Tale of Two Tests

In different corners of the world, two Tests are poised on a knife edge and both have arrived at the same point by remarkably similar see-sawing matches. Barring rain, both matches will conclude today (even though the NZ-England match is just three days old). England is 1-76, needing a difficult 292 to win. The West Indies are 1-46, needing a just as difficult total of 287 runs for victory.

The fact that both sides have a chance of winning has been due to dramatic turn arounds. Batting first, New Zealand led by 179 on the first innings, largely due to a magnificent 154 not out from Ross Taylor. That guy can bat. This is just his seventh Test and his second Test hundred, but between Tests and ODIs, he has smashed most world attacks. The Aussies, also batting first, led the West Indies by 119, following a typically splendid 158 from Ponting. The West Indies were kept in the match by Chanderpaul, who made a very brave and patient 118 from 276 balls after receiving a sickening blow to the head from Brett Lee. I got the impression in the end of day interview, that Lee was worried that he had killed the poor little bastard.

The West Indies came storming back into the match late on the third day by cutting down the Australian top order. At 4-17, there was a momentum shift. I’d also like to note that the West Indies catching, in both innings has been excellent. I don’t know how many, if any, they grassed, but I’ve seen on the news at least five screamers. In the end, only Symonds lifted the Aussies to any sort of credibility. For England, Panesar took for 6-37 (and found Aussie umpires Hair (welcome back Darrell) and Taufel much more agreeable to lbws than those standing in Sabina Park), and shot out the Kiwis for just 114.

So at stumps, we find the Windies needing 241 runs with 9 wickets in hand, and England needing 218 runs, also with 9 wickets in hand. As half the Aussie attack looked pretty lack lustre, I’m going with the Windies. And as the Old Trafford pitch is obviously taking spin, and Vettori already has two bags of five for the series, I’m taking the Kiwis.

And as it’s almost semi final time, let’s not forget IPL. Bangalore have beaten Gillie’s Deccan, which gives Deccan the first ever IPL wooden spoon. For Bangalore, Cameron White finally made it past 25. Warnie’s Royals keep on winning while Ganger’s Knight Riders has a consolation win against Punjab. The Knight Riders can’t make the semi’s but Ganguly finished with a fine 86 not out.

But it’s those Tests that hold the interest for me. After days of hard fighting, and plenty of fine individual performances, they are set for tense and exciting finishes. Only sad thing is that I don’t think I’ll be staying up (or getting up) to watch.

I don’t like reggae. I love it.

IPL keeps on keeping on. Match after match. Day after day. Unlike the Ancient Mariner, we do get some breath and motion but I was pretty glad when some men dressed in white made their way on to the Lords’ pitch. While England and New Zealand may only have fought out and honourable, rain-affected draw, there was plenty of meat and interest in the match. It reminded me what real cricket is about and why Test cricket remains the true judge of skill and character.

IPL does have some merit and some excitement, especially if your name is Warne and here are some of my observations. It is nice that there is at least one match, every day for six weeks. It’s always nice to have a new scorecard to check in the morning. The scorecard normally takes about 6.5 seconds to check. There’s not too much to a T20 scorecard. Because of the lack of analysis satisfaction, I’ve been running a man of the match chart. Mind you, there’s not always too much to be excited about in a MOTM award. Let’s see now – you might get one for scoring 38 not out or taking 2-16. There is limited chance to impress, especially for bowlers. However, it has shown me some useful things:

1. Before the Aussies and Kiwis left, they had won more than half of the MOTM awards.
2. Since that time, the competition has been dominated by the Indians, which is not surprising.
3. Just about all 46 MOTM awards have gone to big time players. Almost no exceptions.
4. Three players have won the award on three occasions. All of those are well known but not super stars. Watson, Marsh (S) and Pathan (YK).
5. Of the 46 matches, the MOTM award has gone to batsmen on 25 occasions (54%). A bowler has taken it out 14 times (30%) with the balance to all-rounders.
6. Probably the single best all round performance has come from Gangers in match 32 with 91 (57) & 2-25 (4).

Australia takes on the West Indies in the first Test from Thursday (night of Thurs/Friday for Aussies) – so day will have concluded by the time most of you read this. The Kiwis and the Poms are at it again from Friday. For Australia, Katich (still on fire with bat and ball in the only warm up match) will open in place of the injured Hayden and Dodgy Hodgey will fill in for Pup. How that guy got called up before David Hussey is mystery to me.

I don’t like reggae. I love it.

“Going, going, gone”

After day one of the Indian Premier League (IPL), I heard one of my colleagues exclaim, “Well, that’s the end of cricket.” The response from another colleague (which I thought was quite well considered) was, “Cricket as you know it, at any rate.”

“Going, going gone,” was called not less than 75 times over a period of 10 hours as the greatest players in the universe, and possibly even the galaxy, went under the hammer in Mumbai in February 2008.

And going, going gone is cricket as we have known it. Cricket is a game where administrators have always battled paying the players, even more so than in other sports. Even by today’s standards, when the top cricketers are very well paid, payment still pales in comparison to USA basket ball, English Premier League soccer, golf or tennis. However, that is changing, and changing quickly. And all over a game that, from start to finish, is just 240 deliveries. I don’t know what will happen in the long term, but I still believe that cricket is in for a rocky ride.

Cricket is changing forever and I don’t necessarily lament that. One of the keys to living in today’s world is to learn to embrace change. Times are always a changin’. Time may change me, but I can’t change time. David Bowie knew it. Conversely, I think it is worth remembering that change is not necessarily progress. Change is progress, only if improvements are brought about. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

But how do you measure “if improvements are brought about”? That might entirely depend on perspective and even more importantly, depend on timeframe. I can go to the local hardware store and buy a cordless drill for less than I could buy one ten years ago. The drill I buy today, while it may not last 50 years, is a great deal better than the one I could by ten years ago. Why is that? One word: China.

China has erupted as an economic force and with all that cheap labour and those bountiful resources, they are manufacturing like there is no tomorrow. This puts money in the Chinese workers’ pockets and saves money for consumers all around the world. It must be progress, right? There is another perspective: The workers who have lost their jobs in wealthy countries because they can’t make money producing drills anymore might not see this as progress. Improvement can depend on perspective.

Of even greater concern are long-term effects. In the past two hundred years, all over the world, environments have suffered due to greedy, harmful, unchecked industrial methods. Could it be that China is repeating those mistakes on a grand scale and that in 50 or 100 years time, the Chinese people will suffer because they have destroyed their environment – because they literally are manufacturing like there is no tomorrow? Temporary improvement can sometimes mask long term degradation. We should be careful about what we consider to be good change, or progress. But what have China and drill bits got to do with cricket? Please allow me to explain.

When people are being paid for doing something, whether playing cricket or churning out drills, the same economic forces apply. Those forces include people, communities, culture and a complex world of interactive, interdependent influences that I do not pretend to fully understand. I want to discuss whether cricketers are underpaid, overpaid or if they deserve to be paid at all – they are only playing a game, after all. Look at movie stars and rock stars. There are millions and millions of people more “deserving” of a fat pay check than rock stars, movie stars and sport stars. They “stars” are paid what they are paid not because they work harder or are more clever or are better people. Make no mistake – they are the best at what they do – but it just so happens that the natural talent that they are fortunate to have been given, and have worked hard to perfect, generates huge amounts of money because of the masses that happen to love them for it.

There is huge money in sport because there are so many people who love sport. That’s pretty obvious. We need to remember that the money to be made out of sport is not limited to people buying tickets to watch sporting events and perhaps buying some merchandise and souvenirs. In the early days, it was. Not so now. Here’s a word: Advertising. How about another: Television. TV rights are worth far more to sport (because of the related advertising) than packing people into stadiums. Sponsorship is worth huge amounts of money only because of the huge media exposure that sports people are given.

When Philo Farnsworth invented television in 1927, I’m sure he did not have any idea that 50 years later, his invention would be changing cricket profoundly. I’d be prepared to bet he didn’t even know what cricket was. I also would not be surprised if he didn’t care that much about making huge amounts of money from his invention. Inventing the television had been a dream for Farnsworth since he was 14 years old and my impression is that inventors tend to be of pure heart. I’d be sure that the guys who made television a commercial proposition were very interested in how much money they could make. However, their focus was on selling televisions.

I doubt many people would have foreseen the impact television would have on society and the unthinkable amounts of money that would be sunk into advertising and television rights. That sets the stage for World Series Cricket (WSC) in 1977. WSC changed the face of cricket more rapidly than could have been thought possible, and it came about all because of television rights. Kerry Packer wanted cricket on Channel 9 because he knew it would benefit his advertising profits. Cricket is perfect for TV advertising because the ad breaks are so short. Unlike regular programming, where you can regrind the break drums should you want, except for drinks breaks and dismissals, you don’t have time to make a “cuppa” or take a relief break. You might as well sit there and absorb the gospel of materialism that will be forced upon you during the over break. (I recommend the mute button).

Cricketers improving their pay was a by-product of WSC. I believe that deep down, Packer didn’t care one way or another. He was astute enough to use the situation to his commercial advantage. Packer needed the cricketers’ full support and he easily got that buy paying them what was really a moderate wage but was still vastly more than the pittance they were being paid. What a ripper bloke was KP. Cricket and its recalcitrant administration were dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century not by choice but because they had to change. They fought a war and lost.

Why did Bradman and co. at the ACB hold out for so long before and during WSC? Why is it that cricket administrators have always been so tight-fisted? What was so bad about paying the players what they were asking for? Cricket could easily afford to pay that and far more. Was it because the players didn’t “deserve” it? Why not? Was it because the administrators did not have the same opportunities when they were playing? Did they take some sort of moral high ground because they did play more or less for free? They had full time jobs in addition to playing cricket. When Tests and Shield matches were in Adelaide, Bradman went to work, played cricket and went back to work!

It may help to understand the origins of cricket. Cricket was developed and controlled by gentlemen in good Olde England. Let’s appreciate what a “gentleman” really is. I may be a red-blooded, sporting loving, Aussie male but I can mix it with the SNAGs. I know my Jane Austen, and if I may be so bold, I will assert that I know a thing or two about this. A gentleman is not just someone who gives up his seat for a lady. That’s part of it, and even I do that. A gentleman in the true sense, is someone who doesn’t have to work because he is so filthy rich. He is financially independent. With that comes a certain dignity, a certain lifestyle and a certain lack of pressure. Most of us know what it is like when the money is tight and it’s a struggle to pay the bills and the mortgage. We get anxious, our fuses are short, we have a tendency to fight with our wives and yell at the kids. It’s not good. Gentlemen do not understand these issues, although they do at times yell at the servants or hounds.

The gentlemen of cricket met head on with the ordinary cricketers as early as the 1900’s when the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) clashed with the colonials – the convicts. Australian cricketers were not gentlemen. They were mostly working men. They played for love but their playing time and availability was limited by the need to work a real job. It was not until the 1930’s that the first professional cricketer emerged in England. Len Hutton was the first professional cricketer and he was frowned upon by some of the purists – the gentlemen. He was looked upon as a mercenary – a lover of money, not cricket. That seems to be the sentiment behind sports administrating bodies (Rugby and the Olympics are a couple of others) clinging to amateur status: How can you play a game that you love and stoop so low as to accept money for it? Playing for love, not money, is perceived to preserve the purity of the game. While this is an ideal that has some merit – since money does have a wonderful way or corrupting – the reality is that players need to be paid what they are worth, as determined by the revenue that they generate.

Paying cricketers what they “deserve” cannot be measured in non-tangible, romantic, idealistic terms (or some of the current crop would be paid NOTHING). What they deserve is measured in pretty simple economics terms. I learned quite a while ago that above all else, the amount someone is paid is based on the amount of revenue they generate. It’s not necessarily a true reflection of how hard you work or how good at your job you are. Of course, those things count (but only because they affect how much revenue you produce), but they are not the bottom line. The last time that I changed jobs was because I realised that the industry I was involved with had no money in it. I was working my tail off, doing a good job but it was to no avail. In moving from the publishing industry to the insurance industry, I got myself a better salary, not because I am working harder, or doing something more clever or have more responsibility (I have less, in fact). It has everything to do with revenue and profit.

During payment negotiations that preceded the WSC war by a couple o years, Alan Barnes, an ACB administrators, provided one of the key moments that would polarise the players leading up to WSC. He told the players that if they didn’t want to play for what they were being paid, there were 50,000 Australians who would jolly well play for free. Music to Packer’s ears. Ian Redpath made a good point (while he had Barnes by the throat, bailed up against the dressing room wall) when he said, “You bloody idiot. Of course there are 50,000 who would play for nothing, but how bloody good would the Australian team be?” As WSC struck out on its own, the new, official Australian cricket team demonstrated that even a “third string” team could not match it with the others, let alone a team of backyard hopefuls.

I think we can all see that any game needs the very best representing it. It is also widely acknowledged that now that all players are fully professional, that the standard of play is higher. The main reason for this is that the players are in better physical condition because they have time to go to the gym and have a net. Standards of fielding have also lifted as there is now more time to dedicate to fielding. Of course, the down side is that you need to spend more time writing books, filming advertisements and meeting with agents and sponsors. You’re also expected to pay at least $100,000 for the ring when you get engaged and provide a multi-million dollar mansion for your beloved. However, these drawbacks can be overcome.

And one of the ways to overcome these burdens is IPL. Indian Premier League allows players to make huge amounts of money while actually playing cricket. It’s fantastic.

Who would have thought that the corporate genius who one day said, “I know: Let’s save some money and outsource in India,” would have had a dramatic impact on world cricket 10-15 years later! Of course, he didn’t know it was called outsourcing back then. Just as Farnsworth was indirectly responsible for WSC, outsourcing is indirectly responsible for IPL.

You all would know this, but I’ll quickly define outsourcing. Outsourcing is usually the term used when a company takes a part of its business and gives that part to another company. You pay the other company but you pay them less than it costs to do it yourself. Outsourcing companies can provide the services more cheaply through setting up specialised operations and enjoying economies of scale, or by being situated in a location where the workers can be paid less.

Most relevant to IPL is the type of outsourcing known as “off-shoring”. This is where the services are provided by an outsourcing operation that is in another country – a country where wages are lower, such as India, the Philippines or China. It’s a good idea. In India, say, there were, and still are many, many millions of untrained, unskilled, poverty stricken people. Why not train them, pay them, make their lives better and, at the same time, reduce costs for the clients? It’s progress, right?

What is that I said about perspective? Some people do whinge because when they call Optus, they are speaking to someone in India – and they want to speak to someone in their own city, preferably at their own home or at least in their own country. But perhaps that is a little precious. Some lament that it’s not good having people from other countries taking jobs from our own. I don’t deny that it happens. Not that long ago, we heard that Qantas was going to outsource its entire IT department to India and that 400 Australians would lose their jobs. That is serious. I sympathise but isn’t it good that people in prosperous countries have so much opportunity?

Outsourcing and off-shoring has borne the brunt of many, many jokes and quite some animosity. Most people are familiar with those video and audio clips that do the rounds on email. They make fun of off-shoring and call centres manned by staff that don’t speak English all that well – “What? You’ve got a raw prawn in your phone?” My recent experiences have changed my perception of off-shoring, and I repent.

Please understand that I don’t want to appear insulting about off-shoring (nor do I want to sound condescending or patronising). In the past 12 months I have worked with software developers who are born and bred in India and work for a specialised IT outsourcing company. Some of my other colleagues are also Indian-born and trained IT guys who are directly employed by our firm. Without exception, these guys are smart and pleasant and good to work with. They even know how to have fun at the Christmas party without becoming offensively drunk. And without exception, they truly love cricket and have become my friends. And If I am honest, I have to admit that Amit is more of a walking cricket computer than I am.

Here is an important detail. None of my Indian friends have ever been to a cricket match in India. Tickets are just too hard to get. It was fantastic that this past summer, the Indian cricket team toured Australia. I was very pleased to organise tickets and attend matches with my friends, and in fact, they went more often than I did. The bottom line is that there are many, many more people in India that have disposable income than did 15 years ago.

May I be so bold so as to distill this to the stark commercial reality of why cricketers are able to be so highly paid today? It is not because they are such great guys. It is not because they are great cricket players. It is definitely not because today’s players are better than those of “yesteryear”. It is not even because today’s players are more popular than days gone by. They certainly are more exposed, but what cricketer, when adjustments are made for changes in culture, technology and media, was ever more popular than Bradman. It’s not even because cricket is such a great game. I think it is, but that is just an opinion.

It’s all about “bums on seats”, but not in the traditional use of the term, referring to crowds attending matches (although that is a consideration). Rather, it’s about bums on lounges, where the body belonging to the said posterior has eyes that are glued to the TV. The body also has hands that can reach into pockets that contain some money to spend on the stuff that they are going to ask you to buy during the ad breaks. When you realise that description fits hundreds of millions of people in India, you realise why IPL works.

There are over one billion people in India and (as quoted in a previous article), all but eleven of them love cricket. India is hungry for cricket and there is not enough of it. There is huge scope for more cricket to be played in India and huge scope for money to be made from Cricket in India, and doesn’t the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) know it.

Where I see trouble is balance, perspective and the long term impact. There is room in cricket for Twenty20 and IPL. However, the real cricket is still Test cricket. I say that because Test cricket is where all the skills are used. Test cricket is where character is formed and evidenced. Already, England and Australian cricket are making noises about their own T20 tournaments. They all want a piece of the action. Flamin’ typical.

I am also wary of the BCCI. It now has immense power and is not scared to throw its weight around. This was seen last summer with threats of cancelling the tour if a certain player was disciplined by an independent authority! (I wonder, if that player had been allowed to be disciplined, would he have disgraced himself so publicly just a couple of months later?)

I recall when One Day cricket was still a novelty, the BCCI found it could make far more money out of ODI cricket that Test cricket. During the 1980s, it was hard to convince them to pull on the whites.

I suggest that progress can be defined as a change being made for the long term, greater good. It can often be hard to find an independent and unbiased arbitrator to rule on the “long term, greater good”. History has shown that governments, who are supposed to play that role, have failed miserably. The environment has been destroyed, wars are waged, and groups of people are allowed to be oppressed. The list goes on. It is the ICC that is charged with making sure that the changes that will take place in cricket over the next few years are for the greater good. And that concept troubles me.

The “Hair Affair” in 2006 was worrying. Factional groups that appear to be based on race, played a major role in the treatment and suspension of Umpire Hair. It’s been largely glossed over, but ICC CEO, Malcolm Speed has just been booted under questionable circumstances. I don’t care much for Speed but the goings on behind closed doors, at ICC head quarters are a great cause for concern. I guess at the end of the day, I’m thankful that cricket is only a game. Even if it is totally destroyed (from my perspective) over the next few years, worse things could happen (drought, war, recession etc).