Virender Sehwag’s tweets are a treat, like his batting was when in full flow. However, some of his statements — made perhaps off the cuff — stink, just like the rare, badly timed shots that he played during a long career.
Sunil Gavaskar, the legendary opening batsman and a commentator who brings dignity to the profession, said a while back that Sehwag speaks like he used to bat. The Nawab of Najafgarh, as he is also known, had a simple philosophy in batting. ‘See ball, hit ball’! The same attitude in his daily dealings could soon help him author a book on ‘How to Lose Friends and Antagonise People’.
“Viru is a fantastic human being,” said a member of India’s support staff for many years. “He is a superstar but really cares for the younger players in the squad. In one match, he got out in the first over but when Gautam Gambhir lost his wicket after scoring a few runs, he scolded the youngster. He advised him about building an innings and how to cement his place in the side.”
Was he being officious? No, he truly cared!
Sehwag has earned his millions because of his talent. And also because he has a huge fan following, who believe that he is a ‘super’ human being. He, therefore, will realise sooner rather than later that ranting about things that really don’t concern him can alienate his admirers.
Team India Coach
A few months ago Sehwag threw his hat in the ring for position of Team India coach. He confessed doing this on the advice of skipper Virat Kohli and expected to be chosen ahead of the more experienced Tom Moody and Ravi Shastri. Much later, he told reporters that he wasn’t picked because he didn’t have a ‘setting’ in the Indian team.
Having played 104 Tests, 251 one-day internationals and a few T20s, Sehwag would have known better than anybody else what sort of ‘setting’ was required to become India’s coach. Sehwag’s statement was seen by many as 'an exposure' of the amount of influence that star players exercised in such appointments.
Sourav Ganguly — the statesman that he is — and member of the Cricket Advisory Committee of BCCI pooh-poohed Sehwag’s statement. Replying to him on Twitter, the Nawab of Najafgarh wrote, “Har kisi ko safai mat do. Aap insaan ho, washing powder nahin!” (There’s no need to ‘come clean’ with everyone. You are a human being, not a washing powder!)
The tweet may have sounded funny but there was nothing ‘un-officious’ about it!
“Show me the money!” pronounces Tom Cruise in the movie, Jerry McGuire. This quote, said to be one of the 25 most expressive statements in a hundred years of Hollywood, also sums up the world of cricket in the last decade or so. Some of the best players in the world no longer play for their country; they prefer playing for money and don’t really mind being dubbed ‘mercenaries’.
Probably the first of those mercenaries was South African, Barry Richards. Richard Yallop, who wrote for The Age in the ‘70s, says that at a time when Johnny Miller (Golf), Jimmy Connors (Tennis) and Johan Cruuff (Football) earned more than $500,000 per season, Richards earned around $30,000.
Richards then joined the Packer Circus and made ‘big’ money. The press promptly called the Packer players, ‘mercenaries’ and said that they had ‘sold their birth-right for a mess of Australian dollars’. This was the time when Indian cricketers were paid a princely, four-figure sum for playing a Test match.
Rumours did the rounds in the late 1970s that a few of India’s top cricketers were offered Packer contracts. None of them joined, for various reasons. In present day cricket, the T20 franchisee leagues, with huge pay-packets, are luring away cricketers and are a substitute for the Packer Circus. If the present lot of Indian cricketers were as poorly paid as their predecessors, we wonder how many would gladly trade their India jerseys for a lifetime of luxury.
Desi versus Imported?
In this context, Sehwag’s remarks about former Pakistani players praising Indian cricketers and the game in India, in a conversation with stand-up comedian, Vikram Sathaye, were perhaps uncalled for. He believed they were looking to earn big money from India’s huge market for cricket. Slamming Pakistanis is certainly good politics but then, it isn’t cricket!
Though this writer doesn’t hold a brief for Pakistani cricketers, isn’t it creditable that former players from across the border have established themselves as good coaches? Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed and a few others have made a name for themselves — and some moolah too — despite Pakistan being shunned as a cricketing nation. How many Indians have been successful international coaches?
What about Gary Kirsten, John Wright and the others? Was their praise for Indian cricket acceptable?
Cricket is now big business. In all big companies, in an uncertain business environment, home grown professionals are upping the heat against foreigners. India’s top brains are under pressure in the USA and in Europe, and the country’s best blue collar workers are facing discrimination in the Middle-East and in South East Asia. These, whether we like it or not, are the signs of the times!
It would therefore be to Sehwag’s advantage to strive to be a great first-class level coach, work on his man-management skills, keep updating his knowledge and claim his place at the international level through sheer merit. Insecurity and envy have no place among professionals.
IPL Motivates Aussies?
The Nawab of Najafgarh also said recently that the Australian cricketers, who lost the ODI series 1-4 to India, had stopped ‘sledging’ the Indians, and were less aggressive, because they didn’t want to lose their lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) contracts.
Read between the lines, what Sehwag meant was that the Australians had sold their national pride, and their integrity, to be eligible for a ‘mess of Indian currency’.
Those who have followed cricket over the last few decades will agree that the body language of the Australians, in the ODI series, was pathetic. Except for openers, David Warner and Aaron Finch, and pace bowlers, Pat Cummins, Coulter-Nile and Williamson, the others just seemed to make up the numbers. Steve Smith was off-colour too.
‘Sledging’ and ‘mental disintegration’ are important components of any strategy involving the Australian cricket team. Therefore, when the Indians were spared going through the wringer, it showed the Australians in poor light.
Sehwag’s off the cuff comment on the Australians has also opened up another point: if a team that is reputed to be aggressive and dominating decides to be ‘good boys’ just to please IPL franchise owners, then isn’t it also possible that teams could ‘tank’ matches for monetary gains?
Cricket’s credibility, as a whole, has therefore been questioned. Australia’s pride is at stake too. It would therefore be right for Steve Smith’s boys to go for the jugular in the ensuing T20 series and prove that they are no ‘bunch of schoolboys’.
Richards versus Boycott
Money was the only thing that motivated Barry Richards towards the end of his County career. In one such season, Hampshire played Yorkshire in the Fenner Trophy final at Scarborough. The authorities had found it difficult to get Richards to Scarborough and it is said that he had fooled around in the outfield during the semi-finals.
The motivation changed when Geoff Boycott scored a hundred in Yorkshire’s innings. With pride at stake, Richards replied with a magnificent century to help Hampshire win!
As a diehard cricket fan, I hope this Australian team goes hard at the Indians and matches them, man for man; IPL be damned. And I hope for cricket’s sake, that Virender Sehwag is proved wrong!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, he is also a former cricket and football coach and administrator and is now a noted mental toughness coach.