Pawan Negi, at 23 years of age, is one among many aspiring cricketers dreaming to play for the country one day. It is an ambition that fuels thousands of youngsters in India to spend hours and hours on the playing field in an attempt to perfect their skills. Who knows when luck smiles on them and they find themselves rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kohli and Dhoni, and become part of a world they have dreamt of all their impressionable lives?
Sport, despite the strict rules and regulations that govern its structure, is as much a science as it is a creative expression of something unique that the human body and mind combine to achieve to enthral the spectators. In modern times, it rewards those who can achieve this perfection of balancing skill, hard work, pressure and performance at the highest level with mindboggling financial benefits that no one grudges them.
In India, cricket is the game that holds sway over the masses and to be its superstar means to be god’s gift to mankind. Though luck plays a crucial role in pushing a very few among many equally skilful players to the top, only those survive who have genuine talent. To be part of the Indian team is a recognition of your immense talent, and competitive and survival instinct. The financial rewards follow and are mostly in direct proportion to your skill and performance.
Sport is a mega-business today and is one field where an individual can transcend the collective destiny of his race/class/clan/caste in one leap and bridge the hierarchies created by societies in an instant. But for this fantasy to become real, you need to be genuinely talented, luck notwithstanding.
Ever since a new cricket format and a new business model – the IPL – in the name of sport has been created in India, this accepted rationale of how sport functions is being challenged each passing year. Among the many questions being debated is the relationship of talent with the wages earned and the impact it will have on the very foundations of cricket in the country.
That is where Pawan Negi and most of his tribe become relevant to this debate. Here is a young talent, not sure of his place in the India team, a surprise selection for the T20 World Cup, who has all of a sudden been catapulted ahead of his much superior seniors and showered with riches — and even he can’t understand why. He is not alone to have been rewarded with the sort of money most Indian players don’t make in a lifetime. Among the stories flashed in the newspapers, there are many rags to riches items that make for great reading and reinforce the belief that a person’s destiny is as irrational as the world itself.
But in a more pragmatic, rational world – and in our case, the sports world – the question to be asked is: how is this going to impact Indian cricket? In this bizarre game, where players are bought and sold in an auction, is there any cricketing logic that governs these decisions?
Are the IPL and its business model not going to create fissures among the players themselves? As the Justice Lodha Commission in its recommendations writes, this difference in the IPL salaries for those who have played for the country and those who have not is creating bad blood among the players themselves.
The Indian Board seems to have created an irrational monster that may devour the very hands it feeds on, unless corrective measures are taken soon.
The author tweets as @pradeepmagazine