Friday, April 23, 2010

The IPL is dead, long live the IPL

This has easily been the most exciting time to be a sports journalist since the wonderful match-fixing days in 2000-2001. What a brilliant time it was. Sports be damned. We were doing news. Finding out the truth behind what we saw on screen. Kapil Dev. Mohammad Azharuddin. Manoj Prabhakar. Ajay Jadeja. All our heroes were falling. And whatever any other journalist tells you, believe me, it was awesome. It gave us a feeling of being in the middle of something important. Something more than just match reports. Something more than scores and talk of winning and losing.

The current situation is a lot similar. Except that while we all loved Kapil and Azhar, not many of us love Lalit Modi. We don’t mind if Modi is sacked. We don’t mind hugely if the IPL dies a sudden death. None of us think it’s cricket. We think of it as entertainment. And the biggest difference between cricket and entertainment is that a cricket match creates its own script, while entertainment performances are scripted. It turns out that almost all the IPL matches are actually fixed. That means, matches are taking place according to a script. And that means it’s not cricket. It’s only entertainment. Why should I have a problem then, if the IPL is scrapped for good?

On the basis of everything that I have heard over the past few days, the following points are all true:
- Modi is deeply involved in the betting and money-laundering aspect of the IPL
- Modi himself has stakes in more than one team
- Modi cornered Shashi Tharoor at the behest of other BCCI officials
- This was done so that one of the other cities could win the bid, a city that senior BCCI officials are close to
- Modi is now being made into a scapegoat in the entire episode
- There’s no reason to believe some of the other BCCI bigwigs are not equally culpable

What’s also true is that if Modi is sacked, nothing is going to change in the BCCI or in the IPL. How can it? N Srinivasan is the owner of a team despite being the BCCI Secretary. This, despite a clause in the BCCI constitution barring officials from having such interests. This clause was changed in 2008 to accommodate Srinivasan. We have a Chairman of Selectors, who is also the brand ambassador of Chennai Super Kings. If that isn’t conflict of interest, what is?

So how will anything change if Modi is sacked? Indeed, the only way to change things is to scrap the IPL altogether. It is not cricket anyway.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Waiting for a star to fall

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)

It’s an old human frailty. We love seeing successful people fall. Fall hard. We middle-class sorts like success stories, but even more than that, we like seeing success stories go wrong.
Lalit Modi’s is one such story. He is a man we have loved to hate for the past three years, ever since the Indian Premier League became what it is. It was a borrowed idea; borrowed from the English Premier League. That too, after Subhash Chandra had used it first for the Indian Cricket League. It was put together by blackmailing and pressuring the entire cricket world. The ICL was killed; players across the world were threatened with international bans if they participated in the ICL. The ICC was bullied. The IPL was born.
Modi was the face of the IPL. Why? We don’t know. It was the BCCI’s property. Why did Modi become synonymous with it? Why did he get the chance to hobnob with the rich and famous? Why did he become the ‘Indian of the Year’ when he had very little to actually stake claim to?
And what’s happened now, after the Income Tax raids, is that Modi’s credibility, and the IPL’s credibility, have been questioned. Big time. Shashi Tharoor’s too, but that’s not my problem.
All along, we have heard that matches in the IPL were fixed. Were they now?
All along, we have wondered why one team is bought for 111 million dollars and another for 67 million dollars. How is that possible? Now, we wonder if Modi had fixed it that way.
All along, we have worried that too many of the teams are going to places where the current BCCI regime’s friends rule. Is that true?
All along, as we hated Lalit Modi and his guts, we waited for him to fall. Hard. On his face.
Is that happening now? Is the bubble going to burst? Is the fairytale over?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But at the same time, I just wonder; is Modi the worst of the lot? Or is there a bigger puppeteer pulling the strings? Is Modi just a pawn in a bigger game? Who knows!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The IPL must be taken seriously

(Also on

If the International Cricket Council is thinking about providing a fixed window for the Indian Premier League, then I suggest the ICC also start going the whole hog and take the IPL more seriously than it is right now. This halfway-house stance is just not good enough.
Every single cricketer in the world wants to play the IPL. And they are doing so. The clamour to have a window for the IPL in the ICC calendar has also gathered steam, and with the BCCI pushing for it, chances are it will come through too. Because the IPL is that important.
Under the circumstances, why lead the teams into a situation where they don’t send their best possible squad to the World T20? Why force the teams to announce their teams on the 26th of March, when the IPL has started just two weeks prior to that? Why not allow the teams a bit of time so that the best teams could be taken to the party?
Now, whether they are in form or not, chances are the selectors would not have dropped Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Yuvraj Singh or Gautam Gambhir. But truth is that Murali Vijay and Naman Ojha are the in-form opening batsmen at this stage, better than Gambhir by far. Robin Uthappa is clearly a better middle-order option than Yuvraj at the moment. And when it comes to the bowlers, Praveen Kumar has been pathetic in the IPL, while Ashish Nehra hasn’t even made an appearance. Truth is that Irfan Pathan, Siddharth Trivedi and RP Singh are all bowling better than Praveen.
The problem is also with the BCCI selection panel. The team is actually fairly highly-paid these days. Their job is to select the best Indian squad possible. Do they do that all the time? Or ever? Just a few days back, we had the fiasco over VVS Laxman and Rohit Sharma, and therefore Wriddhiman Saha, in the Test against South Africa. We lost the match.
I am not saying we must drop Dhoni. He has done enough, and promises to do enough as captain, batsman and wicketkeeper. No question of dropping him. But what about Yuvraj and Gambhir and Praveen and Nehra? Big players, yes. But if there are better players at the moment, why must reputation be the deciding factor?

Friday, April 09, 2010

Swansong or another coming?

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)

Wasn’t this IPL supposed to be Sourav Ganguly’s swansong? Wasn’t he supposed to be the joker who scores slowly, fails to take singles, and misses balls while fielding? Wasn’t he supposed to fall flat on his face?

But wait! What’s going on here?

Sourav Ganguly is Kolkata Knight Riders’ highest run-getter after 10 matches. Not just that, his 333 runs are way ahead of second-best Chris Gayle’s 251. And his 333 ranks only behind Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar and Naman Ojha on the list of highest scorers in the tournament.

And then, in the game against Delhi Daredevils, Ganguly again showed why he is regarded as one of the best when under pressure. It was a match Kolkata had to win. Ganguly led with the bat, scoring 56. He dived around on the field, lifting the morale of his boys. He ran Gautam Gambhir out with a direct hit when Gambhir was looking dangerous. He bowled. He took a catch. And his facial expressions were a running commentary of what was going on at the Eden Gardens.

In short, he was involved. Big time. Something we don’t always see when it comes to Ganguly. But when the need of the hour was specific, Ganguly did the needful. Like only he can.

Tendulkar can flop match after match; he won’t be dropped from the Indian team or the Mumbai team or the Mumbai Indians team. Rahul Dravid can wait for his turn in the dugout wearing those inner gloves but never will anyone question his ability in T20s. VVS Laxman too, can be a big flop, but everyone will continue to back him.
Not Ganguly. A flop means we call for his head. If the big foreign stars flop, people don’t bring out their knives. But for Ganguly, an obituary is always ready.

But now, after this performance, there’s a good chance more than one team will want Ganguly when the next auctions happen. Ganguly has said he won’t play IPL-4. But now, could there be a rethink? Certainly he should be one of the in-demand players.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The media and ‘other’ sports

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)

For a change, let me talk about something a bit personal, instead of the bigger picture. I am talking about a conference I was part of in Delhi recently, where we were talking of the media’s role in promoting sports outside of cricket, especially in connection with the Commonwealth Games.

Now, this girl cornered me after the discussion, asking me why kabaddi, kho-kho, hockey, etc are ignored by the national media. Now, I will be the first one to admit that the national media downplays news outside of cricket, but I do have a few solid arguments for it.

I asked the girl, “Did you see the half-an-hour documentary my channel did before the hockey World Cup where we spoke to 30 of the greatest Indian living players and used footage never seen in India before?”

She said, “No, I didn’t”.

I asked why. She said that it’s because she didn’t know about it.

Then I asked her, “Have you heard of Reena Dharmshaktu?”

She said she hadn’t. I asked her, “Would you be excited if I told you that Reena recently became the first Indian woman to ski across Antarctica?”

She said she would be excited. I mentioned to her that my channel had recently put together a half an hour show on Reena, using her interview and fantastic shots of the group skiing across Antarctica, encountering blizzards among other things on the way. Obviously she hadn’t seen it.

I asked her again: “Did you see these shows, and if not, why not?”

Her answer was simple: “I wasn’t aware you were showing these programmes. When it comes to one of the bigger channels, it’s easy to know about the big shows they do, because they advertise in newspapers and elsewhere.”

Inadvertently, she had answered the question she had asked me to start with: why do news channels cover cricket over everything else. It’s because when it comes to cricket, we are informed of what is happening. It’s also true of boxing, hockey to an extent, and the Commonwealth Games. These sports are run by federations or associations which have solid communication wings. They keep us informed. As a result, they get covered. In the 15 years that I have spent as a journalist, I have never received a communication from many of the other associations telling us of something that will happen. It’s always what has happened.

Criticise the media all you want. But remember, while it is true that cricket is highlighted because of commercial reasons, other sports are highlighted too. To a lesser extent, but not ignored. Keep us posted of what is happening. Chances are, we will find some room for you. After that, it’s for you to do well and achieve something big. Do that, and we will find even more space for you. Like we have for Leander and Mahesh and Saina and Sania and Anand and Vijender and Abhinav and Narain. If you want to sit in a cocoon and blame the media for ignoring you, chances are you will continue to be ignored.