It is official: the Indian cricket team has failed and we are all looking for an entire revamp of the way the game is played in the country.
The intellectuals are asking for a new coach, a new captain and a whole new bunch of players. Out with the old, they say .. and we lesser mortals are echoing that sentiment in our own humble little ways.
But I catch myself wondering sometimes : is the premature exit from the World Cup the only debacle this country has faced in its history ?Didn’t we lose a war to China in 1962 ? Didn’t we have our Parliament attacked not so long ago ? Didn’t the Babri Masjid go down to hooligans in the last decade ? Didn’t the country lose billions and billions of rupees to scams almost every year ? Anyone remember the train blasts in Mumbai last year ?
Why bring all that up ? Because I think the cricket team — or any team for that matter — is essentially a reflection of who we are as a nation. We are a nation of over-stressed, under-paid, under-privileged, cowardly, lazy, un-enterprising, safety-seeking individuals. We do not seem to be able to break the shackles of our society so easily. Even in this day and age, there are only a handful of people in our country who defy the societal norms and break free — look at our movies for example. How many new formats, new stories have we used in the last 20 years ? I can still watch the same movie that my dad watched as a youngster: only the film crew has changed. There are very few new, unexplored subjects that our film-makers deal with even today. It wouldn’t be all that bad if not for the fact that we actually watch these movies in the millions. Messrs Shahrukh Khan and Karan Johar keep re-making their own movies every year and we greedily lap it all up !
I ask myself: what advances has our Parliamentary system brought in ? I see the same bunch of greedy, self-serving, risk-avoiding politicians that my dad used to talk about when I was kid. God, even the reservation policy has been there for the past 50 years ! How long did it take our government to bring in economic reforms ? How many archaic laws has the government modified to reflect the present ?
And we want to revamp our cricket team !
Suppose we do revamp the team. New coach, new captain, new (younger) players. The old players are asked to retire. The new guys come in with new enthusiasm, a bold new approach to the game. After a few years of stumbling around, they start winning matches; they start beating the big boys; they reach the finals of the World Cup. And the ads start going “Hoo ha India..aaya India”. The public calls them the “ambassadors of a new, young India”; “the face of a new fearless India that is ready to capture the world”. The expectations rise (you see, we are now a would-be super-power; we cannot lose); the pressure builds; cost of failure sky-rockets; billions of dollars are invested on each player in the team. Slowly, the players start caving in to the pressure one-by-one. Then what ??? Well, we all know then what, don’t we !
Success is a double-edged sword. You can either be rich and famous or you can have a life; not both. You cannot have your cake…and so forth.
If the Indian team is rebuilt tomorrow and they somehow start winning again, can we, as fans, promise that we will not start applying pressure ? Can we, as fans, promise not to be vulgar in our appreciation (a la the “Blue Billion” ) ? Can we, as fans, promise to try and learn more about the game than about the players’ personal lives ? Can we take the odd defeat or two without asking for heads to roll ?
I don’t think we need a new cricket team. I think we need new fans. We need a better attitude as a nation. You know why the US and Australia produce so many successful sports persons ? Because sport is celebrated there. Kids do not go the ground to play so they can become multi-millionaires when they grow up; they play because they love the game; because the parents know that sports teaches them valuable lessons that textbooks cannot (of course, I am exaggerating; there are folks in these countries too who put pressure on their kids. But I am trying to make a point).
When the Indian Olympic Committee talks about “tapping the sports talent in rural India” , it scares and sickens me. Why can’t we let kids be kids ? Why do we have to look for a way to make money even from their simple lives ? True, training is necessary. You have to groom sports persons; but please, let us give them space; let them enjoy their lives while they still have time. We, cannot. We have to find out the best way of making money, more money and put our kids and youth through the drills; be it cricket, the IITs or the call centers. And, since these are such great avenues for making money, we want more people to be able to enjoy the benefits (a la reservations, more cricket coaching centers, more accent-coaches etc). It doesn’t matter to us that not everybody is built to do these things. It doesn’t matter to us that we are all different individuals. No: we cannot accept that. Our kids have to become super-star cricketers, or get into IITs…etc. Life, what life ? This is the only life we know.
When Rahul Dravid started his international career, he was a purist. He loved (and enjoyed) his game. He was happy. But we, as fans, could not accept that. Why can’t he improvise ? Why can’t he play more cross-batted hoicks ? Why can’t he reverse-sweep (after all, even Wasim Akram can ?). Sachin Tendulkar simply adored the game when he started. He would train for hours and hours to battle every short coming, every chink in his armor. Now, he doesn’t know what the press will criticize him for: for playing too cautiously or for being too reckless !
We killed these great cricketers. We squeezed out the cricket from them and all we have now are super-stars with long records. We are more cricket statisticians than fans (my opening batsman has more runs than yours).
As I watch the England and West Indies teams struggling in this World Cup, I wonder: do we really have a bad cricket team or do we have too many greedy fans ? The most endearing memory for me after India’s loss to Sri Lanka: I wake up on Saturday morning and switch on a news channel. The reporter accosts an elderly couple leaving the ground. They promptly shout: “We need youngsters, we need more youngsters”. Now, how ironic is that !