Thursday, November 12, 2009

FICA and the need for a Collective Bargaining Agreement - II

Alright, so after much deliberation and research I've come up with what I think is a pretty good Future Tours Programme from 2015 to 2019. The FTP has been drawn up with the following factors in mind:

1.9 test-playing nations play each other in home and away series (T20, ODI, Test) over a period of 4 years.
2.There are separate windows for IPL and Champions League so that players don't have to choose between their national side and their club. However, players have to be available for selection for atleast 75 percent of the bilateral matches their national side is part of.

3.There will be two Twenty20 World Cups (2016 and 2018) and one Champions Trophy (2017).
4.Every country apart from Bangladesh gets to host a major tournament.
5.The FTP will culminate with the Final Four of the World Test Championship and the ODI World Cup. The Final Four will be decided based on the points per test (Total points earned divided by number of tests played).
6.Every board contributes a percentage of its total revenue into a pool. The total money is then equally distributed among the national boards. The revenue from IPL and Champions League need not be shared.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Supersubs in IPL

A few years ago the ICC tried to use the supersub to spice up One-Day Internationals. The move wasn't very popular with most teams as captains didn't know how to make best use of a 12th man. To be fair to them, having to announce their supersub before the toss seemed a bit odd - Cricketers aren't the most cerebral people around and captains ended up thinking of the supersub as a nuisance.

Since the IPL is a domestic competition (Suppressed laughter) and the BCCI is very keen to provide a platform for young Indian cricketers, they seem set on having only 4 overseas players in the XI. This means there are 6 overseas cricketers who are cooling their heels in the dugout. So how about trying supersubs in the IPL?

1.Announce the XI after the toss alongwith two supersubs.
2.Indian players can only be substituted with their compatriots.
3.Overseas players can be substituted with anyone.
4.Supersub cannot bat for someone who has been dismissed.
5.Supersub can only complete the quota of overs for the player he replaces. If the player he replaces hasn't bowled, the supersub can bowl 4 overs.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Partnership Efficiency

A few months ago I was discussing the importance of rotating strike and how there was no real indicator of the efficiency with which two batsmen worked a partnership. In an ideal world, you'd want the batsman scoring faster to have all the strike. Of course the chances of that happening are worse than that of Harbhajan scoring a hundred. So maybe there could be a parameter that can tell how good the batsmen were in ensuring the one scoring faster got enough strike. I like to call the parameter "Partnership Efficiency". Simply defined, it is the ratio of balls faced by the two batsmen divided by the ratio of their strike rates. For example, if batsman A has scored 35 off 35 balls and batsman B has 42 off 50, the partnership efficiency for this pair would be (35/50)/(100/84), which is 58.8%. As a captain you could look at whether your big hitters are getting enough strike. You could also look at which pair in your side is the most efficient and ensure they get to bat together for as many overs as possible. You could also analyze how well your bowling and fielding units have done to ensure the fast-scoring batsmen in the opposition aren't getting as much strike as they should.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

FICA and the need for a Collective Bargaining Agreement - I

And so we finally have the Players' Association standing up for their rights. It was about time they did it. Maybe the Indian players will follow suit, though it seems unlikely.

Cricket is one of the few team sports which can be played throughout the year thanks to the geographical diversity of the nations participating in it. So while it may be too cold to play in Australia, South Africa or New Zealand in the months of May, June and July, teams can happily ply their trade in the Caribbean or absorb the atmosphere at the home of cricket. England might be too cold after September, but you have the subcontinent with its relatively pleasant winters to welcome international cricket.

The ICC, to its credit, has framed a Future Tours Programme (FTP) which international teams adhere to. Unfortunately, there are two areas where it short. Firstly, it only specifies the minimum amount of cricket each side has to play over the duration of the Programme. What this means is teams can schedule series over and above the FTP schedule. This has resulted in certain teams playing each other more and more frequently. India and Pakistan played each other four times in less than four years. During the same period India didn't play a single test series against New Zealand, and only one series against Australia, West Indies, and Sri Lanka.

Boards would argue that they have a right to maximise their revenues as long as they fulfill the requirements of the Future Tours Programme. From a business point of view, it seems like a valid argument. But the business of sport has certain qualities which make it different from other businesses. How popular would the Barclays Premier League be if you only had Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United play each other? Would the NBA thrive if the Lakers and Celtics decided to just play each other? Sooner or later fans would get bored of seeing the same contests again and again. This is something the national boards need to realise, and the sooner they do it the better it would be for their coffers.

Secondly, the unbridled success of the Indian Premier League has opened up new earning opportunities for cricketers. No longer do they have to depend on playing for their country to earn a good living. They have big businessmen willing to pay them a lot more for a lot less work than they put in for their national teams. It would be foolish to expect these players to say no to that kind of money. There might be some exceptions, but for every Ricky Ponting there are ten Chris Gayles. One could argue Ponting already makes a lot more money playing for Australia than Gayle gets for leading the West Indies, and that the Jamaican has a much bigger IPL contract than his Australian counterpart.

The FICA has suggested a World Test Championship so as to give a context to every test. Their argument is such a format would keep the fans interested throughout the course of the championship. It's quite true, a West Indies v/s New Zealand test would be of interest to both sets of fans if there was a semi-final place on the line. It may be of interest to a lot of neutrals if their side's passage to the next round depends on the result of this game. The recent ODI between Pakistan and Australia was a prime example. A lot of Indians were watching that game while their team was playing the West Indies.

Unfortunately, the BCCI and the ECB have objected to such a format. The two boards generate the highest revenues among ICC members and are averse to sharing a percentage of their revenue with the rest of the members. One has to ask the question: How much would their revenues drop if they agreed to a World Test Championship? Sure they would put a percentage of their revenues in a pool, but they would also get a further percentage of it back. Also, they would still make as much money if they could sell TV rights and sponsorships for more, which they most definitely will on account of a World Test Championship having a larger and more prolonged fan-following. In a nutshell, they would have a smaller share of a bigger pie. How is that a bad deal when you consider it would benefit the cash-starved boards of New Zealand and West Indies, which would in turn help them develop cricket in their country?

A similar format needs to be worked out for One-Day Internationals as well. While teams and officials seemed very happy with the recent Champions Trophy, it seemed like no one had noticed the sparse turnout for most games. Administrators and players seem to think they're the ones who decide the fate of cricket when it is actually us fans who will decide the direction cricket takes. We live in a world where we have countless entertainment options. If not cricket, there is soccer, tennis, formula one, rugby, basketball, baseball. If not sport, there are movies or soap operas. And I'm not even getting into how women drag their men along for shopping or for a night at the discotheque.

I thought I would be able to share my thoughts on a possible solution but this post has been surprisingly long. I'll end it here and have a separate post for what I believe could be the way forward for the ICC and FICA.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Rewarding the Faith

No I'm not talking about my religious beliefs. This is about a game of football that gave hope to romantics the world over. A game between two of the biggest clubs in Europe, at the biggest stage in club football, in one of the most historic cities in the world. A match-up between one of the greatest football managers the game has ever seen and a manager who had far exceeded expectations in his first season as manager of the club he proudly represented as a player for over a decade. A contest to decide the best football player in the world - Would it be the 24-year old Portuguese winger with the strength and pace that characterize modern footballers, or would it be the 21-year old Argentine phenom who needed growth hormones to even grow into what would be the smallest frame on the pitch in Rome? If only I could write well enough to put a really dramatic spin to it.

As it turned out, Manchester United came out with the intent of testing Barcelona's patched-up defense from the start. It took a lot of people by surprise as most of the pundits were expecting United to blunt Barcelona the way Hiddink's men so effectively did in the previous round. For a while, it seemed to have taken the Catalans by surprise too. But once Iniesta combined with Eto'o to catch United off-guard it seemed like someone had sucked the air out of United. Barcelona dominated the game thereafter and should have scored a few more before THAT moment...

There had been endless debate about who is the better footballer between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The former is the World and European Play of the Year and is always happy to be the centre of attention. He is big, strong, fast, has two good shooting feet. The latter has been touted as the next Maradona for quite a while but hasn't lived up to his reputation against the big boys from England. But this was his moment to shine.

Xavi sent in a cross and the little Argentinian found himself completely unmarked just outside the six-yard box. But the ball was slightly behind him and no one would have expected him to even get to the ball let alone get it on target. Instead, he contorted his body and somehow cushioned a header over Edwin Van der Sar. The man had given a fitting answer to all those who had doubted his ability, and in the process even surprised some of his own teammates. Puyol's reaction says it all. Josep Guardiola had promised his men would play beautiful football. He felt this was how football was meant to be played.

While my views might be biased by my passion for Barcelona, I couldn't help but draw a parallel between this win and life. A lot of us spend years looking for the ideal job, the ideal partner. We come across posers and pretenders who test our faith in what we truly believe and it's really difficult to keep believing in your actions being right. There are moments of weakness when you lose faith in yourself and do the exact opposite of what you stand for. But isn't it so much more rewarding when you realize your goal by following the path you've always believed in? That sense of having achieved something you've always been looking for, something you found elusive in this world of cynics masquearading around as realists?

I would like to come clean here and admit to having strayed from the values I thought were unshakeable. In the process I've hurt the people I've cared for the most. I've even lost one of them, maybe forever. And there is nothing I won't do to atone for my mistakes. But does this mean I'll undo the wrongs I've done, or get back the people I've lost? Probably not. But has this made me want to do whatever I can to be a better person? Absolutely.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

FC Barcelona 1-1 Chelsea FC (FC Barcelona advance on away goals)

The second semi-final saw more of what we've seen in Chelsea-Barcelona ties in the last few years. There were a number of controversial calls and both teams had more than one refereeing call to be upset about over the two legs. Chelsea, to their credit, defended a lot better at home than they did at the Camp Nou. Barcelona, not to be cowed by their opponent's physical advantage, kept looking for the opening that would secure them that precious away goal Chelsea had passed by in the first leg. Their job was made tougher by an Essien thunderbolt that brought back memories of last year's semi-final. Meanwhile, the Norwegian referee Tom Henning Øvrebø was having a howler and had denied Chelsea two legitimate penalties and wrongly sent off Eric Abidal in the 65th minute. To top it off, he denied them a third, and the most obvious penalty, when Anelka's poke saw the ball hit Pique's extended arm.

You knew Chelsea would be content to sit on the lead and only attack when they absolutely needed to. With Messi being muscled out of the game and Eto'o forgetting the meaning of a soft first touch it all seemed to go pear-shaped for the team that many consider the greatest ever to play for Barcelona. And then it came! Essien failed to make an easy clearance and the ball fell to Lionel Messi. This was his moment, this was his chance to respond to Ronaldo's challenge. Instead, he shielded the ball from his markers and did the right thing by finding the open Iniesta. Iniesta, who has lived in the shadow of Xavi all season, fired what was his team's only shot on goal all game. Unfortunately for Chelsea, it went in and Barcelona were ahead on away goals. Chelsea had one last chance and Ballack fired a shot that hit Eto'o under his arm, although it should be noted that the Cameroonian had no business having his arm up. The final whistle blew shortly after and the referee was mobbed by Chelsea players. Didier Drogba came off the bench in his flip-flops and seemed to think he was on Jerry Springer, while Lampard and Terry were measured in their criticism of the Norwegian.

It wasn't the prettiest of encounters but it did have two wonderful goals. Chelsea paid for their reluctance to attack and Barcelona were rewarded for sticking to their guns inspite of being a man down. Sadly, the refereeing left a bad taste in the mouth.

And we're back

It's been a while since a tree fell in the proverbial forest. The last time I posted was right before I embarked on the most eventful 16 months of my life. So here I am, back to blogging about sports.

Let's start off with some football, shall we?

Last week saw two of the best clubs in Europe make the final of the continent's premier club competition. Here's how it went down in the semis.

Manchester United 4-1 Arsenal FC

Manchester United under the experience and leadership of Sir Alex dismantled Arsenal with one of the most professional displays in European football of late. Everyone knew United had dominated Arsenal in the first leg and only the most passionate of Arsenal fans expected it to be different at the Emirates. Cristiano Ronaldo decided to throw the challenge to Little Leo Messi by scoring two goals and creating another. However, United fans were left bemoaning the sending off of Darren Fletcher for a foul that wasn't.