Sunday, July 11, 2010

The ethic of irresponsibility

Omar Abdullah, the telegenic chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, certainly has many faults, but discourtesy cannot be counted among them. His record as CM is mixed at best, and this blog has always regarded young dynasts with cynicism. But throughout his political career (now over a decade in frontline politics), the son of Farooq and grandson of Sheikh Abdullah has displayed a commitment to civility that is all-too-rare in our public discourse. This commitment lends itself to effective bipartisanship (a concept virtually unheard of in today's Indian political scene). The present situation in J & K, the worst since the summer troubles of 2008, owes more than a little to Omar's inexperience and lack of political skill. But his decision to call an All-Parties' Meet is, I think, an admirable one.

Unfortunately, this meet is rendered meaningless by the decision of the Leader of the Opposition, Mehbooba Mufti of the People's Democratic Party (PDP)- and, by extension, her father, alcoholic former CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed- not to attend the conference. This is despite the intervention of the Prime Minister, who called Mehbooba to implore her to attend.

The PDP argues that to attend would give the Omar Abdullah government undue legitimacy. But it already has that legitimacy, in the form of a clear electoral mandate and a significant (coalition) majority in the assembly. By continuing to call for the premature resignation of an elected government, by using the politics of street populism over responsible parliamentarianism, the PDP is just as guilty, if not more, than the National Conference (no matter how incompetent its decisions, such as requesting Army help in Srinagar, are judged) of failing to solve the present malaise.

The abdication of its duty by the elected opposition is an utterly pervasive disease in Indian politics. It is visible most noticeably, of course, at the Lok Sabha level, where the Opposition inevitably chooses the parliamentary boycott or, failing that, the Bharat bandh, over the legislative debate. Yet it is equally true in every state in the country. It is just that Mehbooba's abdication of this duty is likely to have disastrous and even bloody consequences, so fragile is any state of peace in the Valley. All our states would benefit from bipartisanship and a responsible Opposition, but without these things, Kashmir is always in danger of a return to outright chaos.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reasons to Bother

If Karnataka is a success story (and this is a debatable point), it is despite, not because of, political leadership. Since Ramakrishna Hegde chose the pursuit of power at the Centre over improving his state, more than two decades ago, the state of Nijalingappa and Urs has been ruled by an uninterrupted series of kleptocrats (from Congress, BJP, united Janata Dal and JDS), each utterly apathetic towards development policy. Infrastructure projects that take months in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu- two states where politicians and bureaucrats can best be described as "corrupt but relatively efficient and effective"- can take the best part of a decade. The state's growth has been fuelled by migrant labour. Under the British, the migrants came from Tamil Nadu. Today, they come from Rajasthan, Punjab and Bihar, as well as Bangladesh and the North-East. Kannadigas themselves are acquiring a reputation for unparalleled laziness. This may or may not be fair but certainly Kannadiga politicians exemplify sloth in a manner that today is visible in few other states.

In the early 2000s Karnataka, then a Congress-ruled state, was seen as the poster child of India Shining. The present Union Minister of External Affairs, while criticized in his own state for empty talk and an apathy towards rural Karnataka, was described by the Delhi prints as a model, modernizing Chief Minister. The accolades were entirely undeserved. The one thing that can be said in SM Krishna's defence is that while no one would accuse his administration of honesty, corruption on the scale being practised today did not begin until his successor, N Dharam Singh, a corpulent nonentity, took over in May 2004. Six years later, Karnataka may well be the most corrupt state in the country. Other states might have a single hegemonic kleptocrat (Mayawati or Sharad Pawar) or a multibillionaire first family (the Karunanidhi clan), but in Karnataka the entire system has corroded.

As in any other state, corruption in Karnataka affects every citizen on a daily basis. Its impact goes well beyond the payment of bribes. Why is public transport in Karnataka more expensive than in the rest of the country? Higher fuel taxes play some role, but so does the egregious practice of flying ministers and their families on foreign junkets, the funds coming from the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and other state transport bodies. In other words, the common man is funding these junkets through the purchase of ludicrously priced bus tickets.

No party is blameless in this situation; all three main parties in Karnataka are beholden to money power in the form of such men as the Reddy brothers (BJP), Anil Lad and RV Deshpande (Congress). Yet the BJP's act in brazenly obstructing the Lok Ayukta, N Santosh Hegde- surely one of the most upright and dignified public servants in the country- in the conduct of his work, its utter contempt for Hegde's recommendations and its mendacity in the face of his resignation give the lie to any claim made on the party's behalf, that it is less corrupt than any other party. Whether this was ever true is doubtful. Now, any profession of honesty on the part of the BJP cannot be taken seriously by any neutral observer.

The circumstances of Hegde's departure are so depressing that one must fear for the future of my home state (by residence if not by blood), no matter how vigorous its private sector and strong its economy. Hegde has a long list of grievances and it is a testament to his forbearance that has stuck with the job so long. Like his father, the late Supreme Court Justice and Janata Party Speaker of the Lok Sabha KS Hegde (the only man to be Speaker of the House as a first-time member), perhaps the most distinguished MP in the history of Karnataka, Santosh Hegde only knows one way of operating in public life: with unwavering courage and honesty. He has used his office to expose politicians of all parties, to investigate illegal mining on the Andhra border as well as thousands of bureaucrats. Yet virtually every single official that the Lok Ayukta has proven corruption charges against has been reinstated by the BJP government, and his report on the activities of the Reddy brothers has been predictably hushed up. Yeddyurappa might well cry crocodile tears on television and feign ignorance, but the truth of the charge cannot be contested. The immediate cause of his resignation was the suspension of an upright Deputy Conservator of Forests, on the pretext that he had a missed a meeting with his Minister in Bangalore. In truth, the forest officer had collaborated with the Lok Ayukta in seizing several hundred crores' worth of iron ore that was about to be illegally shipped, on behalf of the Reddy brothers, from the port of Belikeri. As Hegde pointed out, the officer was both performing his legal obligation as well as saving the state's exchequer hundreds of croses in tax. His reward was suspension, and Hegde's resignation has not been enough to save the officer in question.

Replacing Santosh Hegde will be extraordinarily difficult, both because men of his ilk are rare in public life these days, and because no one will want to take up the Lok Ayukta's job after the BJP has rendered it toothless. Even if a quality replacement could be find, the government is likely spit in his face over and over again, just as they have done to Hegde.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..

Further to my last post, Nitish Kumar has begun to set out his terms for a continuation of his alliance with the BJP: Narendra Modi and the incendiary Varun Gandhi have to be barred from any role in the campaign for the Assembly elections. The BJP's response to this "non-negotiable" demand will indicate whether they have the political courage to prioritize this vitally important coalition partner over hubris. If Kumar's demand is accepted, it will also be a uniquely potent blow to Modi's own ambitions.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bowling alone

It appears to be an almost inexorable law of modern politics that, following electoral defeat, a right-wing party turns initially to its far-right "core", analyzing the defeat as a rejection of moderation and centrism. This was the reaction of the British Conservatives from 1997-2005, when they chose three hardline Thatcherite Eurosceptics in succession to replace the relatively moderate, and defeated John Major; the US Republican Party is doing much the same by allowing its primaries to be hijacked by the extremist, anti-government Tea Party movement and by providing a dogmatic, uncooperative Congressional opposition. Since 2004, our own right-wing party, the BJP (a party much closer in spirit to the Republicans than the Conservatives), has been in steady decline in every state bar Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Unlike the aforementioned parties, the BJP's shift to the right was not unified or coherent. This is partly because of the nature of Indian politics, where individual state leaders have a fairly substantial amount of leeway on policy issues. In general, however, the BJP has looked rightwards, to its "moral authority", the RSS.

The revival of RSS influence was most evident in late 2009/early 2010, when Lal Krishna Advani- one of the greatest ironies of Indian politics today is the fact that Advani has become representative of the "moderate" side of the BJP- retired from all party posts, and Rajnath Singh was replaced as party president by Nitin Gadkari, every bit the RSS' choice.

Since then, we have seen the RSS is clearly not in control of the BJP- but neither is anybody else. Most recently, there appear to be two main factions. Modi and Advani, incredibly, have a loose anti-RSS alliance. Yes, this is one of the most absurd developments in the history of Indian politics, but it is true. Two politicians who most of us believed RSS men for life are now committed to limiting the older organization's influence on the political party. In Modi's case, this is evidently because he sees the RSS as a threat to his own future leadership, inasmuch as it acts to prevent any one figure having total control of the party.

The dispute between the two factions, and Modi and Advani's upper hand is visible in the nomination of Ram Jethmalani, no friend of the RSS, to the Rajya Sabha on a BJP ticket. Only six years ago the octogenarian Jethmalani, with the support of the Congress, fought a Lok Sabha election against no less an RSS and BJP icon than Atal Behari Vajpayee (surely earning himself some brownie points with Advani in the process). Today, however, Jethmalani is Modi's lawyer, and his nomination over the objections of the RSS is a considerable victory for Modi. The failure of Gadkari to inspire, and Modi's consolidation of his own position seems to indicate only one likely path for the BJP: Modi as national leader. His one serious rival for this post will be neither Gadkari nor the Delhi-based parliamentary leadership (Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, neither of whom are or will ever be true mass leaders), but the Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the only other enduringly popular BJP CM (contrary to what the pro-BJP blogs will tell you, Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa is not widely popular, with good reason).

Those of us who long for a viable (and palatable) opposition to the corrupt and increasingly complacent Congres should hope that it is Chauhan, and not Modi, who rises to national leadership, however unlikely this prospect may currently appear. Recent events have confirmed what I already suspected: that Modi, whatever his other flaws, is utterly ill-equipped to handle the dynamics of coalition politics. "Coalition dharma" has become a cliché associated in the public eye with Vajpayee, but this particular cliché is only part-imaginary. Vajpayee replaced Advani as party leader in part because of the latter's connection to the Jain hawala scandal, but also, with the reality that as a party limited to certain parts of the country, the BJP was inevitably reliant on alliances with smaller parties. Vajpayee was always the only BJP leader entirely agreeable to such formal and informal allies as Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar. He had a lifelong ability to make friendships across the political spectrum (in stark contrast to the crudely partisan Modi), but also an understanding of the fact that the BJP's allies needed to be treated with respect and discretion. "Coalition dharma" is not only about ideological compromise: something that Modi might be surprisingly capable of achieving, as his desire for power certainly exceeds his attachment to any particular policy principle. It entails a relationship between parties that should never be paternalistic or condescending. The BJP may have had well over 60% of the MPs in the NDA government of 1998-2004, but its allies were generally accorded a remarkable degree of respect. In retrospect, Chandrababu Naidu has argued that his party was irrevocably tainted by its support of the BJP. But for those six years, the vast majority of BJP allies were more than satisfied with the arrangement. The one prominent ally to defect, the DMK, did so for purely instrumental reasons.

The history of the NDA since 2004 shows us that, in the absence of Vajpayee's leadership, the only reliable ally that the BJP has left is the Shiv Sena, a party in terminal decline following the establishment of Raj Thackeray's MNS. The Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal have both proved emphatically that they can thrive without the BJP; both parties, along with the TDP, are probably lost to the BJP forever, if there is such a thing in Indian politics. The BJP's failure to retain Om Prakash Chautala can be put down to its non-application of "coalition dharma".

Narendra Modi has never had to stoop to a coalition: favourable circumstances, an ineffectual opposition and his own political skill have ensured BJP dominance in Gujarat for the last decade. Vajpayee, by contrast, had first-hand experience of coalition government from his time as Minister of External Affairs in the ramshackle Janata government. Modi, on the other hand, is equipped neither with the experience nor with the temperament for coalition government. He has always embodied a stye of leadership that is based on strong personal direction, not consensus. There is only one prominent BJP leader in Gujarat, and that is Modi (contrast Karnataka, where Ananth Kumar and the Reddy brothers are often as powerful and as visible as the CM).

But there is no need to extrapolate from Modi's style and psyche the conclusion that he would be unable to sustain a coalition. One merely has to examine his record in this regard. Through arrogance and intransigence, Modi is singlehandedly wrecking the once-harmonious but now fragile, yet immensely important alliance with Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United). This blog has argued in the past that Nitish is India's best Chief Minister, and he presents the kind of development-oriented alternative to Congress populism that the BJP ought to emulate. The travesty that is Bihar's polity, where even a record of governance as outstanding as Nitish' is not necessarily sufficient to ensure re-election, means that Nitish may even lose to some combination of Laloo and Paswan this winter. But if the BJP loses him they will be shut out of Bihar altogether: the party will have been reduced to a virtual non-factor in five of India's six largest states. Only the truly deluded can believe that Modi's "charismatic" leadership is capable of reversing this. If the BJP is to survive, it needs to both unite internally as well as carefully preserve and reconstruct its state-based alliances. If the party turns to Narendra Modi as its saviour, this latter task will prove impossible: and isolation will be the first step on the path to oblivion.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The path to Race Course Road

If Manmohan Singh sees out the current Parliament, he will be the first person to serve consecutive, uninterrupted terms as Prime Minister since Indira Gandhi. It would be a considerable achievement, even if one has to add the obvious qualifier that Singh has not simultaneously been the leader of his party or of the governing coalition. Yet it is by no means obvious that the Congress/UPA would be more successful, electorally or legislatively, with Sonia Gandhi as PM.

Manmohan Singh is a mild man who, in India at least (the Western media usually depicts him as a wise scholar-statesman), tends to inspire mild opinions ranging from cautious approval to moderate scepticism. Whatever you think of him- and I lean narrowly to the sceptical side- it is evident that he has no viable political future beyond 2014. After that year's election, if not sooner, Singh will retire as PM, for the simple reason of age (he will turn 82 that year; Morarji Desai at 80 is the oldest incoming PM of all time). One of the most fascinating processes of the next few years, then, will be the rat race to succeed him within the Congress (more on this soon, in another post). Thinking of the many prime ministerial hopefuls, however- of whom the present Home Minister is certainly the most openly ambitious- led me to think about the path to the top job that Singh and his predecessors have followed. If one is not a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, is it necessary to have been a senior cabinet minister (for instance, in the key portfolios of Finance, Home or External Affairs)? To what extent does India have the notion of a political "career" with incremental promotion?

Let us examine, briefly, the path that each previous Prime Minister took:

1) Jawaharlal Nehru: As the first PM, of course, Nehru did not get to the top on the basis of previous ministerial service. Instead, his rise was based on two main factors: closeness to Gandhi and personal charisma. Clearly, this was not a path future leaders could really hope to emulate.
2) Lal Bahadur Shastri: Shastri, on the other hand, was an exemplar of a successful political "career": a consistent rise through the ranks, culminating in his appointment as Home Minister in 1961. It is worth noting that Shastri's main rival for the top job was Finance Minister Morarji Desai: showing that at the time, a void in leadership was resolved between senior members of the Cabinet, rather than by bringing in someone from outside.
3) Indira Gandhi: Like Shastri, the original Mrs. Gandhi came to power by defeating Desai, although this time in a formal rather than informal contest. It would be easy but misguided to see this as the introduction of dynastic politics to India: if Nehru had truly wanted his daughter to succeed him, he would have installed her as his successor before his death. Indira had never served in a senior Cabinet job, although she had been Congress President and Minister of Information & Broadcasting. Her appointment was a political (mis)calculation by the Congress Syndicate: exploit the personal popularity of Nehru while retaining control of the party. Mrs Gandhi's electoral victories in 1971 and 1980 can be attributed in part to her political skill, but her initial appointment was little more than a historical fluke.
4) Morarji Desai- Desai emerged as the leader of the Janata Party both as a consequence of seniority as well as his symbol as one of the two most prominent opponents of Indira Gandhi (the other being Jayaprakash Narayan). It is inconceivable, however, for Morarji to become PM without his long term as Finance Minister, where he established his reputation.
5) Charan Singh- Charan Singh was Home Minister under Desai- until he brought down Desai's government in late 1979- thus establishing a trend whereby, in a situation where the PM did not have the full command of his party/alliance, the Home Ministry was given to his biggest rival/guarantor (think Devi Lal or LK Advani. Rather than seeing the Home Ministry as Charan Singh's path to the top, it is better to see his position as Home Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister) as a reflection of the power that he already held. The source of his power: his status as India's first mass-successful agrarian politician.
6) Rajiv Gandhi- Till date, Rajiv Gandhi is the only case of a purely dynastic rise to the position of Prime Minister. He entered politics and Parliament less than four years before he took office as PM, and held no posts of any consequence (his only official post was Youth Congress President). Indeed, his most visible political achievement was piddling at best- the organization of the 1982 Asian Games. Unlike in 1966, his appointment was no political calculation, nor was it ever in question. It was merely proof that under Indira Gandhi the dynastic principle had become the Congress' governing one (Indira Gandhi remains the last member of the family to face an electoral challenge to her leadership from within the party).
7) VP Singh- VP Singh, in terms of his path to the top, was Morarji Desai Mark II: a well-known Finance Minister who was forced out of his post, first to the Ministry of Defence and then, as a result of his suspicion of the Bofors scandal, out of the Congress altogether. Like Desai, Singh triumphantly returned to office as the leader of an unwieldy coalition with little in common beyond opposition to the Gandhis and the desire for power. Like Desai, he installed his political guarantor- Devi Lal- as Home Minister and Deputy PM, although Tauji, unlike Charan Singh, had little desire for the top job. Like Desai, Singh lost his majority in less than half a term.
8) Chandra Shekhar- But while Charan Singh stabbed Desai in the back, VP Singh was stabbed in the front- by Chandra Shekhar, surely a competitor for the biggest nonentity ever to become PM (his competition is No. 11 on this list). The "Young Turk" intrigued his way to his life's ambition of becoming Prime Minister: something that was only possible in the Indian political climate of 1990, when all major parties were essentially buying time.
9) PV Narasimha Rao- But for their remarkably different characters (especially in terms of integrity) Rao could be seen as the Andhra Shastri. He had served in three of the four most important Cabinet positions (Home, Defence, External Affairs) and had never sought to challenge Gandhi family leadership. With Sonia Gandhi, like Indira Gandhi in 1964, refusing to challenge for the top job, Rao's long record of service made him the best candidate for promotion.
10) While best-known as the "acceptable" half of the BJP leadership in the 1980s and 1990s, Vajpayee had served Cabinet time as Minister of External Affairs in the first Janata government, which meant that by 1996 he had already been in the frontline of national politics for two decades. Yet Vajpayee's path is distinct from any other PM in that (in partnership with Advani) he came to power by leading a coherent, unified and viable single-party opposition to the Congress: even if the actual government was a coalition, the big three cabinet portfolios were retained by the BJP throughout Vajpayee's six years as PM. A more challenging and impressive path, then, than perhaps any other.
11) HD Deve Gowda- These days it is increasingly common to hear Deve Gowda lament that the fact that he is "not accorded the respect due to a former Prime Minister of the country." This has a lot to do with the fact that the rest of us are still confused as to how Deve Gowda became Prime Minister in the first place. Bigger and more distinguished names- such as Jyoti Basu- did the rounds for United Front PM before the little-known Vokkaliga engineered his way from Hassan to Delhi. Deve Gowda benefited from being the only sitting Janata Dal Chief Minister; experienced observers in Karnataka were shocked that the brazenly corrupt and provincial Gowda was elevated above, for instance, his long-time rival Ramakrishna Hegde. Hegde himself was devastated and never recovered, politically or personally.
12) IK Gujral- Once Information & Broadcasting minister under Mrs Gandhi, the widely respected- in some circles at least- Gujral left the Congress in the 1980s and was Minister of External Affairs in both Janata Dal governments. When Deve Gowda's government was brought down by the capricious Sitaram Kesri, Gujral was installed essentially at Kesri's mercy and brought down less than a year later.
13) Manmohan Singh- If Rajiv Gandhi was the first pure dynast, Manmohan Singh is the first pure loyalist to be appointed PM. To be sure, he has other qualifications- a long career of government service, from the RBI to Finance Secretary to the Planning Commission to, most famously, his excessively lionized, but undoubtedly solid stint as Finance Minister under Narasimha Rao (who himself doesn't usually receive enough credit for economic reforms). When Singh was chosen in 2004, however, it was clearly his loyalty to family and party (which come to the same thing) that was his greatest asset. Because Manmohan had never been a politician per se before 2004, he was reliable and unthreatening. That said, it is likely that without his time as Finance Minister he would not have been a prominent or credible enough figure for the job.

13 prime ministers, then, in just over sixty years. What lessons can we draw from their diverse careers, for the various aspirants of 2014? Here are some general conclusions

1) Unless you are a Gandhi or a "fluke" PM (Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda), you are likely to need experience in the key positions of Finance, External Affairs or Home. Every single PM that did not fit one of the above two categories served in one of these cabinet posts.
2) The Congress is a good place to start. Vajpayee is the only Prime Minister to have never been a member of the Indian National Congress, and Deve Gowda the only other to not contest an election on a Congress ticket. With the Congress once again in the ascendancy, it is the only safe place to be for a PM aspirant. If things change: never fear, there is a great tradition of Congress-rebel PMs, comprising Desai, Charan Singh, VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar and Gujral.
3) Unless you are a dynast or the leader of a major party, avoid signalling your intentions years ahead. Desai failed in 1964 and 1966 partly because of his overweening ambition, a quality that later felled Ramakrishna Hegde, Sharad Pawar and Mulayam Singh Yadav, all of whom could have been PMs had they shown more discretion. Conversely, the "accidental" PMs Gowda and Gujral benefited from being seen as non-threatening. The present Home Minister would do well to keep this in mind.

Indian politics changes in such quick and unexpected ways that it is often foolish to make predictions on the basis of past events, no matter how accurate the historical analysis (and getting this right is hard enough). If anything, I will be curious to see the extent to which the process by which the next Prime Minister emerges fits in to past patterns.

Welcome back

With this post, Functioning Anarchy returns on a regular basis. Except posts from both of us at least each week and hopefully more often than that. As previously, the topics will include Indian politics, foreign policy, culture and sport- a new addition will be posts on historical themes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 2000s in Cricket

Sports Illustrated is doing a series on the best and worst of the decade in a bunch of major sports– but one of the sports they predictably omitted was cricket, and while this post is only tangentially India-related I thought it a good way to revive this blog. I've followed their approach fairly closely.

Thus, here it is: my unscientific and highly personal retrospective of the decade in cricket. I know that the decade doesn't technically end until 2010 but who would consider 2000 to be part of the 1990s? The vast majority of this, and the all-decade XI at the bottom, refer to Test cricket.

Best Player: Jacques Kallis, South Africa
Ricky Ponting might be seen as a more conventional choice, but Kallis was head and shoulders the decade's top cricketer in pure cricketing terms. As a batsman he rivals Ponting and Tendulkar; as a bowler he reinvented himself, adjusting for his loss of pace with subtle cut and swing, and as a slip fielder he remains of the highest class. Possibly the greatest all-rounder to play the game since Sobers, and certainly the most underrated. His closest competition, to my mind, is Adam Gilchrist.

Best Batsman: Ricky Ponting, Australia
The most complete and consistent batsman of the decade. Appears to be somewhat in the decline, but for most of the decade his batting, in stark contrast to his personality, was a joy to watch.

Best Bowler: Glenn McGrath, Australia
This is not the place to do a statistical analysis of why Warne is a better bowler than Murali (I've done so here). But much of the decade Warne was not even the best bowler on his own team. McGrath's method may have been boring to some but it was ruthless effective and Australia were at their most potent when he played. McGrath only played in 6 Test defeats in the decade, and four of those were dead rubbers. In other words: apart from the tour of India in March-April 2001, Australia won or drew every single meaningful game that Mcgrath played in this decade. Over a 7-year period, that is an astonishing tribute to McGrath's importance.

Best Wicket-Keeper: Adam Gilchrist, Australia
Gilchrist revolutionized the game of cricket by making it essential for keepers to be good batsmen. He was an underrated, usually excellent (if not brilliant) keeper, and for the early part of the decade the most dangerous Test batsman in the world.

Best Fielder: AB De Villiers, South Africa
Ponting is the best at hitting the stumps, and Kallis as good a catcher. But De Villiers is one of those mind-boggling athletes in the manner of Jonty Rhodes who make you wonder why they picked cricket.

Best Captain: Michael Vaughan, England
There is no obvious choice here. Waugh and Ponting won the most, but were essentially building on Mark Taylor's achievements and had incomparable players. Neither– Ponting in particular– is particularly brilliant either tactically or as a leader of men. Graeme Smith has done a terrific job of inspiring South Africa, but his cricket brain can let him down in crucial moments. Sourav Ganguly transformed Indian cricket, especially psychologically, but went on too long and was weak tactically. Thus I go with Vaughan, the cerebral leader who, while he never rediscovered his best batting form as captain, was consistently the most innovative skipper in the game and led England literally from the abyss to their unbeaten run in 2004-05, culminating in the first Ashes win since 1987. Other fine captains this decade include Mahela Jayewardane and the classy Stephen Fleming and Daniel Vettori of New Zealand, the latter of whom is my pick for leader of the next decade.

Best Coach: John Wright, India
Wright's stellar contribution to Indian cricket is sadly forgotten. He inspired confidence from the players like no previous coach, and understood well that the coach should be a behind-the-scenes facilitator. He built a strong support staff and emphasized fitness and fielding, both of which improved radically during his tenure. He and Ganguly were unafraid of choosing unorthodox talents such as Sehwag and Dhoni, and India would not be in the top 3 today, let alone no. 1, without Wright.

Best Umpire: Simon Taufel, Australia
In an era of generally poor umpiring (especially as compared to the 1990s), Taufel is the rare umpire who can always inspire confidence.

Best Administrator/Cricket Board: the ECB
This might seem absurd given the ridicule that administrators in general and the ECB in particular receive on a daily basis. In the last two years they have made some serious misjudgments, most notably their tie-up with Allen Stanford. But their consistent commitment to preserving Test cricket is a worthy antidote to the Lalit Modis of the world.

Worst Administrator: Lalit Modi
I don't doubt that cricket needs to be packaged well and that it needs to be attractive to the consumer. But the game badly needs administrators who care for its long-term health. Modi is the anti-fan, in the sense that he seems to have no emotional connect to the game of cricket whatsoever. His perceived declining influence is the most welcoming cricketing development of 2009.

Best Team: Australia
They have been on an almost uninterrupted slide since the 2007 World Cup– although they remain unfailingly competitive and bat well– but their dominance until that point has only one precedent– the West Indies– in the history of cricket. They have been far more successful in rebuilding after losing a great generation than they were in the 1980s, or than the Windies were in the 1990s and 2000s.

Worst Team: West Indies
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are the obvious choices, but the former should never have been playing test cricket at all and the latter is a case of cricket being one of many casualties of a national malaise. But the decade's most depressing storyline was the descent of the West Indies, who ten years ago drew 2-2 with Australia in a thrilling and equal series. A lack of funding, appalling administrators and the absence of leadership at every level were the main causes, as was the seeming apathy of their former greats. They reached their nadir with the contracts crisis of 2009 and the resultant loss to Bangladesh, but the recently completed test tour of Australia carried encouraging signs.

Best Match: India vs. Australia at Kolkata, 2001
In a decade of decidedly variable cricket, this was one of the best half-dozen games ever played. India pulled off a comeback every bit as improbable and heroic as England at Headingley in 1981; and their hero, VVS Laxman, was much more unlikely than Botham, as he entered the game with an average of 27. Quite apart from India's turnaround, this game was also filled with other bits of drama, such as Harbhajan's hat-trick on Day One (assisted by SK Bansal), Waugh and Gillespie's partnership on Day Two and Tendulkar's unexpected star turn with the ball on the final day. It also revived the career of Rahul Dravid, who would go on to be India's test batsman of the 2000s.

Best Series: the Ashes, 2005
Most India fans would go for the 2001 India-Australia series, and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy did provide the decade's most compelling contest, with tight series in 2004 and 2008. But the 2005 Ashes has two things in its favour: as an old-fashioned five test series, it had twice the drama and, secondly, it had the unique narrative of the revival of public interest in cricket through a Test series. England had played well for the previous year, but largely under the radar, and the Ashes– Tests two through five can all be considered classics– catapulted them into the national imagination. Shane Warne's 40 wickets, along with Brian Lara's runs in Sri Lanka in 2001, is perhaps the greatest series performance ever by someone on a losing side.

Worst Series: Pakistan vs. India, 2006
This series briefly came to light in the Third Test, where India dominated the first session and were dominated in turn for the rest of the game. But the first two matches were soporific, both sides scoring mountains of runs on pitches unfit for cricket. The Indo-Pakistan rivalry has never had less sting.

Biggest Overachiever: Paul Collingwood, England
Seemingly always on the verge of being dropped, the England batsman is so devoid of natural talent that it is a wonder that he was selected for the national team in the first place, as he has never been a county run machine. But he made light of his deficiencies through relentless hard work and courage, emerging as England's man in a crisis and one of the best fielders in the game. England are an unpopular team but it is impossible not to like Collingwood.

Biggest Underachiever: Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan
The "fastest bowler in history" made more history with his ever-expanding waistline and his inflated ego than with his exploits on the field. Occasionally, such as in 2002, he was devastating, but more often he was simply underwhelming, as well as more trouble than he was worth. Wisden had it right when they described him as "now more Thomas the Tank Engine than the Rawalpindi Express."

Most Outstanding Single-Game Performance: VVS Laxman vs Australia, Kolkata 2001
See above: Laxman scored a fluent half-century in India's otherwise miserable first innings and his 281, with Dravid's stellar support, turned the game around on Day 4.

Most Outstanding Series Performance: Andrew Flintoff, 2005 Ashes
Freddie Flintoff's body gave under soon after, but for five Test matches he was the perfect cricketer, aggressive with the bat, unrelenting with the ball and excellent in the field. 402 runs and 24 wickets: the statistics were impressive, the real-life impact more so.

Biggest Controversy: Match-Fixing
It seems like a distant memory now, but in 2000 the match-fixing furore threatened to make the game implode. Hansie Cronje's admission of guilt, followed soon by the bans of Azharuddin, Gibbs and Jadeja, shook the public confidence in cricketers in a similar way to steroids in baseball. Cricket emerged unexpectedly strong from the crisis. Monkeygate– the Harbhajan–Symonds incident– has been the biggest controversy since.

Best Team Rivalry: Australia vs. India
Until South Africa in 2008-09, India were the only team that appeared to go into Tests with Australia genuinely confident of their prospects of victory. Much of this was Sourav Ganguly's contribution and it made for uniquely exciting and combative, if frequently over-heated cricket as well as inspiring the best from both sides.

Ugliest On-Field Incident: Glenn McGrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan, Antigua 2003
The veteran Aussie fast bowler and the young West Indian batsman had the most well-publicized and hostile on-field spat in recent years. McGrath reportedly asked Sarwan "What does Brian Lara's **** taste like?" only for Sarwan to reply "Ask your wife" (McGrath's wife had recently been diagnosed with cancer).

Outsized Personality: Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen is an arrogant self-promoter of a kind more often seen in football than in cricket. While he has stopped short of declaring himself a "special one" a la Jose Mourinho, Pietersen has never lacked self-belief, with his on-field performances sometimes, but not always, living up to the bravado.

Best Innovation: TV Technology
What the much-maligned UDRS shows is that integrating technology within the game is a thorny process. But it is myopic to suggest, as some do, that there is no merit to making the game fairer. I see the improvements in technology as an unqualified benefit to the game and in particular to bowlers, who stand to gain the most from accurate decisions.

Worst Innovation: Twenty20
There have been some pretty ghastly attempts to tinker with the 50-over game, all of which have made the game worse (ironically, the game urgently needs rule changes, such as the lifting of restrictions on bowlers, but has been given the wrong ones). But the development of Twenty20 cricket is unrivalled in its bid to turn cricket into something unlike itself. Ironically created in England, where its popularity is now flagging and Tests are more than alive, the format now thrives in India, where cricket never needed a boost in the first place.

Biggest Villain: Dead wickets
Of all the malaises facing the game, the woeful quality of pitches worldwide is the biggest one. South Africa appears to be the only country in the world that is capable of producing pitches that give batsmen, fast bowlers and spinners alike something to work with. Whether it requires bringing back uncovered wickets or radically altering the process of pitch preparation, something has to change. There is not one pitch in the world that can be fairly described as fast: in fact, slow and low have become so ubiquitous that it no longer matters if one is playing in Brisbane, Bridgetown or Birmingham. The argument that lifeless batting paradises are what the public wants is gloriously rejected by the facts of low attendances at test matches and widespread condemnation of these pitches.

All-Decade World XI

1. Graeme Smith , South Africa
The divisive South African captain has, finally, earned universal grudging respect through the sheer weight of his achievements. As ugly a player to watch as Gooch or Kirsten, he nonetheless scores big runs at key moments, especially against England, is unflinchingly brave and comfortable in both defence and attack.

2. Virender Sehwag, India
The best player in the world at present, Sehwag is the first player since Bradman to make 300 runs in a day a realistic possibility, and that too in 90 rather than 140 overs. Sehwag and Gilchrist are foremost among modern players in redefining the possible.

3. Ricky Ponting, Australia
As noted above, the decade's best batsman. Unlike many of his teammates, he has an excellent record both home and away and he is impossible to bowl to in almost any situation.

4. Rahul Dravid, India
Sachin Tendulkar, the player of the 1990s, might be the people's choice at this position but Dravid is more deserving. If Ponting is the definitive modern player, Dravid was a throwback to an age where technical correctness and indefatigable concentration were the hallmarks of test batsmanship. In the first half of the decade, he produced colossal knocks in Leeds, Rawalpindi, Adelaide and countless other grounds around the world to establish India as a serious cricketing power.

5. Jacques Kallis, South Africa
Kallis can bat anywhere from 3-6, and is more capable of attacking innings than he is often given credit for. Like Dravid and Ponting is solid on any kind of wicket and of course contributes hugely with the ball and in the field as well.

6. Inzamam ul-Haq, Pakistan
This is the position with the most equally qualified candidates. Brian Lara interspersed periods of mediocrity with brilliance in the 2000s just as he had in the 1990s, taking Sri Lanka on on his own in 2001 and reclaiming his world record in 2004; but he did not have anything near the same capacity for the hundred at a key time that he did, say, in 1999. Kevin Pietersen was the best attacking middle-order player of the second half of the decade, his match-saving 158 at the Oval in 2005 a magnificent innings. Quite apart from his fielding, AB De Villiers is a world-class bat. Inzamam's own teammates Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf have scored big runs on the rare recent occasions that Pakistan has played Test cricket. But especially against fast bowling, Inzi is technically superior his competitors, and also the best matchwinner of them all, averaging 78 in Test wins. Like Kallis, he has won matches at all places in the batting order.

7. Adam Gilchrist (wk), Australia

The greatest wicket-keeper batsman in the history of the game.

8. Shane Warne (capt.), Australia
At the start of the decade, the future looked uncertain for Warne. He had been a star of the 1999 World Cup, but his enthusiasm was clearly waning, he had lost the vice-captaincy due to a sex scandal and he'd expressed a desire to retire. His one year drug ban from 2003-04 seemed to many to be the end of Warney. But he emerged with an ever-expanding repertoire of straight balls, his old control and an incandescent love for the game. Quite apart from his leg-spinning prowess, Warne was the best captain Australia never had and fittingly will captain this team.

9. Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka
Those of us who continue to question Murali's action cannot question his achievements. He is the greatest destroyer of weak opposition in the history of cricket.

10. Shane Bond, New Zealand
An unorthodox choice, certainly, but a team needs a genuinely fast bowler and Bond's injuries cannot obscure the fact that when fit, he was the most threatening fast bowler since Allan Donald, capable of swinging the old and new ball both ways at 150kph. Like Tendulkar he is at his best against Australia, although most of his best moments have come in the 50-over game. When he played, Bond was a much better bowler than either Shoaib Akthar or Brett Lee.

11. Glenn McGrath, Australia
Shaun Pollock would be a more than worthy replacement, but McGrath is without equal this decade as a matchwinning bowler. Particularly impressive for a fast bowler in this era is his economy rate of 2.49.

12th Man: AB De Villiers
Coach: John Wright