The (in)significant fans
[Disclaimer: If you are a fan of any player (playing or retired) and get offended if someone says something about him, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS ARTICLE.]
I thought adding a disclaimer is a good idea, especially after reading the comments on my previous article “Everything is not fine with Team India” which irked quite a few alleged cricket fans.
Few weeks ago, I read an article about Cricket Australia’s culture review. The reviewers highlighted two flaws and for the last few years are creating enormous pressure on the Cricket Board to get rid of them:
- The board believes in “Win at all cost” principle, and second
- The board does not consider fans as stakeholders in any way.
I am not interested in the first point mentioned. It could be one of the reason for the issues like ball tempering or excessive sledging by the Aussies, but is still debatable as the teams that do not have this culture are also found doing the same things. I am more interested in the second point mentioned; fans as the stakeholders. Considering fans as the stakeholders or giving them the right to say or influence a board’s decision is the worst thing a sports authority could do. Indian Board has always listened to the fans if not directly then indirectly (commercial benefits). May be this is the reason why Australian Team has started to look more like Team India and has also started failing like team India.
Why considering fans as stakeholders is a bad idea could very well be explained by Team India’s current predicament.
As expected, the team India lost the world cup once again. And as expected the blame game to slaughter the scapegoat has also begun. Yes, scapegoat. They are not searching for the solution; they are searching for somebody they can afford to sacrifice. Can you guess who would he be? Let me help you with the guess work. If you arrange all the people involved in the game (players and team management) in a descending order based on the number of fans or followers they enjoy i.e. the one that has the highest number of followers or fans is at the top and the one who has the least number of followers or fans comes at the bottom of the table). Tada!! You got your man, the one or a few at the bottom of the list will be held accountable for the failures of the team.
As of now, the five selectors along with Sanjay Bangar (India’s assistant coach) are the front runners in this race. A lot of people are questioning the selectors now. Yes, the selections were poor, but are the selectors to be blamed for this? No, I don’t think so. They simply don’t have the stature to say ‘no’ to a player. Just imagine a scenario where any of the selectors calling Dhoni and saying “You are not in the team for the world cup”. How would that conversation go? What would happen? Dhoni’s fans would come on the streets, flood social media with a lot of things, unnecessary controversies would erupt. I don’t know about Dhoni but Selectors would definitely be replaced. No body wants a chaos of that magnitude.
Even after the defeat his fans are coming with the questions like why was he was asked to play after DK and not at number 4 in the game against NZ. Maybe because even Dhoni knows that he is not a regular batsman and DK is. In the beginning of his career, he knew his role and nobody forced him to change anything. He was the best wicket keeper India or rather the world had ever seen, he can hit the stumps without looking at them, he can stop a late/lemon cuts just by extending his legs. He would come at around thirty fifth over and give a spectacular finish “the finisher”. That’s it. But he was never a regular batsman, he can never be. “You see the ball, you hit the ball” is not a batting technique, that is why Cricket Academies don’t teach helicopter shot, even though it is an awesome answer to Yorkers in death overs.
If you bowl a slightly over pitched ball outside off stump to a top order batsman he would drive it to the extra covers but a pinch hitter would slog it over mid on; the approach is entirely different. The over expectations of his fans to see him at number 4 forced the authorities to try him at number 4 in the different ODI series forcing him to sideline his natural slogging game. He built his career on one specific style and was asked to change the style when he was in his 30s. The end result is right in front of you. His fans who didn’t have the ability to distinguish his strengths and weaknesses are the actual reason for his poor hitting performance.
I took Dhoni’s example because he is receiving the flak for his game these days. And he is not the only one, there are, were and will be, a lot of players like him, who would succumb to the expectations of the fans. You destroyed Irfan Pathan, didn’t you? It was you who wanted him to become an all rounder. An extremely fine bowler got lost in the journey of becoming an all rounder. You would be asking the very same questions for Jadeja and Pandya, they both are pinch hitters you misread them as batsmen. Yes, I know Jadeja scored 76 this time and Pandya scored 76 in Champions Trophy final which India lost. The point is “You see the ball, you hit the ball” hitters cannot control the innings. They are not even wicket tacking bowlers. They are playing only because of India’s undying all rounder fetish. Mediocre players, who got to play international cricket just because they could bat as well as bowl.
Same goes for the assistant coach Sanjay Bangar, he played some 20 games, that’s it. What tips is he going to give Indian Batsmen or Bowlers? He simply lacks the credentials. Nineties kids would have seen him play, he was the Hardik Pandya in Indian squad from 2001-2004. To his disadvantage, there was no IPL , coffee with Karan to make him popular.
It is quite simple, just put some “Yes Sir” at critical positions and run the business as you like. If things go wrong, put everything on him. easy peasy lemon squeezy !!!
BCCI in 2015 did one of the best things it could have ever done. It introduced a transparent application process for the post of selectors. There cannot be a person better than Sachin Tendulkar for judging the batsmen. He would have an eye for the details. But he never applied for the position moreover he along with Ganguly and Laxman moved out of the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC). Simply because they would have to let go of their IPL and Commentary positions as they fall under “conflict of interest” clause. Unfortunately fans chose a god who turned out to be more selfish than an average Indian. Where are all the so called biggies of Indian Cricket? Sitting in studios, making comments after the game? What happened to the give back to the country, we are for the team? Turns out it is easier said than done. That is why Rahul Dravid is different from all other larger than the life players. He mentored and coached the under 19 team and would now be the head for National Cricket Academy. This is how a talented player should give back to the society. But it is difficult, it needs time and patience, doling out cash is so easy.
Or may be the people like Sachin and Ganguly know, how they roughed up the selectors and coaches when those people said things different to what people like Sachin and Ganguly wanted and that’s why they don’t go these confrontational but extremely important positions.
Ganguly threatened to pack his bags and come back to India in the middle of an ongoing series, just because Greg Chappell asked him to step down as a captain and focus more on his out of form batting. Sachin Tendulkar had problems with the coach because the coach wanted him to play down to order. Why would a technically sound player like Sachin have a problem playing at any specific number asked by his coach? Before I give you the answer to this question, let me ask you another question. Why couldn’t Virat Kohli score as many runs as Rohit Sharma in this world cup? Simply because he got less time on the crease as most of the time Indian openers did well. If Sachin would have played at any other number instead of opening the innings, would he be able to create the records he is now associated with? Never!! He and some other players played to become the best in the world rather than to be a part of the best team in the world. Emails don’t leak by themselves, they are explicitly leaked to bring the information in public domain so as to exploit the fan power.
A coach or a selector with good credentials can become a threat to the star players in no time.
Also read: What is India’s number 4 batsman conundrum?
If you look at the Ind Vs NZ game, only the things that fans would like to listen or could live with are being said. For instance India lost against NZ in the semi-finals because of failed batting. You could go in a lots of ifs and buts, if Rishabh Pant had not played that shot. If Dhoni came at number 4. If Shikhar Dhawan was not injured. India actually lost because of its incomplete bowling attack. After excellent first 10 overs, India literally did not have a wicket taking bowler. On the other hand once Trent Bolt and Matt Henry were done, Lockie Ferguson and Mitchelle Santner kept the same pressure with the ball. This is where India lost the game.
NZ has the weakest batting out of the top four teams, both Eng and Aus in the league matches were able to stop Kiwis below 200; at 186 and 157 respectively. India let them make 50-60 extra runs. I don’t know and don’t understand as to how and when the idea that you can win a cricket match with only two Seamers come from. You can pick any recent world cup, India never plays with more than three Seamers, if one out of them has a bad day, India loses. If you don’t have wicket taking bowlers, it does not matter how deep your batting line up is, you will always fall short of runs. Two bowlers cannot bowl all fifty overs. Now, this time I would not name the players as to who should be removed, but add two more wicket taking bowlers. Because if I do name the players, their fans would get irked and call me names. And moreover, it is not that the team is winning world cups back to back with the current template. You could support bowlers for a change. If you keep doing the same thing the same way, over and over again, you would get the same results over and over again. Wouldn’t you?
The most unfortunate part for Indian Cricket is that from the superficial view it looks like Cricket is the most followed games. However, the sad truth is that it is the most abused sports in India. People follow cricket for any and every reason but for cricket. Be it stardom, glamour, after match parties, cheerleaders, entertainment, “Kohli says Ben-Stokes in a peculiar way“, or “Pandya aaj karke aaya hai” or “Ziva is super cute” etc. etc. People today are fans of the cricketers but not the cricket. If they were, they would have been more interested in the techniques the player carries rather than the personality the player carries. And this is what worries me, losing a world cup does not change any of these. Stars would still remain the stars, paychecks would stay the same, endorsements would still keep flowing in, “Kohli would still say Ben-Stokes”, “Pandya ab bhi karke aayega”, “Ziva would still be super cute”and fans would still be fans. But you now know as to why the fans should be considered insignificant by the cricket board in India.
“Excessively commercialized era of cricket in India” is the reason for the defeat and not “45 minutes of bad cricket“. Every team has its bad moments and good moments, the only difference is that a good team recovers from its bad moments, however a weak team doesn’t. Moreover, if it was a display of good cricket, even the defeat would not sting that much.
Be a fan of cricket not cricketers, you are significant and your opinions matter!
Thanks for reading!
An FPGA/Embedded Systems Development Engineer working on ADAS / Autonomous Vehicles and interested in Indian Politics.