September 24, 2007

Twenty20 World Cup.

India did well enough to win the final. Sport can be so cruel sometimes, and one feels sad for the Pakistanis. Still it must be said that India deserved better to win. They kept taking wickets and controlled the middle part well and really had only two bad overs (17th and 18th by Harbhajan and Sreesanth). Anyway this is sport and in the end India will have the happier memories.

As I wrote in the last post, I am not a big fan of Twenty20 cricket. Even putting aside the personal taste, I find the reception in India way out of proportion. Granted this is a "world cup". Granted Twenty20 may be the thing for the future. Still, I find any comparison to 1983 world cup triumph quite silly, to be honest. The surrounding atmosphere, the level of intensity of the teams, the prestige attached to this world cup are all nothing compared to the "real" world cup of 50-overs. While this remains a creditable performance from a young and inexperienced team under a bold captain, there is no need to magnify the credit. Indeed, the current tendency of the TV channels to endlessly telecast images of ecstatic fans celebrating India's "great win" and screaming that "they are proud to be Indians" has the same roots as their tendency of six months ago to continuously telecast images of "irate fans" destroying Dhoni's house and burning Yuvraj's effigies. The space for balanced and sober journalism is fast shrinking in India.

This is a truly significant win for India for its showcasing of the future possibilities. For the most of the last decade and half it is fair to say that India was carried on the shoulders of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble. They all served the team skillfully and it will be hard to produce more entertaining and dominating cricketers. Hoever, with the first three hovering around 35 and the last just shy of 37, time has certainly come to think ahead. Indeed, this was a major thing on any serious Indian fan's mind. It is in this context that this triumph is significant.

The oldest member of the 15 for this world cup is Agarkar at 29 and the average age is 23.86. Among the eleven players who played the final, the oldest is Harbhajan at 27 and the average age is 23.72. Clearly this is the team for the future. At 18, 21, 22 and 24, Piyush Chawla, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth respectively are the bowlers for the future. At 20, 21, 22, 26, 26, and 26, Rohit Sharma, Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir are the batsmen for the future. It is not an exaggeration to say that selectors have their hands full figuring out which three to drop to accommodate Sachin, Sourav and Rahul against Australia.

A final word about Dhoni, the captain. He was impressive. It is dangerous to pass judgements immediately after a close win. But I believe that close win owed as much to Dhoni's smart on-field captaincy as to happy jelling of every part. He did not shy away from running down to bowlers to have a word or two after they were hit for sixes and on the whole carried himself with a serene confidence.

A run of four victories in do-or-die matches, three of them against the very best, laced with spectacular batting, efficient bowling, and uncharacteristically tidy fielding, ends with India as champions. Their greatest triumph? No. But possibly a setting stage for one.

September 22, 2007

It's India v Pakistan!

The two teams with a traumatic first round exit in the world cup of the 50-over game now meet in the final of the 20-20 world cup. The India-Pakistan must be a dream final for everyone involved, except the other 10 teams. After missing on their customary world cup showdown in the West Indies, we get two this time.

To be frank, I am not a big fan of 20-20. Not to say that I don't find it exciting. But cricket for me is special for its technique, tactics and the formal beauty of the game. In this format the technique and the formal beauty go for a six. Tactics is important, but it is not really the peculiarly appealing tactics of the 5-day version, or even the 50-over version.

Here's a prediction, which is not solely premised on what happened in South Africa. India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka will dominate this format for at least the next couple of years. This version is rather well-suited for their game, and I don't mean it as a compliment.

From an Indian point of view, this tournament is hugely important. The big question facing everyone was how will India cope with the imminent departure of the legends. This should give a great deal of confidence, at the very least. More on this after the final.

September 21, 2007

Supreme Court's Nine.

The US Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore will forever remain in infamy. People respected for their erudition and detached passion for the word of the law let their political desires dictate their decision. The decision seems to have caused intense disillusionment in one justice. David Souter, a Republican who was in the minority in Bush v. Gore, was so aghast at the decision that he wept.
David Souter was shattered. He was, fundamentally, a very different person from his colleagues. It wasn’t just that they had immediate families; their lives off the bench were entirely unlike his. They went to parties and conferences; they gave speeches; they mingled in Washington, where cynicism about everything, including the work of the Supreme Court, was universal. Toughened or coarsened by their worldly lives, the other dissenters could move on, but Souter couldn’t. His whole life was being a judge. He came from a tradition where the independence of the judiciary was the foundation of the rule of law. And Souter believed that Bush v. Gore mocked that tradition. His colleagues’ actions were so transparently, so crudely partisan that Souter thought he might not be able to serve with them anymore.

Souter seriously considered resigning. For many months it was not at all clear whether he would remain a justice. That the Court met in a city he loathed made the decision even harder. At the urging of a handful of close friends, he decided to stay on, but his attitude towards the Court was never the same. There were times when Souter thought of Bush v. Gore and wept.

This comes from Jeffrey Toobin's latest book, The Nine, as quoted in this review on Harper's. The book promises to be a great read. I can't wait to get my hands on it. Here's the NYT review of the book.

September 20, 2007

Krugman is blogging.

I enjoy Paul Krugman's bi-weekly columns (which are now free for all) on NYT a lot. So it is a great pleasure to note that he started blogging on NYT. His blog promises more frequent wisdom and it will surely be a regular for me. There are already two interesting posts.

The first one talks about a telling statistic about the share of the richest 10 percent in American total income. I have never been able to feel certain about what to make of the need for equality. Both extremes - equality is the primary goal or bigger cake ensures bigger slices for everyone - leave me unsatisfied. Be that as it may, the picture painted by the figure in Krugman's post is extremely important.

The second one deals with an issue which I am finding quite fascinating and which is very relevant now: the nature of political coverage, particularly during election campaigns. I am fairly convinced that the media's vision of politics is fundamentally out of tune with the character and requirements of the electorate. A wonderful book is Thomas Patterson's Out of Order. He asserts that the press employs a "game schema" or "strategic schema" when it deals with political candidates (politicians are involved in a horse race in which they are trying to outwit each other by careful strategies of message creation). On the other hand, as Patterson persuasively argues, while the game or strategy aspect is surely present, that is not fundamentally how candidates or public view politics. The book systematically analyzes media coverage during many modern presidential campaigns up to 1992, and every time I read an article on the current campaign I am struck by the relevance of his observations.

Krugman is making the same point in his post. The press is most of the time concerned with how the actions and words of the candidates are going to effect their campaign. So most news now is interpretive. Very rarely the emphasis is on what candidates actually said. Just to cite one example, recently there was a lot of coverage about whether Bill Clinton's appearances help Hillary's campaign. How Bill is trying to make sure he does not outshine his wife and so on.

Patterson is careful to stress however that, this state of affairs is not fundamentally an issue of media's ineptitude. It is in the very nature of news business. So it is also not exclusively an American issue. What is definitely exclusively an American problem is the structure of presidential elections in this country with its elaborate primaries. This system places an inordinately crucial burden on the press to inform the public about relatively unknown and fairly similar same party candidates. This is a burden which the press is not equipped to bear.

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