What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?

What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?

This is the Immortal quote from arguably the greatest book written on any sport, in this case, cricket from “Beyond the Boundary” by CLR James. This was obviously inspired by Kipling’s poem, “The English Flag “where he asks “And what should they know of England who only England know?” to celebrate the British Empire’s global reach. James says what he said to convey that it’s always in one’s interest to evolve and never stagnate.  I was thinking about this after today morning’s seemingly bitter argument between two friends in one of these ubiquitous cricket themed WhatsApp groups about the primacy of IPL versus Test cricket with the conversation getting increasingly heated and personal. I am assuming thousands if not more such groups will be having similar debates and wanted to think this aloud – I don’t expect any brilliant new insight to emerge but sometimes writing this out may clarify our collective thoughts, or that’s the aim!

At the outset, comparing the two formats is blasphemy, one is a 150-year-old sporting institution with a rich history and legacy and IPL is a15 odd year young upstart that shocks the purists. A lot argue that these two are in fact two entirely different games. I wouldn’t go as far as that but let us see where they get together and where they differ.

Tests with their ebbs and flows almost mirror life, you lose the toss and have a disastrous first session, why the whole first and second day as well or like the first test in the England series that concluded recently, be behind the match so much but still Pope scores an all-time great or freak innings and England win. That causes all of us tragics to rant and rave but suddenly India turns up and beat them 4-1. Or the last Australia series where after the 36 all out ignominy of Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Gabba became classics for the ages!  Similarly, all the Ashes rivalries, Bodyline Series, India Pakistan test matches and so on, each cricket lover will have 20 test matches close to their heart for a variety of reasons.

IPL in contrast is an Indian Bollywood like affair with auctions, mix and match of foreign and Indian players, owned by celebrities – Movie stars and businessmen and rules like Calvinball , sort of made up as we go along the tournament over the years . The impact player in the last 2 versions is an example – last year it was a novelty. This year the think tanks of the teams have got a plan to exploit it and we have seen an immediate impact already – scores of 270 plus are common and we may see a 300 soon. The theory is having an additional hitter mentally frees up the other batsmen to bat more freely than they may otherwise. Is this tinkering with the basic structure of a playing eleven – sure it is! However, the crowds love it and so we enjoy the hitting and feel mildly sorry for the bowlers. The cult following of certain teams ( CSK – my team!)  is something else. Anyone who has been in the ground at Chepauk especially if not any ground when MSD Dhoni enters to bat this year will have an experience of a lifetime!

Has the IPL rubbed off positively on the traditional form of cricket – Tests? Let us examine the evidence.  The scoring rates of tests this millennium is way higher than it was ever before. The number of draws is also very few and far in between and mostly we see a draw only in case of a weather exception. (The Sydney- one arm and one leg Horatio Nelson like stand of Ashwin and Vihari being a glorious exception!). It has also enabled batsmen to be way more adventurous in tests – Rishab Pant reverse scooping Jimmy Anderson in a test and Bumrah using slower balls to get Bairstow out in tests in England come to my mind. There are numerous such examples where the innovation, cheekiness and variations of the IPL are brought on to the test matches making them exciting. New talent from the hinterland is unearthed, the kids make their name and fame in IPL and do well for their countries in tests as well. Jurel being the latest case in point. Fear of losing and playing under huge pressure with a lot of crowds is something young Indian players learn very young to adapt and that stands them in good stead in tests too. range and power hitting as seen by the Indian youngsters as well as foreign players and the 150 km and more speeds cranked up by young bowlers is a treat to watch !

Is it all roses then and IPL has no faults?  The age-old virtue of grinding out a session appears to be a bit lost but there are still players like Pujara who do it to great success  ( He does not play much of IPL or no one selects him much !) . Much was made of the Bazball hype by England but when all all-time great test batsman like Joe Root reverse scoops Bumrah to the slips when the series was in balance , the idea lost its hype I would imagine even though the English and their cloying press still cling on to it. The Ashes later this year should settle that argument once and for all!

From Indian cricket point of view, there has been interesting ramifications. In Tests since the inception of IPL, the Indian test team for most parts has done exceptionally well, have been the no 1 test team for long periods of time, have won two away series in Australia and only South Africa has been the last bastion yet to be conquered. However, we have lost both the WTC finals, on the face of it that cannot have anything to do with IPL. More worryingly after 2008 we have not won any ICC white ball trophy, the cruelest cut being the final we lost to Australia last year at Ahmedabad. I do not fancy much our chances in the T20 WC as well later this year in the Americas. Can this too be correlated to IPL – let us see what is the evidence again if any.

One worrying trend is players prioritizing IPL over national duty – classic case seems to be Hardik Pandya, I do not remember him missing any IPL but in national colors, he seems to twist an ankle or pull a muscle even while sneezing. While the Aussies seem to have a party at the IPL almost appear to take it as a lark , earning big money in millions while in national colors, they seem to give their blood and more to win. Maxwell being the case study for this, RCB his team is the butt of a million memes and he does precious little for them on most occasions while for Australia he plays impossible knocks to win them tourneys!  I cannot think of any Indian player like that while like Pandya we may have several examples. Similarly the IPL spin offs owned by the same franchises have undermined test cricket in other countries as well. South Africa sent a third XI to New Zealand to play a test series as their main players were busy with their version of the T20 league. This can be explained away as a scheduling issue, though players can only play for so many days in a year and need to rest and recuperate. The balance between the pride from national Duty to the commercial windfall from T20 leagues is a tricky one. BCCI to its credit has tried to address this by specially incentivizing players for test wins, though the other boards may not have the financial muscle to do that.

IPL has done a lot to popularize cricket with women and children, it has brought a new demographic who hitherto were cold to cricket and made them follow the game and its nuances. Sure, it can be described as a pure tamasha but the basic skills of the game are on display and the next generation is getting hooked on to the game. Given cricket was always a game played by a handful of countries this is important for the game to survive for the next 50 years and more. There was a recent survey in India amongst kids younger than 10 years and for the first time ever football was rated as the game that they followed or played most! That means IPL is necessary for even tests to survive in a manner of speaking.

In summary IPL has its utility, it is more entertainment than pure sport but some elements of the sports are sharpened due to it and the benefits spill over to make the oldest format of the game, test cricket,  more interesting. The caution is young players prioritizing one for the other, it is perfectly fine that a young player prefers IPL over national test duties but the commercials and risk reward mechanism should be structured in such a way that the decision does not become a heavily skewed one to  favor League Cricket . We still will have a Bumrah , a Rishab Pant and a Travis Head making an impact in all formats of the game and entertaining us !

Thuglaq turns 54 and The Forgotten art of Dialectic!



The late “Cho” Ramaswamy was a Indian actor, comedian, editor, political satirist, playwright, film director , Member of Parliament and lawyer . in 1970 he had an argument with his friends who dared him to start a magazine  and to win the bet , he launched a political magazine that turned 54 this year. The first issue had this iconic cartoon where one donkey says to the other ” Looks like this Cho fellow has launched a magazine” and the other replies “Great , we will have a feast then!”.  The cartoon donkeys make their appearance once in a few years while all of us readers have been reading Thuglaq for decades !

I happened to attend the 54th annual meet of Thuglaq, the one-of-a-kind event where the entire rank and file of the magazine meet with its readers, on Pongal day ,as it always happens. This unique practice was started by Cho and after his death in 2016, S. Gurumurthy, the Chartered Accountant, Journalist and RSS Idealogue has been successfully running the magazine while maintaining such traditions as well. Cho, while his sympathies for the right wing and Modi was always transparent , also was known for changing his views as the situation on the ground demanded and did not hesitate to critique even sharply the parties he supported. He was famously responsible for the TMC (Tamil Manila Congress – Moopanar and P.C Chidambaram led) formation and TMC – DMK alliance and helped in shaping the BJP-DMK Alliance during Vajpayee’s time as well when he went against his childhood friend Jayalalitha. Under Gurumurthy, while Thuglaq retains most of the founding tenets of the magazine, discussing mostly only politics and a sliver of spirituality, the irrepressible and at times irreverent humor of Cho is definitely missing. Gurumurthy seems to have almost made it a dry right leaning political magazine to the mild disappointment of long-time readers like me.


In spite of the strong shift to the right, Gurumurthy has retained and even strengthened some unique features of Thuglaq. One being inviting political leaders of all hues including the ones he opposes like DMK, Congress, Communists to share their experiences and points of view in the magazine. And to continue and strengthen this annual unique event on Pongal day when the Editor of the magazine and his entire staff meet and interact with all the readers and invite political leaders to address and interact with the audience as well. Who’s who of Indian politics have attended these meetings – Advani, Modi and most of the BJP Leaders, the erstwhile Janata leaders like VP Singh,  senior communist leaders and Tamil Nadu leaders across political parties.


For this year’s event, the two main guests were Shashi Tharoor from Congress and K Annamalai, the firebrand BJP Tamil Nadu Chief. Sadly, since Annamalai was coming in from a meeting at Delhi, his flight was delayed and by the time he entered the Music Academy Hall, Shashi had finished his speech and had left. The program began the way it always does, with the editor introducing the entire staff of the magazine on stage starting from the veteran reporters like Ramesh whom most of Tamil Nadu knows to the attenders.  This is again a unique gesture that surely must be appreciated. Then selected readers from the audience come to the stage and make their comments, queries and criticisms to which Gurumurthy replies. This year, apart from the  regular questions about state and national politics , there were a few questions and concerns regarding the Maldives standoff and Guru gave his opinion and also deferred to the veteran diplomat and politician and ex Minister that Shashi is and requested him to give his point of view when his turn came. The audience as expected was mostly sympathetic to BJP’s cause.

Shashi spoke well, noting down all the key concerns and objections raised by the audience against Congress and addressed them valiantly. He also accused Modi government of subsidizing North at the cost of the South, lamented the subjugation of federalism and also explained the Maldives situation in an objective way without blaming the BJP government but cautioning it to be careful not to push Maldives into the axis of China.   Ram temple issue being a topical one, he took it head on saying that he will visit the temple but not on the 22nd as he has in any case not been invited and would not want to go even if he were as he felt it was made into a political event. This caused some unrest in the audience as it did when he was overly critical of Modi. Overall, it was a measured speech, fully knowing it was a partisan audience who were against his world view, Shashi Tharoor, I felt stood his ground gracefully.  It was comforting to see Gurumurthy come up to the stage after and admonishing the audience for interrupting Tharoor’s speech, commenting that since Dr Shashi Tharoor maintained the decorum of the forum, it behooves the audience too to do the same even if they believe he is all wrong.


Then came the star of the show, Annamalai who has caught the imagination of the public in the state especially those who desire an alternative to the Dravidian parties. His was a systematic take down of the DMK, its history and all that he felt was wrongs done by them. He also attempted to answer all the criticisms laid by Dr Tharoor, replying to the preferential treatment to the North charge, gave a population-based defense of the budget allocations favoring the North. He explained the BJP’s plans for the south and Tamil Nadu in particular.  Gurumurthy too jumped on to the same North – South subject later and gave a historical perspective based on argument that the north suffered more from the partition which at least I could not buy fully.


A few broad inferences for me from the event

For Congress, it appears as though this boycotting of hostile TV Channels and media is a petulant and self-defeating act. I too cannot stand some of these loud TV Channels and can understand the reasoning but if one is running a political party, surely one needs a thicker skin and like Shashi Tharoor showed, one can hold their point of view even among a partisan hostile crowd and come out with head held high! I overheard a lot of the audience commenting that “Tharoor is a good leader but will he survive in the Congress”. It is up to the Congress to convince people of that and give such leaders more responsibilities and have them engage with people more.


For BJP, this preferential treatment of North over South and the damage to the federal structure narrative is hitting home to the audiences in this part of the world and even to those who are favorably disposed towards it. The narratives countering it, the ones I heard from Annamalai and Gurumurthy were not entirely convincing. There have been other arguments on this subject which have featured in BP Podcasts by folks like Maneesh about Freight Equalization policies and such which seems to have some merit in them but are seldom heard here. Are those too nuanced and complex arguments, am not sure but the ones that I listened to now still leave me with the feeling that we in the south have been hard done by both the Congress and more so by the BJP Government.

Interacting with the audience live, especially if it is a large one and answering them impromptu seems to be a rare occurrence and should be celebrated more. The audience too needs to learn to respect the speaker and not jeer if an opposing point is presented. The audience in this event have been that historically and when they went a bit haywire, they were immediately pulled up. Politicians, those who are well qualified (Please note I do not say educated!) and passionate about a subject can still convey their stances without resorting to name calling and hyperbole. Both Shashi Tharoor and Annamalai were strong but objective and respectful in their speeches.

The argumentative Indian can also be objective and respectful and can engage in constructive dialogue and achieve much more!

The YouTube Recording of the entire event.

Brown Pundits