Friday, November 30, 2012

Sachin and Indian Cricket

India under the leadership of Kapil Dev had won the limited over championship in 1983. However, those days we did not have access to television and 24/7 coverage. We acquired a TV set, however, coverage of cricket match was suspended for some government sponsored broadcast. When cricket broadcast was resumed, India had almost won the match. I did not watch Kapil Dev catching Viv Richards, that turned the game on its head. After 1983, I left for foreign shores for higher studies. So I did not have much oppurtunity to watch cricket matches. I did not know when legendary Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri among others retired. I did not see Sachin Tendulkar debut.  did not see his match winning performances. Post 1995, I have followed cricket quite regularly. I have seen Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly started playing for India.

In India, Sachin Tendulkar is considered god of cricket. He has maximum number of centuries to his credit. He has numerous records under his belt. He has been playing since he was probably 14 or 16 year old, today his age is 40 years. Tendulkar has played many stellar innings in his life. One I remember is against Australia in Sharjah. Sachin has single handedly won the match for India. Around the time I started watching cricket, two teams to beat were Australia and South Africa. However, to the best of my knowledge, Sachin has never won us against these two teams by his brilliance. He might have scored many centuries against these teams, but those feat have not led to India on winning side. My most bitter memory is world cup final in South Africa. Facing a devastating Australian attack spearheaded by Glenn McGrath, most Indian batsmen collapsed, including Sachin Tendulkar. Another being, test match against Pakistan in Chennai. After doing all the hardwork, Sachin got out when India needed just 20 runs, more or less. Under relentless Pakistani attack lead by Wasim Akram, Indian tail enders collapsed and India lost the test. There have been many such instances. Most recent being cricket test between England and India in Wankhede, Mumbai in Nov, 2012. Almost all batsmen failed, including Sachin Tendulkar, against English spin attack. 

Around same time of the year, when Australian great Ricky Ponting announced retirement from test cricket. there was a murmur in India that our great, who is now 40 year old should also consider retirement. There are many defenders of Sachin. Many felt he has given so much to Indian cricket, he must retire when he feels like. Others felt,  selectors are too small infront of Sachin to either drop him or ask him to retire. 

In my view greatness of a cricketer should be judged not only by number of centuries but under what circumstance these centuries were made. From this point of view, I think many Australians come out as great players of cricket. Because, when going gets tough, Aussies get going. There are many big game players like Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and now Ricky Ponting, in recent times. Extremely competitive players, Aussies do not give an inch on the ground, fight till the end and extremely abrasive to opponents, often used as part of tactical maneuvre. Despite their greatness, many Australians are asked to leave by their management. 

In India, greats are never asked to leave, So they continue, despite poor form and hand eye co-ordination in the hope of a better tomorrow. This may show great respect to the player who has contributed for the game, but is bad for younger players as well as for the game. Finally, many Indian greats rarely stand up, exception Dravid, Laxman and Kumble,  to rescue Indian team. We have seen such abject submission in many crucial situations in India, abroad, in one day format and in test format. We must respect our senior players and achievers, we must take care of them but we must also retire them in their glory days.

I do not know inspite of scoring  many centuries, is Sachin not mentally strong to face pressure cooker situations and deliver? Is there a chink in his mental armor? Is pressure of expectation of one billion Indian's is unbearable on Sachin?  I think being the best player in the world, we would always expect Sachin to rescue India when all else fails. Sachin , and his supporters, cannot get away with an excuse that cricket is a game of eleven players, when  every one fails what can Sachin do. But they are wrong. Sachin is not any other player, he is the best batter of the world!

Ricky Ponting spark a retirement rush? - The Times of India
Ricky Ponting's decision to retire could be the start of an exodus of other batting greats, including Indian maestro Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

FDI in Retail and Functioning Parliament

It is a good news that government of India has agreed to allow debate on the topic of FDI in retail followed by voting. It is heartening that opposition parties have agreed to let the parliament function. Government had allowed 51% ownership of Foreign Direct Investment in Retail business. Although it was a policy decision, most opposition parties claimed they are opposed to the decision. So opposition wanted to debate the issue in parliament followed by voting on the issue. Government refused debate and voting because they feared losing. Moreover, government ally Trinamool Congress (TMC) quit government making an issue with the policy decision claiming it to be antipoor. At the present time, it appears that government has managed to persuade some of its allies, like DMK, SP and BSP. These parties have agreed and / or abstain in case of voting, albeit grudgingly.

Many people think that FDI will put small grocery stores out of business. This will lead to large scale unemployment. However, it has been seen that in many Indian states the large retail stores are unable to compete. It is correct that multinationals have much deeper pocket. They can last much longer than Indian players. However, even multinationals have to set up lot of backend infrastructure before they can start a meaningful operation. Moreover, India is a vast and heterogenous country. We have widely different socioeconomic levels. While middle and upper middle class may get the benefit of big stores, vast number of poor people will still go to neighborhood stores. Besides, neighborhood stores give credit, they give home delivery and many of them carry almost all the brands. So there is very little chance of an efficient corner store going bankrupt. Besides a huge country like India will never go one way completely. Our shopping habbits, our household economics etc are very different from what is practiced in the West. Very poor people will never be able to buy one week or months supply of food in one go. It is also believed that cost of food is likely to come down and farmers are likely to get better price. In many other countries also these stores are operational and economies have not really got affected.

So why oppose the decision? One is not surprised that TMC opposed the decision. TMC wanted an exit route from the beleaguered UPAII, that was plagues by corruption charges as well as accused of mismanagement of economy. As a result economy was sliding, subsidy burden was increasing and government had to reduce subsidy by raising price of cooking and transport fuel. These are antipeople policies, but TMC cannot be party to such decisions. So they exited. It is also not surprising that Left parities opposed the move. In general Left has great antipathy to free market economy and anything related to United States. Smaller parties like BSP and SP did not want to look obviously antipoor. So they wanted to sit on the fence and watch what others were doing. However, it was surprising that BJP led NDA had opposed FDI in retail. When such stores by Indians players are already operational in BJP ruled states like Gujrat and Madhya Pradesh. BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) also wants FDI in retail. Bharti - Walmart is operating in Punjab. Besides government has assured states that it is upto the states to implement the provisions of FDI in retail.

It seems most enterpreneural states have either FDI in retail operational and want more. On the other hand, states with poor culture of enterpreneurship do not want FDI. Some others just want to sit on the fence and watch what others do. Finally, government should have taken all parties along by informing them and consulting them as partners. But minister of commerce, is an arrogant person, and often his version of events are not accepted by his party colleagues let alone opposition. Hopefull, dust will settle down, government will get FDI passed, parliament will function and India will be the gainer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Strange Predicament of Indian Team

India lost second cricket test against England in Wankhede, Mumbai. There are few points that stand out. The same team had played and beaten England convincingly just seven days before in Gujrat. Based on the discomfiture of English players against spin attack, Indian captain demanded a spinner friendly pitch in Mumbai. India got a spinning track. However, Indian batsmen supposedly great experts at playing spin, succumbed like a pack of cards. Thank god for century of Cheteshwar Pujara,  India managed a respectable total in first innings. Most wickets were bagged by English spinners. Then came English batting. Although most batters did not contribute, two scored more than 150 runs each and secured an 87 run lead. English batters who scored, did not look very uncomfortable playing Indian bowlers. In response, Indian batting collapsed giving England 50 run lead, which was covered by England without losing any wicket.

It is surprising that English players negotiated spin so well, an area supposedly their nemesis. Yet Indians failed so miserably in an area that is their forte! Is Monty Pansear so good, almost unplayable? What happened to our batters and our spinners? English hit our bowlers easily for six. What made so much difference to two teams in a span of one week?

I understand cricket is a game. One team has to lose, but not succumb the way we did in Wankehede. There are many questions. However, there are two people who needs to standup and answer. First is the captain, Mr. Mahinder Singh Dhoni. Captain can demand a pitch of his choice, but he must deliver when he gets one. Either Dhoni is a cribber or he is not able to motivate his players. I have respect for Dhoni. He gave us two world cups. Somehow, it appears all is not well in Indian team. Inflated egos, poor fitness, huge pay cheque, difficult to drop senior players. List goes on

Secondly, Sachin Tendulkar. Most senior player, considered a legend, with highest number of centuries to his credits. Many believe he is one of the best that can happen to cricket. Sachin failed yet again, when team needed him to deliver. He could not win us world cup against Australia, when Indian team was tottering. Many commentators have complained why pick on Sachin, when most failed. However, that is how we separate great from average. When average fails, great must standup and deliver. What is the point of scoring centuries in inconsequential matches against Bangladesh, Kenya, Zimbabwe? What is greatness, if it cannot work for you in the moment of dire need? Yet none of Indian selectors can ask Sachin to step down. People want to give Sachin more time. Time to do what? He is 40. He is definitely not in the form of his 20s. His fielding has slackened. His batting is for everyone to see. I do not want Sachin to retire ignominiously. But he has given enough, got enough, he should move into sunset. 

 Compare Sachin to Steve Waugh. Steve Waugh played games of his life to win world cup for Australia. This when, he was playing the role of captain as well as team was under pressure after losing early wickets. Steve Waugh scored century for his team. Steve Waugh, made Australia the best team in one day and test crikcet format as captain. Yet Steve Waugh was asked to retire when he was not scoring despite his record. 

Coming back to Mumbai test. However, even if Indian batters have clicked and India  had given a lead of 300 runs, English were in such a great form they would have chased it down. So much for a spinning track.

Monday, November 26, 2012

2G Spectrum Allocation Saga

Spectrum is a national resource and a scarce commodity. Government allocates spectrum to telecom industry. However, allocation of 2G spectrum has been mired in controversy. It started as rumour in Delhi's grapevines. Pioneer, a newspaper, carried exposé on the matter at regular interval. It was becoming evident that something was not right in allocation of 2G spectrum. Then, nearly 2 years before around 2010, parliament seized on the matter. On demand of opposition, government initiated a Public Accounts Committee and later a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe. Meanwhile Supreme Court also responded to Public Interest Litigation and ordered a CBI probe.

It was clear that the then telecom minister along with senior members of ministry of telecommunications had been engaged in wilful manipulation of spectrum allocation policy to benefit his favourite operators. This resulted in loss of revenue to the exchequer of the government of India but also amounted to criminal conspiracy against other operators. To add insult to the injury groups that bought spectrum, many had no expertise to run telecom business, sold them to actual operators at nearly double their initial investment.  Government of India unwilling to act against the minister because government needed support of party to which minister belonged. however, court swung into action. It put not only minister, several bureaucrats and senior functionaries of business houses, court also cancelled all the licences granted.

Several lines of argument were propagated on the magnitude of monetary loss. Recently, government against reduction end 2G spectrum. However, it fetched, some say to unconcealed glee of government, only Rs 10000 crore. This prompted government to argue that calculation of 176000 was actually incorrect. Meanwhile, emerged another player. Mr R. P. Singh a retired former member of CAG team came on TV and proclaimed he arrived at a figure of 2000 crore as 2G loss, however, his report was rejected by CAG, who put the loss figure as 176000 crore. Both ruling and opposition parties jumped on the issue, and Mr. Singh appeared as a joker of the piece. Firstly, he claimed to have arrived at a loss figure that was changed by CAG. Then it emerged that Mr. SIngh had himself defended the revised number in PAC and/or JPC meetings.  To be fair, Mr. SIngh never claimed that anyone tried to influence CAG or get influenced by CAG. However, if everything is so cut and dried, what is Mr. Singh doing giving interviews? Is he wanting instant fame?  

Finally, the following are my take on the saga.  It is totally agreed that fraud was committed by minister in implementation of policy, in arbitrarily changing the date of application, in addition there is evidence that large sum of money also got transferred to certain account. Though it was later returned. The them minister went to jail and must be sent to prison for his acts of omission and comission. Question remains how much is the loss. There is no doubt the loss figure was projected based on data obtained from 3 G auction. It is also foolish to assume that auctioning 2G licence after 3G is already operational, is likely to fetch a lot of money. However, that does not negate the projection. However, two people in CAG office arrived at figures like 2000 crore to 176000 crore, nearly 80 fold apart. It is a genuine question, irrespective of who got influenced by whom, if any of these predictions were accurate? However, whether the loss is 2000 crore or 176000 crore, loss is still huge for a poor country like India. This cannot be a matter of politics. However, if someone had dictated CAG, if at all, about the finally projected number, then it should also be investigated.