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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T20s and Us

Virat Kohli has had a fabulous T20 season both in Internationals as well as in the IPL. He has shown with his remarkable batting abilities a level of consistency in T20s that has never before been seen. To average upwards of 80 runs per dismissal is an astonishing achievement whether you are playing T20 or having a knock about with a tennis ball in a corridor with modified rules or in Tests. The fact is that he is a tremendous batsman. We have already been given ample evidences of that in his career and his purple patch in the last two seasons only burnishes the luster.

But the question arising out of Kartikeya Date’s recent piece at ESPNcricinfo “Two Myths about IPL”, isn’t whether Kohli is a great batsman, but is his style of batting – a more ‘conventional’ mode of building an innings – best suited for T20s (in this case IPL)? Date has argued that, even as mind-boggling Kohli’s returns are in IPL 2016, he “was not even the best player in the Royal Challengers Bangalore side, let alone in the IPL”.

Going by Strike Rates of batsmen (min. qualification: 7 inns, Average length of inns: 15 balls), the best eleven “hitters” in the IPL 2016, in decreasing order of strike rates, were: Krunal Pandya, Chris Morris, AB de Villiers, Andre Russell, Steven Smith, Virat Kohli, David Warner, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Smith, KL Rahul and Yusuf Pathan.

T20 has been around since 2003, and IPL has been around since 2008. Teams have been trying to figure out a way to squeeze the most out of their resources (11 players and 120 deliveries) by cobbling together the best possible XI and identifying strategies that would yield them the best avenues for success. Recently, Indian spinner R Ashwin stated just as much: “I think that T20 cricket is a completely different sport. The percentage of people and teams that realise and move in that direction will find early success in this game. I think we are in transition phase.”

After 14 seasons of T20, we are reaching a point where we might be able to imagine what is possible in T20. We are beginning to understand what sort of players will be best suited for it and what roles are expected of them. And we have already seen some of this put into practice.

When the numbers bear out that a line up of boundary hitters (sixes preferable over fours) with an ability to last more than the basic arithmetic need of 12 deliveries in a T20 game, would accumulate more than someone as grounded in what Ed Smith calls as “Total Batsmanship” like Kohli is, it makes us question our own views and understanding of cricket. How is that someone averaging 80+ per dismissal, striking at 152 runs per 100 balls, with the remarkable consistency of 11 50+ scores in 16 outings including 4 hundreds have his value questioned?

When I read Date’s piece, and saw his thoughts on who’d constitute his IPL 2016 Best XI (ignoring the limit of only 4 non-Indians per side), I wanted to reflexively remonstrate with him about excluding Kohli. Why choose Warner or Smith over Kohli when they have similar strike rates? Because, Warner and Smith score boundaries (4’s & 6’s) at a faster rate, and that they do get dismissed more frequently than Kohli which allows for someone else with better boundary striking ability to take strike. In other words, better utilization of available resources.

I wanted to remonstrate because I looked at it from the point of view of what Kohli brings to the table and not what is actually required (and is possible) in a T20, to maximize the scoring. It is impossible not to be seduced by what Kohli has accomplished this IPL season, by implementing a classical batting style and bending the arc of T20’s needs to it. To question Kohli’s value as a batsman in T20 is to question the value of cricket in T20. But then, it isn’t really about Kohli or AB de Villiers. It isn’t about Krunal Pandya or Andre Russell. It is about our own perceptions of what is a good measure of merit.

Players come, players go. Perhaps 2016 was a fluke one for Pandya. Perhaps Kohli won’t be able to replicate the consistency of 2016. But the basic need of T20, or for that matter any enterprise, to maximize the effectiveness of available resources indicate that the sport will further move towards a deeper lineup of big hitters (already shown to work by West Indies WT20 winning sides). A Kohli with his classical approach is even in the discussion is an exception rather than the rule. The future of T20 batting is Pandyas and Russells of the world and not Kohli. (It is bloody hard to do what Kohli has done, for one). If R Ashwin, with his experience and insider’s view, is anyone to go by, we are still very far from what T20 could actually become.

T20 makes it imperative that we disentangle from the romanticism of cricketing aesthetics, because a cold, hard sport built on capitalistic principles demand it. (One can claim the same about Tests and ODIs but the resources and outcomes are markedly different). If we do, then, we can make sense of the fact borne by numbers that a de Villiers is a better hitter in T20 than Kohli, and Pandya is a better value and fit than Kohli within the confines and demands of T20.

As followers of sport, it behooves us to understand what it is that we are following; Whether what we spend innumerable hours watching and dissecting is of any merit, and what those measures of merit are. It is an innately human to be curious and to understand and interpret reality. That’s why we have science, to provide explanation of some aspect of the world around us, by repeated testing and confirmation through observation and experimentation.

When a Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane or for that matter Kohli bat in a Test match, we can reasonably conclude whether they are batting well and when they are not. It is based on their ability to size up the conditions and the bowlers, having a tight technique, knowing where their off stump is, choosing when to leave and when to defend and when to play an attacking shot, evaluating risk vs. reward every delivery they face, trying to score runs while holding their wickets dear for as long as possible. How fast they are scoring the runs and how many sixes they hit to get those runs, by and large, are inconsequential. This knowledge of the measure of batting merit in a Test has come to us through watching and understanding the entire scope of time and space occupied by a Test match.

Now, if we were to consider the batting merits of the same three batsmen mentioned above in a T20 match, how would we evaluate it? Not many would argue if the claim is made that Kohli is the better T20 batsman than Pujara and Rahane. Obviously, it would be based on certain measures of merit. What are those? Are they the same as in Tests? (No.) Do batting averages matter in T20? (No.) Do strike rates matter? (Yes.) Does boundary hitting ability matter? (Yes.) Does the ability to hold onto your wicket as long as possible matter? (No.) Does the ability to hit sixes clear boundaries matter? (Yes.)

If we agree with the basic premises of the two paragraphs above, it would then be apparent that Tests and T20s are two different sports, played by an intersection of players and some specialists. Saying T20 is a different sport than Test doesn’t boost Test’s credentials or takes anything away from T20. If we consider T20 as a different sport from Tests and not just miniaturized version of it, it could just only mean we disassociate the measures of merit in Tests that have come to be over the years and have withstood scrutiny and analysis, and improvements. T20 will, as time goes by, have its own set of robust measures of merit. Even T20 broadcasts do not show a batsman’s average but the strike rates. Some broadcasts show “Batting Index” (Ave+SR), and another has a “Power Index” which incorporates a slew of things.

Now, one could very well argue that metrics of six hitting rates, boundary rates, and strike rates etc., do not accurately define the reality of batting in a T20. Well then, go ahead. Propose your model. Compose your theory. Provide evidence. Repeatedly test and confirm through observation. If your theory describes the reality of T20 better, that will be the one that will be embraced and will supersede any existing models and theories. The name of the player doesn’t matter.

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Couch Talk 189*

couchtalk-logo-2It. is. done.

I have decided to take an indefinite – and most likely infinite – break from Couch Talk Podcast.

The podcast started as a hobby and was something fun to do in my spare time. I had lost the fun quotient of it a few months ago but kept motoring on till the thought formed fully in my mind that I was done with it. Today is that day.

Thank you all for your wonderful support with your constructive criticisms, feedback, sharing and pushing me to do more with the podcast.

A lot of people played significant roles in the shaping and growth of the podcast, and in its visibility. I am grateful for that but I want to give specific thanks to Jarrod Kimber, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, Kartikeya Date and Shrikant Subramanian for all they did for the podcast.

Thanks to all the folks that appeared as guests on the show. Without their generosity -of time and thoughts, the show would be nothing.

I cannot thank Bharathram Pattabiraman enough for all the tireless transcribing he has done over the years. His help was instrumental in Couch Talk finding a larger audience.

A huge thanks to Aravind Murali (now a National Award winning music composer) for composing the intro music in a matter of few minutes and letting me use it for all these years. Thanks are to Sunny Mishra for helping me set up the feeds on iTunes etc. Thanks to ESPNcricinfo for featuring the podcast on their site, first as a part of the Cordon blog and later as a Feature.

I had some ideas and reasons behind starting the podcast and doing it for nearly 5 years (The first episode was published on June 2, 2011). I knew I was doing something right when a former international captain said, “It’s a good thing you are doing. Keep it up.” But all things must pass.

It sort of feels sad but 189* is not a bad time to leave the game. The King will be proud.

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Couch Talk 189 with R Ashwin on T20s

ashwinIndian spinner R Ashwin discusses the role of spin bowling in T20s, the asymmetrical contest of bat v ball in T20, and states that people ought to consider T20 as a different sport and not even part of cricket.

 

Download the episode by clicking here or listen to it on SoundCloud.

Read the entire Transcript.

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Enjoy.

Credits:

Intro Music: Aravind Murali and Jaishankar, mixed at ‘Music from The Place’

Transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman

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Couch Talk 188 with Sanjay Bangar

bangarFormer India cricketer and currently their batting coach Sanjay Bangar talks about the responsibilities of his job, the influence of a great generation of batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid on the current side, batting plans in Tests vis-a-vis limited overs, and how he works with players going through a rough patch etc.

Sanjay is on Twitter as: @ImSanjayBangar

 

Download the episode by clicking here or listen to it on SoundCloud.

Read the entire Transcript.

Subscribe to Couch Talk:  iTunes    Sound Cloud   TuneIn Radio  Stitcher Radio

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Enjoy.

Credits:

Intro Music: Aravind Murali and Jaishankar, mixed at ‘Music from The Place’

Transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman

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Couch Talk 187 with Anjali Doshi, “Tendulkar in Wisden”

srt-wisdenAnjali Doshi, editor of “Tendulkar in Wisden” talks about the idea behind the Wisden Anthology, the process of distilling 24 years of writing on Tendulkar in Wisden, her own experiences of covering Tendulkar and discusses the Sachin phenomenon that transformed from being about a great player to the level of infallible.

The book is available from Bloomsbury (LINK) and Amazon (LINK).

Anjali is on Twitter as: @anjaliadoshi

 

Download the episode by clicking here or listen to it on SoundCloud.

Read the entire Transcript.

Subscribe to Couch Talk:  iTunes    Sound Cloud   TuneIn Radio  Stitcher Radio

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Enjoy.

Credits:

Intro Music: Aravind Murali and Jaishankar, mixed at ‘Music from The Place’

Transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman

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Couch Talk 186 with Mike Hussey

Winning Edge Cover-1Former Australian batsman Mike Hussey talks about his new book “Winning Edge: Behind the scenes of elite cricket”, his coaching philosophies, the change in T20 batting approaches, and the various captains he’s played for, amongst other things.

The book is available here: AMAZON LINK

 

Download the episode by clicking here or listen to it on SoundCloud.

Read the entire Transcript.

The podcast first appeared on ESPN Cricinfo.

Subscribe to Couch Talk:  iTunes    Sound Cloud   TuneIn Radio  Stitcher Radio

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Enjoy.

Credits:

Intro Music: Aravind Murali and Jaishankar, mixed at ‘Music from The Place’

Transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman

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Couch Talk 185 with Graeme West, WI U-19 Coach

westWest Indies U-19 side’s coach Graeme West talks about moulding a side of young individuals from the different regions of the Caribbean as a unit, the game plans, the Keemo Paul Mankading incident and the fall-out from it, and looks ahead to the future of the under-19 players, among other things.

 

Download the episode by clicking here or listen to it on SoundCloud.

Read the entire Transcript.

The podcast first appeared on ESPN Cricinfo.

Subscribe to Couch Talk:  iTunes    Sound Cloud   TuneIn Radio  Stitcher Radio

RSS Feed

Enjoy.

Credits:

Intro Music: Aravind Murali and Jaishankar, mixed at ‘Music from The Place’

Transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman

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Should ICC Events be even hosted in India?

No

Omnishambles. That’s what the run up to and the qualifying phase of World T20 2016 being held in India currently has been. It took forever to announce the schedule and the venues. It took even longer for the tickets to go on sale, with their own restrictions. Even as of now, we do not know whether Pakistan will take part in the event. The venue for the India v Pakistan game (Men’s) has already been changed from Dharamsala to Kolkata.

It’s an ordeal to plan for cricket matches (Tests/ODIs/T20Is) held in India. Not till the last moment does one really know the actual dates, venues and the ways to procure tickets. The BCCI and the local associations are both to blame for the continued shitshow surrounding cricket events in India since times immemorial. I have traveled to India several times in the last few years and it is always a close-run thing with respect to tickets especially.

As it is, the fan experience in Indian Stadiums is easily the worst I have endured in my time of watching cricket around the world. The security is mind-boggling and unreasonable. There are hardly any decent concession stands and the comforts of the fans – in their seats and in the toilets – never seem to have figured in the Indian administrators’ minds. Really, why would they care? Their revenue is primarily predicated on TV and that, they have covered. So whether anyone comes to the grounds or what the experience of the few that actually make it is none of their concern.

To all that, add in the further complication of Pakistan in an ICC event. During the 2011 World Cup, Pakistan played all their games in Sri Lanka except for one game in Dhaka (vs WI) and vs. India in Mohali, which was the semifinal. With the 2016 WT20 exclusively in India, Pakistan were scheduled to play a minimum of 4 games (+Warm up matches) on Indian soil. That was always going to be a problem, and it has been proven to be so.

For the 2015 World Cup held in Australia & New Zealand, I booked my tickets for many first round games and knockout games including the final at MCG a year in advance. I even planned an entire world trip culminating at the World Cup final and pulled it off.

So, to get back to the question posed in the title of this post, the answer, again, is No. If this leads to a slight loosening of BCCI’s grip on cricket and ICC, it will be most welcome. In fact, I wish that PCB actually pull out of WT20 2016, and if that happens, the guaranteed loss in revenue for the broadcasters STAR Sports (read in a news report somewhere it could be in the ball park of 30-40%) might actually push the BCCI to do things the right away here on.

England, Sri Lanka, South Africa and to an extent Australia provide very attractive alternatives as hosts for ICC events, with timings that work for the billion-plus strong cricket following in the subcontinent. As of now, Champions Trophy 2021 and ODI World Cup 2023 are scheduled to be held in India. I for one sincerely hope that the goings on of WT20 2016 actually propels the decision makers (ICC, Member boards and the broadcaster) to shift those tournaments away from India. It will be great for cricket and more importantly, the fans.

 

“No” image from: http://neenjames.com/

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