Venkat Ananth

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Blog Posts by Venkat Ananth

  • From 50/50 to 20/25

    Over the years, and more especially over the past decade or so, cricket has systematically attempted to transform itself into a sport that combines fast-paced on-field action with a frenetic off-field entertainment component. The spectator is truly king, and administrators have become focused on accommodating the needs of the audience into the larger dynamics of running the sport. Somewhere along the way, cricket has learnt to seamlessly integrate its historic traditions with a more modern, marketing oriented narrative that not so long ago was anathema.

     

    One upshot of this development is that change now follows a far more rapid cycle. Over a century went by before one day cricket came along to challenge the monopoly of Test cricket; however, it did not take half as long for T20 to emerge as an alternative. The upshot has been that 50-over cricket is now under threat from the T20 format; it is widely argued that the lack of action in the middle overs, when both sides are in

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  • Ajinkya Rahane: Past tense, future perfect

    Indian cricket is, like it or not, on the brink of transition. On its way out is an era remembered for some of the best exponents of the different moods of batsmanship - the classic, the belligerent, the artistic, the stoic. The national selectors are increasingly reconciled to the fact that the Tendulkars, Dravids and Laxmans will not play forever, and have begun looking at the Pujaras, the Kohlis and the Rainas as the faces of India's future.

     

    A name that deserves discussion in this context is that of Ajinkya Rahane, the 22-year old Mumbai batsman.

     

    Rahane's story is in a sense that of Mumbai cricket itself - a story where cricket is often one strand in a narrative that spans the virtues of grit and determination, an infinite capacity for hard work, a seminal struggle that begins with the fight to board a second class compartment, kit bag in tow, during rush hour and just gets tougher from there. Those who know Mumbai cricket well will tell you that it is a crucible like no other;

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  • The end of an era, the start of another

    It was somewhere around December 2008 that there was a gradual realization within sections of the Australian media that their national Test side was on the wane, that an empire had crumbled - an empire that in its heyday rewrote the rules by which Test cricket was, and still is, played; an empire whose core values of aggression and intimidation as the template for Test success have been adopted by most Test-playing nations today.

     

    India's part in the story of that decline is well known and extensively documented. And then there was Graeme Smith and his men, who outthought and outperformed their traditional nemesis and exposed Australia's post-2006 transition plans as a pipe dream, and thus helped push Australian cricket into an acute identity crisis, which was exacerbated by Andrew Strauss and his England side which regained the Ashes in the most convincing fashion later in 2009.

     

    Add to this the more recent whitewash of Ricky Ponting and his men at India's hands in a truncated Test

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  • India-versus-Australia: A story in search of a narrator

    On the morning of the fifth day of the second India-Australia Test in Bangalore, I woke to an interesting comment piece in the Hindustan Times. In it, my former colleague Anand Vasu argued that qualitatively speaking, India and Australia over the past decade have consistently served up the best of Test cricket.

     

    I agree, wholeheartedly, and would even go on to say that the contests between the two teams have, over the years, graduated from being one more bilateral engagement on the international calendar, to becoming one of the most important rivalries in the modern cricketing discourse. I am, however, tempted to push the envelope a bit, expand the narrative if you will, and talk how we can work to take this to the next level - a dialogue that involves not just building the rivalry, but sustaining it over a period of time.

     

    Sporting rivalries are built upon, or emerge through, different complimentary or often conflicting narratives over a period of time. In football, geography and

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  • ‘India needs to embrace Test cricket’

    I began writing this even as the unflappable VVS Laxman, yet again, demonstrated his uncanny ability to rise to the occasion, to shepherd the tail, and to win for his team matches that were written off as lost. The backdrop to my piece, therefore, is yet another come-from-behind win scripted by this most unassuming of cricketers - a great climax, a photo-finish ending, and yet another compelling chapter in the history of India-Australia Tests.

     

    Not to rain on this parade, but mixed in with the euphoria of the win and the manner of it is a sadness that so few people chose to come to the stadium to watch the drama unfold. There was a time when Tests filled stadiums in India; today, unfortunately, there are very few takers for this format.

     

    While researching this column, I stumbled upon a few interesting backgrounders that help understand this phenomenon better, and that lead to the conclusion that the BCCI should take the lion's share of the blame for this public apathy, which owes to

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  • A case for franchise cricket in India

    The tragic story that is Indian domestic cricket (and I am not referring to the IPL) is sadly not about the sport itself, or its desperately appalling standards, but one that reminds us all about the power of that elusive 'vote'. And this quintessential vote is exactly what I think stands between a system that continually thrives on perceived mediocrity, zero-reforms and a hushed status-quo, that promises much, delivers little and one that is at least seen to evolve keeping the best interests of Indian cricket at its very heart.

     

    It is that vote that will quintessentially prevent Indian cricket from taking decisions which, in doing so might displease lobbies but in its quiet little way, ameliorate the appalling standards that exist. That one vote could well determine the way the direction in which the larger powerplay threatens to play out within the board-games at the BCCI, and it is that very vote that somewhere is preventing Indian cricket from taking that next-big step in

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  • CLT20: theatre of the absurd

    I confess I haven't watched much of Champions League T20 tournament, except a few overs here and there. 

     

    There is an air of triviality about it all, right from the format to the marketing and even the cricket. I flip through television channels at random, and invariably see a Bollywood A-list star make grotesque statements like 'Cricket ka Asli Muqabla' -- and the perversity of it all makes me laugh.

     

    I've often wondered how we can take this format seriously, given that it's a game of hits and misses, with no clear pattern or overarching narrative during a particular match. It makes for great viewing, yes, but to over-analyze and give it pretentious connotations would be doing this epic game a great disservice. Sadly, we've chosen that path, you have commentators going ga-ga about the "successes" being scripted by nondescript teams. 

     

    My problem with the Champions League begins with the concept. Memory being notoriously short, here's a quick history lesson: In 2000-'01, you had a

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  • The fall of an institution?

    Speaking as someone who loves the game of cricket more than anything else, I am yet to recover from the events of August 29, 2010. The News of the World video – its content, its seeming veracity – has shaken the game's soul, its credibility, its veracity.

     

    But what enrages me even more than the seeming proof of malfeasance contained in that video is the role of the Pakistan Cricket Board, which has embraced the national societal and political virtue of denial, defiance, inaction and resistance.

     

    That more people do not seem to be focusing on this aspect is surprising, and sad. The then BCCP (Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan) was a leading voice of Asian cricket in the 70s; what we see now when we look at the institution is a precipitous decline that parallels the decline of Pakistan's cricket and, indeed, its state.

     

    The history of the PCB makes it clear that somewhere along the line, it acquiesced to functioning as an alternate source of power for corrupt politicians/Army

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  • A Scandal in Bohemia

    Sunday, August 29th, 9:30 am: I wake up, turn on the phone, check my twitter timeline, and I see that almost everybody is tweeting about one topic.

     

    Just to be sure, I click on the link, and read the News of the World story. And I say to myself, 'Bugger off, cricket! You've lost me again.' 

     

    My visceral reaction was one of disgust. News of the World is a paper I tend to rubbish for its shady reputation, but this story was too fact-driven, the proofs within too clear-cut, to be ignored.

     

    So, I am disgusted – but at what, or whom? At these fixers, who roam the world, corrupting whom they may, never mind the cost to the players, the fans, the game itself? At the players, who prostitute their god-gifted talents for the sake of a few dollars more? Or at myself – the 'cricket writer' who chose to ignore all the hints and the clues and to cling to my naïve belief that the sport was clean again?

     

    I felt cheated, sullied. You probably share that feeling. I felt shocked – but not surprised,

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  • Of burnouts, and misplaced priorities…

    Not so long ago, the predominant narrative in the cricketing discourse revolved around "player burnout" or what is now today called as "exhaustion". It took the BCCI to splash some cash around to silence it and somewhere, the focus through the Indian Premier League (IPL) went towards "creating a global Indian product" at the cost of its content - the players.

    Now, in the typically circular fashion of cricket debates, "burnout" has resurfaced, with some Indian cricketers apparently upset with the calendar thrust on them -- a calendar driven not by sound logic but by the greed of those who matter,  leaving the poor player with no choice except to follow the diktat. This re-visiting of the topic has predictably resulted in pro forma denials and a studied silence on the part of the Board -- a technique that body has perfected over the years.

    Player welfare

     

    In the modern era, given the way cricket is played and administered, player welfare becomes a critical, if not the most important

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