There’s a reason why the greatest cricketing sides in the world have always had destructive bowlers. Cricket, unlike football, hockey, volleyball or most other team sports, has the two teams switch from one aspect of the game (batting) to the other (bowling) in particular junctures of a game. So two sides don’t bat at the same time, nor do they bowl and field together the same way two players ‘play tennis’ simultaneously. When one team is batting — building an innings — the other team is bowling and fielding with the sole purpose of trying to bring that innings to an end. Cricket is, essentially, about batsmen trying to build a legacy and the opposition thwarting that attempt.
The equivalent in politics to batting is to be in government. Successful governments play with their front foot forward, keep the scoreboard ticking without too many dismissals, and do not depend on the weaknesses of the opposition. They score regular boundaries, leave deliveries tailor-made for entrapment, and adapt to conditions to trot up an imposing total for their side. A bad government is sluggish, suicidal, mentally and technically bereft of innings-building qualities. With the right fielding side, it can be bundled out well before its time at the crease is up.
While in democratic politics it isn’t considered polite to seek the demolition of the ‘batting side’, in essence, that is what every opposition worth its salt aims to do: to skittle out the government as quickly as possible in a five-year Test match. During the UPA’s first innings, the role of the opposition was undertaken not so much by the BJP that was on the field, but by the commentary team of the Left (the commentariat?) supporting the government.
Even as the Manmohan Singh-led government notched up impressive scores with various social welfare schemes and legislations, the collapse of the same batting side in its second innings has been spectacular through its many run-outs and hit-wickets. And yet, the UPA XI is still there batting. This isn’t because of any gritty tail-end partnerships. It is because of the countless dropped catches, extras, and fielding lapses that would make Sunil Gavaskar seem like Jonty Rhodes. The UPA survives because of the quality of the opposition.
But six months before the general elections, suddenly everybody wants to be on the fielding side. The most obvious example of the return of professional bowlers has been the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. The party’s great show was based purely on its undisputed prowess to wreck the batting side, any batting side. But it’s the AAP’s perceived lack of desire, never mind ability, to bat that is making us wonder whether the sport it had finally acquiesced to play is really cricket or not.
“It is better that we sit in opposition and continue to work for the betterment of the people. We will form government only after we get a clear mandate.” If that was Arvind Kejriwal saying those lines, we would have confirmed the anti-establishment’s terror of becoming the establishment. But that was Harsh Vardhan, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Delhi. Somehow, we prefer letting the BJP off the hook for its sudden lack of ardour.
But why tut-tut these oppositional parties alone? The men in white flannels in the Congress seem to be desperately keen to avoid a follow-on at the Centre. Mani Shankar Aiyar, the Bishen Singh Bedi of the Congress, uttered what manager-cum-non-playing captain Rahul Gandhi is actively contemplating anyway: that the Congress at the Centre should sit in Opposition after 2014: “I would say it is good to lose. We can await an opportunity to do this revamping or refitting, reinvention of the party to suit the requirements of the 21st century.”
Aiyar’s lines sound uncannily like what a senior CPI(M) leader had told me immediately after the Left in Bengal was drubbed by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, a party that after coming to bat in Kolkata in 2011 almost confirmed its only-bowlers reputation. (Minus any opposition, the Trinamool’s settled down to try and build an innings more seriously of late.)
We’ll know whether Kejriwal plans to have his side bat in Delhi or not by tomorrow. But whether anyone wants to face bowlers as the pitch keeps cracking until the end of play in Spring 2014 is the bigger issue. Except, of course, the self-anointed Don Bradman of governance, Narendra Modi who, like all of us once adept in galli cricket, only wants to bat. Ideally, with no fielders set. Wishing all of you a very merry Christmas!