At the heart of every Indian lies a reverence for the Indian Cricket Team. They are the biggest unifying factor in a wonderfully diverse country like India. People set aside their caste, creed, region, religion, sexual orientation, economic status or political ideology and vociferously support the team. No other sport team in the world enjoys such dedicated, passionate and massive fanfare. Kids look up to them, youth support them, girlfriends and wives swoon over them much to their partner’s disappointment, men forget their responsibilities while a match is on, students toss aside their examination preparations, the old savour the romanticism of the game. Therefore, the responsibility of the Indian Cricket team is not just to win, but to play the game in the proper spirit; not just to play elegantly but to be upright role models and ideal brand ambassadors for the sport as well as the nation.
Film stars aren’t expected to be morally upright, musicians doing drugs doesn’t surprise us, corrupt politicians are the norm and not the exception, business tycoons are moody, rule breaking tax defaulters; and we don’t care about them. But sportsmen are expected to be gracious, gentle and genuine along with their enhanced sporting skills. The very best across sporting history like Dhyan Chand, Jesse Owens, Pele, Sachin Tendulkar, Rod Laver, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Lionel Messi, Vishwanathan Anand and Usain Bolt are celebrated as much for their sportsmanship as for their exceptional skills. They set both the sporting as well as the moral bar exceptionally high.
The Indian Cricket Team over the years had set a high benchmark in this regard. Gundappa Vishwanath, the greatest gentleman in Indian sporting history, famously called back English wicket-keeper Bob Taylor after he had been wrongly adjudged out by the umpire. Taylor went on to score crucial runs and win the test for England, yet Vishwanath recalls that moment with rare candour and pride. The legendary spin quartet of Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkatraghavan are known as much for their skills as for their exemplary conduct. Kapil Dev stayed a Gentleman throughout his long, illustrious career. Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman scored millions of runs while keeping their mouth shut.
Anil Kumble once bowled with a broken jaw, sometimes with broken spirit but never with a broken temper. His captaincy and statesmanship during the controversial 2007-08 Test tour to Australia was universally hailed and his Bodyline reminiscing Bill Woodfull line “Only one team was playing in the Spirit of the game” made even the notorious Australian sport journalists take India’s side. And what do you say about Rahul Dravid? He is universally hailed as the nicest guy and the greatest Gentlemen to have played cricket in the modern era. His composure, humility and general conduct compelled Colin Cowdrey, another paragon of sportsmanship, to pause and admire. In a private conversation, Cowdrey admitted to Pushpa Dravid (Rahul’s mom) that he wished he had a son like Rahul.
In light of such luminaries of the Gentleman’s game, the conduct of the current generation of cricketers (especially the ones who featured in the last 10 years), makes me sick. Gautam Gambhir has the expression of someone who is always looking for a fight. Be it Virat Kohli, Shane Watson, Shahid Afridi or the great Rahul Dravid, he’s ready for a scrap without any rhyme or reason. Harbhajan Singh is the most ill-behaved Indian cricketer I have ever seen. From sledging opposition batsmen to slapping his own team mates, from excessive appealing to obnoxious sendoffs, he has done it all. Sreesanth was a clown at his best and a retarded monkey at his worst. Ravindra Jadeja’s behaviour on the field makes one wonder if he thinks of himself as the next Sir Garfield Sobers. Ravichandran Ashwin doesn’t shy away from giving sendoffs himself. Rohit ‘Talent’ Sharma, who couldn’t score a single run in the Australian test series was always at the centre of the verbal battle. The less said about Virat Kohli, the better. He seems to include a few normal words within all those expletives that he spews.
MS Dhoni, seemed a saint in comparision to this unruly mob and that’s why the collision with debutant Mustafizur Rahman in the last ODI is the biggest disappointment in the list. I am not a big fan of his, but I have never ever doubted his on-field conduct. Mustafizur was definitely behaving like an imbecile. He had obstructed Rohit Sharma once before in his follow through. He again came in the way while Dhoni was taking a single. However Dhoni had successfully taken a detour and was in no danger of being run out when he decided to shoulder barge into Rahman at the very last moment. He intentionally put his arm out and gave a blow. An incident which could have been avoided snowballed into a major drama resulting in a fine for both cricketers.
Cricket is called a “Gentleman’s Game” and rightly so; that’s why I am worried about the current Indian team. Most Indian matches now-a-days are ill-tempered affairs regardless of the opposition. Be it Australia, Pakistan, England, Bangladesh or whoever else, they manage to pick up a fight. The IPL riches and stardom has definitely gotten to their head. A cricket team which used to be a neutral’s favourite due to Sachin, Dravid and their mates is the most hated team on the planet now and definitely the second worst behaved after the Aussies. Almost every India-related cricket article on Cricinfo would have fans from all countries combinedly bashing the Indians.
My loyalties lie with the Indian team and will always stay so. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if I would have liked this Indian team if I were not an Indian. I don’t get excited by an Indian match now-a-days, yet the cricket connoisseur in me eagerly looks forward to the next New Zealand or South African cricket match. “Men in Blue”, get your house in order, it’s long overdue. Pull your socks up and be the graceful ambassadors for the country, which is not only a rare privilege but also an overburdening responsibility.
1) I don’t believe that calling back Ian Bell or not running out Thirimanne in the Ashwin – Thirimanne incident were examples of sportsmanship. They were well within the rules of the game and should have been enforced.
2) I am a fan of Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli’s batting skills. It’s their boorishness I have a problem with.