Transcript: Short Jabs Episode 3

Short JabsShort Jabs Cricket Podcast: Episode 3 (Download)

Guests: Mahek Vyas, SidVee, Andrew Nixon

Blog Recommendation

[Click on the links to jump to the segments right away]

Mahek discusses the recently concluded Ranji season, Andrew vents about the ICC and the unequal treatment of the Associate nations and, Sid talks on the end of an era with the passing of Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Frank Keating.

Opening Spell

MahekSubash Jayaraman (SJ): Welcome to Short Jabs, Mahek.

Mahek Vyas (MV): Thank you, Subash. This is my first time here and I hope I do justice to you for having invited me.

SJ: Well, I have no hope of that.

The Ranji Trophy season for 2012-13 just ended with Mumbai winning it for the 40th time beating a somewhat depleted Saurashtra side missing the services of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja. What did you make of the finals itself?

MV: It was along expected lines in that both teams were missing couple of key players. Saurashtra, as you mentioned, Pujara and Jadeja, and Mumbai were missing Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. Mumbai have a lot more depth than Saurashtra, so it was expected that Saurashtra would struggle, with this being their first time in the final and Mumbai being the masters of this tournament. It is sad because this tournament is being treated like a stepchild by the board [BCCI]. You’d think they would want the top players to be playing in the latter stages of the competition, and it’s a knock out format. Just a couple of bad days might see a team go out the tournament the way it was with Uttar Pradesh [in quarterfinal] and Punjab [in the semifinal].

SJ: This time there was tweak to the set up in that there were three groups, Group A, B & C, in stead of the two divisions (Elite and Plate) last year. Your take on the tweak and also on having 3 teams from Group A, 3 teams from B and 2 from C being selected for the knockout stage?

MV: Earlier, we used to have 15 teams in Elite and 12 in the Plate divisions. What happened this year is that 3 of the top teams from Plate division were sort of promoted to the Elite and became part of group A or group B. Group C has all the remaining teams from Plate division. So in effect, they haven’t changed the groupings but increased the number of teams in the top tier from 15 to 18. That’s my take on it.

If they were going to make three groups what they should have done was, out of 12 Plate teams from last year, put 4 in each group. That would have made all three groups equal.

SJ: In my opinion, what this tweak has done is that it allows a team to play all the other 8 teams in their group, rather than be part of a larger group of 15 teams and play only certain number of teams. This could then allow for luck of the draw and allow certain teams to play some easier opposition than others within the same division. Perhaps, there is value to both options…

MV: The move to having 3 groups is definitely a good one because you extended the regular season, if you want to call it that, and instead of playing just 6 games in the round robin stage, to 8 games for every team.

SJ: The move to 3 groups makes the entire competition a bit more competitive than the previous seasons, doesn’t it?

MV: Yes, it does. Although it can be a bit fairer if the Plate teams were divided equally in to the three groups. Now the issue is that a player like Rishi Dhawan or Shaabaz Nadeem, who play in Group C, he’s given a good performance, but when it comes to selection for the national team or for the side games against Australia, his performances won’t be considered on par with others [from Group A & B], because Group C is weaker. It is no fault of the player. He has sort of hit a glass ceiling.

SJ: What are your opinions on the point system itself? There has been slight modification…

MV: It has only been in one season. So, to say the new point system has worked or hasn’t, would be premature. Although, if you were look at the percentage of results from this season, they were the same as last season, and even from couple of seasons before that. Interestingly, ever since the BCCI ditched the zonal format for Ranji in 2002, for the first 7 seasons, the lowest result percentage was 48% (~ 1 in 2 games had outright results) and since 2009, that percentage is about 40% (2 in 5). The drop was sudden. It was quite consistently around 50% for 7 seasons and all of a sudden, it came down to 40% in 2009. The only thing that had changed from those 7 seasons was that, back then, the winners and finalists weren’t given automatic top seeding in the knockout games. What it means is that, if you won the Ranji this year, you only had to finish in the Top 3 in the group and you’d automatically be given the top seeding and you’d face a much weaker opposition in the knock out. That sort of disincentivizes you from trying to score more points by pushing for more outright wins.

SJ: Looking back on the performances of the teams itself, Punjab from group A [4 ins and 2 losses] and Uttar Pradesh from group B [4 wins and no losses] were the outstanding teams in the round robin stages. Services were the surprise of the season. Another thing that pops from the table is the Mumbai had only 1 win in the group stage but went on to win the entire thing. Where does that leave us?

MV: There has been a lot of talk about how legitimate Mumbai’s championship win is, and I agree with people that say, “You can’t blame them for it. They don’t make the rules.” But the problem here is that the rules have been made in such a way that you can pretty much cruise through the group stage and make the knock out, and if one or two players hit form, and you’re a bit lucky, you’re going to have a good chance of winning the championship.

And when you don’t even need an outright win to win a knockout game, that’s a problem. I believe a couple of people have talked about the futility of a knockout match decided on first innings lead.

SJ: Okay. Let’s end this with one last question: Your take on the season gone by, the changes to the format and the tweaks to the point system you’d like to see?

MV: I’d definitely say that the move to having 3 groups of 9 teams was a step in the right direction. One thing I’d like to change is that instead of having the 2 top groups of equal strength, have all 3 groups of equal strength. 3 of the 9 teams in group C would go in to group A, and 3 to group B, and 3 teams each from group A and B, would be moved to group C.

I’d also completely do away with the 1st innings lead points. Since the Ranji trophy is considered to be the feeder system to the squad for the international game. In international [Test] cricket, there are no points for 1st innings lead. You only have a win, loss, draw and tie. So, I’d go with the same format for the domestic cricket as well. You’d have 0 points for a loss, 2 points each for a draw – it doesn’t matter who gets the 1st innings lead, 6 points for a win, 7 or 8 points for an innings win or a 10 wicket win.

I wouldn’t have knockout matches. Instead, I’d have top 2 teams from each group going in to the final round and then, they would play each other. Teams from group A will play teams from B & C, so on and so forth. Points would carry over from the first round. So you have points accumulated from the 8 round robin games, and you will also have 4 more matches for teams that made to the 2nd round, and so you have points accumulated over 12 matches. Whoever finishes on top after the 2nd round, will be the winner. There is no sense in having a knockout stage because it is a farce if you’re going to award points based on 1st innings lead in the knockout stage. If you want tiebreakers for teams finishing on same number of points after the 2nd round, team with more wins obviously be placed higher. If the number of wins is equal, team with more inning wins will be placed higher. So getting tiebreaker isn’t an issue.

SJ: Okay. Thanks a lot for coming on the show, Mahek.

MV: Thanks a lot Subash. Thanks for inviting me.

SJ: Pleasure.

Six Minutes with SidVee

sidveeSubash Jayaraman (SJ): Welcome to the show Sid.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan (SV): Hi Subash, it’s nice to be back.

SB: It’s my pleasure having you again.

In the past few weeks, two of the biggest names in cricket reporting & writing passed away – Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Frank Keating. With that, it seems like we have moved on from an era, doesn’t it?

SV: Sure, definitely, it is a passing of an era. Both CMJ and Keating covered cricket for many, many years. They had differing styles; Keating was much more a profile writer who got close to the players, who tried to get in to the personality of the players, CMJ was the more astute cricket observer who was very precise with his match reports and his commentary. It is a passing of an era because I don’t think we will find writers of that style and fiber in the future as cricket reporting and writing itself has drastically changed.

SB: Has the torch been passed on to this current generation? Are there any writers of that style or have we completely moved away from it?

SV: Well, I think there definitely are aspects of that style that has been picked up. If you see someone like Michael Atherton, his match reports, in some ways, the precise and careful observations, you can compare to CMJ in certain ways. But the way cricket reporting and writing has changed, it will make it very difficult to get two writers of that style and caliber.

CMJ and Keating went on long tours, spread over a period of months, and at the end of it, wrote books about it. It wasn’t as if they wrote books by collecting the articles at the end of the tour but they actually sat down and wrote tour books. I think that style of writing and that pace of writing has been considerably altered. It is much faster pace now, there is one series after another and even though you get tour books now, it is mostly a collection of tour articles. Very rarely you see a journalist coming back [from the tour], sitting down and spending a few months, writing about the tour in a fresh way. I think that style and that quality of observation has gone down for sure.

SB: The way cricket is being consumed, especially in the last 10-15 years, surely has had an impact on how people approach writing?

SV: Sure. Absolutely. I think there are two major factors that have made a difference. Keating and CMJ started off in a period when Television coverage of cricket wasn’t that big. There wasn’t ball-by-ball coverage the way we have it now. And also, you have Cricinfo’s Statsguru, which I think has played a huge part in cricket writing. It is very rare to find a match report or an analysis piece without a statistical nugget in it, sort of an argument built around the stat. That is something CMJ and Keating would not have had at their time.

In 2007, when I was in England [during India’s tour], I remember sitting in the press box during the Test matches, CMJ was a row behind me. I used to observe what all these journalists did and I noticed CMJ, on the 2nd day of the Test match, came in and took the Times newspaper and he cut out the scorecard from the 1st day. He physically took scissors to the paper, cut it out and pasted it in his notebook. He did this for every day of the Test. At the end of the match, he had 5 scorecards pasted in his notebook. That’s the meticulous extent guys like these went over the years. These days. journalists don’t have to do that because you have the scoreboard staring at you from the Internet.

SB: You mentioned how the current lot of cricket writers is quite different from the previous era of CMJ and Keating. One stand out aspect – especially when it comes to English broadsheets – is that you have a lot of the ex-cricketers occupying those slots.

SV: Exactly. The trend is shifting in that direction in other countries as well. In England, pretty much every newspaper has an ex-cricketer as their chief writer. You have Mike Selvey, Mike Atherton, Vic Marks, and Derek Pringle etc. The Indian outlets are also going in a similar direction. You have Aakash Chopra, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly etc. Other countries are also going the same way.

Well, it is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that the insider’s perspective, that of a cricketer, is absolutely valuable, in terms of the technique, what the cricketer goes through and expertise etc. At the same time, I think people like CMJ and Keating brought something else to the table. They brought an outsider’s view, which is extremely crucial. That is also an aspect that cricket needs but is slowly dying over time.

SB: Who is responsible in ensuring that there is a good balance of insider’s view as well as a proper, trained journalistic view?

SV: Well, if you’re a TV channel, then of course, it is the producer and the top bosses. If you’re a media house, then it’s the editors and the bosses. There is a temptation to move towards ex-cricketers because they are big names, they are a brand unto themselves and it is easy to draw the audience. It is much more difficult to take a punt on an outsider. But media houses need to take that risk. They need to make sure they have that external voice because otherwise, it’s going to be like an echo chamber of ex-cricketers talking to each other.

SB: On that note, thank you SidVee. Thanks for coming on the show.

SV: Sure. Thanks Subash.

What’s bothering ’em now?

andrewnixonSubash Jayaraman (SB): Welcome to the show Andrew.

Andrew Nixon (AN): Thank you.

SJ: So, what seems to be bothering you now?

AN: It is the decision by the ICC to introduce a preliminary round to the World Twenty20. Rather than have a straight division of 16 teams in to groups as was in 2007 Cricket World Cup, they have decided to seed the top 8 Full Member nations in the first round, and a qualifying round for Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the 6 Associate and Affiliate qualifiers. It is essentially a reduction to 10 teams rather than an expansion to 16 teams. The Associate qualifiers aren’t going to get a chance to go against the big boys straightaway and they have to go through Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, no disrespect to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. It seems like another attempt by the full member nations to protect their position at the top of the game.

SJ: What would you like to see?

AN: I’d like to see straight four groups of 4…

SJ: Even with that, they are still giving the 10 full member nations a direct pass…

AN: That’s the other thing. In every World Twenty20, an associate member has finished with a better record than at least one full member. Even then, those Associate nations have to still qualify for the next tournament. This goes completely against – the ICC uses the term “meritocratic pathways”. If you get to the top on merit, you succeed on merit. Those pathways don’t seem to apply for the full members.

SJ: What do you think of the Test arena? Should it be opened up further more?

AN: I believe so. Some people think I’m being absolutely crazy. I think that every country that wishes to should be able to play Test matches.  That is how every other international sport works. FIFA don’t around telling the Faroe Islands, “Sorry, you can’t play full internationals. You can only play 5-a-side football”.  I don’t think giving Test status to every country is as radical some might otherwise think it is. The current situation is actually the radical one – actively limiting the number of nations that can play full internationals.

SJ: What direction would you like the ICC to take for the further development of the game, and encouragement of the not full member nations?

AN: It has to be a gradual process. Open up Tests to 6 more nations, perhaps to the top few Associate nations like Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland and perhaps Netherlands. Eventually, more and more nations, and may be in 10-20 years, we will have a more open game and perhaps introduce a divisional structure, where we have 6 teams that play each other over 3-4 years in a league of may be the regionals feeding to that.

SJ: All in all, how hopeful are you of any initiative that expands cricket beyond the 10 full member nations?

AN: Under the current ICC system, I don’t think there is any chance. Full members control the votes. Ten full members and 3 Associate members sit on the ICC board and the cricket committee. For anything to be overruled, only 4 full members have to vote against. So, in practice, the 3 Associate members’ votes aren’t even counted. It’s a sham of a democracy in a way. The Woolf report – which seemingly has been forgotten about – would have had an independent director sitting on the ICC board, who perhaps would have voted to progress the game rather than protect the interests of the full members. I think the full members vote to protect their own interests. To use the old cliché, “Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”.

SJ: Thanks for coming on the show, Andrew.

AN: No problem. Thank you very much.

Blog Recommendation

That concludes another episode of Short Jabs. Here is the blog recommendation of the week. Jon Hotten, on his blog, The Old Batsman, writes about the future of wicket keeping from the point of view of Twenty20s. Go read it, else Warnie will write a manifesto for your team too!