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Pitch Imperfect

September 18, 2003

Satyajit Mojumdar: Great article..thank you. Wish the crickerati in our country had more sense when it comes to preparing our teams for bouncy foreign tracks. and yes you can use the word crickerati if you want to..

Vijay Ujjini: I have been following cricket and the back door processes through your pen. Living in Dallas, I have not almost lost touch with the game when a friend advised me to read your work. Blunt and true your writings have
encompassed me. I am a huge fan of your articles.

Rajkrishna Sreeram: I agree with you. After 4 days of challenger cup and around 1500 runs later,  all we get  is few more middle order batsmen like Sriram, Badani and Rohan Gavaskar. Where  are they going to fit in the already packed middle over positions? We are no closer to task of finding an opener. If only if it was green top, we could could have known which of the openers would be able to last a session in Australia. (I am optimistic).

By playing in such pitches our seamers will continue to either bowl short or full and get hammered in australia. Call it drastic, and I am ashamed to suggest it, maybe we also need  some foreign curators! otherwise the Board has come with a formulae of 300 plus track for the one days  and tracks that assist spinners from the second day. This will kill Indian cricket. We will end up with batsmen who can't score  and bowlers  who can't adapt to the conditions outside India. We know what happened in Hockey when we failed to adapt to Astro Turf.

BTW, what happened to pitch committee and foreign soil experts who were design the pitches????????

Prem: Actually no, we don't need foreign curators -- the guys in Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, and Mohali will do you any kind of pitch you require, up to and including blazing hot tracks.

Between Faisal and I, we've spoken to most of the curators in the country; the concensus has been contempt for the so-called initiatives. One and all, they said the same thing -- we don't need foreign experts to teach us how to make good pitches if, before each match, the board and the management comes out there and shaves it bald with a Gillette razor.

Do you remember that brilliant British television serial, Yes Minister? In the first segment, there is this classic comment to the effect of 'The less you really intend to do something, the more you should talk about doing it. It is called the law of diminishing marginal relevance.'

Pranu Bhargava: Great to read something from you again on cricket. But as I read your column I realized you would be just the perfect person to speak to with regards to my suggestion/question. :-)

I am sure you are bombarded with tons of emails such as these from people wondering how we can watch cricket here in the US.

Perhaps this warrants a section on rediff that shows the possible broadcasts (online as well as TV) in various regions of the world?

Anyway more the point of my mail - any clues if we on the east coast of the US would be able to obtain this winters cricket from India? And then perhaps more importantly the series in Australia?

Prem: Point taken, Pranu, we'll try and put together that guide to broadcasts well ahead of the upcoming season. As to your question, you know what, I am hoping to find some answers myself -- it is either that, or watch NFL on TV. Am trying to find out, and if anyone out there knows, appreciate some info.

Shom Biswas: You have said in your article ... "to have quality Indian coaches working with Wright as his assistants"

Ha, naïve guy ! You think the above would ever work? Crazy? Look, Wright is a Pro. None of the ones who would be chosen to be Wright's assistants would even be dreaming to be ones. They would be interested in the assistantship only as a means to be the Coach of the Indian team. And yes, improvements would come, definitely in the form of a scientific training regime etc etc, but the real problems, those of the inability / unwillingness to call a spade a spade in front of the Maai-Baaps in the selection committee and petty regionalism….

Could they stop? As in, take for example Sandip patil. Patil did a good job with the Kenyans because he is a professional coach there. In India, he is an ex-player, a mumbaikar, a man desparate to hold on to his post by hook or by crook (and oh yeah, the crook is easier than a hook, options being: a) butter up the selectors and you are retained for a respectable while, results be damned; b) do the rightful, get the right results ... [Nobody can be sure of that, cricket has not changed from being the game of glorious uncertainties ...] and you are retained albeit grudgingly) etc etc etc.  The problem, sadly, would remain.

Boss, what we need is to convince the ex-players and the likes that coaching national/ international/ county/club sides is a good / worthwhile profession. A profession. Not a way to earn some fast bucks after you have retired from active cricket, but a fulltime after-cricket profession. Let the noble ideas of coaching and imparting the knowledge which they have learnt and assorted blahblahblah be trashed, and coaching as a means to make the daily bread (ok, not really, but nearly at least) be taken up.

Or rather, don't get into the shit and keep to the foreigners.

BTW, really liked quite a few of your articles over the years... Keep up the good work, dude.

Prem: Actually, the fact that our coaches never did stand up to players or to the administration was, in large part, responsible for why Indian cricket went downhill so rapidly -- so in that sense, point well taken.

But the flip side of the argument is this: The single biggest reason why our coaches in the past sucked up to the senior players and to the establishment was precisely because they were not trained pros. Compounded by the fact that the administration did not accept the merit of a professional coach, and figured it could pick any name out of any zonal hat and name that person to do the job -- after all, lots of hats, lots of names, around, so they were sure demand would never outstrip supply.

That mindset has changed. Players -- who got fed up to the back teeth of coaches who did everything but coach -- were the ones who arm-twisted the board and demanded that a pro be given the job; hence, Wright.

Now, it is accepted -- by players and administration alike -- that you need a professional coach. So -- and here I am getting into the realm of hope -- if Indian coaches come up to professional standards (incidentally, even now, there are at least three blokes who are Level 3 qualified), it gives you more options in picking coaches. Wright, you have to keep in mind, is one of those rare guys who did not bargain re money and facilities -- you should have seen the kind of demands the others in contention made at the time.

Sooner or later, Wright is going to go. You are not likely to get too many others who have his level of commitment coupled with expertise -- AND willingness to work for reasonable pay, as opposed to milking Indian cricket for whatever they can get. That is when you are going to need choices closer to home.

The other aspect of this is, if I am not a professional, I know my standing depends on buttering up a lot of people. But a pro won't do that -- if he is good, he gets the confidence of standing up for what he wants, even if it means arguing against the powers.

So hey, it CAN happen. Granted there is a degree of naivete built into that hope -- but I seem to remember that back in 1996, 1997, when I was doing those match reports and camp reports and such on a regular basis, harping on this theme of getting a good professional coach from abroad; at the time, if I recall, readers thought that was a pretty naive wish to entertain.

I guess the point is, today's naive hope could become tomorrow's reality -- if everyone pushes hard enough to make it happen. And now that is REALLY naive! :-)

Rahul Sandil: you might not remember me - i was one of the countless guys sending you email and listening to your broadcasts when rediff radio was broadcasting the world cup.

Anyways - welcome to the usa - also i had extended an invitation to you to visit houston during the world cup days and i would like to reinstate that invite. Houston is a vibrant desi town with lots of things to do and see.

Also you have quite a few fans here - look forward to reading more of your articles and hoping to hear from you.

Prem: Thanks for the invite, Rahul; I intend to visit Houston anyways, one day soon, will keep this in mind.

Mohit Bhargava: Your article, as always, brings many important things into view. Here is my
little piece...

John Wright has shown what it takes to be a successful professional. He roped in the past greats to work with the team. This is exactly what successful people do: hire or rope in people with better skills than themselves.

What Bishen Singh Bedi needs to be told is that we cannot have players play like in the old days or travel in the bullock carts. If we were still using the bullocks and horses to move people around, we would be wading in animal shit considering the world population. Things have to change from time to time according to the needs!

Thanks for coming back to reporting cricket.

Raghuvansh Gadamsetty: ... In fact, if a batsman were to score runs -- even, say, a 50 -- in testing conditions in course of such a tournament, its value would be incalculable; the selectors would know that he has what it takes to cope even in adverse situations, and will likely cash in big time if he finds himself on a good wicket....

This is where they screwed up the case of VVS Laxman' selection for the ICC World Cup mentioning that Laxman' runs were lesser than Mongia's.

Morons!! How could they put Laxman' runs against WI in WI and the ones Mongia made against Zim in India on the same measuring scale (esp. when the World Cup venue is outside India)?

Srikant Nathella: Truly, New York City and the US experiences of physical and metaphysical nature reflect in UR writings now.

The golf metaphors, the softer and more cultured nature of critical evaluation and discussion, why even UR casual, yet natural sign off clearly differs from Prem Panicker's scribbles from Mumbai.

Nothing right or wrong in absolutes in either versions.  Like the spirit and intent of both which are same yet.  Just an observation....

Prem: :-) I don't know if it is NYC, or the fact that distance -- which reportedly lends enchantment to views -- also takes the hard edge off feelings. I mean, when you are in India, and watching the various bungles at close quarters, you react with a certain mix of rage and despair. Here, the immediacy is somewhat diluted; plus, you are not writing to deadline at the rate of one or more pieces a day; you can actually afford to sit back, engage in a wider dialogue, write when you actually want to. Could all combine, I guess, to create a more mellow mindset?

Or then again, mebbe I am just getting old. *L*

Kartikeya Date: This is with regards to your article on the challengers.

I have the following observations to make.

1. If you check the stats in both Test and ODI cricket, it is the bowling which has been our Achilles heel overseas. So getting a bowler to bowl on helpful wickets and taking a bagful of wickets would be misleading as it would make a mediocre bowler look good. Having flat batting wickets (of exactly the same type as they have in ODI's all over the world these days.. "belters") is the perfectly obvious thing to do. If you find a bowler who does well in these conditions against the first string India batsmen, then youll know that youve found a decent bowler....

2. The wickets for the first 2 games werent dead "flat".... Balaji was able to move the ball whenever he pitched it up.

3. The Challengers were meant this year for getting the senior India players to match fitting. The Irani Trophy has the same purpose, because we have had a long layoff unlike last year.

4. The tone of youre article suggests that you badly wanted to abuse the selector..... and youre argument is quite flawed in cricketing terms. Preparing bad wickets which offer excessive seam movement or excessive turn is a bad idea as ive explained above.

5. The rest of youre article concentrates on Bedi..... this is old hat, and isnt conveying anything.

6. So youre article is full of judgements which are quite derisive and based on false premises.

Youre journalist Mr Sharif seems to have asked that question about the "type of wickets" to the selectors, after having made up his own mind that flat batting wickets were a bad idea. In  this regard, I have the following 2 questions...

1. If he had already made up his mind, then why did he speak to the selectors? Also, why was the type of wickets referred to the selectors? Its the groundsman who has the biggest say along with the captain and coach doesnt he? In my view thats extremely poor cricket journalism.

2. Also, as i said, the wickets from the first game onwards werent exactly flat, and if you havent seen the challenger games yourself, on what basis do you write derisive articles about selectors?

Youre misleading people about selectors etc... by showing them deliberately in a unnecessarily negative light. The basis for youre criticism is debatable...... and in any case, such writing about responsible people should be avoided.

I have always had a high regard for rediff's cricket coverage.

Please be more careful in the future.

PS... Im sorry if ive been rude, but i feel very strongly about this. I find that most reports and articles about cricket are of extremely poor standard, present a poor commentary, and interested more in people bashing. And i think its not good for either journalism or cricket that such things should happen. Have you ever wondered how easily the words "shame", "failure", "spineless", "gutless" etc are used in cricket matches?

This kind of journalism can be extremely dangerous as events in Mohammad Kaifs house showed.... You might say that thats condemnable, but its articles like these which unnecessarily attack individuals in a very low manner which eventually boil over into attacks like this.

And if as in this case, the cricketing aspect of what youre saying is eminently debatable, shouldnt you atleast refrain from accusing people?

Anyways, if you think im out of line, please feel free to point this out to me...

Hoping for a reply.....

Prem: No, you are not out of turn in saying what you think, even if all you are saying is a certain article is crap.

I have a point of view, I speak it; you have one, you articulate it -- which is what dialogue is supposed to be all about, so no hassle.

About the bowlers versus batsman thing, again, it depends I guess on the POV -- from where I sit, I seem to recall that time and again in recent years -- in the West Indies, in New Zealand, in England to name just three -- our bowlers bowled us into potentially match-winning positions, and our batsmen abdicated the responsibility; almost invariably, those incidents happened on wickets that were not brute fliers, but did offer a fair measure of challenge.

Hence my point, that you need -- away from the pressures of international cricket -- to make sure your batsmen get a taste of wickets that offer more than a test of how long you are willing to stand out there in the sun and belt the ball wherever you fancy.

As I said -- my view.

Later, guys -- hopefully, see you back in here tomorrow, same time, with more from me, and from you.

Also read:
Where's the marketing genius?
- How the challengers fared
- Make the Challenger challenging
- Of selection and omission

Previous blog: What's the point in the Challengers?

Your Responses: Part one

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