Photo courtesy: Lord’s

August 12, and it is almost 3 am. I have been awake for nearly 90 minutes. I have done my stretches. It is going to be a long Thursday. I am up early, patiently waiting for India to take on England in the second match of the five-Test series. (What is Test Cricket?)

They are playing cricket, which is like a not-so-rich royal cousin of baseball. It is the stuttering, sometimes bumbling, mumbling cousin. Let’s be clear, if baseball is enough for you to reach for an aspirin, then cricket needs you to find the company of gin or something more substantial. It confuses, confounds, and challenges even a diehard fan. 

India and England are taking each other on at the Lord’s, the hallowed home of cricket. Lord’s cricket ground is a living testament to the English class divide. Beautiful women in their lovely hats. Gentle claps to cheer the individual acts of sporting heroism. It is about champagne corks popping onto the playing green. Any test match at Lord’s is about history, tradition, and dogma. It is everything that is good (and bad) about English cricket.

A test match lasts five days. That is fifteen sessions in total, each session lasting two hours. Three sessions a day are broken up with two breaks, one each for lunch and tea. I did tell you the sport is a unique kind of weird. It doesn’t distract from the fact that 11 players and their two opponents are locked in a battle that needs physical and mental stamina. Test cricket is all about patience, resilience, and momentary heroics, especially when broken into components. Of course, when the game ends, it takes on a certain operatic quality.

For me, an unabashed fan of the new shorter form of the game, I watch test cricket because it is an allegory for our lives. It is about understanding the value of time, whether accelerating or slowing it down. It is about opportunity and being ready for it when it comes. It is about being vigilant to grab luck with both hands.

Watching an India-England Lord’s Test has been on my bucket list, and I wanted to watch this test in real life. I even had a blazer made for the occasion. Like Robert Burns, the Scottish poet said: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley.” The visit will have to wait, and I hope the test cricket itself survives to see the day like me. 

After a brief weather delay due to light rain, the game finally gets underway. The English summer gloom, accentuated by dark, brooding skies, is a perfect start to a game that would ebb and flow over the next five days. And when it all ends, India would have won by 151 runs. They weren’t supposed to win, but they did in an almost heroic fashion. 

This Indian team isn’t very lovable. Indians, however, get reluctant admiration from their detractors. They don’t much care about tradition either. Whenever they play, things tend to get heated. Perhaps that is why both teams forgot that these were hallowed grounds and not some back alley bar. But that drama would come later, and only add to the texture of what would turn out to be cracker of a game.

Waking up every day at 2.30 am to watch the live stream on my iPad has left me bleary-eyed and perhaps a little incapacitated to do good work. The game moved like a car driving down San Francisco’s infamous Lombard Street on a rainy day. You never knew when the car might skid. A day after India logged their famous victory and bolstered by good night’s sleep, it dawned on me that the first hour of the first session of the day ultimately defined which team came out on top at the end of the day.

Take the first hour of the game’s first day — nearly 75 pitches and a mere dozen runs scored by the Indians facing some disciplined bowling. Under the phlegmatic English skies, England’s (and the world’s) best bowler, Jimmy Anderson, and his new apprentice made you appreciate what it is, deny any extravagance. 

That act of denial, on the field, in life, or at work is what defines us. I remember my grandfather’s ruthlessly minimal uniform of white salwar kameez, a tattered tote bag sewn by my grandmother, an aged old watch, and his polished shoes. He denied himself everything so the family could meet its destiny. A lesson was not lost on me and came in handy as a new immigrant and later as a company founder.

Sports, and the reason we love them so much, is because they give us a framework to help us define our own lives. Our lives, our relatively weak acts of heroism, our daily failures, and occasional success are nothing but a feeble reflection of an onfield saga.

By the time the hour ended, it had started to emerge that slowly, but indeed the Indians were on the front foot to use the cricketing pun. And they ended the day’s play looking as if they were going to win. 

To an outsider, test cricket, seems weird. Much like life itself. Even though the game is supposed to be a continuum, it is played out in fits and starts. Even though a test is supposed to last five days, it is really all about interruptions. Thanks to a few quick outs, the game changed in the first hour on the second day of the Lord’s test. And by the time the day ended, you could tell, the English had their noses ahead.

Living in America and becoming American has allowed me to escape the trap of nationalistic fandom and appreciate cricket, cricketers, and other teams for what they do, their skills, and their achievements. And one of them is Jimmy Anderson.

A lot of England’s success has come about due to the presence of Anderson, who started playing for the home team right before In Da Club (by 50 Cent) became the club anthem. Since 2003, he has become a bowler with the third-highest wicket haul — only two men are ahead of him. If you look closely, his perpetually grumpy face reminds you of an old English bulldog. One who has been on a keto diet, of course. He goes through life and the game wearing a weary, semi-grimace. If this was a comic book, you could see a bubble with the word “sigh” trailing right behind him. 

Jimmy, can’t believe that at age 39, he still has to keep bailing out his team and do the impossible. They say he is old. He certainly acts like an old dog. You can hear the creaking of the bones through the speakers of my iPad. (Or maybe it is lack of sleep that is making me hear things.) But Jimmy is still a magician. Scratch that. He is more than that. He can make the red leather ball do very rude things with his fingers and the way he grips, caresses, and bowls. It is almost pornographic—the distant moans of the crowd are enough proof.

Joe Root, via ECB Video/YouTube

If Jimmy is the grumpy old bulldog, their team captain Joe Root, is the quintessential public schoolboy. Three decades on the planet have not dented his boyish charm, his public school manners, his carefully chosen words, and his sense of fair play. He is a remarkable batsman — one of the very best in the world and perhaps tied for the top spot as one of the nicest. He is in such great nick that is he is carrying the entire team on his back. He bats and bats and bats till he runs out of partners. 

The third morning of the test match featured glorious sunshine, ordered from Harrod’s, of course. And almost from the word go, you could hear “Root” chant, which oddly sounds like a “boo” in normally retrained Lord’s cricket ground. 

Every time I see Root bat, I think of Sir Galahad, known for his gallantry and purity, the most perfect of all knights. He wields the willow-like sword, slices, dices, and beats his opponents into submission. He has been in such sublime form — in eight months so far this year, he has scored over 1250 runs, and there are still four months to go, including a much-awaited Ashes tour of Australia. 

By the end of day three, England is in complete control of the game. But before it all sends, something else has happened. Indian fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah has bowled a hostile over of yorkers, bouncers, and bodyline stuff at Anderson, much to the annoyance of the old man Jimmy.

Things got heated and verbal. The game of the gentlemen transformed into a schoolyard scrap. Anderson is the talisman of English cricket. To pick a fight with him, you are picking a fight with the English team. 

Day 4 of the Lord’s test opened with Anderson’s enforcers doing his job. The first hour has left the Indian team bleeding and bruised. The lunch is taken with three of its best hitters back in the sheds. Indian captain Virat Kohli, a divisive figure if there is any, has been off-color for nearly two years now. He got snared playing a nothing-shot and made a fool out himself. As a result, Indian hopes are resting on its two aging stars. They have both been woeful and out of form.

One of them is Cheteshwar Pujara. His is a face only a mother (or a true love) can love. His game is woefully out of place in a world that moves at the speed of the Internet. I suspect in a timelapse of paint drying and Pujara’s batting, the paint might win. But I totally and absolutely love this guy.

Remember the “Greek god of walks” from the book Moneyball? Pujara is the equivalent for the Indian team — he bats, and bats, and bats. He wears down the opposing pitchers. Earlier this year, he broke down the Australian offense at Gabba. He took more body blows than George Foreman in his fight with Muhammad Ali. The worn-out Aussies were put to the sword by the more flamboyant of his colleagues.

Anyway, Pujara overcomes his demons and shortcomings to help steady the ship, alongside his under siege partner, Ajinke Rahane, who famously led an underpowered Indian team to victory earlier this year. Cricket fans, especially Indian cricket fans, have short memories and are always clamoring for the new.

Pujara is a good reminder of that famous saying by the great General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

The dogs of war don't negotiate
The dogs of war won't capitulate,
They will take and you will give,
And you must die so that they may live

Dogs of War, Pink Floyd.

England has been on top for days 2, 3, and 4. They were favorites to win. And they got out India’s young maverick Rishab Pant quickly to get into what is called the “tail.” The Indian tail is among the longest and the weakest. Think of four baseball pitchers hitting in a row: you get the drift. The game was England’s to lose. 

The ball was new. The overhead conditions favored the good old-fashioned swing and seam bowling. For the English team, it was not just about winning the game. Remember the end of Day 3 skirmish between Anderson and Bumrah: well, it was time for payback.

Bumrah was going to get what he had handed out, the English team had decided. In reality, Anderson, the alpha male of the English team, had decided it was time for revenge. 

The barrage of short bowls, bouncers, and rapid bowls was peppered at the Indian quicks who were getting a taste of their own medicine—anything to get them to hit and fly out—none of that happened. And within an hour, whatever advantage England had built up over three days was lost. 

As I watched the drama unfold over the first hour, all I could think was, “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.” In India, we have a similar saying, “vinaash kaale viparit buddhi.”

India was going to get away from being second best for most of the test match. Fate, of course, has a mind of its own. It can be cruel. Indians came back into the field and proceeded to bowl out England and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. 

In hindsight, what should have been a minor incident, ended up defining the outcome of the test match. It was another reminder that sport often is an allegory for life. A small decision to switch from making a video game to communications software turned Stewart Butterfield into a billionaire. When I look back on my own journey, small, minor incidents suddenly become red-letter days. 

I didn’t go to Lord’s, and thanks to the Internet, Lord’s came to me. It didn’t disappoint in reminding me, in the end, whether it is sport, business, or life itself — it is all about humans. Humans, with their egos, shortcomings, their struggles — and their very brief moment under the sun! 

August 17, 2021. San Francisco.

What the heck is The Hundred?

Should IPL be worried? It is all cricket to me. 😉

With the New York Yankees being a $210 million disappointment this summer, I have shifted my gaze to that other ball-and-stick game: cricket. 

I have been watching The Hundred, a new tournament created to push the newest format of cricket invented by the English Cricket Board (ECB.) Most of my readers are American, so they honestly don’t give a damn about cricket. But take it from celebrated English novelist John Fowles

Baseball and cricket are beautiful and highly stylized medieval war substitutes, chess made flesh, a mixture of proud chivalry and base — in both senses — greed.

Like baseball, cricket is a game that confounds. It is in parts exciting, frustrating, and inexplicable. Even those who play the game will have a tough time conveying its ins-and-outs to the uninitiated. So, I am not even going to try — but if you do want to learn about cricket, Vox made a great little explainer. You can watch that and be satisfied (Though I assure you, by the end, you will be as glassy-eyed as a young’un after a night out at a Las Vegas nightclub.)

From this point on, I would appreciate it if you could just humor me and pretend that you know the game. I’ll adjust some of my language to make it easier to follow. For example, “pitcher” instead of “bowler.” But of course, there remains the issue of which game it is that you are pretending to know., Up until recently, cricket has primarily been played in three formats: 

  1. Test Cricket: The traditional form of the game, it takes place — more often than not — over five days. Teams play with a red leather ball while wearing the whites. Watching this format is akin to listening to classical music. 
  2. One Day International (ODI) Cricket: This version has been around since the early 1970s, when it emerged as the byproduct of an Australian TV magnate’s naked ambition. As the name suggests, these games take place over a single day. Many of them are played as day/night games under floodlights. This format is akin to alt-rock.
  3. T20 Cricket: The youngest form of the game, this format involves 120 pitches per side and is usually over in 4 hours. Think of T20 as rap/hip-hop. 

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Photo courtesy: Microsoft.

As I wrote in a previous piece, T20 cricket is a game that combines the intensity of a basketball game, the nuance of baseball, the art of cricket, and the spectacle of American football. This is a game Americans can love. That is why guys like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are investing in Major League Cricket. And it is a game whose heart is in India. 

T20 cricket may have been “invented” in England, but in 2008, India won the World Cup of Cricket (I know, it is almost as ludicrous as the World Series of Baseball). The win made the game a huge hit in India and opened up the large Indian market to this type of fast-paced game. The country’s large cricket-loving population has allowed the sport to become a major powerhouse: a large audience means big television money, which leads to a very rich league made up of teams that attract the biggest and the best players from around the world. This league is called the Indian Premier League

From next to nothing in 2007, the IPL is now valued at over $7 billion. Its value is only going up as the television viewership increases. The money from the IPL has made Indian Cricket a big power broker in the world of cricket, and it has helped to unearth talent from across the country. 

The English and the Australians who have historically dominated the game both on the field and in the corridors of cricket power find themselves on the back foot. They see them becoming dependent on the largesse of the Indian cricket lords. Games involving India usually come with large audiences and thus big television rights deals. 

Australian domestic sports market is big enough for cricket to make money. In 2011, they created their T20 league — the Big Bash League — which is the number two league and is growing both in revenues and audience. The English have their own league, The Vitality Blast, which started a while ago but has found itself trailing behind the other two tournaments. 

The English Cricket Board, despite their early start in T20, has not been able to cash in on the T20 boom. So, it has created a new narrative: the T20 game is too slow. Four hours is just too long. They also want to introduce the game to newer audiences, and boost interest among new demographics.  So it has come up with a new faster, shorter format of the game called: The Hundred

As the name suggests, The Hundred is a game of two sides (typically, city-based teams with ridiculous names and outfits) where each side gets just 100 pitches. To continue the music comparison, think of this as some new dance craze on TikTok. Naturally, there are numerous new rules to basically get the game finished in three hours. (Here is a very good article that explains the difference between T20 and The Hundred.) The Hundred is now available for viewing on paid television and free-to-air television in the UK. You can watch 34 games on Sky Sports’ YouTube channel. And if that is not enough, a lot of technology is being used in the new tournament. For instance, Sky’s mobile apps use motion capture technology to create highly accurate avatars of cricket players involved in the games. 

Just like they were up in arms about the T20, the English media is up in arms about the new tournament. Of course, this is to be expected of the English media: they love to hate on anything new, any change, and any innovation to the tradition or traditional power structures. The Guardian, which is being open-minded to the extent that it can, put it best in its preview of the tournament: “This has drawn comparisons with New Coke, the cautionary tale from 1985 about rebranding a well-loved product in pursuit of new customers.”

As I have written in the past, the sport has to evolve with the society at large. Our idea of time, especially leisure time, and how we spend it is in constant flux as we become untethered from an analog clock and love the rhythms of the network. 

There is a reason why Americans find themselves plugged into the NBA and not baseball. American society is more accurately reflected in basketball than in either baseball or football. Cricket, too, has to evolve. Whether it is T20 or The Hundred, cricket needs a format that makes it relevant to a generation that has more demands on its time than ever before. 

“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

— Steve Jobs, via Triumph of the Nerds

After a week of watching The Hundred, I found myself liking it more than I expected. It is an excellent made-for-television spectacle, though I found very little time in the games for “commercials” that would eventually bring in the big bucks. But that is beyond my pay grade. I am, after all, merely an amateur fan living in America. Still, I found it to be a great novelty act with some very good ideas. On television, even with the faux excitement and bonhomie of the commentators, the game feels fast-paced. A simple change of focus of the game from runs per over to runs versus balls makes the game seem more exciting. A constantly changing on-screen win-predictor adds more urgency to the game. The video game-like graphics make the actual cricket feel more, well, like a video game. And that’s the point: building a game for a new generation of viewers and cricket fans.

I might get some stick for it, but The Hundred makes T20 (and even the IPL) look a bit dowdy. A week in, despite the silly names and teams that are marginal at best, I know, I will be keeping an eye on The Hundred in 2022 at the very least. That might be music to the English cricket administrators’ ears, but it should worry the likes of those running professional T20 leagues. 

If I was running a T20 league — specifically, the IPL — I would take note and almost instantly make some changes to improve on my core offering. It would be keeping in character. Indian cricket administrators aren’t really innovators — at best they can be described as fast followers. Remember, the English came up with the idea of T20. A rebel Indian Cricket League decided to commercialize T20 for the Indian market. Only when the experiments started to work, the official IPL was born. In other words, copying good ideas is part of the Indian cricket administration modus operandi, so why not take a “cue” from The Hundred. 


The graphics are a no-brainer. It won’t cost any real money, and most importantly, it allows more revenue opportunities. 

The Hundred has a single 2.5-minute strategic timeout. Copy that. The T20 has two strategic timeouts. Why? They do nothing but to basically break the rhythm and excitement of the game. We don’t need more than one.

The Hundred forces new hitters to face the pitchers even if the batsman crosses over to the other end when being caught out (I recognize that I may be losing some of you here). It is a smart idea that balances the odds between pitching and hitting sides. IPL, go ahead and steal this idea. 

And here is another no-brainer: The Hundred has a shot-clock. If you miss the cutoff time, you are penalized by being forced to bring an additional player closer to the pitch. This is smart, and T20 should enforce this rule. 

A Hundred game is supposed to last 2.5 hours — 150 minutes in total. The IPL should go to a 3.5-hour  limit — a total of 210 minutes. I would love to see a hard 105-minutes per side limit in the IPL T20 games. That should make the game pulsating and, thus, obviate the need for a new format and the 100-ball tourney. 

Apart from the above-mentioned changes, I see no need to tinker with the IPL version of the T20 game. The older cricket rules make perfect sense and maintain continuity with the past. 

The best part of The Hundred has been the women’s games. I have loved them more than the men’s games because they are more closely matched and have genuine joy. I watched the US women’s soccer team win, and it inspired a nation of girls to become soccer players. The Hundred will have that kind of an impact, just as the Women’s Big Bash League has had in Australia. 

It is a damn shame that IPL is twiddling its thumbs over the women’s version of the tournament. We have so many great stars waiting to find their deserved place in the pantheon of cricket. An Indian hitter — Jemimah Rodrigues is the highest scorer in the tournament thus far, including the men. Can we get on with it? 

How IPL can dominate (even more)

The Hundred format (if not the tournament itself) has some potential, and this should present a clear and present danger for the IPL. They need to ensure that the money gusher keeps flowing. They need to nip this threat in the bud. IPL organizers at present should be thinking about how to make it the “only relevant” tournament in the world. In case it wasn’t already clear: I have a handful of suggestions. 

Start by adding four new teams, raising the total to 12 teams. (IPL is expanding to ten teams in 2021.) Then increase the window for the tournament to four months. Make sure games are four hours and include multiple doubleheaders. 

IPL should use the increased television rights revenues to allow teams to sign their players on permanent contracts, much like NBA or MLB teams sign their free-agents and draft picks. If you are an Australian player, you can play for Australia or in your domestic tournament or domestic T20 leagues. But since you are under contract, you don’t play in other T20 or The Hundred. The additional money (and security) should give the player enough time to recover, and also not increase the risk of injury for the sake of additional payouts. This would elevate the IPL into even greater must-see TV status.

Additionally, the IPL should try and make it mandatory for every one of its teams to draft a player from lesser cricket nations, like Ireland, the Netherlands, Zimbabwe, or Hong Kong. I mean, look at what T20 has done for Afghanistan. Why not help other countries? Every kid who dribbles wants to be in the NBA, no matter what language they speak. Why not IPL?

In exchange for these tweaks, the International Cricket Council (ICC), the official body running the world of cricket gets a percentage of the TV rights that can be used to keep the purest form of the game — test cricket — alive in countries where it is getting difficult for the game to continue. Alternatively, the ICC could work on a streaming platform that can sell access to cricket games globally for games outside the domestic viewing area — much like how MLB does. Two million people paying somewhere close to $100 a year should be a good additional revenue base for the ICC. 

The only way to save that long-form cricket is to make some important edits to the global game. It is time to kill the one-day format. It is no longer relevant in the world we live in. As I’ve previously written, in the post-Internet society,  time and attention are all fractionalized. We live in a world of 60-second TikToks. 

Most people are going to hate my suggestions — after all, the BCCI has too much influence, and it is a bully. Damn, they are so bad that even Netflix did an episode on the whole thing. Nevertheless, the fact remains that, whether people like it or not, the traditional structure of cricket has started to crumble. That’s the reality. 

A cricket podcast jokingly coined the phrase “the start of the Asian century” after an Indian B-side beat Australia at home. It isn’t a joke. Neither is The Hundred. And if you can get over the fact that it’s not exactly the same game your grandfather may have watched, it has some ideas worth copying. 

Published on July 25, 2021. San Francisco.

Nitin Sawhney

For a long time, Nitin Sawhney has occupied a prime slot on my very short bucket list of people to interview. I first encountered his music in the early 1990s, and to a great extent, he has provided the soundtrack to my adult life. Perhaps that was inevitable. After all, we are part of the … Continue reading Nitin Sawhney