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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Art Of Quitting!

Quit when your fans ask “why?” and not “Why not?” is the most quoted chestnut about a Star’s or a leader’s retirement. Let me confess. This note is triggered by the recent news reports about the growing clamour in a section of media and fandom on the possible retirement or the ‘non-retirement’ of Sachin Tendulkar. The hastily organized home series against the West Indies to coincide with the landmark 200th Test match of the Little Master, well planted stories in the media about BCCI giving Sachin an ‘honourable exit’ at home are surfacing on the hour, as are the stories about Tendulkar being selected on ‘merit’ alone in future series. While Sachin or for that matter anybody retires or not will finally boil down to that individual’s decision, there are a few thoughts that I as a follower and as a fan ‘demand’ from my leader or star. I will try and break up the same in this page. The views are only about people who ‘do’ retire. So as you have rightly guessed, Politicians who either die or fade away in the fond hope of clinging to the chair are not included here!

I have always maintained that when it comes to Indian Cricket, more specifically retirement of Indian Cricketers, there are only two models. The Sunil Gavaskar model and the Kapil Dev model. People who are much more well versed with player statistics may kindly excuse me. This is not an exercise which will indulge in them. When Sunil Gavaskar announced his retirement from the game before the Indo-Pak Test series in 1986-87 season, none could dispute the fact that he could have carried on for a few more seasons. He was as fit as he could ever be, had come back from a very successful tour to Australia and was among the runs in the Home series against Sri Lanka. The gem of a knock he played in his last inning, almost single handedly taking India to victory in Bangalore are what folklores are about. The question I then asked myself as a young fan was: “Why SMG?”

By far the greatest among Indian Cricketers, especially given his handsome contribution both with the bat and the ball, Kapil Dev was the reason I latched on to Cricket as a fan, as a follower, as a devotee. The seed of fielding as a discipline in Indian Cricket was sown by Kapil Dev. Suffices to say Kapil Dev took the game forward in India. However as injuries took their toll, consistency dropped and the lethal outswinger would not appear like magic whenever he wanted, Kapil Dev’s only reason to drag his career along was to overtake the World record of 431 wickets then held by Richard Hadlee. As a fan of Kapil Dev and by extension Team India, I prayed before the start of every day of a test match that may Kapil get his bagful, overtake Hadlee and then retire. Kapil Dev did eventually take that landmark wicket after what seemed eons to me. I waited with bated breath for the noise around the event to settle down and for that eagerly awaited announcement of retirement to come. Alas! It didn’t. Kapil continued for one more unfruitful tour to New Zealand and then was never picked. I am not sure he ever retired till date!

As a fan, one of the primary emotions which we associate with our star is one of joy! Every time the star in question is shown on TV or he walks down to bat or bowl or takes that amazing catch, a part of us looks at the success, the ‘high’ as our own. Adrenalin pumps, heart beats pick up, it is almost orgasmic! The flip side surprisingly is not a low that we hit when our star does. The primary emotion on such occasions is hope! Yes, the man will pick up the pieces, rejuvenate and come back stronger to achieve what he has been destined to! Our Heroes don’t fail, they are not meant to. Knowledgeable enthusiast that we are, we know form is temporary and class is permanent. And life carries on till the next purple patch. But then comes a time when however much the mind is willing, the body refuses to respond. Age, failing fitness, enthusiasm levels maybe start playing with our hero. The prolonged spell of mediocre performances which we find difficult to digest, unacceptable, especially given the earlier standards of excellence on display. That is when the fan in me asks “Why go through this torment, this torture?” When I find it difficult to ‘defend’ the falling standards of my hero. When I notice a part of my childhood, my youth being dismantled piece by piece by a LBW to an innocuous straighter one from a journeyman or beaten by pace by a rookie fast bowler and clean bowled, again and again. The sighs, the oohs and aahs at every delivery that threaten to take the edge or a juicy half volley not banished to the boundary ropes. When survival at the crease and not domination of the bowling becomes the headlines. That is the time when I ask my hero, “Why not?”

Most among the post Kapil Dev era legends who graced Team India so successfully called it quits when ahead of the game. Anil Kumble called it a day the moment he realized that his latest injury was career threatening when he was integral part of Team India. Saurav Ganguly was given a friendly nudge by the BCCI and went off the field with a bang even symbolically leading Team India for a few overs in his last test. Rahul Dravid was supposed to have announced his retirement after a very successful tour to England. It is rumored that he was asked to undertake one last hurrah in Australia to bolster the crisis prone Indian batting. VVS Laxman bid adieu under dodgy circumstances but everyone agreed that maybe he deserved one last shot at glory! In each of the above case the fan in me asked one question, “Why? Why not some more of the magic?”  I find it very difficult to ask Sachin Tendulkar this question now. Will he go the Gavaskar way or the Kapil Dev way? Only time and Tendulkar have the answer.


Thursday, 5 September 2013


A quick question! Which is India’s most successful organization, a market leader by far across the world and well on its way to become the virtual monopoly? No! Not any IT company, not even a consumer product, engineering or a petrochem giant. It is the Board of Control for Cricket in India, BCCI for short. If you think I have lost my marbles, well read along. Had BCCI been a business venture (I concede you your moment of mirth that your “Aren’t they already?” arises) with a listing in stock exchanges, I would think its market cap would rival the best in any business, definitely by far the largest for a ‘sports’ company!

To a large extent the history of India and the BCCI moves in tandem, exceptions apart. Indian cricket achieved independence before India the country did in 1932 when it was granted Test status. But for this small anomaly, India and Indian cricket were almost the same, servile in their attitude to their ‘masters’, British Crown and the MCC respectively. India invariably found itself subjected to racial prejudice and Indian Cricket invariably followed suit with the rub of the green mostly going against her. Best players of England or Australia would not travel to play in India, the tour schedules invariably dumped the colder, wetter half of the English summer on India’s lap while the top guns invariably got to play at best times and at best of venues. BCCI’s moment came post India’s victory in the 1983 Prudential World Cup, more specifically while co hosting the 1987 Reliance Cup. Indian economy opened up four years later. The overwhelming success of the tournament thanks to the might of Indian sponsors, a multitude of passionate fans on the ground and billions glued to TVs, set the BCCI’s juggernaut rolling towards the summit of the business of Cricket.

When I look at BCCI, I see a very intelligent and aggressive strategist any business house in a competitive market would be proud of. Some of its moves rival the action one sees in a ‘cola war’ or a ‘detergent war’. Let me elucidate.

Poaching: Essentially disrupting the competition by hiring its talented personnel. Though not exactly indulging in poaching, BCCI broke the hegemony of the MCC, Australia and its ‘vassal’ countries like West Indies and New Zealand by setting up a parallel power centre in collaboration with the teams from the sub continent. Backed by an ever increasing war chest, thanks to mega sponsorship deals and burgeoning broadcasting rights, Associates were weaned away from the status quoists for votes. Gradually the epicenter of Cricket moved to India.

Flanking:  A strategy employed by market leaders,by launching a ‘me-too’ brand in the same category which chips away at the competition and protects the market share of the leader. To give an example, Coca Cola bought Thums Up to flank its premier offering, Coke and tried keeping Pepsi busy fighting Thums Up.  While BCCI let its wishes known on any legislation on the conduct of the game, it let ICC which had come into being by then and which almost entirely depended on Indian Cricket for revenues and by that logic its survival to lead the charge. With the hotline permanently on ‘on’ mode between Dubai, the ICC headquarters and Mumbai or Kolkata or Chennai depending on where the BCCI president came from and given its dependency on the largesse from Indian cricket, ICC did the master’s bidding. While BCCI got flak, a lot of the artillery was pointed at the ICC too.

Economies of scale:  Do you know the first shampoo brand to be sold in sachets? No! It was not a Unilever or a P&G. It was a Chennai based ‘local’ upstart called CavinKare with their brand ‘Chik’. Once the concept found acceptance with the consumers, the larger companies copied the concept and went ‘national’ in no time on the back of their deep pockets and wide distribution network to drive large volumes. What started as an innovation to spice up the English summer was fine tuned and was taken beyond the realms of anyone’s imagination by BCCI. The innovation was called T20 and the new beast in town, IPL. Glamour and glitz were the sidelight which was visible; while the real highlight of the IPL, equally visible was the money honey. Rival boards which often depended on sponsorships from Indian companies which channelized the left over budgets their way and on very attractive terms, thanks to the insatiable appetite of the Indian fan to devour any international cricket, found the revenue streams squeezed further to the extent many boards are now facing bankruptcy. BCCI also hit the rivals where it hurts them most, their core ‘assets’, the players who often ‘retire’ or refuse to appear for their national side and queue up for an IPL contract. Soon a ‘window’ for IPL magically appeared in the Future Tour Programme of most national teams.

Entry Barrier: As the name suggest, it is an attempt to stall the entry of a rival organization or product by denying the market or shelf space.  This is done by either political backroom dealing, (Thums Up in its original avatar as an Indian company pressurized through its lobbyist in Delhi to stall the entry of Pepsi through multiple objections and painting Pepsi as an East India Company in disguise out to enslave India all over again). Partly Political it maybe but BCCI’s ‘treatment’ of Pakistan Cricket Board is one such. While an Indian tour to Pakistan is out of question for obvious reasons, an India-Pakistan contest in a ‘neutral’ venue is stalled for some reason or the other and if the same is scheduled in India, the deal is made commercially unviable for PCB. The only time such a contest can be held in the near future is during ICC conducted ‘global’ tournaments like the World Cup or when it suits the BCCI, on its own terms needless to add. Denying permission to Indian players to participate in rival T20 leagues like SLPL, Big Bash or BPL is yet another example of this tactic.

Ambush Marketing: Remember Pepsi walking away with eyeballs and accolades with its “There is nothing official about it” campaign while Coca Cola was the ‘Official’ drink of the World Cup’96?  Organizing a West Indies tour out of the blue to put a marquee Indian tour to South Africa in jeopardy! Rings the bell? BCCI will stand to make approximately Rs.300.00 Crores from the WI series and Cricket South Africa far lesser than anticipated or none at all from a truncated or cancelled tour.

Many more parallels can be drawn between a ‘business’ and BCCI, its ‘customer service’ for example. But we will leave that for another day.

PS: Did you know, BCCI through multiple well wishers ‘requested’ Doordarshan to telecast the 1987 WC live? Dear BCCI, you have come a long way since then baby!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Whose freedom is it anyway?

Recently during  my free time, browsing through You Tube I came across a video of noted Pakistani historian-cum-columnist Mr.Hassan Nisar speaking to a Pakistani private television channel in a programme called Mere Mutabiq on the occasion of Pakistan’s Yaum-e-Azaadi. Among the various things that Mr.Nisar spoke forthrightly about, one particular sentence stuck me so deeply that I can recite it in my dreams. About the Independence of Pakistan Mr.Nisar says “14th August 1947 ko hame koi azaadi nahi mili, sirf hamare aaka tabdeel hue the.”  In simple English it means “on 14th August 1947, we did not get any Independence, only our masters changed that day”, obviously referring to the change of guard from the British to the natives. Jingoistic pride made me feel very happy for a minute and laugh at Mr.Nisar’s very obvious barb at the powers that be in Pakistan. Once the laughter died down, I spoke aloud the same sentence to myself, in Indian context. I was shocked to realize that Mr.Nisar could well have been speaking about India and that some of his barbs would indeed stick. Mr.Nisar goes on to propound, in his trademark brave words dripping with sarcasm and genuine ire about various ‘issues’ to back his theory that but for the change in masters, freedom still eludes the populace. Many of them relevant in India’s case too. It was quite disturbing to say the least. And it set me thinking. I decided to revisit my middle school political science lessons on our Fundamental Rights as encoded in the Constitution of India. While the ‘scope’ of freedom as a subject is vast, I restrict my thoughts to just one here: Freedom of Speech and Expression.

“Right to freedom which includes speech and expression, assembly, association or union or cooperatives, movement, residence, and right to practice any profession or occupation” 'Part III – Fundamental Rights' 

The question that troubled me was this: Do we ‘really’ enjoy the Freedom of Speech and Expression?  The question led me to a few instances which seemed to suggest the opposite which I mention below:

1.       The destruction of an art gallery running an exhibition of M F Hussain’s paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
2.       Akbaruddin Owaisi’s  ‘hate speech’.
3.       Non release of the film Vishwaroopam  and its subsequent release only after certain portions were edited.
4.       Ban imposed on the sale of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses.

In each case I found that the fundamental right of Freedom of Speech and Expression as enshrined in the Constitution of India and as I understood it being infringed upon. Interestingly one  finds that the ‘opponents’ in some of the cases mentioned above and its ‘supporters’ often undergo a switch in their roles in some of the other cases. This led me to further dig into the political science book and I came up with this:

Restrictions upon the Freedom of Speech and Expression if it affects any of the following:
·         I. security of the State,
·         II. friendly relations with foreign States,
·         III. public order,
·         IV. decency and morality,
·         V. contempt of court,
·         VI. defamation,
·         VII. incitement to an offence, and
·         VIII. sovereignty and integrity of India.

While I wrote the above answers by rote during my school examination, the dichotomy struck me once I revisited the entire scenario. I mean how can I be ‘free’ to expound my views through a spoken or a written word or a film as the case maybe if I am leashed by restrictions?  If you look at the cases listed above what stands out is that freedom was infringed upon due to a lurking fear of violence from the ‘aggrieved’ party and not all of these cases went through the courts and due process of law. In any civil society the normal option available to anyone who disagrees with a point of view propounded is to counter the same with words of logic and reason presenting the opposite view. Or agree to disagree. Or yet still approach the Courts for justice. It is only when a spoken or a written word is not opposed by a similarly ‘peaceful’ mode and instead we see physical violence or a possibility of the same being resorted to that we see the ‘freedom’ of speech being infringed upon. While I concede that maintaining peace, harmony, law and order is indeed a thankless job but there is always a fear that we may end up becoming a ‘mute’ society afraid of speaking our mind because someone will decide to take offence and react violently and the state may decide to bring in further ‘restrictions’ to maintain ‘law & order’. Most of us don’t have any problem if anyone disagrees with us, in fact would welcome a civil debate on the disagreement. Just as it is the duty of the citizens to keep the discourse non violent it is the duty of the government to punish those indulging in violence and protect the individual freedoms. Or else we will end up like this cold war quip mentioned below:

An American and a Russian were talking about freedom. “We American’s enjoy the highest levels of Freedom. I can stand on the tallest building in Washington DC and shout that the American President is an Idiot” Said the American. Replied the Russian “Big deal. I too can stand on the tallest building in Moscow and shout that the American President is an Idiot!”

PS: Go ahead, speak up. We have nothing to lose except our freedom!

Mere Mutabiq : My Views

Yaum-e-Azaadi: Independence Day