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A drawn series this time is disappointing for India

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When South African captain Graeme Smith has to make a cheeky comment he usually goes ahead and makes it. At the post-match presentation in Newlands though he was a man at sea and he struggled for the right words. He rumbled about this and that in a hasty manner and was unsure whether to go forward or back. Then he said something to the effect that as a team we’ve managed to compete well with the best team in the world.

Begrudgingly, but he did sound like he meant it. Maybe he had to say it on a day when his bowling attack toiled for 82 overs on a fifth day wicket for three measly wickets. What was worse was they never looked like taking a wicket.

Disappointment was a word he chose not to dwell on. In 2008 in India he was more precise. Sample this from a news story: It must have been disappointing to lose at the brink of a major upset, but Smith said 1-1 was a result the hosts will be more disappointed with. “If we were playing India at home, and it was 1-1 we would be sitting in our dressing room a touch disappointed. Both teams are strong at home. We would obviously have loved to win the series, but we have played some terrific cricket so far in this season.”

When South Africa won the first Test in Centurion, Smith didn’t shy away from his customary verbal barrage. Check exhibit II: MS Dhoni, India’s captain, placed a lot of importance on the toss and the way the pitch played during the first two sessions on day one but Smith thought it was a case of too much hype. “I don’t think the wicket actually did that much. For a wicket that was under covers for four days, I thought it would do a bit more.” He added that the expectation of a bouncy wicket, and not the wicket itself, may have been what undid India. “In my mind, I think India expected more from the wicket than what actually happened. They were tentative and were on the back foot a lot of the time.”

Then Smith tried to rub salt on India’s wounds when he said that he expected more of a fight from India on the final morning and was surprised at how easily the last two wickets came. He was pointing to the fact that Sachin Tendulkar didn’t try to farm the strike and exposed the tailenders to the South African quicks.

Smith also took a dig at Harbhajan Singh when rating Paul Harris’ performance. “If you compare him to Harbhajan, the way he controlled the game for us was brilliant. Paul gets written off every series, whether it is the opposition, or the media, everyone seems to bad-mouth him or write him off. He always seems to find a key way to do something for us, to allow other people to do big things. In our dressing room, too, he plays a big part.”

For starters let’s give credit where it is due. The South African team has been the only consistently-competitive international team to tour the subcontinent in the last decade; and this despite the fact that they’ve never really had a genuine spinner. They won a two Test series in 2000 when India’s batting was insipid and South Africa’s attack had bite. This was prior to Graeme Smith entering the South African dressing room. India won the two Test series in 2004 but the fact that South Africa managed to draw a Test was also considered an achievement as at that time a result of 2-0 in favour of the hosts was the pre-series expectation.

In 2008 and in 2010 the South African team was leading the series before the final game and on both occasions India came back and squared it. On both the occasions South Africa won the toss in the deciding game yet could not manage to prevent India from winning. At the Eden Gardens in 2010 they were sitting on 218 for 1 and there were no gremlins in the wicket. South Africa was one up in the series and AN Petersen and Hashim Amla had scored flowing hundreds at a strike-rate of over 60. Then followed a passage of play that is hard to describe on a benign first-day surface and nine wickets fell for the addition of 78 runs—thirty-five of them courtesy the last wicket partnership. That’s where you say that the wicket didn’t do too much and it was all in the mind.

Eden Gardens can be intimidating and in the din that day the South African batsmen froze. Ashwell Prince and J.P. Duminy went to successive and identical deliveries and A.B. de Villiers ran himself out. India made 643 for six and scored at a rate of 4.20 runs per over. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel combined gave 230 runs and shared three wickets but not one of them was that of a key Indian batsmen. South Africa tried batting time the second time and Amla scored an unbeaten hundred but no one else crossed 25 and India won by an innings and 57 runs. It wasn’t even a rank turner of the kind they got in Kanpur when India squared the series in 2008.

The wicket was damp in Centurion and India had not played a tour game and when they lost the toss it was tough going on their first outing in South African conditions. India backed this claim with performance and got 459 runs in their second outing in Centurion. They again lost the toss in Durban but applied themselves better to get 205 and then on a distinctly South African surface bundled the hosts for 131 in better batting conditions. The series was levelled in Durban.

Compare this to South Africa in India in 2010. They won the toss in both the matches and had scored 558 runs in the first Test in Nagpur and won it by an innings and six runs before they came to the Eden Gardens. You would have to say that they were acclimatised. The pressure was on India yet it was South Africa that wilted. Ditto in 2008 in Kanpur.

In Centurion India also missed the leader of their attack Zaheer Khan and the impact of it cannot be overstated. It is the same as Steyn missing for South Africa. Had Steyn missed the first or the third Test the series would have gone in India’s favour as he broke crucial partnerships in Centurion and brought the game to an even keel in Cape Town with his brilliant burst with the second new ball.

Dhoni has had an exceptional home leg where India has beaten virtually every team they’ve played. If you ask him he’ll perhaps tell you that India is more disappointed with the 1-1 result than South Africa as in Cape Town only India was in a position that could have resulted in a win. The South Africans had no scent of it.

In Cape Town India missed the moment whereas South Africa never had that moment. There is no such thing as over attack when a team is at 130 for 6 or even at 64 for four. With the series on the line India should have gone for the kill but unlike Durban they allowed the game to drift.

South Africa has failed to register a series win at home for the third successive season but that was not something that Smith was worried about. He instead rued the fact that the wicket didn’t do much on the fifth day though it was the same one where South Africa were six down for 130 on the fourth day.

At the end of the series Dhoni said if the side had applied itself a little better in Centurion, where they disintegrated on a damp pitch, the series would have looked completely different. There is every reason to believe that what he says has merit because India had the better of South Africa in both the Tests after that. Deep down Smith would know that a 1-1 result this time around is a lucky escape for him but he wouldn’t be cheeky enough to come out and say it.

This piece was first published in The Sunday Guardian, Delhi’s only Sunday newspaper, on January 9, 2011 and can be accessed via this link to the paper’s website.

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Give Mohammad Amir Another Chance

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A billion dollars can’t buy you an ounce of the talent that oozes out of Pakistan’s young left-arm fast bowler Mohammad Amir. Is there anything that an aspiring fast bowler would not trade to-have-even-half of what this 18-year-old boy has in abundance? And is it, therefore, a rational question to ask that why would the proud possessor of such rare gifts betray his calling? And what is it in the cricketing world that is even remotely as valuable as what Amir already has?

Money, and more money. The answer, if proved, is not surprising but shameful as it says less about Amir and more about the world of grown-ups in which he is no more than just a cog. Amir has made the cricket this summer worth watching: That eagerness to grab the ball, the jouissance in his delivery stride that is akin to the flight of an eagle, and the bite that is as venomous as the sting of a viper. He’s engineered batting collapses, made the ball talk with late movement and perfect length, and on certain days he’s looked like taking a wicket almost every ball.

What has the ICC or the various cricket boards done this summer apart from making big bucks by striking lucrative deals? What portion of the money that cricket generates trickles down to the players who shed their blood and sweat on the field and what portion goes to bloating-and-gloating cricket administrators? I don’t know the answer, I’m just curious.

I find it difficult to blame young Amir and exonerate the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the International Cricket Council (ICC), and the seniors of the Pakistani cricket team. A boy of 18 would not have even dreamt of doing this had it not been for the corroding influence of his team’s seniors.

The best of mankind’s youth start out in life with a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one’s life is important and that great achievements are within one’s capacity. The great Wasim Akram had 45 scalps after 14 Tests and Amir at the same juncture has 51. It could be a stellar career. Now the administrators would hang this young boy knowing fully-well that what he has done comes nowhere close to what they do all of their lives.

Would the entire Commonwealth Games scandal come out in the open and the guilty punished? Will we get to know who made what-should-not-have-been-made in the IPL scam? I am doubtful. Although I am pretty certain something would be handed over as punishment if the spots stick to the three accused in the Lord’s Test. Columnist Pradeep Magazine said that the system that pollutes the mind of someone so young should take the blame—the PCB, the ICC, and the team seniors was what he said categorically.

In her introduction to the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Fountainhead author Ayn Rand wrote: “It is not in the nature of man—nor of any living entity—to start out by giving up, by spitting in one’s own face and damning existence; that requires a process of corruption whose rapidity differs from man to man.” The youth getting corrupted says a lot about those that are past their prime and are running the affairs of the world.

Now there is a lot of talk about how the involved players should be punished severely and that an example should be made of them so that it serves as a deterrent for the future. Should we turn a blind eye towards the bigger problems that the sport faces and hang those few found guilty of spot-fixing?

Suddenly you have players from most countries talking about how they were approached by bookies and how they did or did not report the incidents. Why is all this talk coming out now? Mohammad Amir is an insanely-talented cricketer and that is to his credit but he is also a product of a corrupt environment. That corrupt environment will now punish him and would then claim to have cleaned itself. That, alas, is called justice.

If cricket is to be salvaged as a sport then the cleaning up must begin at the right place, at the source of corruption. The rotten cricket administration that makes the big bucks on the backs of talented players needs to be made accountable and the brouhaha that is being made about the tip of the iceberg has to stop. Australian writer Gideon Haigh wrote after the Lord’s Test: “Corruption has become cricket’s gravest challenge, and it neither begins nor ends with the Pakistan cricket team.”

Shane Watson rightly questioned whether the ICC really wants to eradicate match-fixing and spot-fixing from cricket due to fears the problem might run too deep.

Watson said the fact a newspaper was responsible for highlighting the irregularities involving Pakistan’s recent performances showed the ICC’s system was unsuccessful. “The ICC anti-corruption unit is not really working,” he said during a sponsor’s function in Sydney. “That’s totally to do with the ICC, so they really need to step in and really get to the bottom of it. Maybe they don’t want to get to the bottom of it because it might run too deep.”

Mass murderers get away in this stinking dunghill of a world. Criminals sit in public offices and racists set agendas for nations. Amir deserves more than a second chance given the kind of people we put up with every day of our life. Don’t forget, he’s just 18.

Newspapers Have To Live To Tell The Tale

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“In 2010 the only thing harder to sell than a newspaper will be a newspaper company,” Michael Kinsley, a columnist and editor-in-chief of a new website to be launched in 2010 by the Atlantic, wrote in an essay for a special issue of The Economist titled ‘The World in 2010’.

The good news, if any, in this assertion is that the gloomy outlook at the time the special issue went to press was only for the United States. The bad news is that some of the observations made by Kinsley would be applicable to the world at large; slowly but surely. The United States is the right place to begin the argument as the revenue shift towards digital media from the traditional print media has been rising on a year-on-year basis with the last 18 months or so being the low point for newspapers in America. Former Scottish footballer, Tommy Docherty, may not have been totally off the mark when he said, “I’ve always said there’s a place for the press but they haven’t dug it yet.”

The year 2009 has seen some historic newspaper names not managing to find any buyers and ultimately stop printing in the US. “The New York Times, which paid $1.1 billion for the Boston Globe in 1993, spent most of the last year hungrily eyeing bids of under $100m. After years of Micawberism, many newspaper publishers now accept that no amount of cost-cutting and laying off of journalists can keep up with plummeting revenues. Newspapers missed the brief moment when the government was an easy touch for bail-outs of one ‘vital’ industry or another.”

Closer home things aren’t that bad as yet but we are also moving towards a Digital era at our own pace; though speed in the virtual world is defined quite differently than that in the real one. Twitter is a recent example of a spreading ‘Digital Viral’ and one can speculate on the time and resources that would be needed in the real world to build a brand like it. Journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his brilliant 2000 debut bestseller The Tipping Point explored the social dynamics that cause rapid change. The Tipping Point is the biography of an idea; and it is Gladwell’s gift of story-telling that has given life to the book. Gladwell benefited from the research of epidemiologists but he used his talent to show how social and business change is explained best by looking at it as a ‘virus’.

Just about 18 to 20 months ago I was running after a few columnists at a newspaper house as its Website did not have any blogs and I struggled to convince writers and only got two positive respondents, with much strife, out of a dozen or so that I was asked to chase. For a particular guy I had to do the chasing for almost a month and yet I could not get a 300-word copy out of him; these days no matter what the occasion he is always singing in the background.

The landscape in India is changing but Internet penetration is low and literacy is not that high for a swift change. That is not going to be the case forever and sometime in the future the Digital Media in India would gain critical mass or in other words would reach ‘the tipping point’ from where things start happening on their own. Among the coarse things in the newspaper business the most important is the rising cost of newsprint. Then there is also the environment factor and the James G. Watt quote in Newsweek, 8 March 1982, becomes all the more relevant now: “They kill good trees to put out bad newspapers.”

Norman Mailer, an author, a journalist, a stalwart on radio and television talk shows and winner of most of the major literary awards, but for the Nobel and co-founder of The Village Voice, a weekly newspaper launched in 1955 from a two-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village, New York, the initial area of coverage, famously said: “Once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever, even to the protagonists.”

This point is also made by prolific columnist Vir Sanghvi in a piece he wrote on a book called Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. “Davies, who has spent a major part of his journalistic career with The Guardian, casts a critical eye on his entire profession—not sparing even the publications he has worked for—explaining why Flat Earth News is taking over. ..But as I come to the end, I can’t help wondering if such a book would ever be possible in India. In our country, the media is content to attack every other institution while regarding itself as being above any scrutiny,” Vir wrote.

The optimism that I share is about the publishing industry and new technology coming in has not changed my view at all and I continue to pay through my nose to buy books; I haven’t seen Kindle and I don’t have a desire for it as a good hardcover is an integral part of what I consider to be my most-valuable possessions. I feel that they would survive the threat from the vapid more easily.

Many observers share the analysis that the big mistake was allowing readers to grow used to getting content free in the first place. Kinsley argues that it is not psychology that is at work here. It is the iron laws of economics. “Why has the internet turned into a disaster for newspapers? Mainly because it destroyed the monopoly that most American newspapers enjoyed in their home towns.” This observation is true for every small or big city in the world. “Every English-language paper published anywhere in the world is now in competition with every other. Competition is what has driven the price down to zero and kept it there.” Applying Kinsley’s logic would mean that the Indian papers would be available in London and New York; but, more importantly, the papers of New York and London would be available in India.

The answer probably lies with what The Village Voice did; if a newspaper in New Delhi tells me what is happening in Tokyo it is great but if it tells me that wood furniture of the highest-quality is on sale two blocks away from my house then it is even better. Kinsley calls this hyper-localism. It may turn out to be the saviour and, therefore, for the first time the most-important team in a newspaper’s scheme of things should be the Metro. It is the City Desk where the wheat needs to be separated from the chaff and the successful editor has to be someone who, for a change, publishes the wheat and throws away the chaff.

The Content Is What Counts

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I read a few posts in the last week or so and some of them have been like sparks that ignite something and some others have been so razor sharp that they have cut through the morass of any lateral drift and made a point that has simply rendered a lot of debates pointless.

The most-provocative and brilliant one has been the speech of Les Hinton, CEO Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, on November 30 at Hyderabad. Hinton remarked to world newspapers that ‘Free Costs Too Much.’ His long speech qualifies the criteria that it talks about; it is the kind of content that a reader would be willing to pay for. A small portion of the speech is used here to build the argument of this post.

“It is true that Google is at the heart of the crisis confronting journalism today. That their almost incalculable—and and growing—power warrants great vigilance. But the main, and most uncomfortable, truth is that this industry is the principal architect of its greatest difficulty today.

We are all allowing our journalism—billions of dollars worth of it every year—to leak onto the free internet. We are surrendering our hard-earned rights to the search engines, and aggregators, and the out-and-out thieves of the digital age. It is time to pause and recognize this—Free Costs Too Much. News is a business, and we should not be ashamed to say so. It’s also a tougher business today than ever before. We have survived other perceived threats—radio, television, cable TV. But this time it is different.

Eric Schmidt, Google chief executive, said recently about the debate on free versus paid: ‘As long as you’re on the side of the consumer, you’re pretty much on the right side of all these debates.’ No doubt he is right. The consumer will determine the business. Consumers will seek the valuable over the vapid because they always do.

Only a few hours ago in Washington DC, Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corporation told the US Federal Trade Commission: ‘In the future good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.’”

The speech of Les Hinton was delivered in Bangalore but I could not find any meaningful coverage in our papers but that could just be due to my inadequate search and may be some great write-ups were done that I missed—I did get a couple of results but they lacked the passion and the vigour of the speech.

Eric Schmidt wrote an opinion piece that was carried by the Wall Street Journal the very next day. “It’s understandable to look to find someone else to blame. But as Rupert Murdoch has said, it is complacency caused by past monopolies, not technology, that has been the real threat to the news industry. I certainly don’t believe that the Internet will mean the death of news. Through innovation and technology, it can endure with newfound profitability and vitality. Video didn’t kill the radio star. It created a whole new additional industry,” Schmidt said.

The Google chief has a point here as complacency by past monopolies has hit the newspaper industry pretty hard and revenues have moved substantially towards the Internet in the US. In India, though, the flagships of big media houses have been sustaining their loss-making ventures. A few years ago, Vinod Mehta, the editor of Outlook magazine said in a television programme that the journalists are not the ones who are worried by the foreign media coming to India and it is in fact the proprietors who are more concerned.

Just as Hinton rounded off his tour to India; the Hindustan Times on December 5 became India’s first newspaper to be available on Amazon’s Kindle. In an announcement on their website, they said that they would be offering their daily newspaper on Kindle for a monthly subscription of $9.99.

Keith Desouza wrote on techie-buzz.com regarding this development: “Personally I think that it is ridiculous price to start out with, considering that a hardcopy newspaper costs Rs 5 in India, which would take the total cost to Rs 150 or ~$3.5 per month. In fact, HT has several offers which offer their hardcopy subscriptions for the entire year at half the price they are selling the Kindle version.”

Despite Keith’s pessimism I think it is a good move in the long-run and if HT is able to provide relevant and high-quality content as a differentiator in the future then this presence would serve them. Even now it could bring some subscriptions as a start from the sizeable Indian population in UK and the US.

The decision-makers for foreign private equity investments as well as foreign institutional investments in India, along with the policy-makers at world level, would be more willing to pay Dow Jones Newswires, Bloomberg, ThomsonReuters, the Wall Street Journal and the likes because of the quality of their content and their reporting of financial markets. India should throw open its media in this time of global competition; some local bullies may get kicked around but the industry as a whole would benefit—which in turn would reflect in the gains we would make in other industries as well.

An insulated industry will languish with petty competition as the only yardstick; opening up would show that there is no dearth of talent in India. Sachin Tendulkar would not have been a great player with only the inter-state Ranji Trophy as his hunting ground; his greatness is that he competes with the best in the business and comes out as a winner.

“Every clique is a refuge for incompetence. It fosters corruption and disloyalty; it begets cowardice, and consequently is a burden upon and a drawback to the progress of the country. Its instincts and actions are those of the pack,” these are the words of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek; please Google if interested in her life.

Les Hinton also spoke of a former WSJ editor: “Barney Kilgore, the inestimable former editor of the Wall Street Journal and the CEO of Dow Jones, said something we ought to remember in this time of transition. The man who would create the first national newspaper in the US and redefine journalism in the process, said a long time ago: ‘The fish market wraps fish in paper. We wrap news in paper. The content is what counts, not the wrapper.’

Free costs too much. Good content is valuable. That hasn’t changed. It never will. The question is who will provide the content and who will be compensated fairly for the value delivered.”

Time for some champagne

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It is time for some elaborate and well-earned celebrations. India at this point of time is the number 1 Test team in the world and it is a nice place to sit and reflect on things before moving on to the bigger challenge of consolidating this position.

The fourteen players who were in the squad against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai were the last ones who came to my mind as my memory went back to listening about India playing abroad in the late seventies and early eighties. It went back to days when Sunil Gavaskar used to walk to the field and display character while playing in an era that had a battery of great fast bowlers. It also went back to Kapil Dev, Vishwanath, Jimmy Amarnath, Vengsarkar and to all those people who paved the way from the time when India were just considered pushovers in world cricket to this day.

Of course it went to our fabulous spinners; the unmatched Bishen Singh Bedi and the quartet that had Eknath Solker, near the bat, as a part of their hunting pack. Sandeep Patil hitting a spectacular 174 in the Adelaide Test after having been hit on the head by Len Pascoe on his ear in the Sydney Test of the 1980-81 series came to my mind. The list is long in this 77-year-old history and each step has meant something.

Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble can be clubbed with the squad of fourteen as they are an integral part of recent successes. Ganguly displayed steely resolve after his comeback and Kumble showed what a tremendous leader he is. The graph can be plotted from end-2007 when India defeated Pakistan 1-0 at home with the last Test finishing on December 12.

This was after a hectic ODI season and commercial greed ensured that India went to Australia without much of a rest or a decent conditioning camp and no time to acclimatise apart from one game that was washed out. Melbourne was the wicket that would have suited India the best and the bowlers did well to keep Australia below 350.

Two tour games may have shown form and adjustment factor. Sehwag may have played from the start and Yuvraj could have warmed the bench; our experts did not get it but Ian Chappell was right when he said that Sehwag may give just about 50 but his attack puts the train in motion. An attacking opener at the top would have put the bowlers on the defensive and the middle order could then have taken things forward. Yuvraj had made runs in India and so the entire furniture was rearranged to accommodate him. India lost the first Test by 337 runs and Ponting said he hadn’t expected such an easy win.

Then it was time for the back-to-back Sydney Test in the New Year and along with it a chance for Australia to match its previous highest winning streak of 16 Test matches on the trot. Never mind the washed out preparation game as that bit happened in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. In hindsight, Sydney was very unlucky for Andrew Symonds in the long-run and it was lucky in the long-run for India.

On the match days, though, every bit of luck went Australia’s way beginning with the toss. “We’re going to bat today, mate,” said Ponting. “The wicket looks pretty good, a bit of moisture this morning. We played well in Melbourne but that’s all behind us now. We created momentum and hope to do the same. It was as good Test cricket as we’ve played in a long time.”

Anil Kumble looked calm and confident. “There’ll be early juice in the wicket; I’m looking forward to a couple of early wickets,” Cricinfo’s commentary said. The attack was RP Singh, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. RP got both the openers cheaply and then Ponting and Hussey consolidated but from 119 for 2 in 29.4 overs Australia slumped to 134 for 6 in 34.5 overs. Brad Hogg joined Symonds, who had seven runs from 17 balls, and the counterattack started.

At the end of 46 overs Hogg was 35 and Symonds 29 when Ishant came in to bowl the 47th over with Australia on 191. At 193 for 6 on the fourth ball of Ishant Sharma, Symonds got a massive edge and looked back as Dhoni pouched it. Umpire Steve Bucknor was stone faced as Symonds looked at him. It was a giveaway. Australia ended up with 463 and Symonds added 132 more to his score of 30 when he had got that big let-off. On top of that the drama of a ‘reported incident’ at the end of the third day’s play meant that news agencies had a field day. That continued for a while.

To cut the long story short, Australia went on to win the game as India failed to survive over two and a half sessions on the last day and the team trailed 2-0 in the four Test series with the next match to be played in the Australian den at Perth.

Sehwag and Irfan Pathan got in the playing eleven and Harbhajan was out in the cold awaiting the decision of a judge after the acrimonious Sydney Test. Australia crumbled despite talks of a four-pronged pace attack and the two replacements justified their inclusion for India. That bit was Kumble’s leadership and India haven’t looked back since and beaten Australia 2-0 at home and won a series against England at home. There has been a 1-1 draw against South Africa at home. The only blip has been a 2-1 loss in Sri Lanka. Symonds has gone fishing or has hit the bar a bit more than the leadership group of the team would have wanted him to. He’s had the support of the captain and the team mates but he has found it hard to justify it.

Gary Kirsten had joined the team in Perth and one can hear about the value that he has added as players have been very vocal about his role even as he has been quiet about it. This year India has dominated and had a series win in New Zealand and now an emphatic 2-0 win against Sri Lanka at home. It is the Test matches that matter but we are just playing two more so the top ranking could be for just a short while; it is worth celebrating nonetheless.

Hunted And Haunted In The City

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A year has gone by and we have come to the time that keeps many of us awake even now; the time when Mumbai, India’s cosmopolitan city, was turned into a jungle and the residents of the city were hunted out on streets, restaurants and five-star hotels.

It was naked terror that came via the sea and then walked in without the need for any disguise. The man who became the face of the attacks looked ecstatic in a particular picture and later it became known that the crew was on certain drugs that kept them numb, focused and inhuman. With a global audience glued to the TV screens the terrorists achieved what they had come for.

I’ve seen footage of the Scotland Yard in London and that of the New York Police Department (NYPD) on BBC and CNN and I’ve seen what the CCTV at CST showed when the two terrorists were there; if you’ve seen that you understand the point. The action of the local forces in the first few hours was that of total incompetence and it was this period that made all the difference in what could have been a few lives lost and the threat eliminated in a matter of hours to the fact that the trained terrorists got their hideouts with civilian lives as hostages around them and the situation continuing for what seemed like endless 62 hours of agony. It has now been over 365 days of anger, helplessness and embarrassment.

Hardly anything went right that day or the one prior to that and every machinery responsible to ensure the safety of the citizens and that of the country itself from a terror attack failed. The intelligence community defended itself by saying that the intelligence was provided and the enforcing agencies came out saying that it was not actionable. Three of Bombay’s senior police officers, who could have provided leadership, died around Cama Hospital within the first few hours of the attack when they came in the line of fire of two terrorists who were hiding and had a position of advantage.

William Bratton, the recently retired well-known chief of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) who has headed NYPD before once said ‘all terrorism is local because ultimately, when it happens, it’s local. It’s on your shores. The police are the first line of deterrence rather than the last. It’s the police who know the neighbourhoods and there has to be some level of effective local intelligence.’ Bratton is a legend and there are enough stories on the Internet that show how crime rates have dropped significantly wherever he has provided leadership.

IBN Live carried a story last year after speaking to US security expert Alex Alexiev who put the blame squarely on India’s poor grasp of terror dynamics and lack of coordination between various agencies. Thankfully the US security expert just used the word poor grasp and did not actually say something downright demeaning because we should have been better prepared living near what is called by the world as the ‘epicentre of terrorism.’ And we’ve had a history of terror acts pointing towards the ISI with the one prior to Mumbai being that on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

The TV journalists did not know that the live footage was being used by the terrorist handlers but what about people from operations and from intelligence who are trained and were also listening to the intercepts? They should have barricaded the place and briefed the media and better still used it to their advantage. If intelligence and operations people knew that the handlers were passing information of our channels to their men inside the three places, then how much intelligence did they need to figure out that media would have been a perfect vehicle to foil their operations; and I am quite certain the journalists present would have been extremely happy to help. Instead people not authorised to speak were briefing the media about things not needed and we ended up showing the NSG getting into Nariman House and the handler shouting kill everybody, their forces are coming.

Our machinery is not working despite dozens of terror incidents because corruption and incompetence run riot in our systems and that is what needs to be rooted out. I read that the external intelligence agency R&AW has been destroyed by years of abuse by senior officials in a column and that the morale is at an all time low.

I saw an interview of GE’s Jack Welch where he spoke about four kinds of employees and what the company should do with them. 1. High on skills and high on values: you value them and try to keep them. 2. Low on skills and low on values: you fire them. 3. Low on skills but high on values: you give them opportunities to learn. 4. High on skills and low on values: this is the dangerous category and companies often persist a bit longer with them to their own detriment.

Our culture needs to realise that competence matters at all levels and that we need to value it in every field and then perhaps the right people will find their rightful place and the intelligence agencies will function; may be even the right politicians and the police officers would come to the fore and you’ll also have journalists who can edit or write a copy.

Otherwise five years will pass and we would still be sitting ducks.

Is It Just The Front Page That Has Died!

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I read a dirge by famous columnist Vir Sanghvi—in a blog he maintains for hindustantimes.com—on the death of the front page over the last year or so. As a consumer of more than half a dozen newspapers I can also vouch for receiving some dead bodies on a daily basis. And here I mean not just the front page but that part of the bundle that goes to the heap in the storeroom with every crease in tact.

I buy different newspapers for different reasons and despite the recession some of them are part of an old habit while some of them are just for my neighbours to know that a journalist lives here and, therefore, buys more newspapers and magazines; never mind the fact that the world and he himself is recession hit.

This post is also an elegy, though the scope here is vast and encompasses much more than just the front page and tries to sniff if behind the death of the front page is the debris of the strongest pillar of the fourth estate; the institution of the editor. I don’t have extensive factual basis for such a nauseating inkling but then it has been that kind of a year where I am finding it difficult to believe that the six-letter title of ‘editor’ automatically means some simple ‘virtues’ like transparency, ethics, a basic minimum honesty, the competence to gauge the merit of a story and the most important quality to know what to do when confronted with an ethical dilemma.

“The newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation, must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free but facts are sacred.”—C.P. Scott, Editor, Manchester Guardian, May 6, 1926.

This is a time when the newspapers are competing with quality material that readers have access to much before the broadsheet comes out and that number is going to go up with the broadband coming, the economy growing, and the literacy rate climbing up. Quality is going to live and no matter where it is the interested reader will get to it.

That does not in any way mean that the bullshit is going to go away because a lot of people don’t know the difference and a lot of journalists cater to that market because they don’t know what else to do themselves; so all of it lives side by side. I have had some classic interactions over the years with the relatively-new as well as the senior old hands to have a decent first-hand experience of journalistic ‘copelessness’. The details are both horrifying and hilarious and some of them have even been on official channels; it is at best a subject for a book and not a long post.

The average marketing professional has his logic: “We’ve come up with a study that the market loves bullshit and we don’t understand why you can’t give more of it.” A story I read in livemint.com by Aakar Patel explores whether India’s high-growth can continue and says, “Nine half-literates are produced by our colleges, by Nasscom’s numbers, for every graduate of passable quality.” Mathematically then there has to be a probability for these semi-literates finding a way to the newsrooms. And also some probability of heading the newsroom. Also if there is just one literate for every nine semi-literates; it would be quite unsuccessful to cater to just 10 per cent of the population that is of passable quality.

So I come to my morning bundle and the Hindustan Times is the first paper I see on Sundays for the columnists I follow; on other days I look at its design and then go elsewhere to find something to read. I take The Indian Express for news as their reportage is excellent. The Times of India to see the pace and the direction that the market-leader is setting. The Economic Times for clean good copy that one can learn from and for some of their international business coverage that is unlikely to be found in any other paper. Last Saturday I took my first Crest and it was a pleasure; the edition was miles ahead of what any paper had on Tendulkar completing 20 years of international cricket. Three more daily papers that do not deserve mentioning serve some purpose or the other in my house.

When columnist Patricia Smith of the Boston Globe was forced out in June 1998 after having been found to have made up quotes, Andrew Marshall of the British newspaper The Independent had a go at his American peers in an article on June 23, 1998.

“British journalists have been smirking at two high-profile scandals involving two of their American peers who made up quotes and events in articles for two highly-respected publications. No, that sentence will not do. Since we are writing on the subject of journalistic accuracy, let’s be spot on. British journalists have been laughing hysterically, slapping their thighs and fighting desperately to retain bladder control. ‘We have long suspected that all this fact checking stuff was a charade,’ said a source close to me yesterday. ‘And now we know.’”

It is quite natural to think that lapses in journalistic accuracy would cause some major concern to our editors as well. And to point them out would not be considered as tantamount to being ‘the enemy of the fourth estate’ in India. As a journalist it is very heartening to know via the Medium Term that the heart of the Chairperson of a large newspaper house of the country is tilted positively towards the editorial aspect of the business. What is disheartening is that the hearts and minds of ‘some of the people’ responsible for editorial quality and journalistic ethics in the same newspaper house are not in their jobs. I’ll spare you the details but don’t be disappointed they will come up in the static pages once I have learnt how to organise the sub-folders.

On Saturday, though, the Hindustan Times did an exceptional bit of investigative journalism on a front page top box with a wonderful picture of Tendulkar under a good headline ‘The everlasting run machine’. I should not have been reading it as it was not a Sunday but I did; and so I found out.

“30,065 Runs scored in international cricket in both forms of the game (Tests and ODIs), the highest by any batsman. Ricky Ponting, again at second place has 24,057.” The numbers are wrong in both the cases; by 10 runs for Tendulkar and by 401 runs for Ponting. The sum total actually is in all three forms of international cricket where Tendulkar has played just one T20 international and scored 10 runs while Ponting has played 17 matches and 16 innings for his 401 runs. Although it is a very complicated error to achieve; it is understandable that this could have happened due to lack of communication.

Lets gear up for the investigative part now. “43 Centuries scored in Tests, the most by any batsman. Ricky Ponting of Australia comes second with 39.” This is an open insult in a country where cricket is a national obsession and the gap between the Little Master and the Tasmanian called Punter a subject of everyday discussions. Ponting scored his 38th Test hundred in the first Ashes Test of 2009 played in Cardiff beginning 8th July and did not manage a three figure score in the rest of the series. Who knows where he was caught scoring his 39th Test century after the series was won 2-1 by England and I signed off writing a post titled ‘A Sad Ashen Pundit’ after HT signed off with ‘A Sad Ashen Look’?

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