Wednesday, 20 July 2011


There has been a lot of talk about this series, a lot of pant-moistening hype and clap-trap, when it’s obvious that India cannot possibly win. Here’s why:


Robert Clive of India meets Mir Jaffar after the Battle of Plessey (1757)
We have conquered them before (literally, I mean; not just at cricket). They have never conquered us. Go figure. Do the math. Go get the figures and do the math. Or, don’t bother, ’cos it’s one-fucking-nil to the In-ger-lund and, thanks to the Treaty of Versailles, that’s the way it’s going to stay, irrespective of their nuclear capability (which I don’t believe they have) and billion-strong population ripe for transformation into a war machine (or juggernaut/Jagannath). “Well, Geoff, England really do have an unassailable 1-0 advantage in the colonization stakes, which will surely feed back into the cricketing psyche of both sides and make the Indians a bit tentative in and around off stump”. “That’s right, Henry. Old scars are bound to be opened. Come tea time, the Indian batsman will have to dash off, chuck on some servant clobber, and put in a quick shift as punkah-wallah or chai-wallah for posh boy Strauss and his ilk”. Ya get me?


Due to the sacrosanct status accorded our beef-bestowing bovine buddies by the good people of India – for instance, allowing urban cows to wander (jaywalk?) the streets of already ludicrously congested and chaotic cities – it is almost certain that there will be sacred proscriptions preventing MS Dhoni from stationing fielders in Cow Corner. It’s for cows, see. And cows, the great big docile, four-stomached milk-gushers, can do what they want. In India, they’re not only street, cows – they’re also street-cows, and, as such, own the streets. So, given that Trott and Pietersen score 94.47 % of their Test runs through a no-go area for Indian fielders, it stands to reason that they’re going to make merry, ja? And to celebrate, they’ll probably go into their back garden (or vaals, or whatever it is they’ve got), kill some cows, and put ’em on the brai, ja? And that really would be rubbing salt into the wounds (which, according to page 37 of Trott’s book, Long, Drawn-Out yet Essential Preparations, is essential prepping), ja? 


Pakistan and India in happier times (i.e. when they didn't exist):
 Ali-Jinnah and Gandhi
India was born on 15 August 1947 (the same date as Pakistan, coincidentally, although the latter of these ill-starred twins has huffily decided to celebrate its birthday a day earlier as a result of some tiff I’m yet to get to the bottom of entirely…). Presumably, before this date, when the Indian subcontinent was a mere glint in, erm, another tectonic plate’s eye, Afghanistan, China, Nepal and the like would have been gently lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean (no, I don’t know who had the prescience to name it after a then-nonexistent nation either, but kudos for that).

Anyway, what this all means, if you haven’t already worked it out, is that, mid-tour, the day after the inevitably gruelling 3rd Test at Edgbaston [see 6, below], India will be celebrating its 64th birthday, which, as The Beatles told us, is no age at all to be doing anything strenuous, let alone competing for the world number one slot: When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now / will you sign me up for the hair re-seed / like Kallis, Doug the Rug, and Rana Naved… And if any of you are thinking ‘Yeah, well, what about England: you’re positively ancient’, let me point out this: England is not a sovereign nation; that would be the United Kingdom you’re thinking of. Therefore, we – England – are ageless, immortal. And who would you back in a tussle: a 64-year-old geriatric or an immortal entity? Exactly!


India's shirking fogies try to remember what they were talking about ©AP
Yes, I realize this argument was used with Australia in 2006-07 and we had our arses (anti-)royally whipped by McGrath, Warne, Hayden, Gilchrist, Langer et al, but India’s middle-order is now the equivalent of the Arsenal back four of the late 1990s: no, not shit hot; ancient (and just as much protected by technology-deprived umpires as Dixon, Adams, Bould and Winterburn were protected by refs who bought their bus-hailing routine). They are so antiquated, in fact, that there are teams of anthropologists from Swiss universities among their entourage, there to try and decipher the symbolism of the highly ritualized way in which the initiated elders (Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman) customarily and precisely strap on their “Mums and Dads”, and how that fits with the overall process known as “getting ‘em on”. (By the way, for what it’s worth, I believe Sachin must be on some form of steroid even to be able to wield a bat that heavy at his age.) Anyway, I fully expect these senescent has-beens to start nodding off halfway through an over of Stuart Broad’s “pass the stepladders, please” bouncers, all of which ought to help us bundle them out pretty cheaply. On the plus side, they’ll get preferential parking at most grounds...


This nose was made for snorting... ©AFP
Excuse the Boycottian bluntness here, but let’s face it, someone needed to address the massive Indian elephant in the pre-series hype room, namely: their pace bowling resources are massively overrated, with the exception of teak-stiff seam-canting geometrician, Zaheer Khan, a man whose range of menace-irradiating glares and glowers is positively Stanislavskiyan in its subtlety, a gestural palette whose somewhat over-indulgent usage is, however, entirely responsible for the desultory over-rate that India purvey (not that this over-rate matters a jot, of course, on account of India running the whole sport). So, who’s the back-up to “Z” and what are their shortcomings?

* Clearly, the cumbersome bling-sway around the necks of ISHANT SHARMA and SREESANTH is liable to blind or choke one of them before too long. Ishant, in particular, is like a display bust in a hock jewellers, while Sreesanth’s general garb appears to be a kind of homage to the fashion car crashes of early 80s, Studio 54-era Noo Yoik. He is thus roundly expected to emerge from the Lord’s pavilion with rings of coke residue around his conveniently capacious nostrils (only cocaine offers a plausible explanation for his colossal attention-seeking and fidgety hecticness; he’s a nailed-on chalk head, if ever I’ve seen one).

* Then there’s MOO-NAFF PATEL, who burst on the scene in 2006 with a high action and close-to-the-stumps delivery, leading him to be trumpeted as India’s very own Glenn McGrath. He was soon left out, however, first due to the blasphemous name (since modified to the more conventional spelling: Munaf), then because his obsession with the man from Narromine led to him having a head transplant in order to look like the “original Australian” deck-hitting miser. Unfortunately, the head surgeon he saw was partially deaf, and so gave him the appearance of an aboriginal Australian – none of which he was aware of, mercifully, what with being under fairly heavy sedation during the procedure, not to mention being temporarily sans bonce... 

* PRAVEEN KUMAR – Who? (Why?) He’s the guy who’s effective only for the first 2.4 overs of an IPL game, until The White SG Ball Stops Swinging. Presumably, the Indian selectors thought his skiddy little swingers would be useful in England. Do they not realize why England don’t pick Darren Maddy to open the attack?

That’s your lot. No RP Singh, VRV Singh, inswingh or outswingh. If these boys can’t do it, they’re shafted... They’re shafted. 


After years of subcontinent-visiting English cricketers suffering from (or complaining of) “Delhi Belly”, shitting as though someone were trying to pass a molten starfish through their guts, surely it’s about time the Indian tourists ate some dodgy English nosh and had a couple of billion British bacillus get their micro-crampons into the intestinal walls of The Wall and his cohorts. Think of the sledging possibilities: “All the gear, and diarrhoea…” To this fiendish Machiavellian end, Birmingham’s Balti Triangle should be closed off on some ludicrous pretext (the English Dialect Society having come to purge the air of Brumminess, maybe) and the Indians should all be sent to a greasy spoon (or groicy spouwunn, as the locals call them) where slimy tinned mushrooms that resembe smoker’s catarrhy gobbets floating in puddles, polystyrene scrambled eggs, sodden fried bread, superannuated ox-bollock sausages, pseudo-bacon and “boiked boynes” would be served – then barfed – up.


his name is Yuvi and he dances on the sand... ©Getty

As has been irrefutably demonstrated above with regard to their bowling, the Indians’ batting is also overhyped, overblown, overrated, especially by themselves. Look up smug in the dictionary and a definition has been eschewed in favour of a picture of Yuvraj Singh’s mug. Yuvraj Singh’s smug. Invariably, he struts out to bat like he’s just finished carrying a couple of rolled-up carpets half-a-mile across town. And he can’t even get in the side! As for all the Yoraths – Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Chet Pujara, Rohit Sharma – they have been told to wait. Until they are fit to lace the boots of their elders (who, ironically, are all so past it and decrepit that they can’t actually lace their own boots):

DRAVID – “The Wall”? Maybe in 2002. Now it’s more like The Shoji. I’ve seen sturdier sandcastles.
SEHWAG – the pudgy, samosa-munching little scyther isn’t going to be playing, so, Matt Prior, no need to distract him with jellybeans on a length.
GAMBHIR – never makes runs in the Northern hemisphere, except for in India, Bangladesh, the West Indies and Pakistan (when they play there, which will be never again). Anyway, ask any Brazilian and they’ll tell you that gambiarra is only ever a bodge-job.
SACHIN – due a failure.
V.V.S. – never made 100 against us. Not even when James Ormond and Richard Dawson were in the attack. Together.


you could have someone's eye out with that. 
and them necklaces are dangerous, too... ©AP 
It is widely known that Ishant Sharma’s book-loving father named his son after Herman Melville’s short story ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’, a tale in which the eponymous hero, after a productive start to his new job transcribing legal documents, suddenly becomes sullen and introspective; thereafter, when asked to perform any sort of task, he simply says “I would prefer not to”. Somehow, he manages to escape the sack for his insolence – his indolence – and even takes to sleeping in his workplace: the Wall Street chambers of the narrator, his boss (Duncan Fletcher), a lawyer who is simultaneously baffled by his behaviour yet too emotionally tangled up, too full of pity, to able to fire young Bartleby. Instead, he simply abandons the office and moves his entire business elsewhere, leaving his erstwhile scrivener behind. However, the new tenants are faced with the same problem: they can’t get Bartleby to leave, as he “would prefer not to” (this was pre-tazers). The narrator attempts to intervene, with predictable results, and Bartleby is eventually imprisoned. When visited in gaol by his former employer, Bartleby is his same morose, uncommunicative self; the narrator leaves, bribing a guard to supply the prisoner with good and copious food, but on his return he discovers that Bartleby has died of starvation. Eat? He “would prefer not to”… 

Apparently, due to a poor Hindi translation doing the rounds in Delhi in the late 1980s, his bibliophile parents, re-translating back to English, decided upon naming their son “I shan’t” (less of a mouthful than “I would prefer not to” – and when it comes to mouthfuls, their son already has a Rubik’s cube stuck in his throat).

Anyway, my point is this: that Ishant the refusenik will cause problems in the squad, particularly for a skipper who has to “get by” with his four bowlers. Here’s MS: “Sorry Eeshy-bhai, but Z wants the Pavilion End. Have a crack from the Nursery End”. “I would prefer not to”. Not only that, even when he does pick up tools and bowl, he is about as sure of his lines as the cartographers of Kashmir…


It is now a commonly accepted sociological phenomenon that the burgeoning middle-classes of India’s, er, Cobra Economy are turning their backs on the professions in which they’ve been trained – airline pilot, vet, physicist – in order to take up the more lucrative, if tedious option of working in the call centres of British- or American-owned multinationals. Business Process Outsourcing, they call it. If chasing payments for British Gas and Barclay’s, selling mobile phone contracts or “Internet Service Providings”, is going to bring home more rupees than, I don’t know, inventing a new carburettor or preventing a cardiac arrest, then it makes economic sense, isn’t it…

It’s pretty well known how your average British punter feels about all this. The fact that the sometimes garbled ululations and unorthodoxly stressed pleadings (what their employers bemoan as the persistence of MTI, or “Mother Tongue Influence”) of their starch-collared punctiliousness – often a simulacrum of mannered Twenties Britishness, oddly – are often barely audible (or even comprehensible) across the hiss and crackle of ionosphere-and-back phone signals is almost guaranteed to raise the hackles of the very customers that their “customer service” is there to service. Even so, the eyeball-popping mega-fury into which Irate of Dorking, Doncaster and Devizes will habitually descend seems to be inversely proportional to the call centre operative’s general air of scripted unrufflement: the screamed frustration – the unscripted rufflement – is largely covered in the training, however, and barely knocks them out of the serene meta-alienation of their repetitive, piece-working stride.

Anyway, my point is this: that the trend will soon affect the cricket team. It’s nigh on inevitable that, come a new wave of recruitment from the UK’s Telecoms and Energy giants, the Indian cricket team will eschew the meagre spiritual and pecuniary rewards of their professions, abandon their training, and race off to white-collar sweatshops on the Bengaluru outskirts to don the head-set and intone: “Top of mornings, Mr Johnsons. I am Steve of Awiwa Car Insurance calling from the Birkenhead, and am today inwiting you to take opportunity of the lifetime...” Inevitable.


Here are some words: all, it, tears, in, end, will. Now make a sentence out of them.

11/ B.C.C.I.’s VENAL COMMERCIALIZATION OF ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING (or, what Marxists call the “real subsumption” of society under the capitalist relation) 

"excuse me ladies, but I am not at present able to see the action"

It’s no secret that the Board of Control for Cricket in India are plenipotent – the other nations now its whimpering leather-and-willow-wallahs, looking up longingly at the Olympians for hand-me-downs in a cricketing echo of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts – but it seems yet to have sunk in entirely down at the MCC that the image of power the Indians have embraced is not so much the obvious old world model of Empire, but a sort of intense parody of cynical profiteering à l’americain, pants down and fuck-you-all. The BCCI’s craven greed and bumptious autocracy is nowhere better expressed than through the preposterous commentarese splattered all over the IPL, epitomised by the obsequious platitudes of Ravi Shastri, a man now so far into negative-cool that he could hit twelve sixes in an over – I beg your pardon, a dozen “DLF Maximums” – and still be the last one picked in the playground.

Already, two years ago, Australian cricket writer nonpareil, Gideon Haigh, had this gaudy Shastrification of the commentary – a cynical permadvertising – utterly skewered (and griddled, gobbled down, and pooped back out). Since it cannot be bettered, I take the liberty of quoting him at length, albeit in abridged form:
Either Lalit Modi is pumping nitrous oxide into the commentary box, or the IPL is bearing out JK Galbraith’s observation that television allows for persuasion with no minimum standard of literacy or intelligence. One expects a certain degree of phoniness from Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, who as IPL governing council members are busy getting high on their own supply. But the rest of Modi’s fawning courtiers, even super-smooth Mark Nicholas and pawky Jeremy Coney, have been reduced to carnival barkers, whether greeting a full toss slogged for six like the news of VE Day [or] pretending that the tactical time-out is something other than a sneaky commercial trick…The result is that whatever the game looks like, it sounds as forced as the canned laughter in an American sitcom… The commentators’ clueless desperation now feels as though it is working against the IPL. When something great happens, they have nowhere to go, no upper register left to use.
Doull, Mbangwa, Hogg, Morrison – these spouting buffoons’ self-whoring can all be traced back to the BCCI, who, with or without Modi, are a body whose take on Wall Street values is less ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’ than Gordon Gekko: greed is good. Now, while the Westernization of the call centre worker is mandatory and deliberate, the Westernization brought about by money – agent of both Shastrification and social de-stratification, and the great post-modern leveller, albeit one not entirely denuded of the pre-modern caste system, as with the zero-to-hero American Dream Bolly/Hollywoodified in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire – is presented as voluntary, sought after, aspirational. Certainly, the new India has a desire to prove it can do razzmatazz and spectacle just as well as the Yankee culture they’ve embraced. Well, forget Bollywood and the IPL: they can’t. It is a simulacrum. India will always be a nation with its top button fastened up – with or without a tie. And good for them. The IPL is the equivalent of your pissed uncle throwing shapes at a wedding. The mantra of HR departments at call centres is: “the geek shall inherit the berth”.

No, the Indians cannot really do cool. They do surgically precise wristy accumulation, flight and guile, and, in the case of their leaders, top-down ruthlessness and truculent hauteur. Indeed, the fetid odour of absolutism is hinted at in the very name: The Bored of Control [of] Cricket in India, perhaps... Anyway, if India’s nouveaux riches haven’t completely cast off the legacy of the caste system as an instrument for retaining, consolidating and codifying power, then Sharad Pawar – former head of BCCI, now of ICC (to all intents and purposes a de facto appendage of the former) – gives the lie to any supposed genetic superiority that comes with such exalted bloodlines. This is a man whose face appears to have undergone a series of landslides and ought to be poking out from under a tortoise’s carapace, although he’s clearly no lettuce-munching pushover. But I digress…

"I got the Pawar"

Combine the flagrant use of economic might to acquire a commensurable political power with the vulgar ethos of putting everything up for sale – even nouns, for fuck’s sake – and it is surely only a matter of time before their cricketers receive numinous orders to sign contracts obliging them to take such guards as middle-and-leg (“towards you a bit for…”), Patak’s one-leg and the like, all the while crouching down, as contractually stipulated, so that the stump mic’ picks up every last corporately sponsored syllable. 

Bowlers won’t be spared, either, by the omni-commercialization: “Change of bowling, batsman: coca-cola right-arm over the wicket”. And once that happens (around the time of the afternoon session of Day 3 of the Lord’s Test, sources tell me), the despondency will be all-pervasive. Indian (and thus world) cricket culture will enter meltdown. Rome will fall. And the Indian squad all know this already – ergo, they have no chance of winning this series…

As for the commentary, who knows which pundit will be invited by Sky as guest gushspout – the unctuous Shastri; the loquacious Laxman Shivaramakrishnan; the supercilious Gavaskar, a man who bristles so much he uses his own forefinger to brush his teeth; or that aphoristic agitator, Navjot Singh Sidhu (“all that comes out of a cow is not milk”) – but please, just let them go with the flow, for heaven’s sake, and use whatever Ferrari words come into their Dom Perignon heads at any given Rolex moment. (Personally, I advise you to avoid Sky anyway and listen to the joyously picaresque online musings of the Test Match Sofa crew.)

Whoever it is that enters the comm-box, they should bear in mind Haigh’s sage analysis, with which I now leave you:
The television commentator has always been sensitively placed. His network has paid good money to broadcast, and thus has an interest in the game being perceived as representing high-quality excitement – even when it is not. Richie Benaud didn’t become His Richieness by saying: “This is a boring game between two mediocre teams and represents an ideal opportunity for you to go mow the lawn.”
     With Twenty20, however, there is the added imperative of promoting a format in which exorbitant sums and giddying hopes have been invested. The consumer has not just to be sold the game he is watching, but the Twenty20 concept in general; persuaded that he is witness not just to a contest of teams, but a contest of genres, with Modi responsible for the most exciting breakthrough since penicillin. It forces the commentator even further from the ideal perspective of disinterested critic, bringing to bear a weight of experience and a talent for observation; it reduces him to sideshow huckster, flogging the game like a patent medicine from the back of his covered wagon. Nor am I sure it ultimately does the sponsors much good either.
     There are two sides to brand recognition: one where the sponsor's name conjures up warm and positive associations; another where it stirs irritation and objection, as a result, perhaps, of incessant, cloying, annoying repetition. So, yes, we now know which sponsors to find, and also, if so moved, those to avoid.
And that, Dear Reader, is today’s Pearl & Dean Pearl of Wisdom.


rameshb20 said...

Hi Scott,

Thoroughly enjoyed every bit of your post (And I am an Indian; a cricket fan as well). Especially liked the bit about Ishant Sharma. Looking forward to more from you.


Scott Oliver said...

Hi Ramesh,

Glad you could detect the post's ironic tone and were able to enjoy it. The Guardian removed it for contravening Community Standards #5 (Hate Speech). Ha ha ha.

Please feel free to post on other forums (fora?); could do with the readers!!


Anonymous said...

There's a word in Hindi for Gambiarra , it's called Jugaad. It's how India has been operating for a while now, despite shortcomings and injuries.

Also, Pawar's face is in its current state due to surgery for mouth cancer.

Nice post though.