November 30, 2006

The huddle turns into muddle, but…

By H Natarajan

Even as oscillating opportunists in Indian politics lynch Greg Chappell over a remark they construe as an attack on their virtuous public life status, comes the damning and shameful news that Union Minister Shibu Soren has been convicted for his role in the kidnapping and murder of his private secretary. Criminalization is nothing new in India politics, but the fact that a Union Minister has been found guilty of murder while in office indicates the depth Indian politics has plummeted.

The Soren conviction will come as a relief to Chappell. The politicians will now speak for or against the tainted Union Minister, depending on which side of the political divide their interests rest.

The collective capitulation of the Indian cricket team in South Africa is a matter of concern. But there is a time and place for censure, if any. Just two matches in the tour have been played and the knives are already out. It’s a difficult tour that has come when the team is afflicted by crisis that has tumoured into all areas of the game. If we can’t be supportive, the least we can do is to ensure that we do not precipitate their frayed state of mind and, asininely, help South Africa’s cause. Let the team return before we voice our strong opinion. The ODI series is halfway through and the entire Test series is ahead which only means the Indian team can still effect a turnaround. Let us not forget that it was under this very coach, this very captain and with the efforts of these very players that got Indian cricket on a high till not long ago.

Australia lost a series in India which they should have won and they lost the Ashes last year in England. Admittedly, unlike India, such setbacks for the Aussies are few and far between – in fact, those are the only two series defeats they have suffered since the dawn of a new century. Yet, there was none of the alarmist reactions Down Under that we see nationwide in India. Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist went through the horrors, not very dissimilar to what Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag are going through now. Extreme and illogical reactions have been a problem with us Indians and that does not help a player when he going through the lows, inevitable in any player. The problem is especially severe for cricketers because of the high-profile nature of the game in the country.

It’s unfair to treat Chappell the way we have treated him. Some of the reactions have been as if we have been harbouring an enemy. This kind of jingoism is no good. Chappell, for all practical purposes, is an ‘Honorary Indian’ till such time he holds charge as the national team coach. He wears the India team colours as a matter of right by virtue of his job and we should accord him the dignity and the respect the job deserves – irrespective of the results. When the Indian team beats Australia, Chappell will say “we beat Australia”. And he says “we” because of the aforesaid temporary status of an ‘Honorary Indian’ and not as an Australian citizen

One of the sanest reactions has come for an unlikely source – the BCCI. Niranjan Shah, the BCCI Honorary Secretary, emailed the support of the board to the Indian team. Sharad Pawar also quelled the dissenters with an agenda by saying that Chappell’s contract runs till the end of the 2007 World Cup. If these people knew anything about cricket, they would not call for a change, even if it warranted. A new coach takes time to settle down and so does the team under a new dispensation. With the World Cup, just a few months away, no board in its right sense would even contemplate such a step.

And what can one say of the fickle public? The people and the politicians from the East have one single agenda: The reinstating of Sourav Ganguly in the Indian team. No opportunity is allowed to pass by these men. For many others, it’s purely an opportunity to display their histrionics in front of the TV cameras while masquerading as cricket lovers.

For the media, especially the visual media, any tamasha is welcome. Many of those approached for reactions on the street talk pure nonsense, yet even that goes unfiltered and is aired. If there has to be an opinion, can’t it be from people who understand the game than from ignoramuses who are patently out only to see their mugs on television? In the pretext of voicing public opinion, any Tom, Dick or Harry with little or no knowledge of the game is shown on TV only because he is easily accessible than someone with better insight who may have to be pursued to get his time.

I quite liked the mature response of Rahul Dravid when he was subjected to a media drilling after the Durban defeat. Instead of providing inflammatory sound bytes, the Indian captain said: “We are all entitled to our opinions. It is a country of many opinions and just as people are entitled to their opinions, I am entitled not to react.” Dravid may have been seething within and could well have said: “Opinion is like an ar*#e hole; everybody has one and it stinks”. A Navjot Sidhu would have resorted to that metaphor to slam home his point, but Dravid is too suave for that.

When quizzed if his team was under pressure to win, Dravid replied: “We are always feeling it. We would like to get a win under our belt and would like to get some good performances in. But that does not change the situation. We need to win after that (Durban) loss, and we needed to win before that. We need to win all the time.”

It’s only to be expected that the entire Indian team would be feeling the pressure – much of it unfair and unwanted - from the backlash at home. Why target a player’s family for his performances? And is the kind of response that Mohammad Kaif’s family faced by irate people – those who cause harm to people and property cannot be called fans – any way genuine sports lover reacts? And who were these people who vandalized Kaif’s house? Activists of Lok Janshakti – a political party.

Such acts are a throwback to the days of 1974 after Ajit Wadekar’s team suffered a disastrous 0-3 defeat in England. In over three decades, India has advanced in many ways and in many areas. But there is one area where we still remain a nation that is not balanced and not rational. We are hysterical the way we allow our emotions to spill on the streets when it comes to reacting to cricketing matters. We have certainly not done the nation’s image any good by projecting ourselves the way we have before the world. India is a giant on the move – there is no mistaking that. But we must do something fast to refurbish that scarred image.