I am really happy that India is out of the World Cup. Couldn’t have been better. And now to go into hiding – a whole bunch of patriots will now burn me in effigy, and call for my head. ……..
I am hoping that all the fire and brimstone has gone by for now, so I can carry on with this piece.
I am really truly glad that we got knocked out of the World Cup. First off the bat (no pun intended), my parents are both from what used to be called ‘undivided India’, and used to live in what is now Bangladesh before Partition. My wife is from West Bengal. Hence, we have this traditional battle at home of the Bangals versus the Ghotis – those from East Bengal vs those from West Bengal. Years ago, this battle used to come out in the open during East Bengal-Mohun Bagan matches. Over the years, though, the quality of football played by these teams has been so poor that my son and I have transferred our attention and indeed our affection to football in Europe – I am a Liverpool supporter, and my son follows the fortunes of AC Milan. My poor wife has not been able to make this leap of faith; hence the Sengupta household was divided during the India-Bangladesh match. My son and I were rooting for our ‘homeland’ team, and my wife was rooting for the team that lost. Suitably fueled by the stuff that cheers and inebriates, and my son’s aggressive disparagement of Dravid, Sachin, Yuvaraj, Dhoni and gang, yours truly displayed some pariochial feelings which must have hurt the wife’s sensibilities – there was no dinner that night, for me at least.
I am glad that India has been knocked out of the World Cup for another reason. For years, we have lionized our cricket stars. We have put them on the same pedestals on which we place our filmstars. We feature them in ad campaigns. We reward them in the same way that football stars are rewarded in England, Italy and Spain. We refuse to believe that they are not supermen; that there are, perhaps, other players from other countries who have a bigger fire in the belly than our lot have. We believe that the honour of wearing our country’s colours is sufficient motivation to excel; we refuse to allow for the possibility that the lure of ad and sponsorship contracts may be a bigger motivation to excel – not in cricket, but in modelling, public appearances, etc. We refuse to consider the possibility that the ultimate aim for most of our cricketers might well be to become talking heads in TV shows, and even to venture into politics. We believe that at crunch time, our stars will deliver, like Michael Jordan in the NBA play-offs, like Kaif and Yuvaraj some years ago, like Steven Gerrard in the Champions League two years ago, like Steve Waugh countless number of times. We refuse to admit of the possibility that this may not really be true – that the commitment is not perhaps to pride, honour, and other such vague concepts – but to moolah, which is more here and now, and more tangible any way.
Our filmstars always seem to deliver – they take their chances with offbeat projects, like “Lagaan”, “Black”, “Rang de Basanti”, et al, but they deliver. Therein lie the difference between these stars and our chocolate cream soldiers with bat and ball. The filmworld seem to understand their responsibility towards their paying public, even in the basic commercial equation – once the hits stop, the money stops too. Our cricketers believe that this equation doesn’t apply in their case. Perhaps they have been right so far.
So, I am glad that we and our media have now woken up to the reality of our pampered overpaid bunch of slackers who wear India colours without pride or the stomach for a fight. Hopefully the next lot will understand the honour of representing our country, and behave accordingly.
To me, cricket is now at an end. Bob Woolmer’s murder is also the death sentence of the sport. Most sports invite betting – in most countries this is perfectly acceptable and legally blessed behaviour. In many sports, matches are rigged – witness what happened in Italy last year about fixing referees in their football league. In some cases, players have paid with their lives for something that someone decided was unaccepted. Remember Escobar of Colombia being shot dead after scoring an own goal against the US in a World Cup match some years ago? But that was in Colombia, a country ruled by druglords and the local goons. Bob was murdered in his hotel room – perhaps by someone whom he knew. Perhaps because he knew too much about match fixing, drug abuse, the influence of the underworld in world cricket, etc. All speculation right now. But any sport where a murder can take place in an event that is the pinnacle of the sport is too dirty for me. Any sport where money can buy the players or the team or the officials at the showpiece event for the sport needs to take time out, investigate, purge and then come back into the limelight in a demonstrably new avatar, and periodically demonstrate that it remains clean. Cricket is not alone in this. Cycling, particularly the Tour de France, suffers from the same problem. And cricket will, hopefully, suffer from the same fate that the Tour is suffering from – flight of sponsors, flight of TV channels, and flight of prize money.
I hope this happens. I hope that after the cleansing, cricket comes back after a few years, particularly in India, as a sport where pride and guts and commitment is rewarded, and the demonstrated lack of these qualities is punished.
Now I can go back to watching my favourite DVD of the last few months – the Liverpool vs AC Milan Champions League final of 2005, where Gerrard and co demonstrated that even when you are down 3-0 at halftime, there is a way back. All it takes is belief, and total commitment to the colour of your shirt. Perhaps Sharad Pawar and his cohorts should show this DVD to our cricketers.
(first posted on sulekha.com on Mar 26 2007)