Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A different view on the review

With the Australians copping a couple of umpiring errors during the first day's play at Melbourne, the debate on the use of the Decision Review System (DRS) has been reignited once again. The point most commonly raised is that it should either be used in every series or else be discarded outright. As I see it, the situation really isn't quite as simple.

To be honest, I have never been a fan of the DRS in its existing form. The original intention in introducing the DRS was to eliminate rank howlers. That being the case, why not have the third umpire inform the ground umpire that there has been an obvious error? It is a pretty simple idea that could have been implemented without all the hype and hoopla sorrounding the DRS and without bringing about a situation where players can legally challenge the umpires.

More power to the third Umpire?

Besides, the idea of placing a limit on the number of reviews makes little sense to me. The temptation to use a review is always going to be there in case of a marginal decision. Should that result in a wasted review, it could well mean that a deserving batsman or bowler who gets a shocking decision might have to live with the obvious injustice meted out to him- which defeats the very purpose behind the introduction of the review system.

Why limit the number of reviews?

The argument for uniformity of conditions is a valid one. The current scenario of having the review system in some series and not having it in others is far from ideal. But having the DRS in all series is no guarantee to uniformity in playing conditions, because the technology too requires to be uniform. Broadcasters in smaller nations cannot afford expensive technology like high resolution cameras and hotspot, resulting in the absurdity where there are variations within the DRS itself. Under the circumstances, the uniformity of the playing conditions itself is debatable.

Is DRS technology consistent?

In any case, do we really need the latest technology to spot an obvious howler? Shockers like the one that Hussey copped at Melbourne or Ishant Sharma did at Sydney four seasons ago were evident even to the naked eye. They could have been avoided if the third umpire was empowered to intervene in case of blatant errors- a possibility which existed long before hot spot or hawk eye even came into existence.

Is DRS effective for marginal decisions?

Effectively, the latest technology comes into the picture only if the evidence presented to the naked eye is inconclusive. Given the fact that the technologies in question still have question marks over them, there's still no guarantee that the DRS can conclusively settle marginal calls. In any case, the review system was never intended to adjudicate marginal decisions.

While the debate over the DRS rages, its worth keeping in mind that it isn't all black and white as we are assuming it to be.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

India down under

As I write, there remain less than twenty four hours before a new chapter in the cricketing rivalry between India and Australia opens. The last six series between the two sides have produced more than their fair share of drama and excitement. Narrow margins, astonishing turnarounds, historic wins, off-field controversies and much else besides have characterised the recently emerged rivalry which could closely match the Ashes for sheer intensity. Needless to say, as the two teams prepare to face off, expectations are pretty much sky high. As the two-test series in India last year showed, its impossible to say what to expect when these two teams are pitted against each other.

Border-Gavaskar Trophy
Former Australian greats are already predicting that India's attack is likely to come a cropper without Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, both of whom look unlikely to last a whole series. Their views are not entirely unfounded, as the remaining bowlers (Abhimanyu Mithun, Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ozha) are all inexperienced bowlers on their first or second tour abroad- hardly the kind of attack with which one takes on the Australians in their own backyard.

Ishant & Zaheer

There's also the very real fear that India's aging veterans might not find the going easy against a pacey young Australian attack on pitches that might offer bounce and seam movement. especially with both Indian openers in inconsistent form, there's the very real possibility that the middle order might find itself regularly having to face the new ball- hardly an encouraging prospect.

On the flip side, Australia too have a batting line up featuring too many men with uncertain futures. Neither opener is guaranteed to last till the end of the series. In Ricky Ponting, Australia have a once great batsman clearly past his prime. At 37, he is just one bad series away from being pensioned off. Much the same could be said of Mike Hussey (36) and Brad Haddin (34), both of whom are closer to the end than to the beginning of their careers.

Ponting & Hussey

Nor is Australia's bowling attack particularly well settled. in Siddle, Pattinson, Hilfenhaus, Starc and Lyon, Australia have a pretty handy attack on paper. That, however, is no guarantee that they will give the opposition sleepless nights. Siddle and Hilfenhaus have frequently struggled for consistency and the remaining bowlers are pretty much at the beginning of their careers. Whatever they go on to achieve in their careers, they certainly aren't in the Warne-McGrath-Gillespie league at this point in time.

And so we have the prospect of a face off between two flawed teams with, two mid ranked sides with the potential to match the best on any given day, but equally, the potential to spectacularly self-destruct. Given that background, it would be foolhardy to make any predictions. The last time I attempted to make one (on this very blog by the way), I got a spectacularly huge egg in the face.

My heart is naturally with India but my mind is with Australia. True, Australia have time and again shown a tendency to collapse in recent times, but all those collapses have happened against high quality bowling and it looks doubtful whether the Indian attack can consistently produce good deliveries, unless Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are both fully fit AND both are firing from all cylinders. The other bowlers are too inexperienced in my mind, to inflict regular collapses. Add to it the fact that the Indian openers Sehwag and Gambhir have hardly produced any test match innings of note in the recent past. The signs are far from encouraging for a side intending to make history.

Admittedly Australia aren't exactly in the pink of health themselves. Almost everything I've written about the Indians could equally apply to the Kangaroos. Nonetheless, they are the side better equipped to handle the conditions on offer and they are the side with the bigger contingency of spectators cheering for them- a factor whose importance can scarcely be exaggerated. In the battle between two equally flawed sides, the home advantage should give them the edge. 

And so my prediction for the series is 3-1 to Australia.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A disaster in the making

I happened to read an article a short while ago, about the Indian Government's decision to go ahead with the National Food Security Bill, which is intended to provide subsidised foodgrains for upto 75% of rural households and 50% of urban households.

On paper it sounds a pretty good idea. I would normally be the first to applaud any initiative aimed at assuring food security to India's starving millions. What got me concerned however, is the fact that the food subsidy is expected to rise by a further Rs. 27,663 crores (about US$ 5.5 billion). The question needs to be asked whether India can afford such a massive subsidy at this critical juncture.

A few billion dollars may not seem such a big deal for a trillion dollar economy, but the current state of some of India's economic indicators are far from encouraging. Economic growth has shown signs of slowing down in recent months. Even more worrying is the fact that industrial output has started shrinking, which means that companies have reduced production- which almost certainly means that jobs have been lost and fresh recruitments have been frozen. Worse still, economic growth is not resulting in higher 'real' earnings because of inflation.

Add to it the fact that Government expenditure has risen dramatically in recent months, due to the weakening of the Indian Rupee against the American Dollar. From 40 odd Rupees to the Dollar just a few months ago, the exchange rate has shot up to over 52  rupees per dollar. Given the fact that India denominates all its international transaction in American Dollars, the weakening exchange rate means that India is having to pay a lot more for its imports than it did a few months ago- which includes billions of dollars on the import of fuel from abroad. The consequent rise in fuel prices has only aggravated the inflationary situation in the economy. Mind you, fuel prices are heavily subsidised.

Given the high fiscal deficit (i.e. the gap between income and expenditure) that the Government of India is currently running, the wisdom of further burdening its finances needs to be questioned. The high debt burden will inevitably result in more borrowing by the Government which in turn results in pushing up the interest rates in the market. And higher rates of interest will result in...you guessed it right, higher inflation. Historically, the lower income earners have always been the ones most severely affected by inflation.

And so an initiative which is intended to provide food security for the weaker sections of society is likely to end up hurting them even more. The economic slowdown caused by higher borrowing costs is likely to result in job losses anyway. And so while on the one hand the Government is proposing to subsidise the cost of foodgrains for the poor, it is, on the other hand,  creating the very circumstances that could adversely impact any opportunities for upward mobility that they have.
I would also hasten to add that I have not even touched upon the impact of a burgeoning fiscal deficit on business and consequently, the economy as a whole. Suffice it to say that a high budgetary deficit is only going to be bad news for all concerned. One can understand the deficit widening due to circumstances outside the control of the Government, but is it advisable for any Government to take a conscious decision that is going to stretch its fiscal deficit even further, at a time when it is already threatening to run out of control?

The old Hindi proverb on cutting the coat according to the cloth (जितनी लम्बी चादर हो उतने ही पैर फैलाना चाहिए) is one that India's policymakers will do well to keep in mind. The Americans, who lived on borrowed money for close to three decades are paying for it now. One only hopes that India managed to avoid going down the same path.