“Team spirit is sometimes a really over-rated term. There are moments when I’ve felt it’s just a convenient invention of the press,” a senior Indian cricketer recently told HT. “When the team is winning, everything, even a player who is failing, looks good, and it’s said that the team spirit is good.”
At the moment, things don’t look good at all. When one player ‘slaps’ another on the field, before or after the last ball has been bowled, you know you have reached the lowest possible ebb. Reading too much into body language is a risky proposition at the best of times, and in teams that are newly formed, like the IPL units, it’s even more so.
But for some time now there has been a certain unease with which Sreesanth has been a part of the boys. The dressing-room is an intimate place, one in which a team can spend time together, away from the constant glare of the media and public. The atmosphere in the dressing room sets the tone for a player’s mindset when he walks out to bat, and for the team’s when they take the field.
It certainly does not help to have a tense dressing room, and when one player is like a Diwali firecracker — on a not-so-long fuse, without any information on how it would explode — it brings an edge to the group that’s eminently avoidable. And far too often in recent times this has happened in the Indian dressing room.
In his brief career, Sreesanth and his theatrics have been tolerated — even encouraged — at times. But there will come a point when an older player feels that enough is enough, and we might just have reached that tipping point. As one senior player told HT, “What happened in Mohali is disgraceful. This isn’t aggression, it is sheer arrogance (on the part of both players). What next?”
Actions such as this have consequences. Although the constant speculation that there is a rift in the Indian team between the youngsters and the seniors is overplayed, one can’t help but speculate about the interpersonal relationships within a high-profile unit like team India.
One of the key differences between the older generation and this fresh one is the manner in which they treat the opposition. While the older guys are more than happy to get shirty, even occasionally abusive, the younger ones seem to take pride in disrespecting the opposition, no matter how meagre their own achievements are in comparison to the opposition’s.
It was all fine when the Indians were all working as one to get under the skin of Ponting’s Aussies. But now, when one of the chief pot-stirrers finds himself at the receiving end, it’s not quite so pleasant.
Now that stern disciplinary action has been taken against Harbhajan, it is difficult to see him ever forgiving Sreesanth. Along with Harbhajan, it is difficult to see his mates in the team — whatever they might think of his “unacceptable behaviour” — not resent Sreesanth. It would possibly flow the other way too — but then, Sreesanth is a bit of a loner.
If anyone, especially the two players in the middle and our generations of young cricketers, are to learn anything, the Board and the IPL need to take firm action. Otherwise, it’s not just India’s reputation that will suffer, India’s cricket will too. IPL’s suspension within 24 hours is a step in the right direction.