Follow up #4 on “Ed Smith Pulls a Melania Trump”: Cricinfo Statement & Smith’s Silence

Four days after ESPNCricinfo took down an article by Ed Smith titled “Why sportsmen need stress”, the editor Sambit Bal made a statement explaining this decision. The statement excludes elementary facts about the matter such as the title and publication date of the piece, let alone a link to the piece. Nor does it provide any details about the original essay in The Economist, to which, as Mr. Bal says, the withdrawn piece “bore striking similarities”.

Mr. Bal’s clarification does not appear on the frontpage of their website. Unless one followed him on Twitter, or happened to come across Mr. Bal’s tweet shared by someone else, one would never know that the clarification had been issued. Even if you did come across the statement, if you were not already familiar with the facts of the matter, you might be left wondering (like these – 1, 2, 3) what Mr. Bal was talking about.

Here are the facts, presented in chronological order:

  1. The Economist published the article “Stress: What makes us stronger” on July 23, 2016 [LINK]
  2. Ed Smith’s article “Why sportsmen need stress” appeared at ESPNcricinfo on July 25, 2016 [here is a copy from Google Cache]
  3. Smith’s article was amended to include the phrase “As the Economist explored recently” on July 29, 2016. A footnote was added to indicate this change. [from Google Cache]
  4. The article was taken down by ESPNcricinfo on August 10, 2016 [Link as it is now]
  5. The “Explanation statement from Mr. Bal on August 14, 2016
brokenlink

Screenshot of the broken link after Ed Smith’s July 25th article had been withdrawn

I have written on this issue four times already, including confirming that the Economist article of July 23 was not written by Mr. Smith. Here are the links: 1, 2, 3, 4

In his statement, Mr. Bal notes that Mr. Smith’s article “did not meet our editorial standards for sourcing, and since the stark resemblance between some paragraphs was impossible to ignore, we decided to insert an attribution immediately, and have subsequently decided to take the piece down altogether.” This is the only sentence in Mr. Bal’s explanation which is relevant to the facts of the matter. It creates more questions than it answers. Why was the original amendment and footnote considered adequate on July 29? What changed between July 29 and August 10 to make the decision to withdraw the article altogether?

Of the five paragraphs in Mr. Bal’s statement, one is entirely devoted to praising Mr. Smith, extolling his “intellect, erudition, research, and curiosity about human behaviour”. It makes one wonder whether the statement is about the withdrawal of the essay, or about Mr. Smith’s virtues as a writer. It is not clear why Mr. Smith’s apparent reputation should mitigate the facts of the matter.

When the article was originally amended on July 29, the following footnote was added: “The author, who has taken an interest in the study of stress and written on the subject for many years, wanted to acknowledge the Economist’s survey of the subject”. I had requested ESPNCricinfo [on August 9] to explain the basis of their claim that Mr. Smith had written on the subject of stress for many years. They have not provided any such evidence to date. I have found no significant evidence of Mr. Smith’s writing on the subject of stress either on ESPNCricinfo or at the New Statesman.

Kartikeya Date shows that two of the studies quoted in the Economist’s article as well as Mr. Smith’s essay are incorrectly described in the latter. He has this to say in conclusion:

What Smith has done to The Economist’s (accurate) description of Crum’s work is similar to what he has done to their (accurate) description of Selye’s work. He has, it appears, replaced a word here and there, and done so in such shabby fashion that it ended up misrepresenting the original work. Even if we discount the probable plagiarism, Smith’s account is wrong. Anybody who bases their understanding of the modern account of stress on Smith’s account will get an incorrect picture. Smith does say towards the beginning of the piece “First cricket, then a little science.” A little science is a dangerous thing.

Given these points, the shape of Mr. Bal’s statement – light on the facts, effusive about Mr. Smith – is of doubtful merit.

On August 12, the Daily Mail reported that “Test Match Special commentator Ed Smith has been suspended from his Cricinfo columnist role after a recent article about sporting stress was allegedly remarkably similar to a piece in The Economist.” Mr. Bal’s statement does not address this claim at all.

I have tried contacting Mr. Smith via email and social media on multiple occasions.  He replied to me on July 30 that he would get back to me later, but has been silent ever since. He has also been completely silent about this issue on his Twitter feed. However, between July 25 and August 12 he has published two articles, one for ESPNCricinfo and one for the New Statesman, and shared them on his Twitter feed. He also continues to commentate on BBC Test Match Special. He continues as if nothing has happened. It is important that cricket fans and his employers realize that this continued, studied silence is at least as damning as the original apparent plagiarism.

In this day and age, what does it say that a much celebrated columnist and commentator can avoid making a comment for more than two weeks while repeatedly being asked for clarifications by all and sundry, and that he is allowed to continue to carry on spouting his opinions uninhibited over our airwaves? It screams of entitlement and privilege.

When I wrote an essay for (ESPNcricinfo’s) The Cricket Monthly on Street Cricket in India (“Taking it to the streets“} last year, I had written in the copy I sent in that Polur, the town I grew up in, in India, is about 200 kilometers from Chennai. But the sub-editor checking the piece, got back to me to say that, according to Google Maps it is only 168 kms. The line was corrected to indicate “I grew up in Polur, a small town about 170km south-west of Chennai“. It made me so happy that such attention to detail was paid at Cricinfo. That’s the Cricinfo I have always admired and respected, and proud to have contributed columns and podcasts to, and it still exists.

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Follow up #3 on “Ed Smith Pulls a Melania Trump”: ESPNcricinfo’s Double Standard

Rohan Sharma is a 28-year old young man, living in Toronto, Canada. He’s already undergone a couple of things that most of us will never go through, rather, never will wish to go through in our lives. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in early 2014 and recovered from it through intense chemotherapy, and is still on the mend; And he has also been fired from his job as Ball-by-Ball (BBB) commentator from ESPNcricinfo for plagiarism in March 2015.

Rohan, originally from India, a resident of Canada since 2000, got an opportunity to work for ESPNcricinfo in 2013, and moved from Canada to Bangalore to pursue his dream job. He eventually got his wish as he became a BBB commentator at ESPNcricinfo during the 2013 Ashes. He felt he was a natural fit for the job, and enjoyed the profession that combined two of his passions – cricket and commentary.

Rohan returned to Canada in February 2014 when he was diagnosed with cancer, to receive treatment, and to be with his family. To ESPNcricinfo’s credit, they were supportive of Rohan during his treatment and recovery, and left his spot open for him to reclaim upon regaining his health. And so, when he felt strong enough to throw himself back in to the arduous job of BBB commentator -with the Cricket World Cup 2015 only a few weeks away, he knew he had to be back to have a chance at commentary during the global tournament – Rohan returned during the Sri Lanka tour of New Zealand early 2015, doing BBB off the TV in his bedroom in Canada.

Rohan was allotted nearly 20 games to commentate during the World Cup, last of which was the 2nd Quarterfinal between India and Bangladesh at Melbourne* on March 19, 2015. It was during this game that he made a mistake of missing the action on one delivery (Over 46.4 of India Innings), and compounded it by copying-and-pasting the commentary from another cricket site’s BBB commentary. A keen-eyed fan from India noticed the plagiarism and tweeted the screenshots, and one of his friends tagged ESPNcricinfo’s Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal on the tweet.

Rohan sure has his reasons as to why he committed one of the cardinal mistakes; his health, the time difference between Adelaide and Toronto (14 hours), the fatigue of doing BBB for nearly 20 games, and his desire not to be seen as missing out on a delivery, and more importantly, the possible appointment to do BBB commentary for the semifinals and Final of the World Cup. No matter his reasons, he knows he committed serious plagiarism and owned up to it right away to his superiors at ESPNcricinfo as the Tweet with the screenshots went viral. ESPNcricinfo took him off BBB during Bangladesh’s reply in the Quarterfinal, and Mr. Bal tweeted the following in the aftermath:

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 8.42.57 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 9.09.56 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 4.08.58 AM

Rohan, true to Mr. Bal’s words, has not worked for ESPNcricinfo again. As much as one can quibble with the harshness and the swiftness of ESPNcricinfo’s actions and that Rohan did not get a second chance to prove himself, they must be congratulated on taking plagiarism seriously, and their desire to uphold the highest standards.

Which brings us to the story I have been following the last 12 days, that of Ed Smith, an ESPNcricinfo columnist, pulling a Melania Trump [Follow up #1, Follow up #2]. Based on inquiries, it is beyond any doubt that Mr. Smith borrowed extensively from a column in The Economist and did not find it fit to provide acknowledgment or attribution. It was only after it became public – through this blog – a belated attribution was provided in his ESPNcricinfo piece.

I have followed up with Mr. Smith – to obtain a clarification, and also Mr. Bal, regarding the belated attribution and any follow up action. I have not received any clarification from either, and it is my understanding that Mr. Bal would use the platform he has to address the issue (that is, if they feel there is anything to be addressed, at all) rather than respond to my queries on the record. At the time of writing this blogpost, there hasn’t been any public announcements from ESPNcricinfo, and in fact, Mr. Smith has a new column published earlier today on that site, titled, “Why cricket’s national stereotypes are outdated“.

That there has been no action taken publicly beyond a belated attribution (and a self-serving footnote screaming ‘entitlement’), and that Mr. Smith has continued with his bi-weekly column at ESPNcricinfo, it is very reasonable to conclude that ESPNcricinfo’s standards are applied unequally: a lowly BBB commentator is fired promptly for plagiarism and his firing is made public on the Editor-in-chief’s Twitter timeline, while a former England cricketer turned commentator/columnist (the ultimate establishment guy) is seen to be treated with, if at all, kid gloves.

ESPNcricinfo are well within their rights to treat their employees and columnists any which way they seem fit. But when, in one case, the issue is used to pronounce the lack of any room for tolerance of misdeeds, while in the other, barely a peep has been registered, it is the very definition of “double standard“.

As someone who contributed podcasts to ESPNcricinfo for three years, I have always admired the editorial standards of ESPNcricinfo, and I have a lot of respect for what they have accomplished as a journalistic entity in the cricket landscape. So it is as a well-wisher of ESPNcricinfo that I must record my disappointment in their handling of seemingly two similar issues in two vastly different manners. As George Orwell wrote, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others“. 


*-Updated with the correct venue, thanks to @shyamuw for pointing out the error. The post originally said “Adelaide”.

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Follow up #2 on “Ed Smith pulls a Melania Trump”

Since writing the first follow up on Saturday (July 30) to the initial blog post “Ed Smith pulls a Melania Trump“, I had been working various avenues and contacts to find the answer to the simple question: Did Ed Smith write the piece “Stress: What makes us stronger” that appeared in The Economist on July 23?

Based on the details I have learned in the process, it can be confidently stated that Ed Smith did not write the original piece or have any hand in it, and in fact, the piece was written by one of The Economist’s staff journalists.

I have also learned that The Economist is satisfied with the amended column at ESPNcricinfo “Why sportsmen need stress” with the (belated) attribution and the footnote acknowledging the same, and does not seem to have any issues or reasons to take any further action on this matter.

It is possible that Mr. Smith was inspired to write his ESPNcricinfo column after he came across the piece in The Economist. But he doesn’t appear to have thought or found it fit to provide any proper citation or attribution to The Economist even as he seems to have taken the liberty to state the studies cited in it, and also a liberal use of the same verbiage in some of the passages as they appeared in the original piece. It was only after the “Ed Smith pulls a Melania Trump” appeared (on July 28) did his column at ESPNcricinfo was amended (on July 29) to include “As The Economist explored recently” with the footnote.

Ah, the footnote! “The author, who has taken an interest in the study of stress and written on the subject for many years, wanted to acknowledge the Economist’s survey of the subject“. [Italics mine]

So much entitlement in that one sentence. That he has taken interest in the study of stress and written on it, somehow absolves him of the sin of not acknowledging nor citing in the first place the work he seems to have been inspired by. It is plainly damage control couched in self-serving words.

The dictionary defines Plagiarism as “[a]n instance of plagiarizing, especially a passage that is taken from the work of one person and reproduced in the work of another without attribution“. In Academia, someone including someone else’s results in their own publication, and attempting to pass it off as their own, without proper citation will be accused, without a doubt, of plagiarism.

It must be noted here again, as I did in the first follow up, that Mr. Smith is Director of an M.A. course on “History of Sport”  at the University of Buckingham. One can only wonder how he would have handled if one of the students in his course handed in their dissertation that contained reproduction of someone else’s work without proper attribution or citation.

And as to ESPNcricinfo’s stance in all this, that’s for another post at a later time.

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Follow up on “Ed Smith pulls a Melania Trump”

It has been more than two days since I put the post “Ed Smith pulls a Melania Trump” up. In that time, I had written to the Economist (“Letters to the editor”) to ascertain the author(s) of the piece “Stress: What makes us stronger“; Multiple people on Twitter tagged Ed Smith on Twitter with my blogpost asking for clarification; I had written to the editor of ESPNcricinfo asking for an explanation; I also had written to the contact email available on Ed Smith website, as well as sending a tweet to him intimating of the same.

I have not received any response or comment from any of them, as I write this follow up post.

However, this morning, I went back to the ESPNcricinfo piece that Ed Smith had written “Why sportsmen need stress” to see whether the link was still alive (It is) and if there were any changes to it. (There is).

As of July 29, 2016 (7:58:48 GMT), ESPN Cricinfo had updated the article with an attribution: “As the Economist explored recently”.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 7.40.19 AM

There is a note at the bottom of the article explaining the update.
Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 7.40.08 AMIf the fine print is hard to read, here is what it says: “07:58:48 GMT, July 29, 2016: This attribution was added on 29th July. The author, who has taken an interest in the study of stress and written on the subject for many years, wanted to acknowledge the Economist‘s survey of the subject”.

Based on this update, it would be very reasonable to conclude Ed Smith did not have an exclusive hand in the article published by the Economist and had originally reproduced with minimal changes several passages from that article in his ESPNcricinfo piece.

Even as the attribution has been added now, Ed Smith’s article still maintains and retains all of the material it appears to have lifted from the Economist article. And it isn’t clear how adding “As the Economist explored recently” applies to the rest of the paragraphs that follow the one where the attribution has been made.

Are we to think that the attribution (which has been without a link to the Economist article even though that article exists online) applies to everything that follows it, or is it only to the paragraph in which it appears?

The big question is: If Ed Smith knew that he was lifting several paragraphs from the Economist, why didn’t he choose to acknowledge it in the first place? No explanation has come on that front. If it was just an oversight, for someone who is a columnist and a commentator, but more importantly the Director of an M.A. course on “History of Sport”  at the University of Buckingham where he is responsible for molding the minds of younger citizens of this world, it is a major oversight, and full open responsibility needs to be taken rather than a sly appended attribution.

What is ESPNcricinfo’s role in this? They have been handed a not-so-original piece without them knowing about it in the first place, and by willingly adding that attribution (without anyone knowing really, unless you go back to the article and look for it), they seem to be condoning the practice. The most reasonable thing for ESPNcricinfo to do would have been to take the article down and publicly provide a note as to why they had done that.

Remember the line from American author Tom Petri, “It isn’t the original scandal that gets people in the most trouble, it’s the attempted cover-up”.

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Ed Smith pulls a Melania Trump

Ed Smith, the former Kent and England batsman, current commentator for BBC Test Match Special, has a particular template to his columns and essays that he contributes to outlets like ESPNcricinfo. Among my circle of cricket friends, it is called as “Ed Smith 101”. A typical Smith cricket column will include references to some 18th or 19th century philosophers, Malcolm Gladwell and and/or Nassim Nicholas Talib, something thrown in about a tribe of people from a corner of the world that seem to possess certain genetical traits, nifty turns of phrase from some pop culture icon, citing of some scientific research done in the USA or Europe, and a couple of cricket insider anecdotes thrown in, all neatly wrapped as an attempt to make a pseudo psychoanalysis of sports and sportspersons.

His recent offering at ESPNcricinfo, published on July 25, 2016, “Why sportsmen need stress” is another that follows the Ed Smith 101 template to a T. There is a reference to Bob Dylan; there is Nassim Talib; there is a researcher from Stanford University quoted; there is Nietzsche; there is an insider anecdote about English cricketers Alastair Cook and Joe Root; all neatly wrapped in to a 1000+ words pseudo psychoanalysis on stress and how sportspersons seem to thrive in it. (I’m sure we all know how we react to project deadlines and bosses hot after our asses to put together this powerpoint or close this deal; make that sale or complete writing that technical paper; we too seem to thrive in it just as well but that’s besides the point.).

In the aforementioned piece, Smith opens with turning a Bob Dylan lyric around for the topic of the week, and after telling us “First cricket, then a little science”, spends the first half of the piece talking about Cook and Root’s ability to soak up the pressures of expectations in international cricket, aided by couple of observations from English camp insiders. All solid so far.

It is the “science” portion of the piece that caught the attention of @mkrishna23 who shared it on Twitter. (Disclaimer: I’ve met Krishna a couple of times while watching Tests in England, and I follow him on Twitter which is how I came across this.)

There seems to be an awful lot of similarities between the piece published on The Economist on July 23, 2016, “Stress: What makes us Stronger” and Smith’s piece at ESPNcricinfo. You can read both the pieces and make up your mind but I thought I’ll place certain passages from both columns side by side, here. *[There is no byline provided in the Economist piece. It is possible that Smith wrote both the pieces, or not.]


Economist: FOR centuries physicists have used the word stress to describe force applied to materials. It was not until the 1930s that Hans Selye, a Hungarian-born endocrinologist, began using it of live beings. Selye injected rats with cow hormones, exposed them to extreme temperatures and partially severed their spinal cords to prove that all these sorts of maltreatment affected the rodents in the same ways: they lost muscle tone, developed stomach ulcers and suffered immune-system failure. He used the word for both the abuse of the rats and the health effects. Later on, it started to be used for psychological suffering as well.

Ed Smith: The modern concept of “stress” is less than a hundred years old. For centuries, it belonged to the language of physics: the force applied to materials. Only in the 1930s did Hans Selye, a Hungarian endocrinologist, transport the idea into the realm of live creatures. He exposed cows and rodents to extreme physical deprivation and suffering in order to study the effects on their immune systems and musculature. Subsequently, the word started to be used in the context of psychological as well as physical suffering.

Economist: Today, the Oxford English Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”.

Ed Smith: Stress is now defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”

Economist: Other scientists extended the original physics metaphor: just as many materials can withstand stress until a certain point, it was thought that humans could cope with stress if it did not become too severe… But above a certain threshold humans, like metal bars, would break.

Ed Smith: Psychologists have tended to view the ability to handle stress as a finite capacity. Beyond a certain point, human beings, like inanimate physical objects, would crack and break.

Economist: Now a new body of research is challenging that notion. Some scientists posit that what matters is not just the level of stress, or even its type, but how it is thought about… [A] study by Alia Crum of Stanford University’s Mind and Body Lab and others found that students who believed stress enhances performance were more likely to ask for detailed feedback after an uncomfortable public-speaking exercise. And seeing stressors as challenges rather than threats invites physiological responses that improve thinking and cause less physical wear and tear.

Ed Smith: But the academic consensus is now shifting. We’re learning that the way we perceive stress changes how it affects us. A study by Alia Crum at Stanford University showed that, once the association became established that stress enhanced performance, professionals found “stressful” circumstances led to heightened engagement and diminished ill-heath.

Economist: Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist at Stanford University and the author of “The Upside of Stress”, helps people rethink stress by telling them that it is what we feel when something we care about is at stake. She asks them to make two lists: of things that stress them; and of things that matter to them. “People realise that if they eliminated all stress their lives would not have much meaning,” she says.

Ed Smith: Kelly McGonigal, the author of The Upside of Stress, invites people to make two lists: things that cause them stress, and things they care about. “People realise that if they eliminated all stress their lives would not have much meaning,” she concludes.

Having now talked about the cricket and science, Smith throws in a couple of terms of biology, Nietzsche and Talib references, and concludes by saying that there isn’t a need for us to worry about the elite sportspersons and the pressure they are performing under, because, “they are probably loving it”.

Last week, during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the wife of the GOP nominee, Melania Trump made a speech in trying to introduce the Donald Trump she knows to the American electorate. A journalist recognized certain passages from the speech, as they were parts of Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC in 2008. As soon as the side-by-side juxtaposition of the similar passages went viral, it was first denied that there was any plagiarism involved, and it was sheer coincidence. Later on, it was stated that 93% of Melania’s speech was different from the First Lady’s, and so what’s the big deal? But ultimately, it was conceded that the passages in Melania’s speech were actually “inspired” by Mrs. Obama’s speech and one of the campaign staffer took the responsibility for it.

Now, I do not know who wrote that Economist piece as there’s no byline provided, or how much Ed Smith was inspired by it. He could very well have cited the Economist in his CI piece and we wouldn’t be having this conversation; He may very well have written the Economist piece and repackaged it for Cricinfo, I do not know, but the fact is that there are remarkable similarities between the two. So much so that if you read both the pieces, it would be reasonable to conclude that Smith pulled a Melania.


  • – updated with the stuff in brackets at the suggestion of @DuncanMack149
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The Antigua Pitch

The first Test of the WI v India series reached in to the final session on Day 4, with India registering an innings win by 92 runs, their largest win outside Asia. R Ashwin has continued his remarkable bowling form by bagging 7 wickets in the 2nd innings, and the man of the match award.

The playing surface at the Sir Vivian Richards ground was terrific; there was a slight grass covering on Day 1, with sufficient bounce available for pacers willing to bend their backs, and for spinners daring the batsmen by tossing the ball up. It is to the groundsman’s credit that the first three days of the Test saw pacers making most of the damage while batsmen willing to get set making the runs, and the pitch sufficiently deteriorating to take turn on Day 4.

If only the West Indies were a bit more competent with both bat and ball, they could have easily pushed the game in to the fifth day and we could have witness possibly even more natural wear and tear of the track in Antigua.

As India decided to bat after winning the toss, Shannon Gabriel hustled the Indian top order with his pace and bounce; M Vijay was out caught fending of a vicious short delivery. He didn’t take the field later at all as he was protecting his injured right hand. Shikhar Dhawan was caught in a tangle a fair few times but survived long enough to register his first half century in a while. Once the threat of Gabriel was blunted, Carlos Brathwaite and Jason Holder did not pose enough threat to the remaining Indian batsman, and led by Kohli, the visitors piled on a massive first innings total.

It was quite revealing that 8 of the 10 Windies wickets in their first innings fell to the duo of Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav, both operating at good pace but showing the ability to generate bounce off good length. Shami especially stood out by extracting lateral movement off the pitch, nothing alarming mind you, but just enough to find the edges by hitting the seam consistently. Shami accounted for the outmatched R Chandrika, Jermaine Blackwood and Darren Bravo with bounce, cajoled out of the pitch with that an extra oomph of effort; hustled Marlon Samuels out with seam movement. Yadav took out K Brathwaite and Roston Chase with bounce, and winkled out Holder and C Brathwaite with the aid of swing – out and in.

R Ashwin who was expected by all and sundry to run circles around the inexperienced WI line up, went wicketless in the first dig. It wasn’t till the 2nd session on Day 4 did Ashwin finally find success. Although he beat Chandrika in flight and caused the ball to dart between bat and pad, Ashwin was lucky to get his first wicket as there appeared a definite day light between bat and ball, but Umpire Aleem Dar seemed confident enough to send the batsman on his way, who accepted it with no apparent dismay or dissent.

It wasn’t just the turn that was available on the Day 4 pitch that Ashwin was exploiting, but also the drift made possible by the revolutions put on the ball and the stiff breeze blowing across the ground. Marlon Samuels who was well set on 50 was made to look silly; the drift opened up a huge gap between Holder’s bat and pad allowing Ashwin to drive a truck that turns viciously through; Chase who looked quite composed for a debutant in his first innings was defeated by the dip; and the bounce off the pitch defeating Blackwood. All in all, it was a special display of offspin bowling, an overmatched opposition notwithstanding.

Overall, the 22-yard strip at North Sound, Antigua was an exemplary sporting track with something in it for every one – bowlers, batsmen and fielders. Enough bounce for the bowlers to keep the batsmen honest at all times; True bounce with no alarming lateral movement for batsmen that allow themselves to get set to make big scores; catches not falling short of the slip fielders; reasonable deterioration of the surface to aid spin on Day 4; everything one would want in a cricket pitch. It was just a shame that one of the two teams that played on it was so severely weak that the cricketing contest was over the moment Virat Kohli registered his highest first class score.

Mohd SHami’s 4-fer

Ashwin’s 7-fer

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Hypocrisy of BBC Sport

BBC Sport, in the cricket section of its website where the headlines are collated, reported on the three wicket haul of Pakistan pacer Mohammad Amir in the warm-up game vs. Somerset, with the headline “Spot-fixer Amir takes three wickets on return“. The headline of the piece itself, when clicked from the cricket section, reads as “Pakistan v Somerset: Mohammad Amir takes three wickets on return“, and the report itself begins with, “Convicted spot-fixer Mohammad Amir marked his return to first-class cricket in England after a five-year ban with three Somerset wickets.

Obviously, it is a fact that Mohammad Amir was convicted for spot-fixing during Pakistan’s tour of England in 2010. He served his jail sentence for it, and was banned from Cricket and now, having served his time for the crime, is on the mend.

What BBC Sport cannot be accused of is misreporting the facts. They are absolutely factual when they ran the headline “Spot-fixer Amir takes three wickets on return”. Amir spot-fixed, and on his first class return in England, he has taken three wickets. However, what BCC Sport are guilty of is hypocrisy, and possible bias.

On the same cricket section of their site, to the right of the Amir story, is a link to a BBC Radio 5 Live podcast with host “Tuffers and Vaughan” who are joined by BBC’s chief sports writer Tom Fordyce, for a “Chris Gayle special”. When clicked on the link, it opens the iplayer where the title of the podcast is “Chris Gayle “Universe Boss” special”.

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If you have been following any amount of cricket in the last few months, it must be plain to see the hypocrisy or at the very least, the economy of facts that BBC Sport has used here to highlight two different cricket storylines and two different cricketers. If you weren’t living under a rock, it would have been impossible for you as a cricket follower to avoid the uncomfortable sideline exchange Gayle had with Aussie reporter Mel McLaughlin, as well as the overtures he reportedly made to Times reporter Charlotte Edwardes. It is impossible for me to come to any other conclusion – a reasonable one at that – that Gayle is sexist and misogynist, and at the very least, he sexually harasses female reporters that are just doing their jobs.

While Amir is – correctly – identified as a spot fixer, Gayle’s repeated sexist and misogynic behavior hasn’t convinced the writers at BBC Sport to at least indicate in the headline for the podcast as “Tuffers and Vaughan – Serial sexual harasser Chris Gayle special”.

Now, it makes me wonder why BBC Sport would handle these two players differently. While Gayle’s behavior has been despicable, he is still viewed as a fun loving guy (the choice of the moniker Universe Boss tells us that) and society manages to look past a male athlete’s sexual transgressions as just another case of boys being boys. So what he was being obnoxious to couple of women hacks? It’s not a crime really is it? Where as Amir bowled a no ball to order! That robbed the sport of its integrity!!!

But then, as pointed by Tim Young on Twitter (see below), BBC Sport didn’t find it necessary to headline the report on the qualification of American sprinter Justin Gatlin to the Rio Olympic Games as “Two  times drug cheat Gatlin qualifies for Rio with year’s best times”.

It is obviously a fact that Justin Gatlin was banned twice for doping and yet BBC Sport did not make a mention of it in the headline or in the report itself, and that, is textbook hypocrisy.

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 7.14.18 PMThere could be any number of reasons for BBC Sport headlining Amir’s story the way they did: that they link controversy to the Pakistani cricket team any time they tour England (reverse swing, ball tampering allegations, spot fixing etc.) or that they view Amir’s crime as more serious than that of others, or it could be just an attempt to “wind up” Pakistani fans to get some cheap clicks. But what is beyond doubt is that even BBC, a venerable news institution can be selective with their facts, and by extension, hypocritical.

And, they need to be called out on it, and plenty of fans have already done so on social media. It would be refreshing and affirming if journalists and journalistic institutions would also join them, and call out BBC Sport on their obvious hypocrisy. Because, words matter.

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Cricket Conversations: On Test Cricket with Jarrod Kimber

I started a new initiative on this blog way back in May 2013 called “Cricket Conversations” which involves email back-and-forth on a variety of topics with bloggers, writers, fans and journalists. The first of the Cricket Conversations was with Siddartha Vaidyanathan on Spirit of Cricket, the second with Gideon Haigh on Club Cricket and the third with Ahmer Naqvi on cricket fandom.

What follows is the fourth installment of cricket conversations where I had email exchanges with Jarrod Kimber on why people feel the need to constantly worry whether Test cricket is dying or doing well , spread over a few weeks.


On Wed, Jun 1, 2016, Subash Jayaraman wrote:

I have been meaning to send this email to you for quite a while but your recent piece from England v Sri Lanka Test at Durham finally forced me to. You have written about it in your recent book Unauthorised biography of Test cricket and have spent a fair bit of column lengths at Cricinfo and CWB on the topic of “Is Test cricket dying?” I am not so interested in actually finding out the answer to that question from you but why is it that people wonder about the mortality of Test cricket, as it seems, all the freakin’ time?

One of the fun things I do – once you read what it is you will realize I don’t do fun things – is to type in “Test Cricket dying” in Google and look at the results. It generally yields upwards of six hundred thousand results and I like to go to random result pages and read the various times over the last century or more people have sounded out the alarm on the impending death of Test cricket.

If I remember correctly, even in the first decade of 20th century, articles were written about death of Test cricket because with the industrial revolution changing the lives of people dramatically, Test cricket was considered an anachronism and hence did not have a place in modern society.

So, through this conversation, I want to shed light on the constant existential crisis that the writers and mouth-pieces of Test cricket have felt over the years as to why that is. I mean it’s not like Test cricket survived through wars, corruption, match fixing, racism, sexism, classism, Packer, rebel tours or nothing.

One of the funny ones was by Jack Fingleton, the former Aussie cricketer, after whom the scoreboard at Manuka Oval in Canberra is named. He wrote in 1969 issue of Wisden that County cricket in England with its allure for the overseas cricketers would lead to the death of Test cricket. He felt that the “international blood of other countries [would] be sucked dry by England in trying to keep alive the out-moded, incongruous county cricket system.”

Let’s give, as you wrote in Balls, “the Woody Allen of Sports” a spot on the couch and let’s try to talk through the anxieties, self doubts and crises of confidence. We could start from the beginning or, start with the most recent: T20/Domestic Leagues. Your call.

-Subash

On Thu, Jun 2, 2016, Jarrod Kimber wrote:

The Daily Mail recently started putting up a bunch of articles about how Albanians are a problem for Britain. Of course, before that it was Romanians. And before that, the Polish. During all that time it was also Muslims. And Gypsies. Not to forget black people. Poor people. Anyone not from Britain.

It’s obviously bullshit, the names/countries/ethnicities of the people in these articles aren’t important. The point being at any time there is always something that you should fear. Something that you can’t do anything about.  Something coming for what you love. You see the same patterns all over the world. If you love something, someone will be around to tell you it’s being ruined, ruining itself, or dying.

Test Cricket is just one of those things. People are worried about it. People have always been worried about it.

A poorly attended Test, which financially means quite little to cricket’s bottom line, is a sign of the apocalypse. Every poorly attended, or well attended, Test match is someone’s “it’s hot/cold today, that proves/disproves global warming”.

Yet, think about this, it is quite possible now that every single Test match has more coverage, more viewers, more people who follow it in every way than at any time in history.  There are also more Test Cricket fans than in any point in history. And more cricket fans of any kind in any point in history. So if Test Cricket is potentially bigger than ever before. And Cricket is bigger than ever before. What’s the problem?

Our Albanians are T20 Leagues.

One of the funniest things about T20 leagues is that quite a few have folded. They always pop back up, and it’s not like that is a sign of T20’s death, but it’s also not really considered a blip.  All the blips are Test Cricket.

But to think that T20 leagues couldn’t or wouldn’t do damage is silly. Although, to think they can’t, or haven’t already helped is silly too.

What is the Armageddon scenario? That the IPL expands, or has two tournaments. That the Big Bash expands. And that England finally develops a league that isn’t designed around county cricket fans, and can become bigger than the big bash and smaller than the IPL.  Even a scaled down version of this schedule could mean that December, January, April, May, July, and August are mostly taken up by non-international cricket that makes more money. Test Cricket, and international cricket, becomes worth less… World Cups and World T20s remain, and Test Cricket and bilateral series, outside of warm ups for major tournaments, disappear. The smaller nations either find a way to monetize their leagues, or have small leagues that feed players to the bigger sides. And hope for national glory once every four years.

There are several reasons why this is tough to make happen, especially for Australia, India and England. International cricket in those places is big money. India’s next rights deal could mean that each international game they host is worth 25 million USD. Maybe more. The Ashes makes big money as well, as does hosting India. And you also need to play other teams. Because viewers get bored of playing the same sides over and over again.

So in order for T20 leagues to completely take over the world, the major boards would need to cut off their most reliable money source over their entire history, and go for something that hasn’t been tested over a long period of time.  McDonald’s might talk about healthy options, they might offer salads, and they might have even tried to make their burgers healthier, but they still essentially sell burgers.

How do we know an expanded T20 league in Australia or India will even make more money than international cricket, and we don’t even know what one in England will look like. We know that the Ashes sells, we know that the Indian national team sells.  Neither, it would appear, are on a downward slope.

Now that doesn’t mean that T20 leagues can’t effect Tests, but everything effects Tests. Economy, growth, environment, politics, finance, TV, online, the truth is that while millions of Test Cricket fans exist, it’s a damn hard thing to kill. Even for planned Albanian blitz bash league.


On Fri, 3 Jun 2016, Subash Jayaraman wrote:

The other day Harsha Bhogle tweeted this: “Just saw some viewership numbers. Alarming decline in test viewers coupled with huge growth in T20 numbers.” Obviously, it doesn’t provide any context. Whether he was talking about Tests in 2016, or for the past year, or IPL or WT20 and IPL combined, or for all T20 leagues combined… but I guess he must have received a fair few pinging him with their support of Test cricket to which he responded, “Expectedly, everyone replying how great test cricket is. But if you watched, as you say, the numbers wouldn’t be grim in the first place!”

Let’s say the TV numbers are grim for Test cricket. What does that really mean? I am willing to guess that people who tune in for any extended period of any Test is less than those that tune in for a T20 game. But even if people can’t have the luxury of sitting in front of TV for a Test match, there probably is a sizable number that follow Cricinfo or Cricbuzz BBB, Guardian OBO etc. Should those numbers also count towards viewership?

At any rate, I am trying to figure out why Harsha may have tweeted that. He had written a piece in 2012 the crux of which was that Test cricket must become self-sufficient and it cannot expect to ride T20 and ODI coat-tails. [Although T20 has been riding on the coat tails of the names and stars from Test cricket to achieve its “cricketing legitimacy” and somehow that seems to have escaped people’s eyes. The irony!] If we are to go by that, it would be easy to see why he tweeted what he did. A huge proponent of free market sees the numbers for this anachronistic deadweight declining, and this young upstart backed by private enterprise is ruling the roost!

On the other hand, people (by that I mean, cricket writers) draw immediate conclusions that Test cricket is in poor health as soon as any Test is poorly attended. That used to be the stick with which the BCCI (and the fans in India) were beaten with whenever a Test wasn’t a sellout. But now, even Tests in England (away from London), and in Australia not all the Tests are sell outs. However, as you mentioned, the bottom-line is not affected by the gate receipts at Tests, and yet, almost every cricket writer pontificates about Test cricket’s health.

Why is that? As you know most of these folks, and perhaps have an idea of why that might be, do explain.

As to the point about T20 leagues and their effect on Test cricket, we can get back to it at a later time.

—-

On Fri, Jun 3, 2016, Jarrod Kimber wrote:

We can’t take Harsha’s numbers seriously because we haven’t seen them, or even truly know what to compare them too. It could even be that Test Cricket’s numbers are down after a high, for instance.

Last time I checked each test in India was worth six million USD. And that’s with the system that the BCCI use that says every match is worth the same. So that a T20 against Zimbabwe (should there ever be such a thing) in India is also worth six million. So in truth, each Test within India is worth, for TV rights alone, minimum 15 million dollars; even before sponsorship. But that is India, and even a dip in numbers there is not a worry.

And when Harsha says that, in truth, he is doing, I assume, what a lot of writers around the world are doing, thinking local.

I doubt anyone, unless the ICC are going from TV company to TV company, has worldwide figures on Test viewership. Cricket Australia trumpets theirs, the ECB try to hide theirs and off the top of my head probably only South Africa talk about theirs regularly. And I say this as a man who is paid to follow all these things. That is not really Harsha’s job. And here is the rub; it is also not the job of most cricket writers. Their job is to write about their team. I remember Alt Cricket tweeting about a conversation in the Trent Bridge press box that a cricket writer had about not knowing the Indian team. But the truth is that journo’s job was probably to know the Nottinghamshire team, and players in the local area, and players they would play against. One week a year the circus comes to town and he is sent over to cover the Test.

That is where most of this conversation comes from. So these sorts of people who don’t watch as much cricket as some of us sick fucks, suddenly look up and go, well Asia, the West Indies, SA don’t love Test matches.  There are problems in Sri Lanka getting crowds to the grounds, and problems in South Africa getting crowds to the ground. But they are different problems. Sure Indian grounds should be full, but so should Headingley, it’s fucken in Yorkshire.  The real problem lays in the lack of effort of getting people into the grounds . And there are obvious problems with how Test Cricket is marketed, or not marketed. Part of the problem is it’s treated like a Ming Vase, where in truth it is rock n roll. When Dale Steyn arrives in a country the local board should be putting out violent clips of him hitting batsmen and saying he is coming for our men.  Or when Warner turns up, there should be an ad campaign saying, this bloke bats in Tests like he’s a T20 player, or a wild caveman. It’s not polite, watch our men take him on.

Maybe all this will change when TV companies start saying, we’re sick and tired of showing empty grounds. But in truth, TV companies love Test Cricket. For two reasons, one they get five days of broadcasting including up to 40 hours of content with a consistent narrative that covers a huge chunk of the day and people are always happy to turn on even if they have missed an important moment. And they think it is undervalued by Boards. Especially in this new T20 world. They’d like it even more if it were played in prime time.

It’s only a billion dollar idea the old day night Tests, which is why 20 years after I first saw day night first class cricket we’ve had just one Test of it. If Harsha wants Test Cricket to be self-sufficient, then why almost 40 years after we started playing cricket under lights we haven’t managed to make Test Cricket work under lights? That isn’t the sport’s fault; it is the people who run it.

On Thu, Jun 23, 2016, Subash Jayaraman wrote:

Jarrod,

Apologies for the gap in communication. Work took me away for a while, and now I’ve found time to get back to this conversation.

Let’s talk about the people that run the sport. It was first Jagmohan Dalmiya in 1996, and later on Lalit Modi with IPL, that have tried to even increase the value of cricket with the broadcasters. Since then, ICC and the national boards have tried to maximize whatever they can get from the broadcasters but most of it was hinged on India and the Ashes.

Talking of cricket’s administrators, earlier today there was a report on Cricinfo that quoted Tim Anderson (ICC development manager) that there isn’t time in the cricket calendar for T20 to enter Olympics!!! Olympics, goddamnit! If T20 gets in to Olympics, USA and China would become bigger players and the fact that it would mostly run parallel to English summer makes the option less palatable for ECB. But something so obvious for the long term growth of the game around the world is being sacrificed for short-term protectionist myopia.

At any rate, why is it that the obvious choice of playing D/N Test cricket was never really picked up by the ICC?

Now coming back to our initial line of why people think Test cricket is dying or is dead already… T20 leagues. There was an announcement in a news outlet today that BCCI is going ahead with a mini-IPL in September in place of the erstwhile Champions League T20.

Considering all the things, there is one thing that is a finite resource, and this is the number of days in a year. With every new league, mini-league, Wt20s, Bilateral ODIs, Tri-series, Champions Trophy, World Cup etc. there is only so much time left in the calendar for Tests to take place. So by crowding the calendar with non-Test cricket and leaving little time for Test series tours with very little time to acclimatize, Test series are, as we are saying, one way beat downs. It is not so much Test cricket is dying, but it is being actually choked to death by not giving the space it needs to thrive.

You had mentioned at length the Armageddon scenario. It may happen or not happen. But if it were to actually materialize, and reduces Test cricket to a side show or completely wipes it off the table, would it be because people (fans/administrators/writers) allowed it to happen, or is it because that would have been the natural order of things? That is the question to answer.

If it is indeed inevitable no matter what we do, then sure. But if Test cricket were to vanish or were to become an irrelevant thing because we didn’t do enough about it, then the blood is on all of our hands.

On Mon, Jun 27, 2016, Subash Jayaraman wrote:

Kimbo slice,

I know it’s your turn to respond but I couldn’t wait. Ed Smith has a written a column at Cricinfo on “What has to be done to save Test cricket?” He efficiently ties Brexit vote and ICC meeting at Edinburgh together and launches in to his piece with what needs to be done to save Test cricket.

That he launches from the point of view of Test cricket needs to be “saved”, makes me think it’s his understanding that cricket fans by and large, would be thinking the same. This was the crux of why I even wanted this back and forth with you. That it is assumed without any proper measurement of following and cricket economics that Test cricket is in peril.

One of the points he makes for the poor health of Tests is that there are too many Tests!!! Without any sense of irony he says “Test cricket is prone to myth and nostalgia, but it is clear from speaking to former players – especially from the 1960s and 1970s – that the relative rarity of Tests added to their lustre and intensity”

So his research involves talking to a few old timers. Test cricket ecosystem is very different now than it was in 60s and 70s, and obviously, players in England – at the very least – paid more attention to playing County cricket (since it paid more and steadily) than internationals.

As with almost every Ed Smith column in its ham-fisted way of trying to provide solutions, he throws out another saying that players who are following the money of T20 will have a change of heart if there is a $10 million pot for the team that win the Test championship. This shows such severe lack of imagination on the Smith’s part (and one might extend it to the establishment and wouldn’t be too wrong).

By marketing Test cricket in ways that you had mentioned previously, the cricketers that choose to play Tests (in addition to T20 leagues) could find shit ton more money than splitting a $10m pot, really. The amount of money that a Test cricketer can make could easily blow the top paid T20 cricketers out of the water and yet, Smith could only think of a gimmicky Test championship pot.

At any rate, this column brings me back to the original question: Why do people feel the need to constantly harp on about whether Test cricket is dead/alive or it needs to be saved? Smith isn’t a local county beat writer. He follows (at least his topics of choice for his columns seem to indicate) a lot of cricket from around the globe, so we can’t even make the excuse of the Nottingham beat writer you’d mentioned earlier. What gives? By the way, this Smith column on Cricinfo is hot on the heels of a Mark Nicholas piece on Cricinfo about Test Championship, which, you guessed it, will allow us to save Test cricket.

—-

On Tue, June 28, 2016 Jarrod Kimber wrote:

I like Tim Anderson, but being that we have just found a slot for another World T20 on a whim, and we won’t be into the Olympics for years – that does seem amazing.

But the reason we don’t have day night Tests already is that in order to do that we would have needed a board whose sole goal was to improve cricket worldwide, while use cricket’s wealth to develop and grow. That hasn’t been their goal. They have done a little bit of growing, while always complaining, but and I have done a lot of research on this, the pink ball has developed with less than 2 million of cricket’s money being spent on it. Have no checked with the ICC, but I assume most of that money has come from CA and MCC, neither of which even know how much they have spent on it, because it was such a small part of their total spend that they didn’t count it directly.

Even T20 came about because of one board, the ICC isn’t driving the game, it just occasionally notices that things happen.

Yes, if Test Cricket dies it will be an inside job from those who run it. And there will be plenty of blood on the hands of the fans who say they love it, and don’t do anything to support it. But in truth, if you have a pay TV subscription, if you want it when it is free to air, if you have an online subscription, if you buy tickets, you are supporting it. But if there aren’t enough fans, and we are a long way from there, and I’d be shocked if we don’t start to see spill over from T20 kids to Test fans, so then the only reason it would die is because it is not profitable enough, and that isn’t our fault. And to be fair, the recent noise from the ICC is good, a unified Test collective bargaining system would mean more money for everyone, a more structured Test season within the holes of the T20 campaign, and could be the solution in in the short term.

On Tue, Jun 28, 2016 Jarrod Kimber wrote:

I can’t really answer the zombie myth of why all cricket fans and media think Test cricket need to be saved, or why that myth has kind of always existed. But aren’t what Smith and Nicholas really saying is how it can be harnessed?  I mean you could just tweak their language a bit and it would be about harnessing the many fans and commercial nature of Test Cricket. They are focused on the death of Test Cricket because we have always been focused on it, hell you and I are doing it right now. You’re probably to blame for most bad things that happen in cricket.

Smith’s points about Test Cricket being more special in the 60s and 70s, and I haven’t read his piece (so am going on what you said) is pretty silly to me. Test Cricket was at its best in the 80s and 90s when we played more of it. And we aren’t going to sort out the future of Test Cricket by talking to old players.

One of my favourite answers at the Q&As for my film is always when I have been asked the inevitable, ‘surely what cricket needs is more Test Cricketers running it’, to which I usually bring up that one of the big three chairmen that tried to strangle the game was Wally Edwards, 3 Tests, highest score 30. To think that if he was more successful, or played longer or more, he’d have any more of an idea how to run what is now a a global industry including amateurs with professionals that is also run by a board, that is run by another hundred or so boards, that is then run by another 1000s of boards, in a competitive marketplace with government interference, trying to work out how to work out the best balance between revenue streams and the integrity of the game that has three completely different products that all cannibalise off each other, while people care about so deeply they are willing to burn effigies and that millions of many people get a huge amount of their national pride from countries that often have very little in common other than England once took a big dump on them.

So I’m just not sure a top score of 375, and 150 Tests would help you do that.  I could be wrong.

On Tue, 29 Jun 2016, Subash Jayaraman wrote:

Jarrod,

As we started this trying to find out why it is that the voices of cricket have almost always tended to dwell far more than necessary or appropriate on the death of Test cricket, it seems there is no straightforward answer to it than, “well, it’s always been like that.”

But it is good to know from someone that spent four years chasing the powers that be in cricket trying to find an answer to that question, and document it in form a movie, that if Test cricket were to eventually die out or fade away like that uncle in an elderly home that you visit once in a while when it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas, it won’t be because the people didn’t care about it (even though almost every writer ever blames the fans for not turning up at a stadium with shitty facilities, ceremonial lathi charge and cavity search) but because it would be inside job.

If apathy is what kills Test cricket, it would be the apathy of the people governing the sport. To the extent fans are responsible, I would say that cricket fans need to take an active role in monitoring how the sport they love is run and figure out ways to hold the administrators’ feet to the fire, rather than just voting online on the Greatest Post-War Left Handed Batsmen missing the Right Testicle XI.

The last word is yours. Thanks for engaging in this conversation. Cheers.

—–

On Wed, Jun 29, 2016 Jarrod Kimber wrote:

Wally Hammond only had one testicle, well he had syphilis, and he was a right hander, and he wasn’t great after the war.

But I bring up Wally Hammond for the cheap laugh, but also because of the myth of the golden age. That is what we do best in cricket.  Even during the early 1900s, in something we would later call the golden age of cricket, people were talking about the death of Test Cricket.  Since we have just come through, what at least in playing sense was another golden age from late 70s until late 90s, we can remember that in the mid 90’s that people said Test Cricket was dying.

And the truth is, Test Cricket was always better in the days when you really liked it the most. When compared to that point when you really liked it, Test Cricket is never going to be as good.

Sure, you might look back at Headingley ‘81 and notice there is no crowd, or the great summer of ’60/61 in Australia and notice the cricket around it was duller than Bob Dole speech, and maybe you’ll wish you were back in the 1930s when batsmen dominated to such new levels that one team was willing to go against their DNA and bomb the shit out of them. But secretly, and with sepia tinged emotive eyes, you’ll still think it was better than now.

We’re not in a glory age right now, and yet Test Cricket is worth more money is watched by more people, has more teams, we have more cricket to watch, and, with the Test Cricket ICC backed collective bargaining deal and two tier system, has never had a more decisive action to try and fix some of the flaws within it. And through this average age of cricket we still have Brendon McCullum dropping a clusterfuck of funk, we still have Virat v Root v Smith v Williamson, we still have the summer of Mitch, King Kumar, the cautionary tale of Amir, and the wrists of the Fizz. If that’s the worst Test Cricket can come up with, I’m in.  It will change, it will get better, it will get worse, it will do both at once.

And so I will leave you with this, is the phrase ‘is test cricket dying’, dying?

—-

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On Kumble’s Appointment as India’s Head Coach

Anil Kumble, cricketer extraordinaire, has been appointed as the head coach of the India (men’s) cricket team by the BCCI for the duration of one year, today. From the original list of 57 candidates which was pruned to 21, the Cricket Advisory Committee, that included leading lights of the last 25 years of Indian cricket, Kumble has been chosen despite his lack of any previous coaching experience, and despite the prior coaching track record and pedigree of some of those 21 candidates.

Kumble’s appointment has been welcomed -based on perusal of social media and news websites -wholeheartedly by fans, journalists and ex-cricketers. There seems to be a general sense of positivity towards Kumble’s reintroduction to the Indian dressing room. Based on what? I do not know.

Kumble’s credentials as a cricketer are beyond any doubt. His toughness on the field, his dedication to his craft, his relentless pursuit of wickets in an uncompromising manner, and the dignity with which he led the side before he left the international scene in 2008 are all there for anyone to see, but how do all those qualities transfer to him being a successful head coach, I do not know.

Of course, modern day “head coaching” is more man-management than working with the players on an individual basis to correct any flaws in their game. There are assistant coaches for the technical aspects. There are analysts that provide the data and information on trends and tendencies. Gary Kirsten, former India coach himself and a terrific player in his time, said on the Couch Talk podcast that “[t]he ability to get the best out of people [and] skillful man-management” are the most important skills in the modern day cricket head coach.

Kumble, after his playing career was over, served as president of Karnataka State Cricket Association, mentor for two IPL franchises (RCB and MI), Chairman of National Cricket Academy, and also in the ICC Cricket Committee. In addition to that, he is also the co-founder of TENVIC, part management, part academy, part consulting company.

How do all of this transfer to his likelihood of success as head coach? I do not know. More importantly, how did all this catapult him ahead of the other 20 candidates in the short list? I do not know. Some of those 20 included people who had played the game at the highest level – just as Kumble had, served in various capacities within cricket and beyond, and more importantly have a track record as head coach. For the CAC to pass all of them and make Kumble the head coach, they must have seen something in him – beyond their personal relationships over the last two decades and camaraderie as cricketing team mates – and Kumble must have provided a vision for the Indian team and the ways to achieve them that blew the competition out of the water, but we don’t know.

This isn’t to say Kumble will not succeed in his new endeavor. Far from it. A long home season (of 13 Tests) that follows a 4-Tests series in the Caribbean, provides as good a chance to succeed in the first year on the job as any. However, that the BCCI chose to make the appointment for only a year can be seen as them taking a punt on Kumble to see how turns out rather than a confident, absolutely certain move. Ajay Shirke, the BCCI secretary said just as much about the duration of the appointment: “[I]t was to help Kumble acclimatise to the job easier and for the board to have the cushion to reassess their options.”

Some journalists – who cover the Indian team closely and have long been following BCCI and its processes – I interacted with after the announcement seemed to suggest that the stature of Kumble as a giant of Indian cricket made his selection to the job an inevitability once he decided to throw his hat in the ring, prior coaching experience or not. If that were to be the case, then the whole process of CAC, minimum requirements, applications, and pruning of list etc., were just a charade. If stature in the game and knowledge of cricket were to supersede any/all of the other requirements for the job, then Kapil Dev would still be coaching, and there wouldn’t have been the bitter break up of Greg Chappell from the Indian team, but we don’t really know.

Without any real details on why Kumble was chosen ahead of a long list of equally deserving and well-qualified candidates – and it is highly doubtful that we will ever be privy to that, we can all feel “positive” about the appointment but that is just living in hope rather than anything based in substantive evidence beyond the obvious facts of his extraordinary playing career.  I say this because there has been an overwhelming approval and embrace of the choice of head coach that the underlying processes in selecting the best available person have been thrown out the window. When support of decisions is made based on personality rather than actual vetting of qualifications, the scrutiny that will inevitably follow will also be based on “gut feelings” and “vibes” rather than grounded in facts and evidence, and that is a bad situation for Kumble – with all of his 619 Test wickets – or anyone else.

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Cricket and Integrity

What is integrity? It is the exact manifestation of inner values as outward actions. We expect integrity of ourselves, and of our leaders and our governments. Society is a fragile construct and without the essential glue of integrity, it would fall apart. 

Sports have a major role in our society and are subject to the same expectations of integrity. The people watching and supporting it need to have the confidence that the contests upon which they are expending enormous amounts of emotions, time and money are fair. Hence the need for drug testing and constant vigilance against fixing, bone density tests and corruption. But these measures only apply to the participants in the contests themselves – the athletes and the players, but not to the ones that are governing and administering the sport.

Case in point: Cricket and the ICC. The ICC includes “Fairness and Integrity” in the set of values that drive its goal of making cricket “a bigger, better global game”. But even a casual look at some of its conduct in the recent years would show that its outward actions are not the manifestation of its stated inner values.

Three years ago, BCCI, ECB and CA ran roughshod over the organization and its principles in what can only be called as a naked money grab, while the other ICC members allowed it to happen, motivated by their own greed and needs. With change in personnel, some of the damages from the Big Three takeover are being undone, while some will forever stick.

Yesterday, ICC unveiled the Champions Trophy 2017 tournament to be held in England. The draws and schedules were announced and Jonathan Liew at the Telegraph minced no words in calling the deliberate scheduling of India-Pakistan match in the group stage as fixing the draw, and he is right. ICC Chief Executive David Richardson dressed up this deliberate attempt to rig the schedule that guarantees the marquee (only in terms of TV viewer numbers and not quality of contest) match-up takes place as follows: “It’s hugely important from an ICC point of view. It’s massive around the world and the fans have come to expect it as well. It’s fantastic for the tournament because it gives it a massive kick.”

The underlying thoughts are easy to comprehend. ICC is beholden to the broadcasters (in this case, STAR) and had to ensure the broadcasters will get the bang for their buck, integrity of the draw be damned. Ever since the 2007 ODI world Cup when India and Pakistan failed to progress beyond the first round, and the broadcasters suffered losses, ICC has been bending over backwards to ensure, first and foremost, the interests of the broadcasters are catered. It is no surprise that Mr. Richardson could talk on one hand about meritocracy of promotion and relegation in the proposed two divisions of Test cricket, while also saying that “[n]o doubt we want to try to put India versus Pakistan in our event”. The two divisions will be made of 12 teams, 7 in the first division and 5 in the second. You might wonder why 7 and 5, and not the seemingly obvious 6 and 6. First of all it takes 7 votes (of the 10 Full ICC member nations) to pass a proposal and secondly, keeping it at 7 guarantees that the big TV markets are all part of the first division, and hence makes it a lucrative product for the broadcasters.

Any which way you turn in cricket, it is impossible to miss the conclusion that it is the broadcasters that dictate the proceedings. Cricket has caught on so firmly to the teats of the broadcasters for its funds that any other financial model that doesn’t make the sport a slave would require a complete overhaul of the sport itself, and that would require tremendous will and vision from the member boards. But why do the hard work of steeling the sport with a strong back bone of integrity when you can just wheel and deal, and ensure the fans get to watch over-hyped rivalries from time to time? Sure, Champions Trophy 2017 would be the *sixth ICC event in a row where India and Pakistan have been scheduled to meet in the group stages, but we are giving the broadcasters fans what they want.

You really want to know how much ICC really cares for the integrity of the sport and the results of its contests and not the broadcasters? You will have to look no further than the Duckworth-Lewis method (now modified as DLS) it had adopted to artificially arrive at the result of a cricketing contest.

Here is what Messers Duckworh and Lewis stated as the need for their method (as included in the FAQ listed at Cricinfo): “Players (and officials) need to move on to their next matches for which transport (and hotel) arrangements will have been made and are often difficult to rearrange at such short notice. TV companies covering the matches would prefer to avoid upsetting their schedules both for their viewers and their outside broadcast crews. The ground’s management would need to employ all their staff again incurring extra expense.”

When the result of a game, and basic belief of players and the fans that “anything can happen” till the last ball is bowled or the last out is made, is compromised at the altar of expediency and profits, we can expect no better from the administrators than to rig the schedule to ensure broadcasters – profit-driven corporations – are not discomforted in any manner.

During the recently concluded World T20 held in India, there was so much hoopla surrounding the India-Pakistan game. After all the politicking of venue, security etc., were done, the stars and the celebrities showed up en masse at Eden Gardens for this marquee match up. While Amitabh Bachchan and Mamta Banerjee were singing praises and covering themselves in patriotic glory in Kolkata, there was another India-Pakistan match in Delhi that was brought to an abrupt, artificial conclusion. Defending a seemingly small total of 96 runs, the Indian Women had reduced Pakistan to 77/6 in 16 overs when rain interrupted. Even as rain relented, and the sun shone bright with the ground ready for play, the game was called off with Pakistan declared winners by 2 runs using the DLS method. Care to venture why? The broadcasters needed the cut off time so that their transmission from Kolkata of the pre-match nonsense preceding the clash of the arch-rivals could go unhindered. Who knows what could have happened in that Women’s game? Who knows how the rest of the tournament would have panned out if India were able to defend their low total? We will never know. So much for integrity of sporting results.

It isn’t just that a draw for a tournament is rigged to ensure best possible outcome for the broadcasters, or that a statistical device is used to conclude a sporting contest to ensure no undue burden is placed on the broadcaster, or that boards with the bigger muscles bullying the others in to compliance; These are only the things within cricket we know of. But once we are willing to compromise on the integrity of a result, or a draw, we can extend it to almost every decision that’s taken in running the sport so that it satisfies the broadcaster or whoever the big boy at the table is, or what’s convenient, and that isn’t good for the sport or the society it lives in.


  • – Thanks to @shyamuw for catching the error. The original version said 2017 Champions Trophy as fifth ICC event in a row where India and Pakistan are scheduled to meet in group stages.
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