Category Archives: India

We’re back! / Twenty20 and its dependence on football

So, after the bane of University work hindering my chances of writing, I’m pleased to say that for the foreseeable future at least, The Sight is in End will finally resume its normal service.

The reason why I haven’t written much is that I didn’t want to hastily churn something out that I wasn’t particularly happy with, simply to keep having content on the blog. Now, that may seem counter-productive since yes, a blog should be updated regularly in order to keep its audience et ceteras, but I’m not a fan of that school of thought.

Let it come to pass that if it means taking weeks out and then writing one or two decent things, then that’ll do me (and hopefully, you). Anyway, I’ve gone on too much.

Before this year, I bet hardly anyone had heard the name Allan Stanford. A multi-billionaire Texan who has been based in Antigua for over two decades, in 2005 he announced he would set up an inter-Caribbean Twenty20 tournament in the hope that he could use the format to revitalise West Indian cricket, and therefore becoming one of cricket’s most important in the process.

Three years later, and Stanford has done just that. Australia had Kerry Packer; India have the deflated ICL creator, Kapil Dev; now England and the WI have their own equivalent.

Stanford promises $10 million Twenty20 matches between a West Indies All-Star XI and England, as well as tournaments at Lord’s that would allow two additional Test playing nations to compete alongside the WI and England, have wooed the ECB into taking him incredibly seriously. All this talk has allowed him to become the man at the heart of the English equivalent to the IPL.

Stanford has promised substantial financial backing for an English-equivalent, providing it arrives within the next two years. After that, he says, the opportunity will have disappeared.

For an English IPL to happen, it’s likely that for Twenty20, counties will have to amalgamate, with Lancashire, Yorkshire and Durham theoretically put together to form a Northern side. I would have loved to have seen Geoff Boycott’s reaction to that.

However, the often ECB attitude of cynicism and ignorance seems to have been put aside; and as seen with the BSkyB Test-match deal, money is the subject that always pricks their ears (don’t let me stop you using the Joe Orton anagram in “ears”, by the way).

All this promise of millions on single matches is nothing when you think that when the English IPL eventually comes to fruition, he could be tapping into a worldwide market worth around $500 million. Twenty20, Stanford says, has the potential to become the biggest game in world sport, surpassing football in the process.

They sound like the remarks of a deluded idiot willing to gamble millions; but with the support of the Asian sub-continent, he could have a point.

Yet Stanford’s talk of overtaking football is forgetting one thing: that Twenty20 is clinging to football. As well as the game itself being easily digestible and over in a couple of hours, it’s everything else that surrounds it that makes you realise that Twenty20 depends on today’s version of football in order to advance. The examples aren’t implicit either — they’re down right blatant.

The TV presentation, the red tunnels, the floodlights, the glamour, the kits made by Reebok and Adidas and Nike, the LED advertising boards, cricketers marketed as stars and given a ‘bought’ through an auction, and the use of the footballing lexicon (Indian Premier League) and talk of a Twenty20 Champions League (that will probably have its own classically-inspired theme-tune (with a hint of tabla) featuring”The Champions!” sung in English, English (with a hint of Caribbean), Afrikaans, Bangla, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Sinhala and Tamil).

This is all rhetoric, and the effect of it can be seen by how the IPL is a serious plaything for the wealthy akin to the Premier League. Not only have the fans succumbed to the rhetoric, but the wealthy Bollywood stars and millionaires have as well — and how. Football, or specifically the Premier League, has made sport the ultimate plaything that can yield profit and bring more publicity for them.

It seems that where football is going, Twenty20 is following. Whether it could be the other way round in years to come? Doubt it.

David.

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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Cricket, ECB, England, English Premier League, India, Indian Cricket League, Indian Premier League, IPL, Kerry Packer, Opinion, Sport

Legends Show Their Fallibility Down Under

On another momentous day of sport in Australia, a couple of sporting institutions, who we could have been forgiven for thinking were no longer operating on the level of ordinary mortals, were given a reminder of just how precarious their lofty perches really are. One just about hung on for safety, but another was brought crashing down to earth.

The Australian cricket team, an all-conquering group of national heroes, set off in pursuit of history at the third test in Perth. Having come through the controversy-laden second rubber in Sydney with a record-equalling 16th consecutive victory, a new breed of Aussies were out to raise again the standard set by their predecessors.

If anyone was going to stop the Australians in their tracks it would have to be India; the one team which has consistently given the world champions a headache in an era of dominance stretching back almost twenty years.

The Indians went into this game with even more motivation than usual to try and turn the formbook over of course, with a strong feeling of resentment in their camp after the ‘race-row’ fall out of Sydney, and with a healthy amount of national pride to recover for their army of followers back home.

Despite the sideshow though, surely a team of world-class competitors like the Indians needed nothing more than the opportunity to upset the odds and bring a halt to a sporting juggernaut to get them fired-up. I think this is why we saw no return to playground antics as India stormed to a 72 run victory in Perth; this wasn’t about exacting a childish revenge, this was just a team knuckling down to serious sporting business.

The Australians are already looking back on this game regretting that they were caught committing the sin that threatens to bring every era of sporting superiority to its end – complacency. The most consistent feature found in any individual or team that reigns supreme in their arena is that they never forget the basics; they never come into a contest without the raw materials that have sustained their power.

The WACA ground in Perth has always been known for a pitch that fast bowlers would like to dig up and carry around with them, and yet you would have to look a long way back through the records to find the last time Australia selected a team to play there that didn’t contain a specialist spinner.

Granted, this could be down to the fact that Shane Warne has been no ordinary spin bowler, and certainly not someone who would ever be dropped because a pitch didn’t suit him, but the more knowledgable observers are aware that the presence of any test-standard slow bowler offers a bowling attack the crucial element of variety, as well as a ‘plan B’ to fall back on should the original pitch analysis prove inaccurate. Australia ignored this piece of received wisdom and paid for it, as their old nemeses Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman once more tormented their seamers.

The Australians were forced to admit their error when turning to the inadequate spin of Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke during both Indian innings’. In a deliciously ironic twist, both these batsmen, when charged with saving their team’s proud record in the second innings, were dismissed by Anil Kumble, the only specialist spinner playing in the match.

Meanwhile over in Melbourne, another apparently unbeatable sporting luminary was made to appear human. The last time Roger Federer lost in a Grand Slam before the semi-final stage was in the 2005 French Open, on the clay surface that he is yet to conquer. The last time Federer lost any match in one of the three majors in which he is undisputed master was in the semi-final of the 2005 Australian Open. To find the last instance of Federer being defeated before the semi-final stage of one of his favourite slams, you have to go back to the US Open of 2003.

In short, to say that the talented young Serbian Janko Tipsarevic was an outsider for his third round match against the world no.1 would be putting it mildly. Tipsarevic, despite being ranked only 49th in the world, is already highly regarded in the game and seen as a sure-fire future top ten player, but any expert would have considered him some way out of his depth against the genius of Federer.

So, when Tipsarevic took the first set on a tie-break, he was showing the potential that everyone knows he has, but it was surely just a brief blip for Federer. When the second set also went to a tie-break, the champion was a game away from going two sets down, yet there was no real concern, and he came through to level it.

Federer would undoubtedly run away with it now, went the considered view; and an early break for Roger in the third seemed to confirm this as true. When Tipsarevic then took the third set after coming back to break the champ twice, the question had to be asked again: “Are we worried about Federer?” Not really, he’d been in such positions before, he was still a strong favourite. And so it proved as the fourth set quickly went to Federer 6-1. Tipsarevic had given us a great game, but the final set was surely to prove a formality for the champion with all that grand slam experience behind him.

As the final set reached five-all, six-all, seven-all and eight-all, and the match moved beyond the four-and-a-half hour mark, the penny finally began to drop for the disbelieving audience that Tipsarevic had not read the script. By the end of the match, Federer was no longer the indestructable force striking cold fear into his opponent as he prowled the baseline; instead he was merely one of two prizefighters, bruised and exhausted by the battle, slugging it out to the bitter end.

When that end finally arrived, it was Roger Federer that was still standing. Just. At 10-8 in the final set, Janko Tipsarevic, who must have matured the equivalent of several years during these few hours, finally conceded defeat to probably the greatest player his sport has ever seen. On this occasion however, when his talent and genius for once wasn’t enough to see him through, Federer prevailed with the will of a champion. Not something that he usually has to rely on in the third round of a grand slam.

Tipsarevic walked off a loser, but having given everyone, most of all Federer, a glimpse of what we can expect from him in championships to come. After all, only Rafael Nadal has even looked like he was meant to share a court with Federer in a grand slam in the last 3 years. It is also worth recalling that Federer reduced the 2007 Australian Open to a procession, winning the trophy without dropping a set. That is an indication of Tipsarevic’s achievement in taking the great man to the brink.

We are lucky to live in the era of the great Australian cricketers and the legendary Roger Federer; to be able to enjoy their skills is our privelege, and we should grasp every opportunity to do so. To see these champions challenged, or even beaten, however, is a rare treat indeed. It serves to remind us all that no one is infallible, and it is that knowledge that keeps every sport healthy in times of domination.

Jamie.

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Filed under Andrew Symonds, Anil Kumble, Australia, Australia v India Cricket Row, Australian Open, Comment, Cricket, India, Opinion, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Sport, Tennis

The buck now stops with Ponting and Bucknor

Being an England fan, I think it was difficult to at first acknowledge the role of Ricky Ponting in the Harbhajan affair. After all, England, in a time that seems so long ago, overcame sledging etc in the 2005 Ashes Series by playing them at their own game. Of course, it didn’t work just over a year ago in the Australian backyard.

Becoming so accustomed to that type of behaviour, it now seems natural — ‘The Spirit of the Game’ transformed; the “anger” Nasser Hussain called for the England team. The persistent appealing towards two underwhelming umpires (in the case of Bucknor, one consistently underwhelming umpire) at first masked by the racism row, is now beginning to be realised. Gamesmanship is now the issue, with Harbhajan taking a back-seat. Even notable Australian-based cricket journalists such as  Peter Roebuck are calling for his sacking.

Steve Bucknor, who was to umpire the third Test in Perth, is now no-longer doing so, and has been replaced by Billy Bowden. Malcolm Speed, chief executive of the ICC, bowed to the pressure of India.

And, by being nocturnal and watching ND-TV on Sky (channel 513 in the UK) at 4.30am this morning, where a studio audience was drafted in and a panel who repeatedly talked about the honour of a nation being besmirched, it’s easy to understand why.

His consistent poor decision-making has stirred a nation to the point where memories of the colonial past are now coming back; views that the game of cricket cannot afford to be subjected to – again. Comments on that eponymous feature of all news channels — the ticker, were all calling for the sub-continent to form a ‘super association’ that is totally independent of the ICC. It’s all rash talk, but rash talk that will frighten the ICC.

Cricket is entering yet another shaky period. This row, as well as the ensuing impasse over England touring Zimbabwe, are making that ominous Hadlee vision a reality.

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Filed under Andrew Symonds, Australia, Australia v India Cricket Row, Comment, Cricket, ICC, India, Indian Cricket League, Peter Roebuck, Racism, Ricky Ponting, Sport, Steve Bucknor

Harbhajan race row: Could it split cricket apart?

The furore over India’s Harbhajan Singh supposedly calling Andrew Symonds a “monkey” during the second test in Sydney is escalating in confusion and intensity.

On the one side is the ICC, the body that protects the wider game from its tax-haven in Dubai; the other is India, the obsessive cricketing nation that frequently airs intention, albeit not from the BCCI, of breaking away from the establishment with its Indian Cricket League and of continued desire for more control in the game.

It may seem like exaggeration, but if this not resolved soon, it could have the potential to not just damage reputations, but to be ‘the straw that broke the camels back’, and with it splitting the cricketing world apart.

The issue now seems to transcend the role of Australia in the row, and is now concentrating more on umpires Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, and match referee Mike Procter.

For now, India have lodged an appeal and Harbhajan is free to play until it is is heard, but politics is once again threatening the game.

India are once again playing the ‘unjustly treated card’ by saying that the umpiring and refereeing was totally unacceptable, as well as stating that Australia played the game in a manner that was contrary to the ‘spirit of the game’.

Meanwhile, Australia are baffled by the whole thing, with Symonds saying that he is “surprised” about the supposed incident because there had been “no bad blood” during the series so far.

As for the tour continuing is uncertain; however, India’s assistance manager MV Sridhar believes that the tour will continue, but said that “we will await instructions from the BCCI.”

James Sutherland, chief executive of Cricket Australia, also believes that the tour will go ahead after discussing the matter with BCCI President Sharad Pawar:

“Sharad Pawar, who is the president of cricket in India, has overnight made such commitments, so that’s good enough for me. We’re looking forward to Perth now.”

This situation does bear some resemblance to the South Africa v India series in 2001, where five Indian players (including Harbhajan and Sachin Tendulkar) were suspended for ball tampering.

In this incident, which lead to the infamous Unofficial Test at Centurion, the match referee Mike Denness was lambasted by the BCCI and incurred, according to then Wisden editor Graeme Wright, “the wrath of a nation.”

Except now that is, the nation that believed was being racially discriminated, is now the believed discriminator.

In the 1982 edition of Wisden, former New Zealand captain Walter Hadlee wrote:

“The International Cricket Conference [as it was then known] represents the cricketers of the world. Its future can only be threatened if members allow themselves to be involved in politics rather than cricket.”

This is what is in danger of happening. Effergies of Bucknor, that most unlikely of hate figures, Benson and now Ricky Ponting, are being burnt on the streets of India. A political row is brewing, and the BCCI are trying to remain composed by awaiting the official ICC ruling on Harbhajan. But for now at least, the Indians are adamant and once again feel discriminated.

Time will tell whether this could be that proverbial piece of straw.

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Filed under Andrew Symonds, Australia, Australia v India Cricket Row, Comment, Cricket, ICC, India, Indian Cricket League