Posts Tagged ‘Cricket’

India, Pakistan and Cricket: To Play or Not to Play

July 23, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

Pakistan wants to resume bilateral cricketing ties with India while India refuses to play ball. How would an alien from Mars, unaffected by nationalist biases, assess the situation?

It would be hard to dismiss the Indian position outright. Think of it this way: If you live in a community and a neighbour throws his trash over your wall you would be justified in being annoyed. You might go over once for a friendly chat but if the dumping continues you would be well within your rights to protest and break off relations. The neighbour’s invitation to a friendly game of chess will clearly smack of hypocrisy in the circumstances.

Extrapolate the analogy to India-Pakistan politics. There seems little doubt that Pakistan has been abetting incidents of terrorism in India – the 2008 attack in Mumbai was the most egregious and the most explicitly linked to Pakistan. Add to that unprovoked border incursions like the one in Kargil and one ought not to be surprised if India is riled up. In such a situation the demand to suspend sporting relations with a country exporting terrorism does carry weight.

However, extending the analogy of neighbours to countries is logically incorrect.  Neighbours are humans with agency in the sense that they can decide where and when to dump trash and whether and how to retaliate. Countries, on the other hand, are inanimate entities incapable of doing anything on their own. Rather, individuals or groups, acting in their names, carry out actions. And there is never a complete consensus on any action among the individuals or groups in a country.

The implication is that just as all Muslims are not terrorists, all Pakistanis are not guilty of instigating incidents of terror in India. At the same time, it is not possible to deny that some are and openly so. Therefore, the question to ask is whether the Indian state is justified in punishing all Pakistanis for the actions of a few?

At an intellectual level the representatives of the Indian state know that some rather than all Pakistanis are involved in the incidents of terror in their country. However, their claim is that either the Pakistani state is complicit in the actions of the offending groups or, if not, is not doing enough to put a stop to their actions. Once again, on the basis of available evidence it is hard to deny that there isn’t validity to one if not both accusations. Therefore, the decision of the Indian state to suspend sporting relations continues to merit consideration.

Does this stance hurt or advance the interests of the Indian state? It would seem the latter because although it recognizes that not all Pakistanis are complicit in the acts of terror across the border, the Indian state does not discourage its media from painting all Pakistanis with the same brush, that is, to convey the impression that Pakistan is evil as an entity. This perception generates public support for a political stance which seems to be maintained for reasons other than those of pure principle.

In support of this conclusion one can cite the fact that despite the boycott, the Indian state is not opposed to contests between the two countries in multilateral competitions such as the World or Asia Cup tournaments. A principled stance that India would not play against a state promoting terror would call for a boycott of matches in such tournaments as well. There are precedents for such principled positions — many countries participated in a boycott of sporting relations with South Africa when its government practised the policies of apartheid. Similarly, Israel used to concede walkovers in global competitions if matches were scheduled on Yom Kippur.

One could be forced to conclude that there is more to the position of the Indian state than what it professes. In a period of RSS dominance, could it be too far-fetched to presume that an ideological consideration of the Indian state might actually be to punish Pakistan as much as possible while minimizing the cost of such a policy to itself?

The contradiction in the Indian position on bilateral and multilateral sporting engagements with Pakistan would seem to support the hypothesis. At the bilateral level, global sympathies are clearly on the Indian side and the finances of its sporting bodies are much stronger than those of the counterparts in Pakistan. Thus the relative economic loss from the bilateral boycott is quite asymmetric in favour of India.

The same would cease to be true if the boycott was extended to multilateral competitions. Not only would India diminish its chances of winning such tournaments by conceding walkovers against Pakistan, it would find it virtually impossible to sustain universal public support for such a position. Thus it is not surprising that Indian policymakers refer to contests at the multilateral level as ‘only a game’ while simultaneously allowing their media to paint bilateral contests in hyper-nationalist terms as an extension of war. This allows the Indian state to have its cake and eat it as well.

The Indian state can get away with this contradictory stance as long as the world believes that the Pakistani state is turning a blind eye to the promotion of acts of terrorism across the border. Given this perception the latter’s high-minded claim that sporting relations should be independent of political considerations is rightly seen as hypocritical.

Needless to say, and quite independent of anything else, the Pakistani state should be taking a much more forthright stand on restraining agents using its soil for acts of terror across its borders. However, given the mood of the moment in India, it is not clear if that would be sufficient for the Indian state to end its boycott of sporting relations at the bilateral level.

This opinion appeared in the Express-Tribune on July 22, 2017 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

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Pakistan-Australia: Alack!

March 20, 2015

By Anjum Altaf

First, the result – A disciplined, professional team easily took care of a ragged, mercurial bunch of individuals. Lightning did not strike. No miracles occurred.

As we watched the pathetic procession in the first half, lines from Macbeth came flooding back:

… a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. 

Then, as comments began to circulate, the dissension amongst the faithful was captured by the lines that immediately followed the above:

  • [Enter a Messenger]
    Macbeth. Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly.
  • Messenger. Gracious my lord,
    I should report that which I say I saw,
    But know not how to do it.
  • Macbeth. Well, say, sir.
  • Messenger. As I did stand my watch upon the hill,
    I look’d toward Birnam, and anon, methought,
    The wood began to move.
  • Macbeth. Liar and slave!
  • Messenger. Let me endure your wrath, if’t be not so:
    Within this three mile may you see it coming;
    I say, a moving grove.
  • Macbeth. If thou speak’st false,
    Upon the next tree shalt thou hang alive,
    Till famine cling thee: if thy speech be sooth,
    I care not if thou dost for me as much.
    I pull in resolution, and begin
    To doubt the equivocation of the fiend
    That lies like truth: ‘Fear not, till Birnam wood
    Do come to Dunsinane:’ and now a wood
    Comes toward Dunsinane. Arm, arm, and out!
    If this which he avouches does appear,
    There is nor flying hence nor tarrying here.
    I gin to be aweary of the sun,
    And wish the estate o’ the world were now undone.
    Ring the alarum-bell! Blow, wind! come, wrack!
    At least we’ll die with harness on our back.

We died. Amen.

The game epitomized the relationship of the audience to faith. As a signal, before the game began, pre-teen voices started taking turns on the loudspeaker of a nearby mosque with the refrain: “All my dreams will come true, I only have to take your name.” Viewers were in the same mood – hopeful the Almighty would bless the team, at the same time fearful the outcome might be otherwise. Having left it all to the Almighty, there was a strange sense of helplessness in the air – the sort when one trusts in God but fails to tie the camel.

That kind of sums up the fate of contemporary Pakistan – running on faith with nary a thought of the untied camels. The attitude does have a short-term upside, if one could call it so – once the verdict was in there was no postmortem of what led to such a sorry display, no inquiry into the myriad problems that beset all aspects of the game. So be it, Allah did not will it otherwise. Back to business.

Amongst the agnostics, talk naturally turned to India, now, deservedly so, the only South Asian representative in the tournament. There was acknowledgment that the Australia-India semi-final would probably be the first competitive match in the knock-out stage. People agreed the Indian team played with a lot more common sense in keeping with the situation of a match as it evolved. Someone observed the Indian players also sought blessings from goddesses – but only as insurance, after having tied their respective camels.

In the end it all boiled down to God, goddesses, and camels and their relationships to one another.

Good luck India.

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India-Bangladesh: Beyond Cricket

March 19, 2015

By Anjum Altaf

The India-Bangladesh match ended predictably but in Pakistan its off-field resonance was of greater interest. All the ambivalent feelings about India and Bangladesh that are otherwise submerged bubbled to the surface. It was a rich occasion for some casual explorations in social attitudes.

My limited sample revealed two sets of observations – those on which there was relative agreement and those where opinions were more divided. The first set comprised the following:

First, a sense of pride that four South Asian teams had made it to the quarter finals of a major world championship. It was encouraging evidence of a South Asian consciousness amongst people many of whom had not seen more than one or two cities in their own country.

Second, a fairly objective assessment of the quality of the four teams based purely on their track record. Most people ranked India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in that order.

Third, a decidedly calculus-based preference for a Bangladesh victory which would be “better for Pakistan” by yielding an “easier” contest in the semi-finals. It was a commentary on Pakistani optimism that its team was already projected to be in the semi-finals despite the odds of negotiating Australia in Australia. A chorus of Inshallahs settled all doubts.

The following observations belonged to the set of divided opinions:

First, on whom to support in the India-Bangladesh match independent of the implications for Pakistan? A subset didn’t want India to win under any circumstances. At the other end was the opinion that it didn’t matter who won as long as it was good fight.

Second, if India were the only South Asian team left in the semi-finals, should Pakistanis root for it to win the World Cup? Opinion was sharply divided between those who could never support India under any circumstances and those for whom regional affinities held some attraction for one reason or another.

I noted with interest the correlation of education with opinion in my limited sample of fellow viewers. The more educated in the group were more anti-India wanting it to lose every match; the least educated were open to rallying behind India if Pakistan were out of the competition and to wanting the better team to come out ahead. Opinions about Bangladesh were independent of education.

I questioned once again the widespread belief that education is the attribute that leads to openness, tolerance, and objectivity. Its veracity was not borne out in the sample of viewers and confirmed my doubts based on other independent observations. The paradox may have something to do with the changing content of our education. I was reminded of the late Asghar Ali Engineer who posed a rhetorical question (Why is the educated middle-class more bigoted than the illiterate masses?) and pithily answered it himself – “Because it is educated.”

Perhaps it is a blessing that more than half of Pakistan is still illiterate. There is still time to fix our system of education so that a cricket match is just a match and not a psychic extension of war and a means to settle scores.

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Sri Lanka-South Africa: What a Mess!

March 18, 2015

By Anjum Altaf

Sri Lanka took a strategic gamble against South Africa in the first quarter-final of the 2015 Cricket World Cup and were blown away. What surprised me was how misplaced the gamble was and how unexpected from a team known for its ability to think.

The nature of the gamble was obvious from the first ball. It was clear that Kusal Perera was sent in to open under instructions to hit the South African attack bowlers off their lengths. The strategy might have paid off but even that would have required some sensible hitting. It was clear as daylight that Perera would not last more than a few balls, and he didn’t. More than throwing away a wicket, it put paid to the Sri Lankan strategy in a hurry and fired up the South Africans instead.

The fact that there was a slight chance the strategy may have paid off doesn’t take away from the fact that it still did not make any sense – it was simply not as good as any number of other possible gambles if the Sri Lankans were bent on gambling for some odd reason. Its biggest flaw was that it was conceived in complete disregard of the psychological burden under which the South Africans were laboring – their history as the team that had ‘choked’ repeatedly on the big occasion and one that had never progressed beyond the first round of the knockout stage of a World Cup.

Given that, a decidedly safer gamble would have been to put the South Africans in after winning the toss simply because psychic nervousness affects batting much more than bowling. More so, because one of the South African openers was in a prolonged slump and hanging on to his place only by virtue of being the first-choice wicket-keeper. There would have been a good chance of South Africa batting too cautiously or being consumed by doubt after losing an early wicket. That could have left Sri Lanka with a target it could chase and against which it could have paced its innings.

Even if it were the case that the pitch promised a huge advantage to batting first, it might have been a smarter strategy to start cautiously to see off the first spell of the much vaunted South African attack with minimal damage. Why substitute an opener who had been doing well in the tournament with one who was opening for the first time? A solid start might have aggravated doubts in the minds of the South Africans and affected the control of their bowling. Such an outcome would have allowed the Sri Lankans to go after at least one of the spinners later in the evening given that the spinners were considered the weaker part of the South African attack. Instead of that, the Sri Lankans generated so much pressure on themselves that it was actually the lowly-rated spinners who overwhelmed them.

How did it happen that in constructing their strategy the Sri Lankans ignored the big picture so completely and treated the South Africans no differently than say the Australians or the New Zealanders? How come the Sri Lankans opted for a gamble for which there was no plan B? Why did the Sri Lankans feel compelled to gamble at all? These are the questions that someone badly needs to answer. Winning and losing are part of the game but being decimated out of sheer stupidity was not expected from Sri Lanka.

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Reflections on Eid

August 6, 2014

By Anjum Altaf

It was fall last year that I was teaching the introductory course in economics and had drawn four concentric circles on the board to illustrate how the market was embedded in the economy which was embedded in society which, in turn, was embedded in the extra-terrestrial outerworld.  The objective was to spark a conversation about how the outer spheres limited what could or could not take place in the inner ones as also to point out the fact that while the economy and society had always existed, the market as an institution was a relatively recent phenomenon.

From there we moved on to discuss how the reach of the market was expanding and its ambit growing to include aspects that were previously never within its domain to the extent that reading the standard textbooks one could well believe that the market economy was all one needed to consider to understand everything that needed to be understood including births, deaths, marriages, crime, you name it – everything that mattered was the ‘Economy of Something’ and subject to the calculus of supply, demand, prices, and ability to pay.

It was in that context that it occurred to me to remark on the fact that all of the past Ramadan the Pakistan cricket team had been somewhere or the other playing a series of international matches. Only a few decades earlier this would have been unthinkable but now the market had engulfed the game and the governing body had laid down the schedule – defy it and lose millions of dollars. And dollars had won. So the direction of influence that used to be from considerations of afterlife to the economy was now clearly running the other way.

I thought we had laid this to rest when lo and behold the big Eid arrived during the semester and now the Pakistani cricket team was elsewhere and Eid was on the third or fourth day of the test match and, to my horror, it was not a rest day – the Pakistan cricket team was actually playing on Eid day.

Well, well! The ICC was clearly not foostering around with solemn looking men sighting the moon with naked eyes. Rot-in-Hell, they were saying – play or be damned which in our time is nothing more than being out of cash. And these fellows were playing – the same fellows who started every conversation with thanks be to Almighty Allah, the boys played very well but Allah did not want us to win while under the breath wondering if they could have made more if they had arranged for another no-ball on the fifth ball of the third over.

Clearly the market had triumphed and trampled Eid underfoot. All that came back to me as I woke up this Eid day to the incessant buzzing of my cell phone with waves of inane messages from people I had had the misfortune of having my trousers stitched or my head massaged years ago. It took me considerable time deleting the felicitations most of them without reading. It was then that I found that the same ladies and gentlemen had been ardent enough to make doubly sure they reached me by forwarding the same messages to my email account. Another round of feverish deletions ensued in the midst of which a truly determined soul decided to actually call to make sure his messages had been registered. It was then that I lost my cool.

Just about then a dozen mosques burst alive at the same time competing with each other in the true spirit of the market economy. I should have thought what a wonderful gift competition is and how blessed we are to be showered with it but by this time I had a terrible headache and felt deeply desirous of a dose of creative destruction. I decided that if the shaking of my hands could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with resigned despair to that end.

Readers interested in more on the embedded nature of the economy in society should refer to Part I (Economy and Society) of Primitive, Archaic and Modern Economies: Essays of Karl Polanyi (George Dalton, ed. 1968). Note the following comment on page 3: “No society could, naturally, live for any length of time unless it possessed an economy of some sort; but prior to our time no economy has ever existed that, even in principle, was controlled by markets.” The debt to Eliot is also acknowledged.

Anjum Altaf is dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

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Kashmir and Sedition: Whose Side Are We On?

March 11, 2014

Kashmiri students in Meerut cheered when the Pakistan cricket team defeated India in the Asia Cup, were suspended, and charged with sedition. Since then madness has prevailed with people taking sides whether the students were right or wrong and whether the charges were justified or not. Pakistan, as usual, takes the cake for stupidity – its hearts and college gates have been thrown wide open for the heroes of the resistance.

I don’t know enough about the particular incident to wade into the controversy but there are things about it that seem quite obviously wrong and problematic. What, for starters, is the notion of an own side and why, for another, is one required or obliged to cheer only for it? Why should an accident of birth dictate my emotional attachment and why should I not have the choice to own the team I want?

The notion of an own side has never made sense to me even at the best of times. I always want the better team to win, feel happy when it does, and cheer its performance when it plays to its potential. But when the team that represents my country is plagued with all sorts of other problems – favoritism, selfishness, dishonesty, an abysmal lack of common sense – I feel even less inclined to line up behind it all else notwithstanding. I am not ready to concede that a motley bunch of individuals symbolizes the nation.

I suppose some will argue that the team that wins is by definition the better one. I disagree. It might be the case in a game over five days where the flukes get evened out but certainly not in the shorter forms where even one bad umpiring decision can tip the outcome let alone the fact that an otherwise ordinary player can get lucky on a particular day.

One can see the phenomenon much more clearly in a game like hockey or football where a team, as it is said, can lose against the run of play, sometimes just on penalties. By contrast, one rarely sees that in individual sports like tennis or badminton where, in general, the better player does end up on top.

At the same time, though, I do concede that in a less than perfect world such displays of team loyalty might have benefits. If the violence that led earlier to war between tribes can be sublimated into much less harmful passions focused on one’s team, the gains are well worth the grating residual jingoism. Ideally, one would get rid of the violence that lurks beneath the breast but, needless to say, we don’t live in an ideal world and should be grateful for small mercies.

All of the above notwithstanding, this is not an apologia for the Kashmiri students. It doesn’t come across to me that they were cheering for the better team. Rather, it seems much more likely that they were indeed cheering for the Pakistani team quite irrespective of whether it was the better one or not. And that should be worrisome for it prompts the question why so many were acting in that particular manner.

It would be easy to claim that they were acting such because they were disloyal but that only pushes back the question one degree. Why did they feel the need to be disloyal if that is how it is to be framed? There must be some grievance at bottom that manifested itself in a particular gesture of protest and defiance. In that sense was the gesture any different from the infamous black salute at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico?

Later, one of the protesters had this to say:  “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

There is a profound lesson in that statement. The Kashmiri students are Indians, whether they do something admirable or something despicable. It is possible but not really sensible to laud them for their Indianness when they are well-behaved and to damn them for their Kashmiryat when they are not. That kind of attitude nurtures grievances whatever their cause.

America has come a long way since 1968 now with a black man in the White House for the second term even though much still needs to be done to remove the lingering wounds of discrimination. As many have noticed and remarked, the composition of its prison population continues to signal that the country is not quite a racial democracy.

India too has to figure out how to deal with the people at its fringes who do not yet feel fully accepted for whatever reason. Accusing them of sedition for cheering for the wrong side is to misread a signal and embark on a problematic path. In this case Indians might well want to cheer for their own team, good or bad, if, that is, they believe it is their own team.

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The Value of the Legend of Pradeep Mathew

August 9, 2012

By Hasan Altaf

The cards are laid on the table right away in Shehan Karunatilaka’s stunning debut novel, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew (Graywolf Press). The narrator, W. G. Karunasena – an aging, alcoholic former sportswriter, who has just been handed what amounts to a death sentence (if he limits himself to two drinks a day he can hope for one or two more years) – takes a moment to respectfully rebut the criticism that sports, in this case cricket, have no use or value: “Left-arm spinners cannot unclog your drains, teach your children or cure you of disease. But once in a while, the very best of them will bowl a ball that will bring an entire nation to its feet. And while there may be no practical use in that, there is most certainly value.”

Pradeep Mathew is in some ways like the great rock novels, the great books about Hollywood: From a specialized world, in this case that of cricket, it’s adopted a jargon, a built-in store of legends and myths and stories. (more…)

Ten Thoughts on Afridi’s Remarks about Indians

April 9, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

Shahid Afridi’s perceptions of Indians and India are now common knowledge. On the way out of the airport returning from Mohali, he said: “I can’t understand the approach of people, why we are against India? Why there is so much hate for India when we have Indian dramas played in every home, our marriage celebrations are done in Indian style, we watch all Indian movies then why to hate them?” A couple of days later, he said: “In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don’t think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us.”

Given the short half-life of such episodes much of the hullabaloo has disappeared. It is time now to move beyond scoring points and to see if some more interesting aspects can be uncovered. In that spirit we present ten thoughts for comments and discussion. (more…)

On Prayer and Superstition

April 3, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

Prayer, superstition, luck, talent, effort, unity, professionalism – what was it that won the Cricket World Cup in the end? I am reasonably convinced it was some combination of the last five; all the more reason for a fascination with the first two that were so visibly on display. What exactly is the role of prayer and superstition in our lives? Why do we resort to these devices? How seriously are we to take them? Are they harmful or harmless? A whole host of questions wait to be asked and addressed.

At one level, there is a simple explanation. Any endeavor where the stakes are high and the outcome depends on some element of chance gives rise to nervousness and anxiety. And these feelings need to be assuaged. While participants in the endeavor can focus on the rigors of preparation and the demands of performance, spectators have no similar vehicles – prayer and superstition serve as substitutes. (more…)

Cricket: Risk, Strategy, Design

March 26, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

Cricket is emblematic of South Asia. It distinguishes the region qua region from almost anywhere else – East Asia, West Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe. So at this time when three of the four teams in the World Cup semifinals are South Asian, it is opportune to wrap some thoughts about risk, strategy and design in the metaphor of cricket.

In an earlier article (Achievement and Risk-taking) written quite some time back, I had used illustrations from cricket to make the point that the propensity of an individual to take risks is not a function of personality but an outcome of strategic calculation. In other words, individuals are not born with a given attitude towards risk; they can decide when it makes sense to be cautious or bold.

I have now found an academic presentation of this perspective. In A Primer on Decision Making, James March, a leading authority in the field, frames risky behavior as a reasoned choice:

Individuals can be imagined as rationally calculating what level of risk they think would serve them best. Consider, for example, risk-taking strategy in a competitive situation where relative position makes a difference. Suppose that someone wishes to finish first, and everything else is irrelevant. Such an individual might want to choose a level of risk that maximizes the chance of finishing first. In general, strategies for maximizing the chance of finishing first are quite different from strategies for maximizing expected value.

An extreme example would make this clearer. If winning a particular contest were all that mattered, an individual might take the gamble of cheating. If the long-term reputation mattered more, the risk calculus would change reducing the attraction to cheat.

The example that March to illustrate his point uses leads naturally into the nature of the distinction between the longer and shorter versions of cricket:

Suppose one were challenged to a tennis match and given the option of specifying the number of points in the match. Given a choice, how long a game would a rational tennis player choose to play, assuming that the length of the game itself had no intrinsic value? The key to answering this question depends both on the probability of winning any particular point and on the length of the game. As the length of the game increases, the better player is more and more likely to win, because the variability in outcomes declines with “sample” size (relatively rapidly, in fact). The game’s outcome becomes more and more certain, less and less risky.

It should be clear immediately that less skilled players would prefer a game of chance (Trumps) to a game of skill (Bridge). Similarly, weaker teams or teams that rely less on strategy and more on chance would prefer a shorter duration game to a longer one. As one example, the Pakistan cricket team fancies its chances most in 20-20 games, less in 50-over Internationals and least in five-day Tests. If there were one-over games, the prospects of almost all the teams would even out because chance would dominate average performance or strategy. Six sixes or three wickets in an over would likely decide the fate of a 20-20 game but might just be a blip in a five-day Test.

[Of course, once one moves from individuals to teams (tennis to cricket) a whole new dimension of team dynamics comes into play. This is a different subject but suffice it to say that the 2011 World Cup is after a very long time that the Pakistani team is not torn apart by side-betting, personal rivalries, provincial dissensions, or biased selections which makes it even possible to sensibly discuss its prospects or strategies as a team.]

This brings us to the issue of the design and format of competitions. Given that an ODI is so much more dependent on chance than on average performance, the prospect of upsets is that much increased. On any given day Ireland can upset Pakistan or Bangladesh can upset India. This despite the fact that a best-of-five series between the pairs should leave no doubt as to which team has the better record at the time.

Therefore, to structure a competition comprising teams of vastly different strengths entirely around one-off contests would leave too much to chance. The design is not conducive for a competition that aims to determine the ‘best’ and not the ‘luckiest’ team in a particular form of the game. Thus in the last World Cup both Pakistan and India were knocked out by teams that they would otherwise have defeated nine times out of ten.

In this sense, the two-stage format of the 2011 World Cup is a definite design improvement. The first stage is a Round-Robin format where a team has to prove its merit not by one chance win but by a sustained record of success. The format ensures that it is truly the weak teams that are eliminated in the first stage. This objective was accomplished in the on-going competition where it is (almost) generally agreed that the eight best teams made it into the quarterfinals. From there on, it is a knock-out format between the final eight but again designed intelligently so that the stronger teams of one group are matched against the weaker ones of the second group thereby giving a premium to performance.

Needless to say, each version of cricket calls for a different set of skills and capacities. The five-day Test puts a premium on average abilities, many individual contributions, and teamwork while a 20-20 match can turn on one stellar performance. It is the in-between format, the 50-over ODI, which calls for a combination of an outstanding contribution, quick thinking on the feet, calculated gambles, and, crucially, the minimization of error. The ODI is perhaps the most unforgiving of error. One missed catch, stumping or run out would not affect the outcome of a 20-20 and could be made up for in a Test, but it could be all the difference in an ODI.

Readers will guess this is all nervous babble before the big semifinals. Sri Lanka should win (New Zealand having upset a stronger South Africa) but the India-Pakistan game is impossible to call. On past performance India is the better team but Pakistan is fired up by the shock of its own rebirth. Good luck to all the teams – the ones that avoid the crucial error will win. But South Asia has the World Cup in its grasp and as South Asians we are already celebrating.

It would be interesting if readers write in with their recommended gambles and strategic adaptations for any of the four teams in the semifinals.