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Shravan Bhat
Shravan Bhat
I write about start-ups, sports, food and international affairs.

Imagine you’re in the UK on holiday and you want to get from London to Edinburgh quickly, on a budget. At £35, a 90-minute flight is clearly the best way to go, right? A train would surely take much longer? Wrong. Perhaps you haven’t factored in the time, cost and effort it takes to get to one of London’s far-off airports by train. Or the convenience of arriving by train directly into central Edinburgh, as opposed to taking a taxi from the airport.

Travel route comparison and booking website GoEuro.com takes all this into account, giving travelers a comprehensive end-to-end booking option. Naren Shaam’s Berlin based start-up shows that a train/flight/taxi route to Edinburgh would take 4 hours 25 minutes and cost £ 46.69, whereas going by train alone would cost only £5 more, take just as long and be far more convenient.

Naren Shaam

Founder and CEO of GoEuro, Naren Shaam, 31, a Harvard MBA from Bangalore, moved to Berlin 2012 after leaving a high paying Wall Street job. He got the inspiration for his start-up after traveling around Europe himself. “I’ve traveled to 50 countries and Europe has the best ground transport infrastructure I’ve ever seen” he says “But the consumer experience is fragmented, because each country’s rail and bus services have different systems.” His 55 strong team, comprising 22 nationalities with an average age of 24, crunches data from private and state transport operators to give customers an easy way to plan travel. GoEuro works by providing them with aggregated air, rail, bus and car travel options, allowing them to book their travel – often at a discount – in a bundle. “The airline industry was one of the first to go online” he explains “The 3 letter code for London Heathrow, LHR, is the same anywhere in the world. The ground transport industry hasn’t caught up for 20 years.”

Replicating the standardization for ground transport is a huge challenge. The UK and Germany have some 25 airports each, says Shaam, but the UK and Germany have 4,000 and 10,000 train stations! The task is difficult but the potential for market dominance led investors like Battery Ventures, Hasso Plattner Ventures (HPV), Dave Baggett and Jeff Sagansky to put in some $4.5 million at the seed stage in March 2013. Shaam says the prize is the €350 billion European travel market (excluding hotels) which is two thirds rail and buses. GoEuro currently operates in the UK, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherland and Luxembourg and attracted another multimillion dollar investment (exact figure undisclosed) in January 2014 from Lakestar Venture Capital. “Every day in Europe there are roughly 19 million passengers on ground transport.  I invested in GoEuro because of its ability to bring functionality and data to all them” says Manu Gupta of Lakestar.

Berlin’s burgeoning tech start-up scene is 7 hours flight from Shaam’s brother in New York and 7 hours from his parents in Bangalore. He left India 12 years ago and has had to adjust to a new pace of life in Germany. “The US is a very open culture, Germany is a little more closed in making friendships” he says, “But things work on time in Germany! I don’t ever have to ask for something twice. I can focus on the bigger things because people stick to their promises.”

He travels to 2-3 countries a week, building extensive relationships with large rail monopolies that have historically never shared data. “Naren is a great guy and we were impressed by his achievements and tenacity. The fact that he swooped in to Germany and got so many rail and bus partners in such a short time while companies with much more funding weren’t able to achieve that is a testament of both” says Yaron Valler of HPV.

Already onto his 4th passport book, Shaam is only in Berlin for 10 days a month. Shaam has watched the city blossom as a creative hub for the tech scene. “High quality founders attract talented young people” he says, “A year ago, there were less than 5 good companies – Soundcloud being the biggest. Now there are 15 company raised from blue chip funds like Sequoia. What’s missing is one round of exits, so early employees cash out and reinvests in new start ups”. He says company has grown too fast and instilling a cohesive culture into the young team while holding off potential competition from Google will be a tough task. Indeed, for all their praise, investors will want to see revenues and return on their investments, something that Shaam is not focused on at the moment. His primary concern is perfecting the product and getting to market; since GoEuro have not disclosed revenue or user data, it is difficult to see how their business model will pan out.

Holding on to their techies won’t be easy either: in an ecosystem like Berlin, with relatively cheap rents and a large English-speaking techie crowd, there is no shortage of enterprising start-ups looking for talent. But for now, the former investment banker is relishing the new challenges in his frantic life. “I can explore cities as part of my job” he says excitedly, “On Thursday and Friday I work in Rome and on Saturday and Sunday I can explore Pompeii!”

(Click here to watch an in-depth interview with Shaam on Deutsche Welle’s Insight Germany)

majestic_music

We’ve just had shelves installed at home to house my dad’s vast CD collection. I remember, soon after I got my first laptop in 2007, I’d raid the CD rack and copy everything from The Doors to Miles Davis onto my iTunes. Maybe it was just me, but I’d rarely love more than half the tracks on an album – even a ‘Best Of’ collection. This was fine because, well, the music was ‘free’. But when I bought new albums myself and found that only 3 out of 12 songs were genuinely to my taste, I felt like it was a bit of a waste. I don’t face that problem anymore, because YouTube has introduced me to channels that know my taste, which’ll do the listening and screening for me.

The kind of artists in genres that I like (funk, electronic, lounge, etc…), don’t do conventional albums. They release music on EPs (‘Extended Play’ records contain 4 songs as opposed to 10-12 in a regular album) and many times, the records contain different mixes or interpretations of the same song. With music making tools available for free and talented kids reinterpreting songs from their basements, there’s not enough time to sit and sample everything. Step forward music curator channels like The Sound You Need (Over 1.2 million subscribers) and Majestic Casual (over 1.5 million subscribers); by comparison, mainstream content juggernaut, Sony Music India’s YouTube channel has just under 1 million subscribers. Music Channels like Majestic Casual will post 1-2 of the best new songs in their particular genre each day via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube so subscribers can keep up with new sounds and not get lost in the maelstrom of modern, Indie music.

Just like BuzzFeed or Huffington Post curate news content and trends, YouTube Music channels allow music fans – especially those interested in music outside the pop songs played on radio and TV – to get the new tunes they like without having to listen to everything out there. I don’t buy the argument that modern music is any worse or less nuanced than it was in the past – something many from older generations usually point out. I simply believe that because everyone has the ability to share their music over the internet, there’s a lot more music out there than ever before and sifting through the mediocrity to find artists and sounds you like is harder than ever.

That’s why I welcome the platform that YouTube has given competent curators. If there was a channel catering to funk music on TV, I’d watch it all the time. But music channels on TV are mostly just commercials with a few songs in between. And there’s probably a reason for that: hardly anyone is paying for music any more. Every video Majestic Casual posts gets hundreds of thousands of views in its first few days; maybe YouTube music channels and the artists they showcase are making money from the ads their pages host. I don’t know whether artists can sustain themselves only on gigs/touring in the internet generation. I do know, however, artists like the brilliant Slovenian producer, Gramatik, who releases all his work for fans to download for free and takes donations from a global army of online followers.

In the age of the smartphone and, more importantly, the auxiliary input cable (colloquialised by youngsters simply as ‘the Aux’), everyone is a DJ. At social gatherings or during long car rides, people constantly jostle for the honour of playing their music and as soon as interest in their tune wanes, someone else steals the cable and plays his or her set. What I like most about music platforms like YouTube and Soundcloud, is that music fans can download entire (ad-free)1 hour sets from the DJs they trust. Just as a journalist, Twitter allows me to follow other journalists whose views I find relevant to get the insights I want, as a music fan I no longer have to pick and create my own playlists because talented musicians have already done it for me.

Maybe I’m just the kind of person who prefers professionals fund managers to handle my investments rather than stock-picking haphazardly myself. The same logic applies to my music: I trust channels to deliver new tracks that I’ll almost certainly end up liking. No more wading through albums for songs that you might like – just find a set or a playlist you trust and let the curator do the rest. I would love to sit and sort through tracks all day but there is just too much good music in the world and not enough time to consume it all!

The US-EU sanctions against Russia and the separatist Crimeans should have sent a strong message. Well, they did. The message was: we can’t really do much, Vladimir.

The problem for Obama and the Eurocrats is that Russia is not Libya or Iran or Syria – it is a fearsome nuclear power with the ability to wage full scale military war. They cannot simply dictate policy and send in the marines. While Russia may not be the global hegemon that the US is, it is a superpower in Eurasia and Central Asia – a region that will only grow in international significance. It is also led by a (relatively) authoritarian, nationalist leader and as such, the West must rethink the status-quo if it wants to salvage relations after the crisis in Ukraine.

 

vladimir_putinImage Credit: Shutterstock  

“Putin may have won the battle, but he hasn’t won the war!” says a Ukrainian friend of mine, living in Kiev. The sentiment there is gloomy. It was clear from the start that Putin wanted Crimea for Russia and ever since the US took the military option off the table, there’s been only one winner. Putin has struck when Ukraine and Europe were divided: even in the drafting of the initial sanctions, there was widespread disagreement between EU members. Most critically, Ukraine is not an EU or NATO member and thus, lies vulnerable. The Crimea is also geographically, relatively, unimportant. It isn’t sitting on crucial trade routes or oceans of hydrocarbons like the islands in the South China Sea. Putin made a song and dance about showing Crimea and its parliament going through a ‘democratic process’. In short, America isn’t going to go to war over Crimea and so perhaps Putin has ‘won the battle’. He’s operated with ruthless impunity and put the interests of his country first and foremost – the classic hallmarks of a superpower. Obama’s rhetoric will be strong but beyond inconveniencing a few mid level politicians, he can’t do much.

Ukraine’s only hope – the only major geopolitical player with chips in the pot – is the EU. Unfortunately, the EU is not a single, coherent force. Angela Merkel and Germany have worked hard to establish close relations with Russia (Germany is Russia’s biggest trading partner in the EU) and will not sabotage their economic ties with serious sanctions. The reason is simple: energy. Roughly a third of Western Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia and roughly a third of this is piped through Ukraine (the rest comes through Germany via Poland and to Germany via the Baltic Sea). In 2009, issues of gas pricing led to a stand-off between Russia and Ukraine, similar to the one many commentators foresee happening if full scale economic sanctions are implemented, where Russia cut off gas to Ukraine but still sent it to Europe. Today, energy traders in London say full economic sanctions would lead to gas prices spiking 70-80%, diesel from Russia going up 60-70% and generally ending in disaster for major economies that negotiate these enormous deals on large bilateral contracts.

Ukraine itself needs the income from gas transit through its pipelines and interestingly, all the big Russian gas companies have put out daily statements emphasizing that it’s business as usual. In short: the taps will not be turned off unless something serious happens. In a globalised world, trade trumps troops.

Russia has always been portrayed as a bit of a wild card to the outside world by the global media. Putin is playing to his base at home and ‘reuniting Crimea with the motherland’ will do his domestic ratings no harm. Russian state media will make sure of that. But young Russians themselves, especially the many living outside Russia, are conflicted over the issue. They point out that Russia isn’t in the best shape economically and to divert attention, Putin is ratcheting up anti-American sentiment. What’s striking is the affinity with which many Ukrainians and Russians speak about each other – making sure to leave Putin and the politics out of it. A friend of mine, like many Russians, has relatives in Crimea. She says she feels ‘offended’ that the new government in Kiev wanted to join the EU.

This seemed like a test from Putin, to see how the international community would actually respond. Mere condemnation is no consolation for the Ukrainian people. Whether it’s the EU or Nato or Russia, smaller nations need to a pick a side or risk being pawns on the chessboard.

Lack of facilities are no longer a problem for football enthusiasts in Mumbai. A few years ago, organising a game would mean having to round up 10 guys on a Saturday afternoon and convincing them to come to a small park in a well-to-do friend’s apartment complex or a dusty public park dominated by pick-up cricket matches. Now however a number of Astroturf (artificial grass) and grass pitches have sprung up around the city, giving even suburban players a world-class place to have a kick-about.

Astro-Turf Under Floodlights at AstroPark, Atria Mall. Photo Credit - Ajinkya Sawant

Astro-Turf Under Floodlights at AstroPark, Atria Mall. Photo Credit – Ajinkya Sawant

In South Mumbai, players can play at the Cooperage Ground, the Karnatak Sports Association Ground (near Churchgate) and on the roof of Atria Mall (Worli). The suburbs boast playing areas at Mega Mall (Oshiwara), Saki Naka (Andheri East), Andheri Sports Complex and Powai. All these places are easy to book and provide good facilities: changing areas—sometimes air conditioned—good artificial turf, training bibs and balls, refrigerated drinks, floodlights, etc.

More and more pitch owners organise three-month-long tournaments to ensure steady revenue streams. Using floodlights, many take place in the evenings when players have time after work and it’s not as hot.

But good luck trying to get a pitch on Saturday night: organisers rent the spaces out for kids’ birthday parties! The areas become great places for small children to play football, cricket or other group activities, have enough comfortable seating for parents and space for caterers.

Rooftop Pitch at Astro Park, Atria Mall, Worli. Photo Credit - Tanuj Gupta

Rooftop pitch at Astro Park, Atria Mall, Worli. Photo Credit – Tanuj Gupta

The catch: it’s not free and it’s certainly not cheap. Depending on how many players book the pitches, fees can range from Rs. 300–Rs. 500 per head for stand-alone matches. Tournaments cost Rs. 3,000 per head for 10–12 games with referees, online league tables and prize money of Rs. 20,000+. Rs. 300 is a lot if you consider the opportunity cost: going to an up market café or cinema. But patrons are happy to pay and in some ways it’s not surprising. Many players have returned to India from abroad or are foreign nationals themselves. Others have been playing football in school or college and have increased spending power now that they’re working. It’s not uncommon to see senior South African and Italian foreign envoys based in Mumbai playing with young stock traders and college kids.

At university in Europe, one gets used to large, green public areas where people can come practice their sports for free. With rents as high as they are in Mumbai, this simply isn’t possible in this city. In fact, at £20 (Rs. 2,000) it was cheaper for 10 friends to play at my university pitch in Birmingham than it is here in Mumbai, where it would cost Rs. 3,000 or more. Nevertheless the facilities now available in Mumbai are a massive improvement from dusty, muddy parks where cricket is the only sport ‘allowed’. Though this trend is heartening, the next stage will be making the areas accessible to schools and college students and players with lower spending power.

A pristine playing surface improves the quality of football. Photo Credit - Javed Shaikh

A pristine playing surface improves the quality of football. Photo Credit – Javed Shaikh

MS Dhoni credited India’s new generation of great fielders (who aren’t afraid of diving catches or sliding stops) to better, softer grass at training areas. Just like cricketers benefit from a good surface, the quality of a football match increases exponentially based on how even and true the turf is. many of these new venues are largely unused during weekdays; making them available at a subsidised rate to local schools would transform the experience of physical education classes for students. Giving kids a chance to play on good surfaces will make a huge difference to how good they eventually become. If India wants to improve its grass roots football players, it must help pitch owners make more areas like these more accessible.

That being said, it’s great to see the demand for these facilities: When I finished playing a match at 11:30pm last Sunday night, a group of high-school students were just about to begin their two-hour session!

The 3rd Forbes India Leadership Awards promises to be much more than just awards and acceptance speeches. The event, which is to be held at Mumbai’s Trident hotel on Wednesday, is one of the few times when India’s corporate heavy hitters will get together in one room. What better occasion to engage them in short, Oxford-style debates?

 

We live in uncertain times: The rupee is down, growth has slowed and inflation is soaring. When will the Indian economy be able to push out of the doldrums? Is India a breakout nation or just breaking down? Is our demographic dividend actually an overdraft? Is corruption inevitable? The questions are looming large and we’ll seek answers from the entrepreneurs.

***Forbes India Leadership Award 2012***

In our first debate, Mohandas Pai, chairman of Manipal Global, will argue that it makes more sense to invest in India, while Marico’s Harsh Mariwala will speak against. For two decades, India Inc has been going overseas looking for markets and resources. Those markets have slowed down and India Inc stands at the cusp. What will the industry captains do?

 

The second debate is a touchy issue for some. We will ask the our speakers whether India Inc is showing signs of being bi-polar. Do we celebrate too much during the highs and whine too much during the lows? Sanjay Nayar, CEO and country head of KKR, agrees; Cognizant’s CEO Francisco D’Souza doesn’t think so.

 

The final debate promises to be the most exciting as we move on to one of the biggest challenges facing the economy: The volatile rupee. Will the Indian currency continue to be devalued and should India brace for the rupee at 70? What should be the government’s strategy to stabilise the yo-yoing currency? Surjit Bhalla, chairman of Oxus Investments, will argue that the RBI and the government should not intervene in pegging the currency and let it float, while IndusInd Bank MD and CEO Ramesh Sobti will argue against it.

 

You can catch all the action as India’s biggest CEOs go toe-to-toe. Join us on Twitter and Facebook as we share the video webcast for the Forbes India Leadership Awards 2013.

 

It’s that time of year again. The third edition of the Forbes India Leadership Awards will be held on Wednesday, October 16, at the Trident Hotel in Mumbai. It is a chance for the captains of the Indian industry to meet, mingle and laud the best performers of the year.

The concept behind the awards is simple: We at Forbes India believe that entrepreneurial capitalism has the ability to transform India and we want to celebrate the people who have triumphed fair and square. We put in a lot of research to give our distinguished jury a list of 52 nominees, leaving them with the tough task of whittling it down to the 10 winners.

Forbes India Leadership Awards 2012

Last year’s glittering event saw Kumar Mangalam Birla (pictured above) take home the flagship Entrepreneur for the Year award for foraying into businesses like telecom, retail, and financial services and changing the profile of the conglomerate, which earlier was dominant in old economy sectors. N Chandrasekaran of TCS was the ‘Best CEO—Private sector’ and Hindustan Unilever’s Nitin Paranjpe took home ‘Best CEO—MNC’ award. You can view the list of 2012 winners here.

And here’s the video recording of the full event.

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In 2012, attendees voted on iPads to choose the best speakers live. This year, the event will be even bigger, pitting the likes of Harsh Mariwala and Mohandas Pai against each other in a series of head-to-head debates, witnessed by business leaders of the calibre of Adi Godrej, Zia Mody and Akhil Gupta. But more on that tomorrow…

Keep up with who’s saying what. Follow @forbes_india on Twitter. We will be live-tweeting the awards. Stay tuned!

Table tennis is one of those funny pastimes: Everyone plays it as an informal game, but few appreciate it as a sport. Even at my own school, the “state level player” was revered during Physical Education class but went back to being just another kid afterwards. The same was not said of the club-level cricket player or the footballer who got a sports scholarship to the US; they were bona fide celebrities.

As my now former colleague Shishir Prasad and I write in the Monsoon Issue of Forbes Life India, table tennis is played by more than 300 million people around the world and is the national sport of China, but globally it hasn’t seen the commercial success of golf, lawn tennis or football.

That being said, the top 10 table tennis players can make $1 million a year and that very dream was etched in the eyes of all kids at a training camp in Mumbai. The camp was being headed by legendary Swedish player Peter Karlsson.

Peter Karlsson demonstrates the forehand topspin. Photo: Vikas Khot

Peter Karlsson demonstrates the forehand topspin. Photo: Vikas Khot

He sat down with us for about and hour before sparring with Indian players including former Indian champion Kamlesh Mehta. Watch his poise, timing and wrist work as he cracks a mesmerising backhand topspin rally with Mehta, who helped organise the Mumbai training camp.

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Every evening, a TT table gets wheeled out at Forbes India office where journalists take each other on in impassioned encounters. After Karlsson had played a few points with Mehta, we couldn’t resist asking him for a few minutes at the table too. Shishir’s penholder-grip style was initially no match for Karlsson’s service.

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However what happened next, sadly not caught on camera, was something that Shishir will never live down. He played a great deep shot that forced Karlsson to chip the ball and Shishir smashed a winner – something he’ll no doubt tell his grandchildren about.

Playing with the legendary Swede was a great experience but we’re lucky he didn’t play like he could in his heydays. Karlsson is also an accomplished doubles player and his win with Tomas von Scheele against the mighty Chinese duo of Wang Tao and Lu Lin in 1991 is stuff of legend. The Swedish team beat the Chinese by studying their opponents, innovating their own training methods and improvising at crucial times during rallies.

Read our full feature on TT legend Peter Karlsson in the monsoon issue of Forbes Life India which is out on stands. Hurry up. Grab your copy!

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Indian reality TV to me means Roadies, Emotional Atyachaar, Splitsvilla and Bigg Boss. The shows have huge fan followings and, obviously, make for good TV. We love seeing large bald men shouting at hapless small-town aspirants, cringe-worthy audition failures and the changes in expressions when more than one contestant is to be eliminated in an episode.

But I think reality TV can serve a better purpose. Around the world, a number of business reality TV shows have enjoyed success because they put people in situations many of us can relate to; we all have jobs and we all have bosses. There’s a lot to learn from a well designed business TV show.  Here are three such shows that I think could succeed in India if executed well.

Dragon’s Den.

This is perhaps the ultimate adrenaline rush for hopeful start-ups: pitch for an equity investment into your business to five multimillionaire investors on live TV. No pressure! The hugely successful show has been reincarnated with prominent local businesspeople everywhere from Afghanistan to Australia, though the original idea came from Japan. Hopeful entrepreneurs have a few minutes to try to convince sceptical tycoons that their business is worthy of a capital injection straight out of their pockets. Though more often than not, the more zany businesses get destroyed by the ‘Dragons’ (which make for “good TV”), every episode a couple of real gems are unearthed.

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I remember watching the UK edition, where Theo Paphitis, the retail (stationery) mogul, invested in an outstanding high school student who created an innovative file using a single piece of plastic and two magnets. The kid has already found a supplier to mass produce in China and talked to high-street retailer about stocking. After grilling him for 15 minutes, Paphitis shook hands on a deal that saw him inject tens of thousands of pounds into the fledgling entrepreneur.

What sets the show apart is the range of backgrounds in the Den. Each of the investors have an area of expertise and depending on which sector the entrepreneur comes from, they ask tough questions to get to the bottom of the business idea. Things really get interesting when Dragons get into bidding wars with each other and make multiple “take it or leave it” offers to the entrepreneur on the spot. With the number of start-ups coming out of India—especially the number of social ventures—led by confident, well educated people, I have no doubt a few good entrepreneurs would get connected to senior mentorship. And the rest, well, would get cut down to size.

The Apprentice

Possibly the best known business reality TV show, The Apprentice already has an avatar with Indian contestants – The Apprentice Asia, hosted by Tony Fernandes. It’s another hugely successful show that has seen localized formats from Brazil to Belgium. Young—and often highly educated—professionals battle against each other in teams each week to execute task assigned to them. Each week, one is eliminated until only one remains to ‘apprentice’ for the mogul in his/her own company.

It is a rather intense, melodramatic job interview and the more outlandish tasks make for great viewing. It also gives producers a chance to cast some colourful characters to the driven but sometimes bland group of suit wearing sharks. In the UK edition, hosted by Lord Alan Sugar, during an assignment to sell gourmet pizzas the project manager decided to buy 100 whole, large chickens to use as toppings for 100 pizzas. You can do the math in your head. It was ridiculous overestimation that came back to bite him in the boardroom later.

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By the end of the process, successful candidates have organized fashion shows and sold Lamborghinis – the more outlandish the tasks, the bigger the spills.

The show has been attempted in India before but never took off. It hinges, of course, on a charismatic, flamboyant business tycoon to host it and ‘fire’ contestants each week. Any of you who’ve seen the suave Tony Fernandes on AXN, cutting through contestant’s excuses and picking the bones out of a business plan will know what I mean. I suppose in India the person who fits the bill best is Vijay Mallya; getting him or someone like him on board is crucial.

Undercover Boss

This would be, without a doubt, the best of the three shows in terms of PR for the corporates involved. Undercover Boss has been done in Europe, the USA and Australia and, I think, would lend itself very well to an emerging market like India if it made some subtle changes. The show takes the owner/CEO of a large corporation, gives them a make-over so they are unrecognizable and places them in entry level or blue collar jobs within their own company. The camera crew follows the boss around under the pretence of filming a training video. The exercise is designed to help them understand their business from the ground up, engage with employees on the ‘floor’ and give them a sense of perspective.

I remember an episode where the head of Burger King was taught how to make a Whopper and realized how hard it is to churn out burger after burger in a hot kitchen. The enduring lesson from most episodes is that CEOs need to understand their employees problems and take care of their needs. The undercover bosses do three different jobs within their companies where they meet managers and employees both good and bad. There are heart warming tales of single mothers who’ve sacrificed everything and there shocking store managers who sexually harass their workers – including, inadvertently, the multimillionaire head of the company.

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For the show to work in India, I suspect one would need to forego the promoter for a younger VP or function head, someone who could blend in to a factory environment with other, young or middle aged workers. Every episode ends with the boss exposing his true identity at a large company gathering and embarrassing the employees he’d worked with. What usually ensues is a cheesy montage where he calls in good workers to reward them with holidays or gifts and bad employees who he fires. It’s a chance for corporations to show they are human and genuine, even though the exercise seems fairly scripted.

I always thought of wicket-keepers like drummers in rock bands, there to keep things ticking behind the scenes. It was the fast bowler who was the lead singer in the leather jacket. But the current crop of ’keepers can change anyone’s mind. Take, for instance, swashbuckling South African captain AB de Villiers. He is clearly a head-banging front man. It’s been two years since he took over the ODI captaincy and he looks set to be test skipper too. And he’s just one of the many wicket-keepers increasingly influencing world cricket. Watching Kumar Sangakkara’s match-winning 134* (135) in the ICC Champions Trophy against England made me realise what a wealth of talent world cricket currently has, both as custodians behind the stumps and counter-attackers in front of them.

 

Abraham Benjamin de Villiers. Photo: REUTERS / Philip Brown

Abraham Benjamin de Villiers. Photo: REUTERS / Philip Brown

Kumar Sangakkara, Matt Prior, MS Dhoni, AB de Villiers and Brendon McCullum are either captains of, or among the most important players on, their teams. Some are better limited-overs sloggers while others are Test match fulcrums. But how do they stack up against each other and, probably the greatest keepers of the recent past, Adam Gilchrist and Mark Boucher? If we compare their batting (runs, average, strike rate, centuries) and keeping (dismissals – catches and stumpings – and dismissals per innings), AB de Villiers seems to come out on top.

 

The One Day game seems to throw up a three way battle between the elegant Sangakkara, the athletic de Villiers and ice cool Dhoni. Here they are, ranked by average.

 

Name

Runs

Average

SR

100s

Dismissals

Dis/Innings

Dhoni

7286

51.7

88

8

280

1.278

de Villiers

5680

50.3

93

14

81

1.588

McCullum

4952

39.8

90

4

238

1.300

Sangakkara

11231

39.1

76

15

399

1.366

Gilchrist*

9619

35.9

97

16

472

1.679

Boucher*

4686

28.6

85

1

424

1.462

Prior

1282

24.1

77

0

77

1.375


*Note: No longer playing

Sangakkara

For: Eleven thousand runs, most centuries and probably the most aesthetically pleasing stroke-maker.

Against: For a player who has played 321 innings and scored all those runs should really average more than 39 and have scored more than 15 centuries. His wicket keeping numbers are also mediocre.

Dhoni

For: Supreme average of almost 52 overall and close to 100 in successful chases. Unparalleled in pressure situations.

Against: Lowest dismissals / innings.

 

de Villiers

For: Highest strike rate, number of centuries and dismissals/innings & 2nd highest average, just less than Dhoni.

Against: Relatively inexperienced as a keeper

ODI wicketkeepers

Though it’s hard to pick between the three, de Villiers edges it for me. He has grown into the triple role of being captain, wicket keeper and batsman, leading South Africa to 16 wins out of 21 and averaging almost 80 since June 2011. Winning crunch games in tournaments, as the recent Champions Trophy showed, is still South Africa’s major weak point.

 

That being said, Gilly would get the nod over both of them if I had to pick. 16 centuries, an astonishing strike rate of 97 and the highest dismissals / innings of all time make him my #1.

The Test arena is an interesting battle – and one where Dhoni does not feature as highly.

 

Name

Runs

Average

SR

100s

Dismissals

Dis/Innings

Sangakkara

10486

57

54

33

151

1.677

de Villiers

6364

50.5

55

16

55

2.115

Gilchrist*

5570

47.6

82

17

416

2.187

Prior

3680

44.3

63

7

202

1.655

Dhoni

4209

39.7

60

6

248

1.734

McCullum

4459

35.4

60

6

178

1.873

Boucher*

5515

30.3

50

5

555

1.975

 

Sangakkara

For: Runs are, again, head and shoulders above the competition but this time his incredible average of 57 and 33 centuries match them.

Against: 2nd lowest dismissals per innings.

 

de Villiers

For: Tops today’s keeping charts with 2.115 catches or stumpings per innings. 2nd to only Sangakkara in runs, average and centuries.

Against: Inexperienced – lowest number of dismissals.

 

Prior

For: Excellent strike rate (though still nowhere near Gilchrist’s!), named England’s player of the year for 2012/13 and averaged 71 across the India and New Zealand series.

Against: lowest dismissals / innings

Test Wicketkeepers

In the Test arena, it’s a tough call between de Villiers and Sangakkara. In my opinion, one thing that really sets the Test match batsman apart is his ability to score runs away from home. Sangakkara’s average falls drastically to (a still world-class) 50 away from the slow turners of Sri Lanka whereas de Villiers’ increases to 58.

 

The recent South Africa tour of Australia highlighted AB’s temperament. After the first Test, former Aussie keeper Ian Healy said [about de Villiers keeping wicket] “I do think it’s going to take some effectiveness out of his batting”. AB proved his doubters wrong emphatically. On the final day of the 2nd Test at Adelaide, he blocked 220 balls for just 33 runs to help save the match. In the following game, he smashed 169 off 184 balls to set up a series win.

 

Though he has only claimed one-tenth of the dismissals his legendary compatriot Mark Boucher did, his athleticism and hand-eye coordination make him even more effective per innings. De Villiers is new to keeping and from the look of things, his agility and balance should stand him in good stead for the rest of his career. However, as Healy pointed out, his keeping is yet to be fully tested on slow, spinning wickets – though South Africa don’t have any top quality spinners to test him! De Villiers’ big weakness is his lack of stumpings: just 3 stumpings out of 83 dismissals in ODIs and 2 out of 55 in tests. Compare that to Dhoni’s 69/280 in ODIs and 36/248 in tests.

 

I think what sets him apart is his versatility across formats. He may not be outright numero uno in Tests or ODIs, but he challenges nonetheless. Even in T20s, de Villiers pushes Dhoni close (the Indian has a better average and strike rate). Though he was overshadowed by Kohli and Gayle in this year’s IPL, he has been a successful player for RCB too – who can forget how he smashed Dale Steyn last year or how he hit a reverse sweep for six?

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Playing a shot like that requires you to be an all-round athlete: his balance, the hand-eye coordination and forearm strength are stunning. He can save Test matches, anchor ODI innings and improvise under IPL floodlights. AB can do it all. And that’s why he’s my first among equals.

If you are fortunate enough to have many Turkish friends, you’ll know how fiercely proud they are of their country. And why not? Turkey is a spectacular place that has connected East and West throughout history.

But its people aren’t jingoistic zealots living on the glories of an ancient culture. They are deeply connected to the founding principle of the modern Turkish state: secularism. When talking to young Turkish people, you realise how profoundly they love the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. They feel the current government is moving further and further away from secular democracy and closer towards divisive, religious politics. What started off as a peaceful protest has turned into nationwide outrage over a formerly liberal state becoming increasingly nationalist.

A demonstrator waves Turkey's national flag. Photo: Umit Bektas / Reuters

A demonstrator waves Turkey’s national flag. Photo: Umit Bektas / Reuters

The sense you get talking to protesters is that this is no ‘Arab Spring’ or ‘London Riot.’ There is no revolutionary political party leading the uprising and TVs aren’t being pulled out of shop windows (yet).

Five days ago, 50 people camped at Gezi Park in the middle of Istanbul, angry that it would be demolished for yet another shopping mall. Police turned up unannounced—most people say at around 5 am—with tear gas and water cannons, and cleared out the peaceful protesters before setting fire to their tents. What followed was a local media blackout and a social media contagion that led to a popular backlash.

Many people who were previously indifferent, took to the streets across Turkey’s cities: Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antalya, Adana, Denizli, Isparta and Bursa. The apolitical were incensed by the police’s excessive force. Even  rival football fans put aside their differences; anyone who knows Turkish football fans knows this happens only when the national team plays!

There was already simmering—and widespread—anger against the policies of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his AKP party, a party that many feel is more in ‘power’ than it is in ‘office’. The incident at the Park was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Draconian new laws—such as an alcohol ban between 10 pm and 6 am—have not gone down well with people used to freedom, not to speak of a great night life! Many moderate Muslims fear a growing conservative Islamic wave and direct their anger towards a leader whose style has grown more and more autocratic.

Women in particular feel their liberties are being impeached: the state-run Turkish Airlines was widely criticised for curtailing its air-hostesses’ attire, going so far as to tone down the colour of their lipstick! Locals recount a marked increase in the number of head-scarves being worn by female bureaucrats. This is in a country famous for its belly-dancing!

Websites have been pulled down, protests have been suppressed, somewhat heavy-handedly, and tensions with ethnic Kurds (who make up 20% of the population) to the south have been reignited. What seems to have caused the greatest outrage is the country’s media taking little or no notice of the movement.

Turkey has seen impressive economic development since the AKP came to power in 2002. GDP growth averaged 6.8% over the past three years, inflation has been reeled in and FDI is booming but Erdogan is in danger of wiping out all the good work. The Turkish stock market, the Borsa Istanbul National 100, fell 10.5% yesterday. The threat of civil and/or sectarian violence is far greater than economic spooks. Two people have been killed and scores injured; now the common fear is that supporters of his party will be called to streets too.

Much like travellers and traders who have crossed the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul, the country itself is at an interesting crossroad. We will have to see if a political movement emerges from the social movement, but it will probably be difficult: AKP is only the second party to win three consecutive general elections. While their share of votes increased to 49.9% in 2011 (up from 34.28% in 2002; 46.58% in 2007), their seats in the parliament have fallen marginally but steadily: 363 in 2002, to 341 in 2007, and 326 in 2011.

The message emanating from the streets of Istanbul is loud and clear: End the archaic bans, engage in real democracy and genuine dialogue between citizens and state and, above all, follow secular principals. More than a change in government, the Turkish people seem to want a a change in governance.

 

 

 
 
Shravan Bhat
I've lived in Singapore, London, Hong Kong, Bangalore, Birmingham, Frankfurt (Oder) and now Mumbai. After studying Business & International Relations at Aston University and the European University Viadrina, I joined Forbes India Magazine. I love writing about young people and I'm particularly interested in sports entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and people who use data to make the world simpler.
 
 
 
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September 17, 2014 14:37 pm by Gajendra
Great Story Shravan. Appreciate if you can share your email ID. With Regards Gajendra
September 12, 2014 14:28 pm by GoEuro: viaggiare in Europa non è mai stato così semplice : Market Revolution
[...] The Indian in Berlin Who’s Planning Your Euro Trip (Forbes India, 20.05.2014) [...]
August 30, 2014 23:05 pm by Tony
dale steyn is the best fast bowlwer in the world forever ever n evrr
August 27, 2014 16:47 pm by vimal
AB is the best cricketer
July 24, 2014 12:43 pm by Rashi
Good read. I used to enjoy Dragon's Den and in spite of Undercover Boss being a little cheesy its still a decent watch. I really wish these shows come to India, however, they might become Bollywoodish (read masala and nonsense). Chances of them becoming like Masterchef India and the Indian Idol are ...