Bhajji-Sreesanth Row: A Three-Crore Slap!

The bad boys of Indian cricket landed in trouble once again, this time after a clash on the field. Except this time, there were no international players involved. Instead it was Mathew Hayden’s “obnoxious weed” Bhajji going against the equally troublesome Sreesanth. As a cricket fan who has watched both these players in action, I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps both these players had it coming. They had both been in trouble before and had done little to curb their natural street fighter instincts. Without reigning in these young turks who prided themselves as symbolizing the “new aggressive” India, the BCCI is finally faced with an embarrassing and difficult situation (the ICC rules can result in a life ban for assaulting another player). By moving fast and slapping (pun intended!) a ban on Bhajji and warning Sreesanth, the BCCI has made the right moves.

Bhajji’s Big Loss

Rumor has it that Bhajji had warned Sreesanth prior to the game not to “sledge” his players and he acted on his threat, post-match by slappping his Test team mate. Sreesanth who was seen crying like a school kid later denied “the slap” along with some ridiculous made for TV statements that have become customary of him, while Bhajji for his part tried his best to downplay the incident, and understandably so.

Bhajji has just been banned for 11 games. He has lost a bunch of money. In fact, it is probably the most expensive slap in recent history. Dhoni showed that his sympathies lie at least partially with Bhajji when he said, “However, before issuing any punishment, I hope the authorities check the actual sequence of events rather than just what the footage shows. It’s a lot like what happened between Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi. What Zidane did was wrong, but Materazzi also was not completely in the right.”

Sreesanth in Greater Trouble

SreesanthThe long term implications for these players might be costly, particularly for Sreesanth. The IPL has shown that there is no shortage for fast bowling talent in India – Gony, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar, Dhaval Kulkarni, to name a few are all as good if not better than Sreesanth in T20. Bhajji on the other hand is still the leading off-spinner in the country. With Kumble ‘s retirement round the corner and Romesh Powar hopelessly out of shape, Bhajji’s cricketing prospects seem very strong until a new off-spinner rises to recognition. With Dhoni learning towards Bhajji and Kumble showing his preference to bowl in tandem with Bhajji in Tests, the future for Sreesanth could be in more in doubt. Bhajji might have paid a big price in the short term, but in the long term he surely appears be on stronger ground.

Despite Dhoni’s best attempts to state that this incident will not affect the Indian team dressing room, chances are that one of these players will have to go. And my money is on Sreesanth being phased out unless his performance can speak for itself. Lately though, his dance steps and immature comments to the media are more visible than his on the field performances, which have been fairly ordinary to say the least.

The Tide Takes The Wrong Turn

Obama and ClintonThe victory in Pennsylvania is being hailed by Hillary fans as “turning the tide”. The victory might be a turning of the tide, but unfortunately it is the wrong turn. It is the turn that saw the Clintons resorting to Karl Rove style TV ads. It is the turn that helps spread and re-inforce a slew of myths such as: white working class Americans will not vote for Obama, America is not ready for a black President, Obama can’t win big states and can’t survive the Republican attack machine, to name a few. It is the turn that saw the worst of Senator Clinton on display in her desperate attempt to claim the nomination, the claim that Republicans will throw mud at Obama were he to become the nominee and so anything goes, not withstanding. It is the turn that saw the Clintons and their team cozying up to Fox News, Hannity & Colmess and the like.

Can it get any worse? It certainly looks like it can.

It is obvious that the Republicans love to see Hillary as the candidate because they clearly fear an Obama candidacy. Not to mention that her recent George Bush-like “Obliterate Iran” comment targeted and timed for the Pennsylvania polls (a clear low point in her campaign) helped her win the hearts of many on the Republican side. When confronted with such questions in the past she has been for more restrained by often stating that she “does not want to deal with hypotheticals”. Her recent tactics confirm that the divisive, false propaganda, “Karl Rove style swift boating” isn’t a prerogative of only the Republicans. As this primary campaign drags on those tactics that gave the world eight years of George Bush might soon pale in comparison as the Clintons go all out to win the elusive nomination.

At the moment the Democratic party leadership is aimlessly watching from the sidelines as this primary battle continues and the Republicans enjoy the show to the utmost. The only bad news for the Republicans these days is that John McCain has to try real hard to be in the news. Ironically in an attempt to not be forgotten by the media and the electorate he named his recent tour of small towns as “tour of forgotten cities”.

The cliched mantra of “you snooze, you lose” seems like an apt reminder for the Democratic party elders to get their act together and bring this race to a closure before further damage is inflicted on the party’s chances this November.

McCullum’s One-Man Game: Time to Impose Some New T20 Rules?

The inaugural IPL match was not a one-sided game but a one-man game. As Rahul Dravid rightly pointed out if you disregard the 158 made by McCullum the rest of the Knight Riders combined made barely 80 runs. In fact, if you add the 82 runs made by his team it barely creeps up over McCullum’s individual score. Firstly, all credit to McCullum. It was a rare display of prolonged consistent hitting that took the match away from the Royal Challengers.

Barring Praveen Kumar who bowled a tight spell the rest of the Royal Challengers’ bowlers were completely destroyed, single-handedly by McCullum. The bad news though was that after the first innings which saw all the big hitting the second innings was far from entertaining to say the least with the Royal Challengers failing to put up a fight. With such an imposing total the team had to go for it from the start and it fell apart right away and then there was no recovery whatsoever. Even a terrible bowling performance by the Knight Riders could not saved the Royal Challengers. Under these circumstances with such an imposing target seeing Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer coming out to bat was almost laughable. The least Dravid could have done would have been to open with say CL White and Mark Boucher (or at least one of them), the best hitters on his team.

The one-man domination of this match does throw up some food for thought. Does it make sense to let a batsman bat through the 20 overs? Does it make sense to let a batsman have no limit to his score in a game? Then why restrict the bowlers to four overs each? True this is “masala cricket”. But a bowler taking 10 wickets in a 10 over spell would certainly make exciting cricket too. Wouldn’t it?

Maybe its time to free the bowlers of their four over restriction? Maybe its time to limit the number of balls a batsman can face? (this might be bit of a logistic nightmare) Alternately maybe batsmen should be forced to retire after they score 100 and allowed to bat again only if the rest of the wickets fall?

The other approach is to have difficult batting tracks. Maybe a pitch with plenty of grass on it to assist the fast bowlers or a turning track. A game completely loaded in favor of the batsman might not be in the best interest of the T20 format in the long run.

IPL: Cricket Formally Meets Bollywood

SRK-GangulyThe nexus between cricket and Bollywood has been formalized and is ready for launch. Not surprisingly the theatrics that go with Bollywood have found their way to the launch of the Indian Professional League (IPL). It has all the makings of a movie launch. Prior to this players were bought and sold like cattle. Bollywood stars are geared up for “song and dance” at various points during the matches. Cheer leaders have been imported from across the world. Advertising is at its peak. The teams have uniforms, logos, anthems and what not. The influence of American sports is everywhere except that the game is cricket and not baseball or American football.

Cricket-Bollywood Links

Cricket’s love affair with Bollywood is not new. Tiger Pataudi-Sharmila Tagore, Mohammed Azharuddin-Sangeeta Bijlani, Mohsin Khan-Reena Roy, Sandeep Patil, Salil Ankola and Syed Kirmani’s foray into acting are just a few examples. Even the great Sunil Gavaskar known for great restraint and concentration on the cricket field succumbed to the glamor of Bollywood and had to try his hand at films. More recently Shoaib Akthar was in the news for considering Bollywood offers. With the onsetof the IPL, movie stars and cricketers frequently share the stage whether it is Yuvraj and his Bollywood girl friends or Sreesanth and his dance moves. So the Cricket-Bollywood links are here to stay and be strengthened.

Big Bucks, Match-fixing and Performance-enhancing Drugs

The IPL does raise a number of questions. The monies at stake are huge and with it comes other challenges. There is a dark side to Bollywood as is well-known. Over the years, the involvement of the mafia in Bollywood has resulted in fatalities among other things. The match-fixing scandal of yesteryears has shades of Bollywood-mafia connections. Perhaps the only thing missing from this back-drop is the use of performance-enhancing drugs. India’s recent success in the T20 has been timely and BCCI has managed to cash in on the wave. The BCCI will do well to introduce some checks and balances across the board instead of simply gloating over the booty they have collected for themselves.

The three-four hour format is very much like Bollywood films from a duration point of view except that it is live entertainment. The IPL has players from all cricketing countries. So it remains to be seen if Brett Lee bowling to Tendulkar with both players playing for two commercial teams is going to produce the same excitement and passion among the public as when India plays Australia. It is going to take a while for the viewing public to even understand and remember which player belongs to which team let alone develop team loyalties. A lot is riding on the hype and the hoopla. The success of this “cricketing circus” is ultimately dependent on viewer interest. The initial curiosity is bound to draw the crowds, but it remains to be seen if it can be sustained through the tournament.

On the one hand there is clearly a significant increase in the frequency with which matches are played. Cricket has almost become a round the year effort for some of the leading players like MS Dhoni. Is there too much cricket to sustain the viewer interest? Will the public will take to the newly packaged entertainment and consume it in droves to justify the high price of the teams. As Kevin Pieterson put it, “Hopefully it will be a massive success, and I think it’s going to be, because you have so much money being pumped into it, and you have the best players in the world, so there’s no reason why it won’t be. This could be the way cricket goes – everyone wants to see a result in three hours.”

Whatever happens, these matches are bound to unearth some new talent or witness unseen talents of existing players. So there might be some good news for Indian cricket after all.

A face-off between IPL and ICL champs as mooted by ICL’s Inzamam-ul-Haq does not sound like a bad idea. If the circus has takers, why not let it continue beyond the IPL. Already Cricket Australia is thinking on the lines of a similar league of their own, and the deep pocketed Allan Sanford of the West Indies could do it single-handedly too if he so desired.

Democratic Debate: Hillary On The Attack!

After a long break, another debate. Despite frequent back and forth (unlike past debates) between the candidates, I found myself struggling with debate fatigue. I couldn’t get myself to focus. I had to return to read the transcript to recall the exact words spoken. There wasn’t really much of a debate per se. Instead there was just constant attempts to gain political mileage by jockeying and trying to score some points.

ABCNews Tries to Make Up for It’s Previous Debate

ABCNews decided to not show the debate live on the West coast! It took an obscure link on Google (that didn’t work in Firefox) to see the debate live on the web. To make matters worse the live feeds appeared in a tiny window that could not be re-sized. It appeared as though ABCNews had decided to play tough even before the debate started. Likewise the moderators, Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos appeared to have arrived with a pre-planned intent to attack Senator Obama probably to fight back the accusation from last time that ABCNews moderators were soft on Senator Obama and hard on Senator Clinton.

Despite Senator Obama’s best efforts to drive home the point that beating relatively insignificant issues to death and playing politics — “I do think it’s important to recognize that it’s not helping that person who’s sitting at the kitchen table who is trying to figure out how to pay the bills at the end of the month.” is of little use when it comes to addressing issues of the people, the moderators continued to do precisely that. They pounded away at Senator Obama on his flag pin, Rev. Wright, and his acquaintances with questionable records, among other issues. Senator Obama responded (rightly so) with — ” So this kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow — somehow their ideas could be attributed to me — I think the American people are smarter than that. They’re not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn’t.”

In short, ABCNews did a terrible job of raising the level of discussion in this debate. Instead they stuck to the themes that are likely to generate press and rake up controversies. It remains to be seen over the next few days whether this objective is achieved.

Hillary Goes Flat Out

The other most noticeable fact of the debate was that Senator Clinton seemed to have decided that this was her last chance. She gave it all she had, held nothing back, and attacked at every slightest opportunity. Her approach indicated a certain degree of desperation but she displayed none of it. I suspect though that she came away looking a lot less likable than she ever did.  Senator Obama on the other hand appeared to be mostly on the defensive as the moderators and Senator Clinton seemed to “pile on” to him at every instance.

Happy Vishu!

I want to wish all the Malayalees (Keralites) all over the world a Happy Vishu. For those who are not aware of Vishu, it is considered the beginning of New Year by Keralites. It a festive time in Kerala: adults give out cash gifts to their younger relatives, there are sumptuous feasts (vegetarian), followed by payasam (dessert), bursting of crackers etc. The day begins with “Vishu Kani” where you open your eyes in front of  and arrangement of lamps, rice, gold, fruits, flowers etc. You are actually led with your eyes closed until you are seated in front of such an arrangement.

Similar festivals are held in Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra and possibly other states in India.

Kanpur Test: Dhoni Grabs A Test Victory

WinFinally a pitch that was becoming of a Test match. The Kanpur Test was a perfect example of how to make Test cricket interesting. A result in three days, all of which was packed with exciting possibilities. The pitch was assisting the bowlers right from day one. At the same time there were runs to be picked up for the batsmen provided they were willing to take chances and play their shots.

Sourav Ganguly once again proved that he is still very much a force to reckon with in Test cricket. Laxman showed his class with a fine knock of 50. Rahul Dravid seems like the only “grafter” in the midst of all the stroke players. While it makes perfect sense to have one such batsmen in the line up, it might still make sense to promote Laxman permanently to the number three spot simply because of his ability to ease the pressure with his ability to score at a steady pace. The last wicket pair of Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma deserve special credit for managing to stretch the lead with some invaluable runs.

The Indian batsmen barring Dravid played their shots (much like the Aussies) right from the “get-go” and it paid rich dividends in the form of valuable runs on the board. The downside of this approach is that sometimes you have to bear to see irresponsible shots like the one that ended Dhoni’s innings (or that of Piyush Chawla). Unfortunately, this is just a direct by-product of the approach and aggressive mind-set of most present-day batsman. For example, the square drive over the slips cordon (unheard off in Test cricket in the past) in the very first over of a Test match has become fairly common place. It is all part of the package that makes present day cricket. Gone are the days when batsmen wore out the bowlers by playing long (and often boring when compared to present-day “wham-bam” style of cricket) and obdurate innings.

On the bowling front Virender Sehwag once again staked his claim as being more than a backup bowling option. He is probably the most under-bowled bowler that India has ever had despite, having delivered with precious wickets when most needed . Credit to MS Dhoni for trying Sehwag ahead of Piyush Chawla.

Last but not the least, a great break for MS Dhoni. The man with the magic touch had a great start in Test cricket in his role as captain. His decision to play Yuvraj turned out to be a good one. Also, his handling of the bowling (opening with Harbhajan) turned out to be perfect. But he once again showed that he was level-headed when he said, “Well we did well, but it doesn’t mean we are better off without Sachin or Anil. Who is there to replace Sachin? Who is there to replace Kumble? It is better to have them in the side than not, but the credit goes to the boys who stood up in their absence.””Everything he tried worked”.

It was good to see Graeme Smith not complain about the pitch like most visiting captains do when they lose a Test on a turning track.