Couch Talk 193 – R Ashwin

Indian offspinner R Ashwin joins the podcast for a third time to discuss his decision to play county cricket, his experiences in England and rediscovering the love of playing the game, Indian management’s decision to not play him in limited overs formats, handling setbacks due to injuries and his outlook on life and cricket as his career moves forward.

Read the entire transcript here.

The episode was first published at Sportstar Web.

Episode Credits:

Guest: R Ashwin

Voice: Gideon Haigh from Couch Talk 60

Voice: Henna Khan

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Couch Talk 192 – Schalk Steyn

The father of Dale Steyn -one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time – joins the show to talk about his son’s foray into cricket, his childhood, the sacrifices the parents had to make and his progress through to the national squad, his successes and failures, his injuries and his retirement from Tests.

Couch Talk 192 with Schalk Steyn

Read the entire transcript here.

Episode Credits:

Guest: Schalk Steyn

Voice: Gideon Haigh from Couch Talk 60

Voice: Henna Khan

Schalk Steyn’s Image from his Twitter account.

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Couch Talk 191 with Cheteshwar Pujara

Indian Test No. 3 batsman Cheteshwar Pujara talks about the stereotyping that has followed him his entire career, his preparation routines, slip catching, his approach to nets sessions, and his favorite Tests, Test series in this episode.

Read the entire transcript here.

The episode was first published at Sportstar Web.

Episode Credits:

Guest: Cheteshwar Pujara

Voice: Gideon Haigh from Couch Talk 60

Voice: Henna Khan

Pujara Image from here.

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Couch Talk 190 with Ian Bishop

In this reboot episode of the Couch Talk podcast, former West Indian fast bowler Ian Bishop talks about fast bowlers and fast bowling in the last three decades. He discusses his inspirations, mentors, fast bowling technique, fascinating spells he’s watched, and the younger generation of fast bowlers.

Ian Raphael Bishop

Read the entire transcript here.

The episode was first published at Sportstar Web.

Episode Credits:

Guest: Ian Bishop

Voice: Gideon Haigh from Couch Talk 60

Voice: Henna Khan

Bishop Image from here.

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ICC Code of Conduct Breaches and Penalties List

In the February 2017 issue of The Cricket Monthly, Alok Prasanna Kumar wrote an essay “Crime and punishment” looking in to the “history of penalties and breaches under the ICC’s code of conduct”. He looked at the “penalties imposed on players from current Test-playing nations between January 1992 and October 2016 across Tests, ODIs and T20Is, as detailed on the ICC’s website”.

Give it a read, it provides some interesting insights in to the how referees from different nations handle the code breaches by players from different nations. It might confirm some of your suspicions of bias, or clear you of it.

At any rate, I went looking for the source data – at the behest of a friend – that Alok had used in his article: the ICC website. The ICC had recently upgraded their website and it looks like the historical data has vanished, and only listing of the penalties for code of conduct breaches since September 2016 is available.

Of course, I approached Alok and he very kindly provided his master list. I have added to it the published penalties from October 2016 to January 2017. [Download the file by clicking here. I’ll be updating this list monthly]. The more recent ones like the Niroshan Dickwella’s dissent, and the penalty of two match ban will be updated in due course on the ICC website, and I shall do the same.

Alok had only used the data for players from Test playing nations. Going forward, I shall update the list for ALL players as and when they become available on ICC site. If ICC doesn’t want to store the historical data on their site, publicly, then we shall.

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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


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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