Archive for January, 2012

Bring back Dada, and other solutions for Indian cricket

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Mint, 16 January 2012

One can’t help but notice a small but significant fraction of voices among all the gnashing of teeth and terrible imprecations that are being aired about the Indian cricket team’s debacle (that seems too weak a word—disaster, catastrophe, cataclysm…well, whatever). These voices are fringe voices, but they have grown a bit stronger after the Perth seven-sessions-and one-and-a-half-overs massacre. Of course, they will not affect the future of Indian cricket in any way, but it’s interesting to listen to them.

They have a simple demand: “Bring back Dada.”

The reasons are obvious. One, the state of the current XI, which still has some players who were part of the team Sourav Gangulybuilt—a team which may not have been world champions, but which certainly showed more fighting spirit than any Indian team ever. Two, the general clueless air about Dhoni (also one of Ganguly’s proteges) whenever India has played Test matches on foreign soil. Three, Ganguly’s performance as commentator for the series has showcased his keen cricketing mind; he is by far the best among the Indian lot we have had on TV all these years (many of whom distinguished themselves with insightful statements like: “India wouldn’t mind taking a wicket now,” begging the question: Exactly under what circumstances would India mind taking a wicket?). Four, India has not been able to figure out a stable middle order ever since Ganguly left.

After India’s craven surrender at Perth, former England captain Michael Vaughn tweeted: “Pre-IPL and under Ganguly with a similar team India won in England and drew in Aussie. Had plenty of fightback then! Where has it gone?”

The most active among Ganguly’s many fan sites, scganguly.com, has already uploaded a six-minute video called “Ganguly, the Comeback King”, a paean to the great man. When I attempted to mildly protest about the absurdity of getting Ganguly back at the helm—he retired with grace, dignity and a satisfied smirk in 2008, an irritated Ganguly-ite reminded me that when the Australian team was decimated by Kerry Packer in 1978, they called in Bobby Simpson, retired from international cricket for nearly a decade, and asked him to forge a team. And that team defeated India 3-2. “Isn’t Ganguly still playing in the Ranji Trophy?” he asked indignantly. “And scoring well? And wasn’t his batting average in the last series he played, that too against Australia, 54?”

Ganguly’s fans have always felt that their idol was short-changed. Even after Ganguly had established himself in the team, Tendulkar was accused of unfairly dropping him in a few one-dayers in favour of Kambli and Jadeja (I remember many fans switching off their TVs in protest; parts of Kolkata even switched off the lights). He was robbed of the captaincy and dropped from the team for petty political reasons—read Greg Chappell, who ranks with Voldemort as far as Ganguly-ites are concerned. He then returned and batted as well as he had ever done, and then announced his retirement (and stuck to it).

Throughout his tumultuous international career, Ganguly had often shown the middle finger to the world in thought and deed, and his departure was his last proud defiant jab in the air. He left, vindicated and victorious.

So, at the darkest moment Indian cricket has faced in several decades, the diehard have found a hope to cling on to. Of course, it’s not going to happen. It would be utterly humiliating for the BCCI (though, on general principle, the BCCI needs regular doses of public humiliation). And Ganguly himself is a very smart man, and will never agree to take on a challenge that he is not more than 100% sure of winning. He would much rather enjoy this late re-iteration of his contribution to Indian cricket, and bask in the safe distance of the commentary box. And why should one grudge him that pleasure?

In times of trouble, the mind often turns to past glories. The current clamour for Ganguly, thus, is interesting, but hardly puzzling. Dhoni’s mutterings about retirement from Tests has been an astonishingly irresponsible act for a captain the middle of a tour gone haywire. Dravid and Laxman are suddenly showing their age. Gambhir’s shortcomings have been cruelly exposed. Sehwag may turn out to be a canny skipper, but as of now, few believe that. Right now, India needs a miracle, and Ganguly’s fans are merely articulating the hope of one possible—but completely improbable—version of that miracle.

An unreal sense of security

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Mint, 13 January 2012

A recent BusinessWeek piece on the elderly in China led me to do some research. After all, we in India, at the drop of a hat, brag about 65% of our population being below 35 years, and the “demographic dividend” and so on. What’s going on in China, and how will the demographics of the two countries compare in the coming decades?

According to projections made by the United Nations (UN), China’s population will peak at about 1.4 billion around 2030, and then start dropping, when the country will feel the full impact of the one-child policy and growing urbanization (the country’s fertility rate fell below replacement rate in the 1990s). In the 2080s, the number will drop to below a billion, and by 2100, there will be less than 950 million Chinese.

India’s population will hit its peak around 2060, at about 1.6 billion (though fertility rates have dropped, it’s still 2.6 births per Indian woman per lifetime, higher than the replacement rate), and then begin dipping, to end the century at around 1.4 billion, making India the most populous nation on the earth by a margin of nearly half a billion. In fact, the UN expects India’s population to cross China’s by 2020.

But what is really fascinating is the projected composition of these populations. By 2030, while India will remain a youthful country, China will be greying. The Indian median age will be about 32 years (up from the current 26), while China’s will be 43 (it’s 35 right now). While Indians 65 years or older will form about 9% of the population, it’ll be 17% for China. According to the Vienna Institute of Demography (VID), by 2030, dependency ratio in China will be nearly 0.3, that is, every 10 Chinese of working age (15-64 years) will have to support three people of 65 years of age or older. By 2050, the ratio will cross 0.5. As VID puts it: “Over the coming decades, the world’s biggest national population will experience some of the most rapid and most massive processes of population ageing in world history.”

In 1990, China had nearly two and a half times as many relatively educated young men and women (aged 15–24 years, with a high-school education or better) as India. But, India should overtake China on this aspect by 2020. By 2030, according to VID, India’s pool of relatively well-educated young people will exceed 125 million—more than any other country on earth. China will have fewer than 75 million. And if one looks at all the people of working age with a high-school education or better, India’s number was only a third of China’s in 1990, but is set to outstrip China by 2040. Indeed, this number for India is estimated to jump 80% in the coming two decades, from 360 million now to 660 million.

Says Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute: “No other place on earth will see anything like this sort of jump in relatively educated manpower.”

And if we in India are ashamed of our gender imbalance, China is affected far more by the curse of female foeticide. The 2011 census estimates 107 Indian men for every 100 women. The 2000 census figure for China was a shocking 119 boys for every 100 girls. In 2004, the Chinese government brought in tough laws banning selective abortions of female foetuses. But demographers project that the imbalance will start slowly decreasing only by 2025-30. “In less than a generation, a fifth or more of Chinese men in their late 30s or early 40s may be essentially unmarriageable,” says Eberstadt. “This…may presage unpredictable social strains or political pressures.”

All these numbers look awesome for India, right? Well, here’s what I think these statistics may not be showing up in any way. These numbers are all averages—they do not take into account the huge disparities existing within the country; in fact, to the close observer, they could portend even wider iniquity. The averages do not reflect the massive material poverty we are mired in. India’s public healthcare system is at least 25 years behind China’s. About a third of India’s working age population is illiterate, while almost no one in that group in China is. The statistics for “relatively educated” does not in any way indicate quality of education and employability.

These seemingly rosy projections could also imply crippling regional skews in our developmental future. While some states will excel, others—and these are bound to be the more populous ones—could keep lagging. This can only lead to greater and greater migration from the poorer states to the richer ones. This has already been on for decades, and we have seen the social tensions being generated, which are being exploited to the hilt by cynical politicians. Unless India can manage to get the laggard states to catch up, we may be sitting on a socio-political time bomb that could just blow all the best-laid plans and economic dreams sky-high.

What should be bothering us is not China, but our internal irregularities. For India, arithmetic averages may hide far more than they disclose.