What was your sporting moment of the preceding week? Mine was from the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) in Australia. Harmanpreet Kaur, the star Indian batswoman, played her first WBBL match on Sunday and scored a half-century dotted with sensational strokeplay. The classiest of them all was an effortless hit for six over extra cover.
It was a perfectly timed clean swing of the blade through the line of the ball, the kind of shot that would have made Gundappa Vishwanath proud. But that wasn't the only memorable thing about that stroke. The reaction from the bowler, Gemma Triscari was a lesson in sportsmanship and grace. She didn't shake her head or stare at the batsman as most bowlers normally do. She just stood there, admired the stroke and had a whole-hearted laugh. Getting hit over the boundary didn't make her lose sight of the fact that she was witnessing something special.
The scene also reminded me of Jeremy Coney waving the white flag to Kapil Dev after being slaughtered for two mammoth hits down the ground.
At times there is even a silver lining to losing a contest. After conceding six sixes in an over to Gary Sobers, Malcolm Nash told his teammates in the Glamorgan dressing room not to worry about it much as someday they will make a movie about it and he will make a fortune.
While the self-deprecating humour in sports is always fun, some good-natured banter and trash talk is also essential. Without it, the contest will be banal. Talking down your opponent in a good-humoured way sometimes also helps in taking the edge off the contest and makes it easier for both the athletes and the spectators to digest defeat. The greatest trash talker of them all, Muhammad Ali, is remembered as much for chiding his opponents as for his exploits in the boxing ring.
When James Anderson played down Virat Kohli's double hundred last week by attributing his success to favourable home conditions, his remark didn't fall into the category of traditional sporting trash talk. The most successful English bowler of all time and one who is rightfully hailed as a modern great, Anderson let his frustration at failure get the better of him. Having played international cricket for several years, Anderson should know better than most that winning away Test matches is hard. But as long as the home team isn't using unfair means to gain an advantage, a champion bowler like him should get on with the game and let his bowling do the talking.
His comment was a throwback to the grumpy touring English teams of the yore. They used to blame their lack of success on these shores on everything from dustbowl pitches to poor umpiring, to even the 'Delhi Belly'. Times have changed now and touring players have learned to enjoy the India experience; some even consider it their second home. Only if you can make peace with the fact that there will be challenges on your way, your mind can be free to think of solutions and enjoy the experience.
What makes Anderson's remarks worse is his reference to Kohli's failures in England in 2014. While casting aspersions over Kohli's skills, he unwittingly raised questions over his own worth as an all-condition performer. Surely, he didn't mean to suggest that his success against Kohli in 2014 was also due to tailor-made helpful home conditions to assist his style of bowling. As professional cricketers, both Kohli and Anderson have signed up to play Test matches under varying degrees of handicap introduced by the playing conditions. If Anderson thinks that real cricket is played only on certain kind of pitches, then he always has the option of going the Dennis Lillee way and never play a Test in India.
It has to be said though that Anderson isn't the only one guilty of a grumpy remark or two about pitch conditions after losing away from home. With more and more Test series being dominated by the home teams, blaming defeats on unfavourable conditions has almost become a trend. The media contingents from most countries love playing the defeatist tune of home advantage, but when players jump on the bandwagon, it sets a poor precedence. Even India was guilty of it in 2012 when Gautam Gambhir, after a string of losses, remarked in the press that "We will do the same when they come to India." Of course, the comment came back to bite him when England came to India and defeated the hosts comprehensively.
The trend of home domination isn't going to end anytime soon in Test cricket. With busy international calendars across different forms of the game, top players hardly play any first class cricket these days, a place where they may get exposed to different conditions and get a chance to make themselves more adaptable as players. The busy calendar also leaves them with no chance of getting accustomed to alien conditions while touring. Twenty years ago, a five-Test series would have lasted twice the duration of this series with practice games both at the beginning of the tour and during the series to give the visitors several opportunities to fix the chinks in their armour and make a mid-series amendments. These days, once a team starts losing, they run out of ideas quickly. There is no chance to regroup and experiment in the middle of the tour. That's part of the reason we see so many whitewashes these days.
As losing comprehensively on tours is often getting inevitable for Test cricketers, they need to find some inspiration to handle defeats better. Broadcasters and commentators will have you believe that it's a war out there by raising war cries before every series. Sports though is just unstaged theatre in which you are guaranteed to play the part of both winner and loser, and there is a right way to do both. Hubris in victory and disgrace in defeat both bring disrepute to sports.
When Boris Becker was asked to explain his second round exit from Wimbledon 1987, he remarked, "I didn't start a war. Nobody died. I only lost a tennis match, nothing more." While the media tend to go overboard over defeat, athletes can easily restore a sense of proportion to it. Fans too can play their part. Trinidadian Lord Relator made India's 1971 tour to West Indies all the more memorable when he wrote a calypso to pay tribute to the Indian team that defeated West Indies while giving Sunil Gavaskar a special mention (see video). An English artist singing "You know England couldn't out Kohli at all" will be heartening to see today.
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Updated Date: Dec 15, 2016 13:31:45 IST