Australian cricket continues on its old, merry path

EARLIER this year, after England sealed a resounding 3-1 win in the Ashes Test series, Australian cricket authorities, apparently all shaken up, launched an inquiry to find out why the team had been beaten, and so comprehensively too.

This was the third time that Tasmania’s Ricky Ponting had led the national team to a loss in the Ashes series; Ponting lost twice in England, in 2005 and 2009. The Ashes is the series that matters most to Australia as England is historically the enemy.

When the inquiry reported back and recommended sweeping changes, there was hope that things would look different this summer. Of course, the captain had to go – of that there was little doubt. But despite a lot of talk, much promise of change, one finds that with the summer cricket season nearly a third over, things are pretty much the same.

Australia has a new bunch of selectors but they follow the same methods as their predecessors. Before the two-Test series against New Zealand began, the selectors had the chance to get rid of some of the older members of the squad, people like Mike Hussey and Ponting, usher in some youngsters and start the process of rebuilding.

Two Tests were played in South Africa before the series against New Zealand but the same old faces were seen in action. On returning from that country, some changes forced themselves on the selectors – a fairly large number of players had sustained injuries. Opener Shane Watson was one. The selectors’ reaction was the same as that of those who have gone before them – bring in an opener from New South Wales, the state that is the most influential in cricket in the country. It doesn’t matter that the man, David Warner, is not suited to the role.

The other opener, Phillip Hughes, was retained despite a very shaky showing in South Africa. He got two scores of 9 in the first Test, and 88 and 11 in the second and showed, as he had against England last year, that he is still susceptible to the moving ball early in the innings. But he is from New South Wales. Hence he stayed put.

Hughes got 10 and 7 in the first Test against New Zealand. He has stayed on to open in the second Test too. His first innings effort in the second Test is done – all of 4 runs, again caught at slip. But I’m willing to bet that when India lines up against Australia on Boxing Day in Melbourne – that is the next Test of the summer season – Hughes will still be there.

Shaun Marsh was another player injured after the South African Tests. He is still on the mend and may be fit to play against India. But who will be moved out to make way for him? Ponting? Hussey? Or will he be sacrificed as an opener, the most difficult job in Test cricket, so that the two old men can save their jobs?

When it came to the bowlers, the selectors had to ring some changes. Mitchell Johnson, after another erratic tour, was injured. So too Ryan Harris. Two new men had to be brought in. The selectors picked James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc. Judging from the way the previous bunch of selectors handled the debut of Patrick Cummins in the second Test in South Africa – the man has sustained a serious heel injury and is unlikely to play again this summer – one has to wait and see how Pattinson and Starc pull up after the Tests against New Zealand.

Given the appearance of Pattinson and Starc, the selectors loudly proclaimed that young blood was being infused; in other words, they, the selectors, were taking bold, new steps. But, pray, if someone had not been brought in to replace the injured bowlers, how would the 11 have been made up?

Ponting failed in South Africa. He made one score of 60-plus; anyone who saw him make that score would have concluded that it was time for him to quit. It was a painful innings from a man who is widely acknowledged as the second best batsman produced by Australia, after Sir Donald Bradman. But he is allowed to stay on.

Hussey got 15 in the first Test against New Zealand. In South Africa, he scored 1, 0, 20 and 39. He is still in the team despite being 36 and blocking the entry of some promising youngster. He will be there for the series against India too, have no fear.

The argument used by the selectors will be that you need some experience in the ranks; after all, they can point to their opponents, India, as an example. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag, the nucleus of the Indian batting, are all above 30. Tendulkar is 38. The difference is that they are all scoring and scoring heavily. Just yesterday, Sehwag hammered the highest score in one-day cricket, 219, against the West Indies. Ponting, by contrast, has not scored a hundred for something like 18 Tests.

But the Australian selectors are too scared to make changes; they want to please all the little cliques in cricket circles and are unwilling to rock the boat. Anyone who cares about Australian cricket would have to hope and pray that India wins the series and overwhelmingly too. Then we might see some dramatic change.

Why I don’t feel threatened by racist Americans

[Before you read this, go here. Read the post, and the comments. Then come back and you will understand why this item has this particular heading.]

IN TIMES of economic gloom, the people in any country tend to blame the outsider for the malaise that is eating into their vitals, spoiling the good times and generally ensuring that an air of gloom hangs over proceedings.

When things turn particularly bad, people tend to even turn to lynching the outsider. In the US of A, 46 million people are living below the poverty line (nearly 15 per cent of the population if one goes by the last census figure of a population of 307,006,550) and the economy is shot to pieces. In this climate, the foreigner becomes an easy target.

Thus it does not surprise me that an American programmer by the name of John Larson chose to write a piece titled “Why I will never feel threatened by programmers in India”.

As an aside, one must mention that Larson is a web developer. His venture is probably not getting as much business as he would like, the reason being that work is outsourced to India. The man is annoyed about it. Hence his little rant.

Larson’s thesis is basically that Indian programmers churn out poor quality work; the rate per hour is low but given the number of hours that are consumed, things ultimately turn out to be more expensive. And, in the end, they often do not work. The code is of poor quality and, judging from three projects which he himself encountered, he decided that an entire nation had to be damned. Of course, only a fool would generalise about an entire nation from three examples; I would hesitate to do so even if it were about a village with a population of just 1000. But Larson is a programmer.

Larson’s argument is nothing new. I wrote this piece seven years ago and, at a time when blogs were in their infancy, received 29 long emails in response, 28 against what I had written and a single email in support. There is a link to a similar article at the bottom of this piece. Larson was not revealing anything new; Indian outsourcing companies are best at handling drudge work. All the good programmers in the country leave and go abroad to work for foreign companies; now they work for foreign companies in India.

It was an American tech trainer who once said “ninety-five per cent of programmers are idiots.” Pinku Surana even went so far as to say that that figure could be higher. He never spoke a truer word. Programmers only have to learn to write a Hello World statement and after that they generally feel that they have understood all the mysteries of human existence. About the only thing they cannot do is to turn water into wine. They can turn it into urine, though. They contemplate life’s most complex problems as one would a piece of chocolate fudge. And when it comes to blaming the outsider, they are at their very best.

After he published this piece of modern-day literature, Larson was taken aback somewhat by the scale of the reaction. He realised that he had let his true feelings show and that inside he was rather a racist. He then changed the title of his piece to Why I Will Never Feel Threatened by Cheap Overseas Programming.

His change of heart is not surprising. Whether one likes it or not, there are 1.2 billion Indians around the world, more than a seventh of the human race. One is bound to come up against them here or there. For a man like Larson, who is touting for business as a web developer, it would hurt his business prospects if he were perceived as a racist. One has to make ends meet; one cannot live on love and fresh air with the occasional bit of racism thrown in.

Racism is common around the world these days. Having travelled as much as I have, I have experienced it in a myriad forms. Blaming the outsider has always been a form of escaping reality and trying to justify one’s own self-worth.

But it has not served any worthwhile purpose. My response to his article was:

All that you have done is provide an outlet for a bunch of frustrated Americans to exercise their feel-good complex and assert, “Maan, them Indian fekkers, them can’t do nuthin’ right.”

Doubtless you thought you were making a unique contribution to the debate around outsourcing. All that emerged was cheap, racist sentiment. And then, scared by the genie you had unleashed, you took a step back and realised what you were and what you had done. At that point, you had to make yourself look like the good ole American who’s from the land of the brave and the free (and all that other shit which is spouted ad infinitum). You can’t unscramble an egg, old chap. The damage is done.

Only a fool would even try to generalise about a country of 1.2 billion.

I’m writing an article titled “Why I don’t feel threatened by racist Americans.” You might like to come by and comment when it’s done.

It took a while for that to be accepted; I had to write and ask what had happened and remind the man that he was claiming not to have rejected any comments, no matter how severe.

Larson’s piece has generated a lot of comment. It was featured on the echo chamber called Slashdot, where a large number of idiots gather to reinforce their prejudices.

There are numerous reasons why outsourced projects fail. Communication can be a problem; English is a highly ambiguous language and American bizspeak is not exactly the easiest lingo to understand. There are cultural issues and also plain laziness to deal with. But as Larson did, one cannot simplify this into a George Bush-type “you are with us or you are with the terrorists” credo. It is orders of magnitude more complex.

For people who refer to the corruption in India, my response would be to watch the documentary film Inside Job which details the genesis and fallout of the global financial crisis. After watching corruption of that magnitude if anyone can say that the US is not the most corrupt nation on the face of the earth, I would be extremely surprised. People who live in glass houses… but then you know the rest of that.

There are shonky workers in every single nation and the US is no exception; some of the worst workers I have had to deal with have been Americans. But I would be the last person to condemn a country because of a few individuals. For that you need a monumental fool.

Of course, the intelligent reader would comprehend why I wrote this piece. Sarcasm is not something bears explanation.

Pakistan feels the blowback from the US

WHEN Britain engineered the split of the Indian subcontinent back in 1947, there was little indication that the colonial masters would face a big blowback. The old policy of divide and rule was used to give the Muslims a separate state, resulting in one of the bigger bloodbaths in history as people fought during the partition.

India has gone on to become a force in its own right and somehow has survived any number of problems; it has been under democratic rule for all but 26 months since the partition. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been under various forms of dictatorship during its history and become something of a vassal state for the US.

Every state that has gained nuclear weapons has done so in order to be taken seriously by the countries that make global policy; only in Pakistan’s case has this not worked. The US continues to do what it wants within Pakistan’s borders and the killing of 24 innocent civilians recently is but the latest indication that it has scant regard for Pakistan’s internal problems.

But no matter what abuse it receives at the hands of the US, Pakistan cannot move away. Without American aid, the country will wither and die. It has no option but to cater to American demands, outrageous as they often are. It has to subjugate itself to American foreign policy and only hope that Washington can muster the cash to send across every year.

During the years of the cold war, India was firmly in the Soviet camp. But economic dependence did not develop; India has always been able to meet its own internal and external commitments from its own funds. And as the 1990s came along and India became a place where foreign companies came and did business, Delhi has become something of a rising power, able to tell the Americans what they should do and not the other way around.

American companies are now often dependent on the success of their branches in India to report a profit; were any of them to be asked to leave, it would impact adversely on the company’s bottomline. The US needs India, not merely for its economic well-being but also as a bulwark against the rising might of China.

Pakistan, sadly, has not been able to develop its own industry sector even a tenth as much as India. The people are essentially the same but the lack of political stability and the level of corruption have got in the way of the country developing as a whole. And Pakistan has always had to please its masters in the West, something that India has not had to do.

There is a myth in foreign policy circles that India would like to destabilise Pakistan. In truth, the last thing that India wants is an unstable Pakistan; it views with horror even the thought that there could be another 150 million who could become refugees and seek refuge within its borders. Memories of the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh have not gone away altogether.

For Pakistan, the only option is to wean itself away from the US and try to attach itself more firmly onto the Chinese teat. China already provides assistance to Pakistan; the latter will have to solicit a much more closer relationship if it does not want to have its own people dying in numbers due to US drone attacks every now and then.

The people of Pakistan have suffered a great deal due to the machinations of their rulers. At least in the case of many other countries, it could be said that the mess they are in is of their own making. But in Pakistan’s case. its people live in a mess of other countries’ making.