The Crisis in Pakistan

Just when it looked like Pakistan was returning to normalcy after President Musharraf lifted the emergency, it appears to have landed in a crisis. Sad to hear of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the most visible and relatively progressive face of Pakistani politics. It is hard to imagine (yet impossible to rule out) that the army had played a role in Ms. Bhutto’s death. In a highly populated country like Pakistan its virtually impossible to protect a leader who thrives on waving to the masses from an open car top. Ms. Bhutto took some unnecessary risks and unfortunately paid the price.

The immediate question that comes to mind is clearly, What next? Where does Pakistan go from here?

  • President Musharraf can now claim that his Emergency rule was justified given the law and order situation. In short, he could tell President Bush & team, “I told you so”, thereby countering any cutbacks in the funding from the US.
  • Nawaz Sharief, the other political force in Pakistan must now be terrified to campaign. The election will most likely be postponed, but a fair and free election seems unlikely anytime soon.
  • The Bhutto family decision to continue its hold on power is not surprising, but it remains to be seem if this is viable in the long term. Sadly, this is likely to stunt the rise of any new leadership.

With President Musharraf no longer army chief and the country clearly in a crisis, with control on the purse strings, the US is clearly in a position to call the shots in Pakistan, more so than ever before. As a start, it would be best if the US demanded greater transparency in return for continued funding with a not too long term commitment to transition Pakistan to a democratically elected government. This is easier said than done, but a firm long term US policy on Pakistan (with or without Musharraf) is long overdue. The current criss might be the perfect opportunity to develop and execute on a new long term strategy.

Ind-Aus Test Match: Exciting Day 1

Over three hundred runs, the Aussies almost all out, a superb display of spin bowling by Kumble, a brilliant delivery from Zaheer Khan to get rid of Ponting, a fine century by Hayden, and some good catching by India sums up the first days play.

The biggest open question at this point is whether India can live up to its reputation of having some of the best batsmen in Test cricket in its ranks. After restricting Australia, if India can responds with a fighting total, this should make an exciting Test match. For the first time in a long time, Australia will be on the back foot, provided India can respond with a fighting total.

India’s weak link in the bowling department was Harbhajan Singh. He never really looked like taking a wicket. If India has to perform well on this tour, he will need to turn in a good performance.

On the batting front, India will be better off opening with Sachin (based on current form) as suggested by L. Siva. This will surprise the Aussies and take some pressure off Dravid, who seems to be struggling for form. The other wild card might be to open with Ganguly. In any case, the move to include Yuvraj in the eleven is a terrific move and should strengthen the middle order substantially.

Hillary Clinton: Poor Strategy In Fighting “Change”

Senator Obama has clung on to the theme of “change” and seems to be clearly working in his favor. The reasons are simple. He hardly has a record to criticize or find fault with in Washington. On the most important issue of the Iraq war he has been steadfast in his opposition from the very beginning. So, given the poor opinion poll ratings of Congress and the President himself, Obama surely has a strong case for change. Besides, it is easy to brand Hillary’s 35-years of experience claim as being part of the Washington establishment that needs change, thereby bolstering his case for change.

Hillary and her team have been fighting Obama’s change theme quite poorly. Bill Clinton struggles hard to position her as the “agent of change“. She herself says that this election is not about choosing “change over experience”and in the very same ad she talks about why her experience can bring about change, sounding rather defensive. By stating that this election is not about choosing change over experience she is making this election precisely about that!

Ironically, Senator Obama is drawing heavily from Bill Clinton’s strategy in 1992 where he positioned himself as the candidate of change while his opponent George Bush Sr. stood for experience. In fact, Bill Clinton argued then about the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience referring to the same old Washington way of doing things. The big difference though was that Bill Clinton had the experience of having been Governor in Arkansas and backed up his claim by touting his track record.

Perhaps Hillary Clinton’s best possible response to this might be to accept that Senator Obama has a good story to tell on the change front. She should go to the extent of stating that her husband come to power using precisely this theme. However, she and her husband soon realized that change in Washington is easier said than done. There is a learning curve involved in bringing about change in Washington and she has first hand experience of facing the challenges of attempting to bring about change. This would clearly be a much more creditable and genuine argument as opposed to touting her questionable 35-years of experience.

Its hard to imagine that a master strategist like Bill Clinton and all the high-priced consultants on the Hillary campaign are unable to work up a better strategy. In fact, Bill Clinton lost a golden opportunity on the Charlie Rose show to accept that the change theme works but has a learning curve involved once you get to Washington.

Saurav Ganguly: 100 Tests But Still Fairly Insecure?

Hats off to Sourav Ganguly on his hundredth Test and his recent dramatic comeback. There is no question that he is easily one of India’s top cricketers of all time and deserves all the accolades.

Check out his recent interview on Cricinfo. What caught my attention, was his comment about India becoming a dominant force in world cricket. One can’t but help think that his statement has more than a tinge of insecurity.

To be honest, I’ve not seen anything special, except for Yuvraj and Sehwag in the batting, and Harbhajan, Sreesanth and RP. Zaheer is a seasoned campaigner, so I’m not including him in this bracket. We need some more quality players coming through, especially in terms of batting.

This is precisely the mindset among selectors and current players that is preventing India from becoming a dominant force. Unfortunately, Vengsarkar made a similar comment a while back. How do you know if there is available talent unless you give players successful at the domestic level a chance to prove themselves at the international level?

Present day top contenders (to name a few):

Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, Piyush Chawla, Suresh Raina, C. Pujara, Mohd. Kaif, Aakash Chopra, Gautam Gambhir, Manoj Tiwari, Venugopal Rao, Parthiv Patel.

Players who lost out (purely because their careers overlapped with big stars):
Badani, S. Sriram, S. Sharath, Amol Majumdar, Dinesh Mongia, RS Sodhi, Navneet Ricky, S. Joshi.

The reason why India has failed to dominate despite its vast pool of talent and endless resources is the lack of a consistent policy towards giving youngsters an opportunity to perform at the highest level. A few basic steps to address this issue:

  • A documented and well-communicated rotation policy is an absolute must.
  • A firm policy to give up and coming players an opportunity when playing second string teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
  • The 20-20 experiment of playing youngsters must be extended to ODIs sooner rather than later.
  • There is no need to always play the big stars. Playing 20-20 with youngsters was a terrific start and the results are there to show for it. Unfortunately, it will take a disastrous performance in Australia for a fundamental change in thinking. The bad news is that India might swing to the other extreme a dump a whole bunch of stars when they still have plenty to contribute.
  • Last but not the least, have open communication with the players. Let the players (especially the senior players) know where they stand irrespective of whether they are in the team or not.

Ganguly’s comment is a sad reflection of the state of Indian cricket. A top seasoned player despite his record still appears to be rather insecure. Instead of naming some of the up and coming stars with potential and pointing to India’s recent 20-20 success, he chose a largely self-serving path instead. One can’t help but speculate that there is some truth to Greg Chappel’s comments about Ganguly’s insecurity.

The selectors and the BCCI are partly to blame for the mental state of India’s stars. The BCCI/selectors have not been communicating effectively with it players and instead subjecting them to shoddy treatment. The recent treatment of Rahul Dravid, being a case in point.

Sehwag Gets Another Free Pass

The Indian selectors recalled Virender Sehwag despite not being among the 24 probables for the Australian tour. It is a shame that Askash Chopra, the other opener among the 24 probables was quietly ignored. Why have a probables list if you intend to go outside the list? What sense does Aakash Chopra make of this?
There might be no substitute for Sehwag’s class. But it is impossible to argue with statistics. If you go by his recent record, once again, Virendar Sehwag has done nothing to warrant a recall. He has been struggling even at the Ranji trophy level. In contrast, Rahul Dravid when dropped on the pretext of form, simply walked out and scored a double century in his first Ranji match and followed that up with another century. Surely, form has to play a part when being picked for the team?

Sehwag has been in dismal form for years. He has shown no sign of recovering his touch. Despite this it is surprising that former players continue to back him despite his repeated failures. The good news is that he is unlikely to make the playing eleven given the glut of in-form batsmen in the team.

BJP: Getting its act together?

The BJP recently announced Mr. LK Advani would be its next PM candidate. For the first time, the party seems to have stepped up and announced a formal succession plan. After the defeat at the last Lok Sabha polls, the party has been struggling with all kinds of infighting, first on the party President’s post, the controversy over Advani’s visit to Pakistan, the silence over Vajpayee’s health, infighting and defection in its Gujarat ranks, to state a few.

One can’t help but wonder if this recent announcement is a first major step towards the BJP finally getting its act together. Mr. Manmohan Singh quite uncharacteristically weighed in, that this was an attempt by the BJP to fight the rise of Modi. Irrespective of the validity or merit of the decision, the good news is that the BJP appears to have for the first time since its poll debacle almost four years back, started to communicate clearly. It remains to be seen how long this sustains. At a personal level it must be a big boost for Mr. Advani, who has had an on-again-off-again issue despite being viewed by most as BJP’s heir apparent. At 80, the next election could well be his last and final shot at the PM’s chair. With Mr. Vajpayee in retirement mode, the next several months will be a true test of Mr. Advani’s leadership.