Friday, April 27, 2007

The World Cup Final - May the best team win

The battle royale begins on the 28th. The battle for the crown of the champions of World Cricket. What has been a very damp world cup so far, a supposed carnival that was played out in front of empty stands and without a Caribbean fanfare of trumpeting and drumming fans, has gotten a final between the two most deserving finalists, the Australians and the Sri Lankans.

For the sake of World Cricket, one hopes that this would be a cracker of a match. If there is one team that deserves to be world champions, it’s the Aussies, but the game of cricket badly needs another world champion. And if any team can dethrone the wizards of Oz, it is the Sri Lankans. Australians in cricket have been what Lance Armstrong had been in Tour De France, what Pete Sampras had been at Wimbledon, what Roger Federer has been at Tennis at large and what that mighty Michael Schumacher had been for formula one. What makes this Aussie team special is that they have been able to work magic as a team, and not as an individual, except for Schumi who was in a team sport of sorts.

Its only poetic justice that a team would have to be world champions by beating the Australians at the finals. The greatness of this Aussie side lies in the fact that they have made a mockery of the phrases, ‘cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties’ and ‘the law of averages’. It will take more than uncertainties to dethrone the champions, it will take a miracle.

And the Sri Lankans have a few miracle workers. Murali, Jayasuriya, Malinga, Jayawardane, Sangakkara. If they were to work a miracle, they need to take a leaf out of the book of their amazing opponents, i.e. to raise the levels of their game when the big occasion arises. The Lankans did that against the Kiwis, and there is no reason to believe that they cannot do the same against the Aussies. But it will not be easy. It will not be easy to dethrone a team that has annihilated every opposition in this world cup and that too by not even breaking a sweat.

As a cricket fan, who do I want should win the world cup? I haven’t been able to find an answer, to be very honest. Should I support a team that is unbeaten for 28 matches, or should I support the most improved and skillful team of this tournament? I don’t really know. A Sri Lanka triumph should be good for world cricket, but do the Australians deserve to, forget losing, have even a thought of losing? I don’t have an answer to that either.

For sure, Glen McGrath deserves a victory in what would be his swansong in what has been a fantastic career. His last ODI match in Australia ended up as a defeat for his team, he surely doesn’t deserve that one more time in his final international match. But the Sri Lankan nation also deserves this win. This is a beautiful island nation which is now embroiled in a civil war. Innocent people are losing their lives, and the only thing that can bind them together again is a world cup victory.

Whatever happens on the 28th, we shall all be watching. Before we hold our breaths, let us spare a thought for the people in the Caribbean who couldn’t enjoy this cricketing carnival because of the insipid organizers, despite being the most colourful of cricket followers. And whoever lifts the world cup, be it Ponting or Jayawardane, would be deserving winners. So, let s say a small prayer so that we get a match worthy of a final, and let the battle royale begin.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Alistair Pereira - Yet another trial by Media

A local court had sentenced Alistair Pereira to 6 months' imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5 Lakhs. What happened the same day, in the subsequent days was that the media rabidly started to tom-tom how a 'murderer' has gotten away with such a light punishment. The media also said that the 'murdered' people deserve justice, the ones that Alistair's car ran over. Yet again, in its efforts to sensationalise, the media completely missed the point. And so has the High Court that has taken Suo Motu cognizance of the matter, by giving in to the media's rhetoric.

Alistair Pereira is an irresponsible wretch who deserves to be punished for drunken driving. But to call him a murderer is not right. Agreed, that when one drinks and drives one's senses are not in place and that could lead to catastrophy on the roads, but then Alistair didn't drive out with the intention of murdering people. I hate to say this, but the people that were run over were also to blame for this.

A footpath is not meant for dwelling. If one dwells or sleeps there, it is illegal use of public property. They had no job sleeping there when the irresponsible Alistair lost control of his car. Let's imagine a different scenario. A person who has not consumed any alcohol is driving back from work. His tyres burst because they run over some nails on the road and his car swerves towards the footpath where a few people are illegally dwelling. His car runs over a few people. Do we fault this person and call him a murderer too? Who is to blame here? The driver or the illegal occupants?

Alistair's crime was that he was drinking and driving. His crime isn't murder. Its human nature to attack soft targets, and the media is doing just that. Howcome the media is not taking up cudgels against Salman Khan? Even he has committed the same offence, and some greater offences. And that too when he was nearly 40. Years have passed on and we hear nothing about that case except for the fact that Salman Khan is being tried out for killing other innocent animals and is still out despite a sentence being given to him. Why doesn't the media rake up these stories? Salman Khan is a murderer, who used his gun on endangered animals and also got drunk and drove over some people, killing one in the process. The media still glorifies this person.

Alistair needs to be punished. But not tried for murder. His crime was that he was drinking and driving. Nothing more than that. This was one case when the media could have really done something constructive by promoting road safety and by getting the Govt. to form stricter road safety norms. The fault of the system is far more than Alistair's but when we all have a scapegoat, its easy to make him a sacrificial lamb and wash our hands off things that would impact road safety in a positive way. Once the media is free from its important work like covering an Aishwarya wedding or Elizabeth Hurley wedding, it can try and take up some stories that will help the citizens of this nation. And Alistair being called a murderer is setting a bad precedent. We are only legalising illegal dwelling by demanding compensation for the victims. Its sad, but true, that the unfortunate people who lost their lives were only bringing it upon themselves.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Breaking News: Hooligans destroy the Star News office

Never has the phrase ‘breaking news’ been more apt. When the members of an obscure outfit decided to pronounce themselves to the world by demolishing an office and breaking everything that came their way, ‘breaking news’ was just the right way to put it across. It was grave injustice to Star News, and to the media at large, but one wonders if the media have not brought all this upon themselves.

The news for which this deplorable protest took place was not worthy of reportage anyways. A couple decided to get married. So what? How does it alter my life or yours, or the lives of the reporters who decided that this news needs to be beamed out? Far too many Hindus and Muslims get married to each other. Why is this worthy of news? Reports seemed to suggest that the girl was a minor also. They eloped because their communities were against the marriage. So what? Why did Star News have to beam it all into our homes? Despite that, we all agree the Hindu Rashtriya Sena did an act of cowardice.

Lets look at what the media has been reporting these days. Richard Gere kisses Shilpa Shetty. That has made news for 2 days running now. A forgotten bollywood actor and a retired Hollywood actor decide to do an act on the stage and the news channels ran the story as something that is against the ‘ethics’ of India. And to protect these ‘ethics’ they beam those pictures over and over again. What double standards this reeks of. Abhishek Bachchan getting married to Aishwarya Rai is not news. But all we seem to be reading in the press, and seeing on the news channels, is news about their wedding cards, Amitabh going to Tirupati, the might be guest list, I’m sorry but this is not journalism. The news channels keep beaming this and say that people want to see this. But this is far from the truth. We have no option but see this drivel as there is nothing else they are reporting. The only choice we have is either switch the sets off or see only this.

The reason I mentioned the aforesaid is that today, with so many news channels, they need to show something sensational. Then what happens is that anything trivial is sensationalized to drive ratings up. What was the need of showing the Surat couple news at all? Such incidents happen everyday. Why does the media need to twist the story with a Hindu-Muslim angle? The media has learnt the hard way that by reporting such non-events, while our lives are not affected, the media is being wrongly and brutally attacked by cowardly lynch mobs.

There is another angle to this as well. Why, in India, do protests mean smashing of cars, breaking window panes and also endangering innocent lives? Well, what do we see on TV? Some retired cricketer who proclaims to be an expert spews venom on the cricket team. This instigates good-for-nothing hooligans who stone cricketers’ houses, demolish the boundary walls of a cricketer’s house – all in the name of a protest. And all this is carried by the media throughout the day as ‘sentiment of fans’, and some in the media also try to condone the act after indirectly bringing it upon the innocent families of cricketers.

Who has let loose the mob like this on the streets? The media! Who glorifies these despicable protests? The media! Who has made ransacking and demolishing a synonym for protests? The media! Who never reports protests that are made in a way protests should be made in a civilized country? The media! Just because civilized protests do not look as dramatic, they are never reported. What the media has therefore done is glorify the work of these cowards who come in mobs and try and harm the harmless. This has backfired in the worst way possible. The media was attacked. Now, we hear voices from the media that says that this is a very pathetic display that tries to curtail a free press. The media and the press are right. But why don’t they introspect a bit? Do they deserve to be free? Free to report a bollywood wedding for 1 whole month? Free to talk of Shilpa Shetty, who was forgotten by her own fraternity, just because she won a contest in England?

While the media should unite against this deplorable act by a bunch of goons, this is also the right time for them to put their heads together and ask each other, are they a responsible press/ media? Do they really do any kind of justice to journalism? While the media has the power, duty and right to stand up against maniacs like the Hindu Rashtriya Sena, they have a greater duty to the citizens of this country, duty to journalism. Please look at yourselves in the mirror and ask yourselves, how much of their reporting is sensationalising of trivial issues and how much worthy news is reported?

This is not the time for self-pity. ‘Oh we the poor media, we carry stories and get beaten up’. Unite and bring the goons of Hindu Rashtriya Sena to the courts, put them behind the bars and then show the world pictures of them languishing badly in jail. That would send a flutter down the spines of these cowards. Images of hooligans demolishing cricketers’ houses only encourages them and this is what the media has been doing so far. The media has created this Frankenstein and it is up to the media to kill it. For the good of journalism and for the good of the people of this country. The choice is really the media’s. Do they want to consciously put an end to this and report worthy stories or do they want to keep reporting Rakhi Sawant and Abhishek Bachchan and Liz Hurley and Shilpa Shetty, and unknowingly blow up some trivial news to invite these lunatics again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lunatics are running the asylum...

Let’s peep into the BCCI, for a bit. Just a little bit. In my previous article, I had written that the major decisions taken during the meeting on the 6th and 7th April were nothing more than appeasement of those who believed that the only way to move forward was by capping endorsements made by players. This is the best sports body in the country; they have managed to market the game beautifully. But that’s just about it. I think they have completely forgotten that the performance on field needs to match up to its growing coffers, and its paramount to keep the cricketers foremost in mind, and not serve the interest of the mandarins in the board. Here is a bit of news that readers from India may have come across. An Indian daily, DNA, reported and I quote:

BCCI President Sharad Pawar has cancelled a yacht party that he had planned to give the Indian team on April 3 in anticipation of their entry into the Super 8 stage. Pawar was to leave for the Caribbean on March 27 and watch three of India’s Super 8 matches on March 29, April 2 and April 7. India’s 69-run defeat to Sri Lanka has also led to the cancellation of the 30-member BCCI team’s trip to the West Indies. “What’s the point? Our boys will not be there,” BCCI Secretary Niranjan Shah told DNA.”

Now, the team that is supposed to play and perform has 15 members and the board wanted to go with a team that is double of the national team. Isn’t that some kind of a joke? There is something that is an even bigger joke. A tournament of this magnitude is of paramount importance, and the BCCI wanted the players to attend a yacht party. Which other team participating in the world cup is even thinking of having a party while the tournament is on? Teams need to focus during any tournament. The parent body thinks otherwise, it seems.

The same BCCI thinks that players’ commitment to sponsors means that they are shooting for commercials, and not focusing on cricket and hence, they should be restricted. Aren’t the people in the BCCI being hypocritical here? Wouldn’t attending a yacht party be loss of focus on cricket, and that too during a series?

Now we come to some other people in the board. There is a certain Shashank Manohar, who is a vice-president in the BCCI. He has championed the cause of restricting players’ endorsements. Manohar is from the Vidarbha Cricket Association that prepared a green-top at Nagpur, for India’s test against Australia, so that India’s defeat embarrassed Dalmiya, the then president of BCCI and a man Manohar was strongly against. He didn’t care two hoots if India lost by not playing to their home advantage, and the same person talks big on the players.

Much before the meeting happened on the 6th and 7th, there were reports that Chappell would be offered a position of a consultant. This bit of news came from “sources in the BCCI’. Before hearing out everybody, the BCCI had made up its mind. The person, who was part of all the cricket controversies ever since he took up, could not build a cohesive side, and was a failure as a coach was being reported. How come the BCCI did not conduct meetings with the players? And why were the ‘sources in the BCCI’ leaking information before a meeting that was supposed to serve the best interests of Indian cricket?

Enough is enough. We need a professional board. It needs to be corporatized. We need a CEO, who will be responsible for everything. There needs to be a corporate communications team for the board and the media should talk to them and only them. We need accountable and paid selectors who are full-time. It seems that the board is giving directives now to Vengsarkar and Co. for the team that is supposed to be selected on the 15th. This needs to stop. We need empowered selectors, who would not face interference from the board. And finally, please appoint a full-time media manager for the team. Will the BCCI clean up its mess first before?

Monday, April 09, 2007

BCCI takes popular decisons, not the right ones!

Two days have gone by since the BCCI met up to discuss the future of Indian cricket। One thought that probably this would result in some forward steps for the sport in India. Sadly, the major decisions taken are contrary to the same. Well, I shall try and list them down one by one.

1) There is to be a cap on endorsements: Players cannot do more than 3 endorsements. Which genius arrived at the number of 3, and what are the reasons that the cap has been set to 3? This decision has been taken purely because many people watching cricket and large sections of the media have been insinuating that the cricketers’ means of livelihood should be strangled. In my previous article I had written at length about the public and the board having nothing to do between a contract between a player and a company.

2) Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh have been sent notices: Well, the board has hauled up two cricketers who have given their lives to cricket because they wanted to clear the air about accusations flung at them by a pig-headed coach. Why didn’t the BCCI give showcause notices to Chappell when he (a) Showed his middle-finger to some Indian supporters (they hushed it up saying that he had injured a finger) ;(b) When Chappell gave an interview to the Guardian saying that the former Indian cricketer wanted to stay in the hot seat because of the money; (c) when Chappell had made it a habit to leak team plans and his thoughts on selection to his subservient legion in the press; (d) When he started leaking like a sieve on cricketers after the world cup debacle. Why hasn’t the BCCI issued a show cause notice to all the board mandarins who have been giving sound bytes to the media even before an important meeting was held?

3) We hear no commitment on the number of days an Indian cricketer plays: Why haven’t the BCCI given blueprints on the maximum number of days that Indian cricketers will play per year? We play too much cricket, especially one-day cricket, and that needs to be stopped. Why doesn’t the board say that these are the maximum number of matches that the team will play per year?

The board seems to have misread the whole thing very badly. They need to realize that the players don’t exist because there’s the board but we have a BCCI because of the players. The points on endorsements and on the notices to players will have a serious effect on the players’ morale. By all means, have performance related contracts. This is a very good step, in the right direction. Apart from the appointment of specialized coaches and Shastri’s appointment as manager, and the performance graded contracts. But to rap the players on their knuckles so badly, because of two defeats is really in very bad taste. Bangladesh just beat South Africa, the No. 1 team in the world, so Indians losing to them is actually no disgrace. For God’s sake, the Bangladeshis played better cricket than we did. Why is that so hard to digest?

There are decisions that are taken, some are popular decisions and some are right decisions. Unfortunately, board has taken popular decisions. Banning endorsements would be very popular among those so-called fans that are baying for blood. But this is not a right decision. We need to look at things objectively. The board needs to have performance-related contracts, appoint a CEO who’d be accountable and responsible, ensure player welfare by seeing that they don’t play too much cricket, appoint a full-time media manager, and give specific timelines by which the selection process would be overhauled.

What does the board do instead? Needlessly give in to incorrect opinion and thereby wrongly punish those who have given their sweat, blood and emotion for the Indian flag, and taken pride in representing their motherland, for 2 days where another team happened to play better cricket. What a shame! Or should I say, What a Sham!! That’s what the administration and sections of the media are, at the moment.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Fair-weather fan

There are some ridiculous comments doing the rounds these days in India, about the Indian cricket team. Sack the players! Kick out the over 30s! And the most ridiculous of the lot – ‘Ban these cricketers from endorsing products!’ & ‘Don’t pay them their match fees”. While all the aforesaid comments don’t make too much sense, the ones that are the most ridiculous of them all are the last two comments.

Cricketers are marketable properties. If we see their ads 25 times a day, doesn’t mean that they had been shooting for those ads for 25 days. Its outright stupid to assume anything of that sort. They are multi-millionaires, but that is because of their own abilities. What the cricket lovers (what a loosely used term!) in India need to know for a fact is that none of us, yes, none of us, are paying the cricketers their salaries out of our own pockets, so who are we to question their salaries?

Why is it that the people, propelled by the media, are so angry with the team? Yes, they didn’t play well. But the cricketers are not on top of the world themselves after such an insipid performance. If we put things in perspective, they played one bad match against Bangladesh that cost us the Super 8. How come nobody is complimenting the Bangladeshis for a fantastic performance? And the Sri Lankans too? Did the team promise to come back with the world cup? Did they ask the media to run tickers, take signature campaigns, launch special programs to get more viewers? NO!! The answer is an outright, NO! Just because they played one bad match we seem have gotten a right to stop them from earning. If a surgeon cannot cure a patient, and the patient dies, does he/she still not get paid? That is a matter of life and death, and cricket is just a game.

Come to think of it, we hardly pay to watch a cricket match. It’s broadcast on a channel, out of the 100s that are beamed to our homes for which we pay 250 bucks a month. The cricketers never ever asked us to watch them play by switching to the channel that’s carrying the cricket broadcast. The endorsements that they signed were between the company and the cricketer. What the hell are the media doing, running stories and asking ignorant fools on whether they should stop doing endorsements? Nobody knows it better than a cricketer that if the performance dries up, so will the money. Let’s leave it at that.

The meaning of a fan should change. A fan, these days, stands for fair-weather friends. Where are the fans supporting the team when it’s down in the dumps? These are the times when the team needs its fans, but they are nowhere to be found. Maybe, this team didn’t deserve the world cup. But do we, the fans, deserve the cup? Well, we got what we deserved. A first round exit is just what fair weather friends deserve.

We have a right to be angry with the team, but in a civilized way. Not by wrecking their houses, endangering their young families, and certainly not by demanding that they should stop doing ads and not get salaries. Spare a thought for guys like Sachin, Kumble Sourav and Dravid. They have represented their nation with pride, had glittering careers, but do not have a world cup to show for their efforts of more than a decade’s representation. This was the last world cup for all of them. To crash out of it, the way they did, didn’t cause us a fraction of the pain it caused them. So let some sense prevail in the Indian fans and the Indian media.