The current edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has so far witnessed, at least, five incidents of players getting into arguments with the umpires, losing their cool, and, even, almost coming to blows with one and other at the end of the game. This is of course aside from being accused of spot-fixing and other examples of corruption. The culprits in all the aforementioned episodes have been Indian players. Which begs the question: Are Indian cricketers the worst behaved in the world?
Until Sourav Ganguly took over the Indian captaincy in 2000, Indian teams steered clear of sledging opponents, disputing umpiring decisions, and behaving like brats (give or take a Sunil Gavaskar). But all that changed when Sourav took over the captaincy. He got under the skin of opponents (by hook or by crook) and encouraged his players to do the same. As a result, his team became more combative, in more ways than one. A lot of this new found confidence had to do with the rise and rise of the businessman-cum-cricket-administrator Jagmohan Dalmiya and the fact that (post the 1996 World Cup) South Asia was where most of the money to finance the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) activities was coming from.
In a sense, this was a good for Indian and the coffers of world cricket. The Indian team ceased to be the pushovers they were generally seen as and began to perform much better overseas, which meant more revenues for the ICC to plough back into the game. But has that confidence now become an ugly, unsightly swagger?
Yes, Andrew Flintoff behaved like a drunken lout in Mumbai after his team managed to beat India in India. But is that reason enough for millions of Indians to be so proud of Sourav doing the same at Lord’s in 2002? True, from the looks of it, most Australian players consider it fair game to shower filthy abuse at their opponents on the field and then invite them to share a beer after the game as if nothing untoward has taken place earlier.
But does that mean Indian players ought to stoop to the same disreputable depths to conquer their unworthy opponents? The South Africans (under Hansie Cronje and Graeme Smith), too, have shown no qualms about degrading the Gentleman’s game in an attempt to win a battle or two. For instance, many a cricket fan would have seen one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time behave in an absolutely despicable manner in order to get the batsman out; Allan Donald brazenly indulged in such shenanigans against Michael Atherton and Rahul Dravid, to mention just two such ugly moments in cricket. But does that justify, say, Harbhajan Singh doing the same time and again?
A team is only as good as its captain is something you don’t hear being said often enough. But this author thinks it’s true. Cronje’s team felt free to behave badly because their captain wasn’t exactly a gentleman. Sourav’s team nurtured brats because the skipper was (and probably still is) a bit of a brat himself. (Some would say that’s putting it mildly.) The Mumbai Indians are behaving like a bunch of hooligans because their current captain is more than happy to get in the face (sometimes, literally) of his opponents. And while all this bad behaviour might make for good television, it’s an appalling way to play this great game.
There’s a reason the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Adam Gilchrist, VVS Laxman, and Virender Sehwag, to name a few gentlemen, hold an extra special place in this writer’s heart. Fact is, they are members of a rather exclusive club of extraordinary cricketers who play the game the way it ought to be: With grace, respect, dignity and joy. Sadly, the next generation of Indians seems more inclined to idolise and emulate the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, who hardly cover themselves in glory with their behaviour on the field.
Perhaps we’ve become far too self-centred, and a bit like the United States of America. Most Indian cricket fans seem to harbour the illusion that the world of cricket is all about India. Let’s not assume that all the funds Indian cricket is currently flush with is reason enough to behave like we own the game. History has shown time and again that pride comes before the fall.
India desperately needs players who respect this great game for what it has given them: The opportunity to do something they love and get paid very large sums of money for it. In a country with millions struggling to simply make ends meet, only a fortunate few can play cricket for a living. To see these very blessed men behaving so badly on live television and, what’s more, getting caught with their pants down in half-baked sting operations is simply disgusting.
The very fine writer George Orwell, no great fan of competitive sport, famously said, ‘Serious sport is war minus the shooting.’ However, he did consider cricket a sport that demanded grace more than brute strength. Cricket was never meant to be a stage for war and its attendant crimes. Under no circumstances should it be allowed to become so. For people seeking those sorts of cheap thrills, there’s always football.