Thursday, August 15, 2013

The fierce urgency of now

A few days back, the always excellent Jarrod Kimber had written an insightful article about Australia's search for the next cricketing messiah. One of the themes of his article was that the elevated level of scrutiny in today's world has resulted in young (and not so young) cricketers not being given the kind of patient run that players in the past enjoyed. The media is constantly hounding and twitter is constantly buzzing, affecting both the players as well as selectors.

I remarked to Jarrod that his point about scrutiny applied to journalists as well - Cardus never wrote under the cloud of real time fact checking and "experts" all round the world streaming in with their criticisms on twitter. Jarrod agreed and he said he has seen a visible change in the press once they came on twitter.

And then Scyld Berry happened.

What was otherwise a very good article on Broad running through Australia, was scarred by the unfortunate line "Australia’s experiment with their Asian immigrant population will be shelved.”
Berry was mercilessly attacked on twitter and on the comments sections of his article. The statement was stupid at best and racist at worst (whether it was intentional or not, the statement to me did come across as racist). The line was hurriedly removed by the Telegraph, with no explanation. Who were they kidding? This action by the Telegraph provoked another round of (twitter) outrage.

Now under a sudden attack, Berry chose to write a long, convoluted explanation of that line without ever apologizing for it. And because he did it in a hurry, the explanation did much more damage to his reputation as a journalist than the original article.

First was his mysterious classification of Asian players in the English team. He chose to exclude Nasser Hussain, who was born in Chennai, but instead focused on Monty Panesar, Samit Patel and Ravi Bopara - all of whom were born in England. The only explanation he could come up with is that Nasser has an English mother (so I guess he "looks" white unlike the other three).

Moving on, he had this line about Khwaja being the first non-white player to turn up for Australia since Sam Morris in the 19th century, "broadly speaking". Ashton Agar was playing all but two tests back and Andrew Symonds, Jason Gillespie and Dav Whatmore fit any definition of non-white players, broad or narrow.

And then there was this bizarre theory about Khwaja controlling his emotions (presumably because he has had to face scrutiny all his life because he is non-white in Australia) and this control of emotions is the cause of his downfall as a batsman. I guess given Dhoni's extreme control of his emotions it is time for India to stop the experiments with their Jharkhandi population.

As with most things, the coverup is doing more damage than the crime itself. All because he did not put in the time or effort to write a well thought out and researched explanation. Everything has to be done right now.

And oh, some of my best friends are journalists.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Crisis in Cricket: A Matter of Faith

When Dhoni hit Eranga for two sixes in the last over to seal victory in the finals of the Tri-Nation series, Sri Lankan fans did not say "let's get a bowling machine, replay those two balls and have it bowl perfect yorkers to negate any helicopter shots."

When Wahab Riaz's throw was not collected cleanly by Umar Akmal on the last ball of the WI-Pak game that could have prevented a tie, Pakistani fans did not say "let's replace Umar with Kamran and replay that last ball". OK, wrong example, but you get the idea :-).

When Siddle comprehensively beat Pietersen on the drive, and in Hill's judgment there was a nick, we shouldn't be clamoring for technology (hot spot, snicko etc.) to replace what Hill thought at that moment. Pietersen was beaten - it is inconclusive whether there was a faint nick or not. A millimeter here or there for Pietersen is as much a matter of luck as Hill believing one way or the other. It is part of the game.

The needless interruptions and constant questioning of umpire's calls is creating unnecessary pressure on both the umpires as well as the players calling the reviews. It is also magnifying the honest mistakes and creating additional pressure on an already high pressure job. And most importantly, as Gilchrist has pointed out, completely destroying the flow of the game.

If Eranga keeps bowling at the wrong spots, Sri Lankan selectors will drop him and replace him with a more reliable bowler. Similarly Pakistani selectors will drop Akmal and get a better keeper in there. If Aleem Dar keeps giving the Broads of the world not out, the ICC will score the decisions with all available technology and drop him from the elite panel.

Until then, all we need is faith that Eranga/Akmal/Hill/Dar are human and trying their best, and will occasionally get things wrong.

DRS should be used for post match accountability of umpire performance, not take the focus away from the 13 people on the field actually playing the game. The 1981 and 2005 Ashes were magnificent series and all people talk about after all these years are the heroics of Botham, Willis, Brearley, Pietersen, Flintoff, Vaughn, Warne...For all we know, Clarke and his team can come back and end up tying the score 2-2 but all the twitterati will talk about is the DRS. 

That's a shame. End DRS during the games, it's not cricket. 

Have a little faith.