If you repeat a half-truth or a lie often enough, it can begin to sound like the truth. That happens a lot in Indian cricket these days, over everything from fitness updates to blanket statements about the Indian Premier League. Last week, I listened to a discussion on ESPNCricinfo about Indian cricket’s future that involved a former selector who also played seven one-day internationals for the national team.
He watches a lot of domestic cricket and offered sane and measured answers to most questions. Until the IPL cropped up, in conjunction with India’s miserable performance on the tour of England. At that stage, he said: “Let’s blame the IPL for India winning the World Cup.” It was meant to be a sarcastic aside, but it had very sinister undertones on two levels.
Firstly, it was intellectually dishonest to associate a Twenty20 competition with success in the far more demanding 50-over game. Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and several other great Test players have shown that it’s possible to adapt ‘down’ to the less challenging format. The reverse is certainly not true. You only have to look at the overhyped Kieron Pollard’s struggles outside of Twenty20 to see that.
Secondly, he neglected to mention that he was part of the management team of an IPL franchise. When better known names than him are guilty of similar conflicts of interest, it makes no sense to single him out, but it says much about how reasoned debate on charting a proper course for Indian cricket has been compromised by most stakeholders having vested interests.
The media is equally guilty for not jumping on these lies and half-truths often enough. Instead of ranting about what Nasser Hussain – who’s paid to offer a forthright opinion – thinks of India’s admittedly terrible fielding, they should be looking to expose statements like that made by the former selector.
Let’s leave aside sarcasm and emotion and focus on facts. The IPL is a Twenty20 event. How has it helped India in that format? Prior to the franchise system starting in 2008, India won the inaugural World Twenty20. Subsequent campaigns in 2009 and 2010 produced only embarrassing exits, with technical foibles exposed even in the format where it’s easiest to camouflage them.
Both those tournaments came on the back of a six-week-long IPL season, and fatigue played a big part in India’s underwhelming performances. That isn’t the view of a columnist with an axe to grind. Gary Kirsten said as much in 2009, at which point he was quietly told to zip it or else.
Such censorship of facts has spread its tentacles elsewhere too. For the last three seasons, Cricinfo’s writers have not been allowed to cover international cricket within India, or the IPL. The reasons given have varied, but usually involve an insincere line about the ‘official’ website needing to protect its interests.
That’s frankly ludicrous. Cricinfo’s live scorecard and commentary remain the go-to medium for almost anyone who’s stuck in an office. Most cricket fans either haven’t heard of the official website, or don’t care for it. Why would you read the sanitised “party line” when you can get better?
As someone who once worked for Cricinfo full time and still contributes the odd column, I’ve often been told that it doesn’t best express the interests of India and Indian cricket. That’s quite perplexing. Cricinfo is a global resource, the game’s answer to the BBC or CNN when it comes to comprehensive and usually objective coverage. Of course, individual writers will have their biases, but editorial policy has never been skewed in favour of one particular country.
India’s World Cup win was lauded, as it needed to be, and much of what’s rotten about the system keeps being pointed out. By denying such an outlet access, you’re more or less admitting that you have things to hide. It has served no purpose either. Cricinfo’s viewership continues to grow rapidly with greater Internet connectivity. The official sites remain third-rate and of little use, either for informed comment or statistical analysis.
Indian cricket has more going for it than it realises – the biggest player pool, limitless financial backing and a huge passionate fan base. All that’s missing is honest introspection. It’s hard to do that with your finger in several pies.
*This article was published in The Sunday Guardian on September 4, 2011.