IPL

Boring is the new cool

warner-kohli-story_647_050316100706

“He knew how to enjoy and abstain from things that most people find it hard to abstain from and all too easy to enjoy. Strength, perseverance, self-control in both areas: the mark of a soul in readiness—indomitable”

The above statement was composed by Marcus Aurelius at the beginning of the Common Era in his book ‘Meditations’. Although antique, it is not as dated as the clichés that have followed by known and unknown (mostly management) authors in the next two thousand years. Aurelius talks not of the joy in doing the things you love, but of abstinence, of exercising extreme willpower and reaping its benefits in areas that are of significant concern.

Examples of occurrence of good owing to the above are in surplus. I’m going to pick two recent ones from the sport of cricket.

I

There are innumerable instances of Virat Kohli and the word ‘brash’ being used in the same sentence — most of it written five to six years ago. It is safe to assume every cricket-related website has used the aforesaid duplet at least once. It is also safe to assume that there might have been at least tens of instances of able editors thankfully striking it down.

Circa 2009, you read articles comparing Kohli to the mercurial Indian pacer Shanthakumaran Sreesanth. Kohli’s expletive laced celebration after he led the India U-19 team to a World Cup victory seemed to have sparked this discourse. In the years that followed, Kohli’s supreme batting abilities were obscured by his aggressive demeanor. Then came the usual calls for him to be shelved.

And then came Kohli’s resurgence.

Michael Jordon was not a big believer of plain talent. “I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come,” he once said. Very few doubted Kohli’s abilities. But they began to appreciate his brilliance when Kohli began working. And boy, did he work!

Kohli hit the nets. Thereafter, he hit the gym. He ran, strengthened his core, paid heed to the water he drank (it is said he clocks when he drinks water and the amount of it, although I could not corroborate it on the World Wide Web. Maybe it is just one of the usual myths associated with a champion). He also cut down on the foods he ate, prodding his teammate Ashish Nehra to remark, “If you go out for a meal with Kohli, you can forget about getting Indian curry.”

Kohli is outspoken against consumption of junk food, has drastically cut down on ‘partying’ and vehemently propagates embracing a ‘boring lifestyle’.

“It is a conscious effort, to be very honest. It is more like ‘Eat, sleep, train, repeat’. If you want to be consistent, you need to be boring with your training, your food and your batting habits,” he said during a post-match conference of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

There is distinct pleasure in watching yourself evolve. I am sure Kohli must have felt it when he shared a (relatively) chubby picture of his on the social media, before revealing another of his current, highly-chiseled self.

 

Haha 🙈. Throwback to chubby times. ⛄️⛄️

A post shared by Virat Kohli (@virat.kohli) on

 

That distinct pleasure could have also been felt had he compared his batting statistics from the two timeframes.

Kohli was the highest amasser of runs in the IPL, is now arguably the fastest on the pitch (do watch the video where he highlights the importance of performing sprints, moments after India qualifies for the semi-final of the World Cup), is touted to lead the Indian cricket team in all formats shortly, is tipped to break records of most legends who graced a cricket field, and is easily one of the best batsmen across formats.

He may lead a boring lifestyle. The man, however, is anything but boring.

II

“We have a drinking game in Australia, it’s called drinking” – Jim Jefferies.

As is the norm in Australian culture, Beers and Southern Comfort flow in the dressing rooms at the conclusion of a successful game. At least that’s how it used to be in the last decade based on whatever I could glean out of cricketers’ autobiographies. Beers and Southern Comfort also made an appearance whenever an important milestone — or retirement — was being celebrated.

When Michael Clarke called it quits, the dressing room popped open cans of beers to celebrate the end of a fine career of one of Australia’s finest captains.

David Warner, though, refrained, albeit not out of disrespect. He made a commitment to himself to ‘stay off the booze’. And this was a cricketer who earlier didn’t mind heading to the bar if he had a free afternoon.

Warner had been through a lot in the preceding years. Apart from an amazing batting repertoire, he also shared the term ‘brash’ with Kohli consistently. He engaged in a twitter row, punched Joe Root, was pulled up by the administrators several times for minor breaches, and was given an ultimatum: “Get in line or get out”. He was dropped for the tour of India.

Warner decided to shape up. In an interview to Boria Majumdar , he said, “I had to ask myself if I was content with being cricket’s bad boy and if I’d walk away from the game I love so much with this tag or will I stage a comeback and play for a further 10 years and leave behind a legacy I’d be proud of.”

The solution was pretty straightforward for Warner. He had to rewire the process in his head if he wanted to further pursue a rewarding career. In Candice Falzon (now Candice Warner), a former professional ironwoman, he found a good partner.

He became an early bird, increased his training routine at the gym and in the practice nets; embraced a high-protein, low-carb diet that helped him shed nine kilos. He also replaced his afternoon beer sessions with a second training session.

Warner returned in Australian flannels and plundered runs. He became Steve Smith’s deputy. He became indispensable in all formats of the game.

The Sunrisers Hyderabad retained him. As a skipper, and as clichéd as it sounds, he led from the front. When Praveen Kumar was taken to the cleaners by Warner, the former walked towards the latter, ready to pick a fight. But Warner had by then learnt to pick his battles. And this one wasn’t worth fighting. Warner just smiled. Sunrisers Hyderabad surged through to the final and won the ninth edition of the IPL. The transformation was complete.

The Orange Cap — as meaningless as its existence might be — must have been elated to be around the heads of Kohli and Warner throughout the course of the IPL. These two cricketers have upped the standards of the sport, and perhaps even the level they one day desire to operate on, for nothing is more difficult than successfully exercising control over oneself. Boring wins the day. Boring is the new cool.

“To put up with discomfort and not make demands. To do my own work, mind my own business, and have no time for slanderers,” writes Aurelius in the same book. Kohli and Warner have perfectly demonstrated the ageless sayings of the wise man.

 

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Will the proposed changes to ICC’s Anti-Corruption Security Unit help curb the fixing menace?

Lou Vincent

When news of former New Zealand cricketer Lou Vincent’s divulgence of information pertaining to match-fixing, to International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Anti-corruption and Security unit (ACSU), filtered through digital and print media last week, not many were dumbfounded. Even when Vincent admitted in the December of 2013 to cooperating with ACSU, who at the time were probing incidents of alleged wrongdoings in few of the Twenty20 (T20) leagues around the world, the turn of events didn’t greatly surprise the fraternity, or followers of the sport.

Indeed, the frequency with which murky details have come to fore during the recent past has abated any astonishment that usually comes with such reports. The apt word would perhaps be ‘desensitisation’, whose definition in psychology, according to Wikipedia, is “diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it.”

A plethora of columns have rightly surfaced on how little is being done by the powers that be to curb the menace and how this eventually leads to diminishing viewer interest. In the spotlight of late is the ACSU, previously berated for their ineptitude in carrying out what’s expected of them. The unit is not in the news for failing to unearth an incident of match-fixing, but because the Big Three — comprising the cricket boards of India, England and Australia — plan to make way for a new ACSU with condensed powers, one that would report to the new chairman of the ICC instead of the chief executive. But is the ACSU really to blame, considering how rickety and unyielding the structure that was built for their operation was?

A few years since its inception, the ACSU was said to have one of the toughest Code of Conduct in comparison to other sporting organisations in the world. It did instil a sense of fear in some Asian bookmakers attempting to corrupt the fallible. But one of the processes involved proving malpractice to former and current international players, and if they weren’t all on the same page, the ACSU had no chance to serve justice to the player in question. This was one of the many drawbacks. So while they managed to “keep one eye on” a few unscrupulous characters, there is little they could do with lack of concrete evidence.

Lack of manpower was also a concern, for when details of murky deals or suspicious activity was mentioned to them by any player or a whistle-blower, they could do nothing about it. Former Pakistan captain Salman Butt’s movements during the 2010 Asia Cup can be a situation in point: the whistle-blower in this case knew of a fix and went to News of the World — who eventually carried out a sting-operation and blew the lid off the case — after the ACSU had failed to react to the information provided by the person, citing “lack of manpower”.

Another drawback stems from relying heavily on the information provided by team-mates of a suspected player — which, by all means, is often a reliable source of snippets. While the ACSU penalises for not reporting a suspicious activity, it does not assure the privacy (although its guidelines state it does) of whatever information it may have received: the leakage of Brendon McCullum’s testimony can be an apt case in point. The threat from bookies notwithstanding, it may be one of the reasons why many cricketers suspicious of one of their team members do not come forward often.

In an article by Daily Mail on Vincent’s confession, is evidence of the aforementioned fact: “After the game, another team-mate Vincent approached was furious. ‘He knew the game was fixed. I just wanted to get out of there.’ Vincent told the ICC he received £40,000 to throw the game — £25,000 from NG and £15,000 from VG.” Why couldn’t this cricketer go to the ACSU with whatever little he knew? In The Telegraph, Iain O’Brien talks about a few games he suspected were fixed during his playing days and now, and writes, “Should I, as an ex-player and now commentator, be reporting suspect activity to the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit? Maybe I should. But, I feel it is so rife that they would get overrun by what I see as suspect actions which have become so blatant that it is hard to believe they even care about our game anymore.”

One cannot blame O’Brien. As Ed Hawkins states in his book Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld, “The ACSU are disparaged, and not just among cricket fans. It has a poor reputation among the players in the world game. Remember that exasperated international captain asking [Haroon] Lorgat why more was not being done prior to the World Cup in 2011?”

What the ACSU needs is empowerment. Weakening its authority could only render the unit more futile.

(You can read more of the changes to ACSU here)