“Mujhe apni chaap chodni hai har match par (I want to leave my mark on every match),” he said. “Of course, the players haven’t come and told me that they are scared but whenever I go out to bowl, I know they go on the defensive. That is how I want them to feel — scared.”
-- Praveen Kumar during an interview in 2006
They are all scared now; scared not because of his bowling but because of his attitude; because he is out of control. A report in the Daily News and Analysis tells us how the India paceman has been reported for offensive behaviour during the Corporate Trophy match between ONGC and Income Tax on 4 February.
According to the report filed by the umpires after the match, the UP bowler head-butted and ‘chest-butted’ the batsman, Ajitesh Argal. He also abused the batsman.
But back in 2006, Praveen Kumar was a nobody. He was trying to get into the Indian ‘A’ team and just about starting to make his mark on the domestic circuit. He was still a hot head though and always up for a fight.
Perhaps, it was an attitude that was directly related to his upbringing as a pehelwan or maybe it was because he started playing cricket on matting wickets and in the streets.
“In Delhi, I used to play tournaments for money and when you have something at stake, you realise that losing is not an option,” Praveen had said.
But in the Corporate Trophy, how high were the stakes? Praveen Kumar has not played for India since March 30 last year. A tennis elbow injury has kept him out and in that time, he has watched Bhuvneshwar Kumar – who models his bowling on Praveen Kumar – work his way into the Indian team.
"Yes, it hurts to not have been included in the team. Pehle main select nahi hua tha kyunki mujhe chest injury hui thi. It doesn't feel good to be excluded from all the action," he told The Times of India in an interview recently.
In a sense, the frustration is understandable but the reaction is not. And it all happened because the batsman asked the umpire why he hadn’t called one of the deliveries a wide. We see it happen all the time in international cricket – the umpire doesn’t call a wide and the batsman asks him why. So why did Praveen lose it? Why did he forget that he is now a cricketer who has represented India?
Indeed, it makes one wonder why the likes of RP Singh, Munaf Patel and more… have just fallen away. What is the support system in place for players who are forced out of the team due to injury? Surely, it has to be more than just a physio.
RP Singh was leading India's attack at one point -- taking five-wicket hauls at Lords, bowling crucial spells in the World T20 and wicket on tour in Australia too. Then what happened?
Munaf Patel got rich in a hurry but before that he was a fast bowler who had the potential to be very good. Joginder Singh got injured but he was a good allround talent -- these guys are down and out but are we looking at them as washed out individuals or are we looking at them as potential stars are India. Even more importantly, how do these guys think they are being looked at?
Physically, the scars heal. But mentally, it takes players a lot longer to get back in the game and that’s where they really need the support; they need positive reinforcement of their talents and they need someone to talk to. The competition for getting in the Indian team is intense and prize of getting into the squad isn’t one to be scoffed upon. So accordingly, the stress associated with being dropped is pretty high as well.
In 2010, Anil Kumble had made a presentation to the BCCI to teach life skills to the players. The personality development programme that included finance management, stress management, anti-doping code, media management and how to handle instant success. But it was shot down by the Board.
And nothing else came up in it’s place either. The players are still up a creek, without a paddle. It’s easy to talk about the Praveen Kumar incident as an isolated one. But it happens regularly enough in club and domestic cricket. Just doesn’t get reported by the umpires.
The player is to blame but then so is the Board. Disciplinary measures may help in the short term but it's discipline they really need.