp Modi.

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The new genetically modified opening batsman!

Cricket metamorphosis is in its top gear at the moment. A lot of discussions are taking place as to what shape modern day cricket will take. Can the 50 over format survive? Will t20 work as an overkill for cricket? What will be the fate of test cricket? Et al! One major question that has been pondering my mind, since over a year, is the vanishing role of a specialist opener. When I first started following cricket religiously; some of the big stalwarts where opening batsmen. Indian fans worshipped openers, because our first cricketing superstar was an opener in the form of the little master- Sunil Gavaskar. The names Gavaskar, Boycott, Greenidge, Haynes, Rameez Raja & Graham Gooch were revered specialists; epitome of technique and concentration. However the last decade has thrown in openers who were not originally bestowed that position. Look at the names. Players like Jaysuriya, Shewag, Gilchrist and Tendulkar (50 over format)  to present day tormentors like Dilshan and Shane Watson prove that openers are not born they are made.

 

I guess the easiest inference for this new breed of lower middle order batsmen transforming into successful openers will be blamed on shorter formats of the game! However I think there is a bigger reason for this phenomenon- covered pitches and an attacking approach to all formats of the game including Test cricket. When the likes of Gavaskar and Boycott started off in their careers pitches were green and uncovered. Gavaskar is famously quoted with approaching the opener’s role with the idea that “give the bowler the first 30 minutes and the rest of the day is yours”. I guess today covered and protected tracks have become batting havens. Additionally with bouncer restrictions; the game has heavily tilted in favor of the batsmen in the modern context.

 

An opener today does not need to play the role of wearing off a fast bowler and seeing off the shine on the leather cherry. He no longer needs to protect his teams’ best batsman- ideally batting at the no-4 position. This throws the inference that in modern day cricket and especially the T20 format you need your best three batsmen playing at the top three batting positions.  The new genetically modified batsman first took the role of a pinch hitter. First seen in the case of New Zealand’s mark Greatbatch in the 1992 world cup, and further perfected by Jaisuriya and Romesh Kaluwurthana in the famed Sri Lankan 1996 world cup campaign. The biggest genetically modified opener is modern day great Sachin Tendulkar. A classical No-4 middle order batsman; Sachin opened in the shorter format of the game to take advantage of playing a full 50 overs. This phenomenon is most relevant today in the T20 format where you would want your best batsmen to play as many overs as possible. I believe that T20 will result in batting positions depending on form and talent rather than an orthodox approach of specialist openers, middle order and lower middle order batsmen.

 

It has already been well documented that every new format of the game has a positive effect on test cricket. If one analyses the best test team of the last decade you will realize that the Australians have scored their runs at nearly 4 runs per over in the longest format of the game. 20 years back such a phenomenon would have read as the opposition bowlers displaying poor form and eventually losing their positions in the test side. Today a bowler returning with an economy rate of 3, (even in the longer format) would read as a good day in the field for that bowler.

A classical opening batsman in the mold of a Gavaskar or Boycott is an extinct species in today’s’ game. That is quite a misfortune because blocking and seeing off a hostile spell of fast bowling is one of the toughest arts of batsmenship. It almost feels nostalgic to remember a Gavaskar or Boycott seeing off the new ball from the great West Indian pace quartet. I wonder if we will ever see a new young batsman in the mould of a Gavaskar or Boycott. If the answer is “NO”, then the coming generations of crickeut fans will surely miss one of the best contests between bat and ball in the game of cricket.

 

I am not sure of many other cricketing nations, but in the Indian context two such cricketers who faced the axe despite being classical openers are Wasim Jaffer and Akash Chopra. I remember watching a test match between India and West Indies in the Caribbean in 2007. The slippery and sharp Fidel Edwards was peppering the Indian openers ( Jaffer and Shewag) with some serious leg line short bowling. The marveling observation was the ease with which Jaffer was fending off the deliveries as compared to his more illustrious opening partner. But unfortunately such situations are far and between in modern day test cricket. Therefore an opener in the Shewag mould is any day more effective as compared to an aka Jaffer mould batter, even in the longest format of the game.

 

All I can say is a big goodbye to the classical test opener. It is sad that today’s game does not need your high-level skills of batsmanship. Batsmen like you encountered the fiercest contest between the bat and ball. Unfortunately modern cricket with covered and batting friendly pitches, military medium pacers on the opposing ends & rules tilted heavily in favor of batsmen- need just a stroke maker and not a classical opening batsman an epitome of defense, technique and concentration.

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Cricketers -From Gentlemen to Beautiful-Men

The game of cricket sits at the cusp of changing from a lazy colonial type, day long sport…. to a modern day high octane commercially driven sport.  Like transition phases in other sectors of life and society; cricket too will see a difficult turnaround period (presently faced). Despite the present day turmoil, I am confident that commercially interest, humongous support & consumer base will see the game through; well into the next decade. The final analysis of the story however is that cricket will follow the football way. The gentleman’s game will take a step forward (hope it turns that way instead of regressive commercialization) to coming close to the beautiful game. I know I may disappoint cricket connoisseurs and a large fan base with the future trajectory the game of cricket we all love so much. But that is another topic altogether. Through this article my aim is to draw a parallel between these two wonderful games and see how the new cricketing world would look; when club and franchisee take precedence over boards and bilateral cricket series. I personally believe that the international test cricket itinerary should confine to an Ashes series and a Asian test championship between Indian, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. If Bangladesh progress in the skills department they would be the fourth inclusion in the Asian test championship. South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies will have to find a market of their own. I feel sorry for South Africa as it is a strong test nation but the only solution for the protease, kiwis and Caribbean cricket centers would be to fall back upon their colonial motherland England and look for a series called a Greater Ashes; where they can fight for the Holy Grail along with England and Australia. I believe that the players of the near future will be freelance cricketers. Their agents will manage their careers. Official cricket boards like old world institutions will perish and will pass on the power to franchisees and the corporate world. Majority cricket will involve club cricket ( read IPL, ICL, T20 offshoots in other cricket nations) and will be played in the T20 format. The cricket world in the next three years will look similar to the present day soccer world.

Below are my “cricket- soccer” parallels. I look forward to your feedback and would love to know what you the true aficionado and expert of the game feel about the same

 

  1. India – the financial power center of world cricket -will look similar to present day England in the soccer world.
  2. Australia- The most talented cricket land. Similar to what Brazil is to the soccer World.
  3. Pakistan- Mercurial and unpredictable and will produce logic defying world class talents. Similar to Argentina in Soccer.
  4. South Africa. Clinical, methodological and an assembly line of top notch players. Similar to Germany in Soccer.
  5. Sri- Lanka. Enterprising, rich history and effervescent talent. Close geographical location to India makes them parallel to Spain in soccer. Sri Lanka has the opportunity to tap the resources of ICL& Ten Sports (Zee group) to form a parallel cricket’s Premiere le ga. Why Sri- Lanka? Also because of the new found peace and geo political situation in the beautiful island country.
  6. New Zealand. Parallel in soccer is a top notch eastern European country (Czech- republic, Serbia, Croatia- lacking flair but producing an assembly line of disciplined sportsmen of international level.
  7. England – the mother nation of cricket. Soccer parallel reads Italy. The English county will be the Seria-A of Cricket. Never quite achieving the dynamism of IPL (EPL-English premiere league) or ICL (Premiere le liga – Spanish soccer)
  8. West Indies. Their parallel will be South American or African football nations like Mexico, Nigeria, Cameroon or Colombia. Natural flair and aggressive players.

 

So how does the future of the cricketing world look to you? Look forward to your comments. The only sad part it is the obituary of the most powerful brand of world cricket “team India “& “Men in blue”. Don’t know however if I would miss the dinosaurs BCCI!!!!!!

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