Can you blame a young India cricketer if he is flattered by the interest and attention a minister or member of parliament shows in him? Being close to powerful men is something few can resist, but a disturbing trend is creeping into Indian cricket and the players better sit up and take notice. Ideally the Board of Control for Cricket in India itself should step in, but with so many politicians also in cricket administration, this may be asking too much.
Not a fortnight after Mahendra Singh Dhoni's appearance in the town of Bhandara, along with other Indian cricketers, in the middle of an international ODI series, cricketers have been summoned up again. This time, it is to Silchar, the north-eastern town in Assam close to the Bangladesh border, the constituency from which Santosh Mohan Dev has been an MP six times. Santosh Mohan Dev, now minister of Heavy Industry and Public Enterprises in the union cabinet, has built a cricket ground in Silchar, and named it after his father, Satindra Mohan Dev, the renowned freedom fighter.
With one eye on the elections, top cricketers are being urged to play a game to inaugurate the facility. The call has come from Air India (Indian Airlines also now falls under the same umbrella) to cricketers on its rolls to show up on December 6 to play a match against ONGC.
The circular to players has underscored the importance of each of them being present and even asked that they state their availability at the earliest.
Players on the list include Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, RP Singh, Mohammad Kaif and Robin Uthappa. It won't be long before the ONGC boys — Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Ishant Sharma and others — hear from their employers.
Of this lot, Dhoni can cry off easiest, seeing that his Chennai IPL team are scheduled to play a Champions League T20 match against Middlesex in Chennai on the same day. For the others, though, it may not be as easy to skip the game, scheduled just five days ahead of the start of the first Test against England at Ahmedabad.
When Dhoni, along with RP Singh and Zaheer Khan, had played at Bhandara at the invitation of Praful Patel, the minister for civil aviation, the BCCI had granted the trio prior permission, as the game was in the middle of a series. "There is nothing wrong in attending such a programme. It was for a charitable cause," BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla (himself an MP) said.
When Dhoni was asked about the sojourn at a pre-match press conference he only said, "ask the BCCI," adding somewhat mysteriously, "*Baad mein aapko masala mil jayega*".
Playing in charity matches, lending their names to good causes is all very well, but if these players are getting mixed up — no, being used as pawns - in political games, they should be careful. For who knows that they may be getting themselves into.