Match-Fixing Psyche of a Sports Star

By  Madhu Kshirsagar

May 2014

Eartphoto-2h provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed – Mahatma Gandhi.

What drives a successful sports person to match-fix? Isn’t all the adulation, awards, accomplishments and enviable monetary rewards enough?

A human mind is very complex.  What else could be the driving force behind the decision of a sports star to stoop so low?  Surely it has to be greed! Is it predicated on the belief that one’s stardom is short-lived and therefore one should make hay while the sun shines?

Or is it much more than just that?

Perhaps it is also motivated by greed’s closest cousin – jealousy.  Why can’t I make as much money as the other bloke?  Why am I not as valuable?  Surely I am equally talented.

A weak minded sports person can easily fall prey to the ever expanding and viciously sticky tentacles of bookies.  The bookies seem to be able to spot and nurture the weak links and ultimately entrap them into their unethical and illegal world of sleaze.

Cricket is not an easy sport to match-fix but the underworld is relentless in pursuit.  But yes, cricket is very easy to spot-fix.  This is what most of the cricketers who have been charged and punished in the past have been found guilty of.  And tragically the offenders have come from all walks of cricketing lives from both affluent and non-affluent countries. More recently a great New Zealand player also appears to have transgressed but the jury is still out on this one.

The offenders have generally been iconic players with the cricketing world at their feet.  This is the most perplexing aspect of this whole episode. How can such great cricketers succumb to this lowly temptation?

Then there are some fringe players who get sucked into this vortex. This could be explained as greed and a desire to make as much money as possible when the going is good. They are opportunistic mercenaries and could be viewed as common thieves.

What is more complex to explain are the reasons why great cricketers who are revered world over stoop to trash their names for a few dollars.

Players who take part in fixing are not only consumed by greed but also show utter disrespect for the game.  They exhibit a dark character flaw that dictates they risk all for not very much.  Risk taking in their field of sport might have been beneficial for them in their careers, but risking all of their fame and stardom for a fist full of dollars surely demonstrates a murky fault in their psyche.

It is the same as the CEO of a multi-million dollar company who embezzles – either in a small way or substantially. This is definitely a major character flaw – what else could it be? The stolen few dollars are not going to alter his life, and yet he couldn’t help himself. But if found out, he has hell to pay! Then why do it?! Not that he is justified if the amount involved alters his life – that is a more serious crime and a different kettle of fish – albeit very similar in nature.

Some great sports personalities have also exhibited this same character flaw and are paying the price. They have to realise that the truth will out one day.  Yes, some of the dollars offered to big-time players to spot-fix appear to be considerable but it amounts to nothing when compared to what they will lose if apprehended.

One wonders how many more players are harbouring dark secrets.  It really robs the fun out of the game when one starts to suspect that something might be amiss every time a thing happens on the field that appears questionable; when in all probability it was just the natural cut and thrust of the game.  That is a tragedy!

If a player is foolish enough, or callous enough to indulge in this activity even after such immense scrutiny over the years, then he is not worth worrying about.

The offenders should not be spared and the law makers should throw the book at them.

Apart from legal punishment, nothing short of life ban is acceptable.

Should Dhoni be relieved of Test Captaincy?

By Madhu Kshirsagar

March 2014

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“The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen” – some wise man has said this, and Brendon McCullum proved it by performing his own version of cricketing miracle in pulling New Zealand to safety in the second Test played at Basin Reserve in Wellington. It was a two-match series which the Kiwis won 1-0.

Cricketing miracles do happen regularly against India, though, especially overseas. Just looking at the last few series that India have played overseas – they were thrashed in England, bashed in Australia, bruised in South Africa and, finally, humbled in New Zealand.

McCullum single-handedly rescued the Kiwis from a massive defeat in the second Test by scoring a triple hundred. He was ably assisted by Tom, Dick and Harry down the order and a good dose of indifferent captaincy from Dhoni and friendly Indian fielders. It also showed the quality of Indian bowlers overseas, especially the bowlers who bowl the faster variety. Really, I feel for the Indian batsmen who will never face Indian fast bowlers in international cricket: they will never partake of the feast that the other international batsmen enjoy.

Coming to Dhoni’s captaincy in Tests, now what can I say? If you want to write a book on Test captaincy and have a chapter on how not to captain, all you have to do is plonk down a few of Dhoni’s methods: stay aloof and disinterested behind your sunglasses, make mechanical and defensive changes, and show scant understanding of Test cricket.

There sure is more to the story of Dhoni’s captaincy than what meets the eye. There is a vast difference between Test cricket, one-day cricket and Twenty-20. There are not many cricketers who are good in all forms, and there are not many captains who understand and appreciate all the different varieties. Dhoni is no exception and my following arguments will support my view that he is a boon to Indian cricket in one-dayers and Twenty-20 both as player and a leader, but a curse in Test cricket as the leader.

Dhoni’s style of cricket, and hence his thinking and understanding of the game is second to none when it comes to the shorter versions of the game. Dhoni’s record as a player and also as a captain in one-day and Twenty-20 cricket is staggering, which includes 2 world titles. His strategy and execution in the shorter versions of the game are far superior. His calm demeanor and his body language – or the lack of it – lends a rock-like steadiness during chaotic situations that the team gets itself in often. And when he comes out to bat towards the end, he is the only person that you will put your faith in to deliver – and deliver is what he often does – in his own inimitable style: slow first and demolition later.

In short he is the most valuable cricketer for India in the shorter versions of the game.

We then come to the long version of the game: Test cricket. Here his record as captain overseas is nothing short of abysmal. Sure the fact that “a captain is only as good as the team” is something we should not forget, but strategy, incisive thinking and risk taking are also things that matter in a game.

The only flaw in his career (and show me which great cricketer does not have one) is his indifferent approach and often inaction in the Test arena as a captain. He is over defensive and also gives the impression that he is bored during the 5-day matches and lets things drift mechanically. He either does not completely understand the subtle nuances of the long version or is not interested in them.  Articles and reports would indicate that he has said as much during his early days. This in itself is not a flaw: not everyone has to like all forms of the game. In fact, I can’t imagine a captain who is or was as effective in all forms of the game as Dhoni is in the shorter version.

So what is the answer for Dhoni? Relieve him of Test captaincy? Yes.

Retain him as a player and keeper in Tests? Perhaps.

Retain him as captain for ODIs and Twenty-20s? Most definitely.

Will Test Cricket Become Redundant?

By Madhu Kshirsagar

April 2014

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How many codes of cricket are really sustainable at the same time? It is not practically possible for all varieties of cricket – Tests, one-dayers and T20s – to survive in the current form forever. Something has to give!

Judging by the enormous popularity of T20 in India, which is gradually spreading to other cricketing countries, as well, it is arguably the most attractive and the most sought-after form of the game. It is more than a game: it is a family event, a carnival and a lot of fun. As an added advantage, there is great scope for it to spread to other countries where cricket is not currently popular, as it conforms to the shorter ‘time parameters’ of most team sports in the world. I believe that it is a sporting bushfire waiting to happen.

IPL is a form of Soccer League, AFL or a NFL type event in India. This form of a tournament is the ideal recipe for creating a mass following in a cricket crazy country like India. The enormous divisions between various states and cities and the cultural and the economic differences of the North and the South can be exploited to the fullest, too. The tournament has given the young and the old a sport that they can all follow, and the rivalry is very localised within the country. It has become the water cooler topic in offices and workplaces; school children enter into healthy debates and feel a sense of belongingness, with house wives, grandpas and the grandmas also happily joining the cheer squad. Within a very short span of time, local T20 Clubs have become the talismans for their states and cities.

The craze and fanaticism generated in India during the IPL, and for the rest of the year, is something that no other sport enjoys anywhere in the world. Yes, the soccer fans are fanatical and the NFL/AFL football fans talk about nothing else, but the sheer size of the market in India has created a juggernaut of passion and fervour in the sports world. Suddenly Indians have a local club that they can all follow and brain wash their young ones and newborns into doing the same. The young ones can be indoctrinated to think and act in a certain way, and this will ensure that generations of followers will be created. The formula is so simple and so potent that it is scary! It is an intoxicating mixture of brand loyalty and sport following that is here to stay for many, many years.

On the other hand, we are looking at Test cricket – a form of the game that has existed for over 100 years and, as a result, has become tired – especially after the advent of T20 and IPL.  Yes, the dawn of one-day cricket in the 70s was revolutionary, and some predicted that Test cricket would fade away at that stage. People who used to play Test cricket, however, took to media and since then have forever been singing the praises of Test cricket. Vested interests and the lack of alternatives have kept the fires burning for at least the last 30 years.

Test cricket is a unique form of sport that is played over 5 days – it used to be 6 days and before that it used to be timeless – and therein lies the strength and also the curse of this form of cricket.  As you can see, cricket has forever tried to reduce the time period it is played over, thereby resulting in the birth of one-day cricket. Even one-day cricket is too long for the current generation and, therefore, the birth of T20. Financially, the model makes even more sense, and the Indians have lapped it up by the bucketsful!

In T20, the world has a sport to rival football. In India, they have the instant mass following and the perfect environment for the sport to thrive with divisions of all sorts between the different parts of India, and there is plenty of money for all involved in the sport. So this form of the game is well set for the next few decades at least.

What happens to Test cricket, though? The logical guess is that it will fade away in the next 15 to 20 years. If India doesn’t support Test cricket, then Test cricket will fade away sooner. Yes, there will be some who would reminisce and be consumed by nostalgia. Cricket players-turned-commentators and other vested interests will scream the loudest; but already the niche of supporters is becoming smaller, and, in another couple of decades, that niche will be so small that it would not matter.

Imagine what would happen if India increased the duration of IPL from 6 weeks to 6 months of the year and make it something like the English Premier League or Australian Football League? It will kill cricket, as we know that a sport cannot survive when 75% of its funding disappears. Cricketers from other countries will join IPL as mercenaries – as is happening to a certain extent already – and IPL will have more teams and play a longer tournament over an even more extended period of time.  So what will be the cost? Test cricket will be slowly put out of its misery.

What about one-day cricket, then? Well, I think it could be the new Test cricket! It will become the new long form of the game; however, for it to work in the long term, the authorities have to make it more attractive, as it is losing some of its gloss with the advent of T20. They can introduce 2 innings of 25 overs for a start, and this would reinvigorate the sport. It will retain a lot of the Test cricket values and nuances, albeit over a shorter time period, and this would appeal to the connoisseurs of the game to a certain extent.

Time and tide waits for no one, and the only constant thing in life is change. Time is changing, and cricket is changing with the times. The new generation has succumbed to instant gratification in all forms of life, and it could very well happen in cricket, too. Old hats will complain and will find it hard to accept the disappearance of Test cricket, but they will grudgingly change over time and start enjoying the short format. After all, Twenty20 is less about cricket and more about entertainment, rivalry, brand-loyalty and a feeling of belongingness; ask any Manchester United, NFL Cowboys or AFL Collingwood supporter what that means!

And I am sorry to say that India is creating millions of such fanatical supporters in every corner of the country, or am I really?

Politics, movies and IPL: grand entertainment in a great country! Oops, sorry for clubbing politics with entertainment. But then again, why not?