Tuesday, November 2 2021

Dive In


Josh and I’ve been together for 11 years. We had our 11th anniversary in October. So, writing about it… it’s very matter-of-fact in our lives, and when you’re the son of Indian immigrants who says that you want to be an actor, the chaos that that creates in your family and your community, will trump anything else, always.

That’s actor Kal Penn coming out as a gay man—accompanying the announcement with a wry comment that will make every Indian laugh. He is now engaged, and yes, he wants a big fat Indian wedding.


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Big Story

India’s T20 debacle: A post-mortem report

The TLDR: After the initial shock of the New Zealand drubbing passed, pundits and former players alike got busy decoding the reasons for our abysmal performance. Here’s a round-up of the popular theories doing the rounds.


First, our performance in numbers

ICYMI: We lost to Pakistan by 10 wickets in the first match, and by eight wickets against New Zealand. In both cases, our batting collapsed—and we only scored 151 and 110 runs, respectively. 


The numbers: Here’s how badly we have played in the first two matches against Pakistan and New Zealand:


  • The net run rate is the difference between the average runs per over scored by a team minus the average runs per over scored against that team. Ours is (-)1.609.
  • The collective average for our batters is now 18.64 runs. The average for our bowlers: 131.50.
  • We have the lowest attacking shot percentage—which speaks volumes for our ‘intent’.
  • Only Ireland, Papua New Guinea and the Netherlands have a worse Timing Rating—which measures the quality of contact made by a shot. 
  • In other words, the only countries who performed worse than us crashed out of the tournament in the first round.


Point to note: Our chances of making it to the semi-final is now 6%. It would’ve been 52% if we had won. The various scenarios are summed up here.


Reason #1: Team selection

This has long been a pet peeve with Virat Kohli’s captaincy. At the T20, most of the criticism swirled around one puzzling inclusion, and one glaring exclusion.


Hardik Pandya: All-rounders are key to winning a limited over format. There is far less room for someone who does just one thing—bat or bowl. And yet for both matches, Kohli picked Pandya—who didn’t bowl during the IPL for the Mumbai Indians thanks to a long-standing back problem. Kohli bet big on his ability to change the game with his explosive batting—which never happened. Pandya’s performance: 8 off 11 against Pakistan and 23 off 24 against New Zealand. Not exactly overwhelming. Now, there is all this second-guessing as to whether the Mumbai Indians clearly communicated Pandya’s fitness status to the selectors.


Ravichandran Ashwin: Indian bowlers have taken only two wickets in this tournament. Inevitably, a big part of the second-guessing has focused on the exclusion of the experienced off-spinner—who has been sidelined since India lost the World Test Championship final loss to New Zealand in June. 


And his exclusion has become even more controversial with former England cricketer Nick Compton stirring the pot: “I just don’t understand how Kohli’s prickly relationship with Ashwin is allowed to keep him out of Indian teams? Do you think Captains should be allowed such autonomy?”


Compton’s tweet rakes up ongoing rumours of a hostile relationship between Kohli and Ashwin—which was also blamed for the latter’s exclusion from the Test series against England this year. There were also reports that Ashwin complained to the BCCI against Kohli—which the bowler rubbished—and that his selection in the T20 squad came as a rude surprise to his own captain.


Point to note: When Ashwin was kept out of the England series, the decision was described by former England cricketer Michael Vaughan at the time as the “greatest non-selection ever witnessed across four Tests in the UK”—while cricket correspondent Rory Dollard labelled it as a “huge act of self-sabotage.” Expect more such talk in the days to come.


Reason #2: Batting (dis)order

The other big criticism against Kohli is that he is often indecisive—a flaw which revealed itself in the batting order.


Ishan Kishan: At the Pakistan post-match presser, Kohli looked theatrically shocked when a reporter suggested dropping Rohit Sharma for the relatively inexperienced Ishan Kishan. And yet come Sunday, Kishan was in the line-up, and batting at #1 instead of Sharma—a decision that sparked a rant from Sunil Gavaskar:


“Ishan Kishan is a hit-or-miss player and it is better if a batsman like him walks in No.4 or No.5. He could then play according to the situation of the game. Now what has happened is that Rohit Sharma has been told that we don't trust you to face the left-arm fast bowling of Trent Boult… I don't know if it is a fear of failure but I know that whatever changes they made to the batting order today did not work.”


Constant change: The year started with Kohli opening with Sharma, saying: “I would definitely like to partner Rohit at the top.” Then he switched to a Sharma-KL Rahul combo against England, declaring: “Things were different before IPL, now it's difficult to look beyond Rahul at the top of the order.” As Hindustan Times points out: 


“Since the start of 2021, India have played 10 T20Is and fielded seven different opening pairs—Sharma-Rahul (thrice), Shikhar Dhawan-Ruturaj Gaikwad (twice), and Sharma-Kohli, Dhawan-Prithvi Shaw, Dhawan-Rahul, Sharma-Ishan and Rahul-Ishan (all once each). [That] makes it seven different batters in the opening role across 10 months and 10 T20Is.”


Dead in the middle: The lack of continuity is especially damning given the back-to-back early batting collapses—all of which put huge pressure on the middle order. As Matt Roller in ESPN Cricinfo notes:


“The result has been a batting line-up that has been paralysed by indecision, struggling to find the desired balance between attacking intent and stability. Despite losing two wickets in the powerplay, India's slow scoring meant that they had to keep attacking through the middle overs if they had any chance of compiling a defendable score.”


Point to note: The test cricket-like plodding in the middle overs due to the pressure has proved lethal. Against New Zealand, India failed to score a single boundary between the powerplay (first six overs) and the end of the 16th over for only the third time in T20Is.


Reason #3: The IPL factor

Right before the World Cup, the Indian team played part 2 of the Indian Premier League in Dubai. And before the tournament kicked off, many thought that India’s experience with local conditions would prove to be an advantage. It may have been exactly the opposite.


Too exhausted to play? The team has spent most of the year between bio-secure bubbles—and have been on the field since the World Test Championship final in June. Bowler Jasprit Bumrah cited the schedule as one possible factor in the NZ post-match conference:


“You can't control the scheduling and what tournament is played when. Being in the bubble and staying away from family does play [a] role… BCCI has tried to make us comfortable. We try to adapt but bubble fatigue and mental fatigue creeps in as you are doing [the] same things again and again and again.”


Too unprepared to play? As Ashish Magotra points out in Scroll, the punishing schedule also shows how poorly the team prepared for the World Cup:


“They needed the players to be fresh and raring to go. Instead, they have looked jaded. A rotation policy would have helped. A break would have helped. But the BCCI and even the players chose to prioritise the IPL over the World Cup. Kohli will tell you this team doesn’t take anything for granted but perhaps they just took themselves for granted. You can’t just show up and win. Not at a World Cup.”


The money factor: The decision to hold the second half of the IPL just before the World Cup was motivated almost entirely by money. There were billions of dollars at stake, and the BCCI was never going to cancel—pandemic be damned! So it isn’t surprising that #BanIPL became a trending hashtag soon after the New Zealand match—with many blaming the board for being greedy. 


But more revealing is the timing of India’s matches. All top teams have at least one afternoon match—where dew on the pitch is less of a big deal whether a team bats first or second. But India instead played two evening matches, and here’s why:


“[K]eeping broadcasters' interests in mind, both hosts (BCCI and ICC), decided to have all India games at 7:30 pm IST and with a week's gap between two group matches against marquee teams (Pakistan and NZ). This was done keeping the huge Indian TV audience in mind along with peak advertisement slots.”


Also this: “All India matches, save one, were scheduled in Dubai, which has the largest crowd capacity which ensures proper gate money for the host association (in this case BCCI with the Emirates Board being facilitators).” And experts agree the pitch at Sharjah has been kinder to batsmen—and had the best run rate, and the three highest totals, during the pre-playoff stage.

The bottomline: There will be plenty more hand-wringing in the future—and second-guessing too—if we lose the T20 series against New Zealand that’s coming up next. But it will likely be Rohit Sharma who will be in the firing line. So Virat Kohli can at least be happy about that.


Reading list

Ashish Magotra in Scroll offers a thoughtful big-picture analysis of why we fell apart. Also worth your time: Matt Roller’s scathing take on ESPN Cricinfo. For a more sympathetic view—which primarily focuses on the pitch—read Sidharth Monga. Also read: PTI’s surprisingly eye-opening breakdown of the five key reasons. Hindustan Times has more on the batting order. Fox Sports offers a more gossipy take—including the Kohli vs Ashwin feud.


Headlines that matter

A legal boycott in Agra

The Bar Association in the city has refused to represent the Kashmiri students—who were arrested for sedition after cheering Pakistan’s win against India in the T20 cup:


“At all times we have to work for the interest of the nation. What these people did was anti-national and against the sentiment with which we function. The lawyers in the city uphold the view of the Bar and we reached a consensus that no support will come from us. We cannot partake in a process that undermines the nation.”

Madhuvan Dutt—who represented Siddique Kappan (explained here)—has stepped up to represent the students, saying: “These youths deserve a fair trial. As a lawyer, my patriotism is not about raising slogans or holding a flag, it is about helping each person get a fair and free trial.” (Indian Express)


A birthday bash with an environmental toll

Bill Gates threw a big birthday bash on a mega-yacht—and his guests included fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos. Gates had rented a 107-metre boat—for the low price of €1 million a week—to entertain his 50 guests off the coast of Turkey. FYI: a mega-yacht emits 7,020 tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 19 tons per day. Also: Gates is the author of the best-selling book, ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need’. Presumably hiring very big boats isn’t one of them. Times UK is behind a paywall, but you can read more on the Daily Mail.


Oxford’s word of the year

The Oxford English Dictionary has declared ‘vax’ as its word of 2021—which it says has “injected itself into the bloodstream of the English Language.” Also this: “For lexicographers, it is rare to observe a single topic impact language so dramatically, and in such a short period of time become a critical part of our everyday communication.” (The Guardian)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • Odisha artist Pratul Dash’s wonderful painting titled ‘Moon Walk’


A list of intriguing things

  • An Oregon hillside that turns into a smiley face every fall
  • The Sustainability Pavilion at the Dubai Expo
  • ‘Spirit photographs’—where the living were captured in the presence of loved ones they had lost
  • A literary clock! 

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