It was hard watching the Indian batting order collapse against Sri Lanka on Friday. It was harder watching the same players in advertisements during the commercial break. You cringed.
The players were not in India to follow the telecast but they must have had an idea that their ads were being aired. How they must have wished for the screens to go blank. When you flop, like Rahul Dravid's team did in this World Cup, you want to hide in the folds of the earth's saree. You want to keep a low profile till you redeem yourself. You don't want to be on television hawking a product and further infuriate the public.
Indian fans have been furious since the team's embarrassing defeat against Sri Lanka. As usual, their rage has revolved around the cricketers “spending more time doing commercials than playing cricket.” This is a fallacy. Despite being a nation that loves movies, we refuse to understand that players need to give only a few days every year for filming advertisements. But what is not erroneous, what truly needs to be addressed, is this - commercials and corporate and media indulgence have made cricket players overpaid and have dulled their motivation. The sole focus on cricket has also orphaned other games in the country. (Till as recently as the early 80s, a variety of sports would see packed stands in the country. So don't give me bull about Indians not being receptive to different sports). Indian sport now is like a deformed body with only one healthy organ.
It's not the cricketers' fault that they are signing lucrative contracts. Who wouldn't? They are young men with short careers. This is their time to make hay. It's the corporations and the cricket boards that deserve greater blame. I don't have anything against a sport flourishing. But it has to happen in a gradual, healthy way. People on the business side of cricket, however, allowed haphazard, dangerous infusion of the steroid of wealth in the sport, creating risks of corruption, selfish play and mercenary attitudes. Parts of the media – especially the television news channels - jumped in the mindlessness, giving cricket cacophonic, generous air time even as other disciplines starved for attention.
Why does this happen? Why do we have so much disparity in the way sports are treated despite the cricket team's frequent failures? Why do we continue to grant cricketers disproportionate amounts of status and income?
The answer, I think, is that most decision-makers among corporations and even the media don't really understand sport. Few have ever played anything seriously, few have trained as hard as a swimmer or a footballer or a tennis player. As a result they don't appreciate the effort that goes into it. As a result, apart from the favourites that bring them the money, they don't have time for it. What they understand is dhanda and tamasha. That's what matters to them. Which is not a crime. The problem is that's all that matters to them.
Now if you excuse me, I'll go out on the street. I have effigies of a cola bottle and a shrill news television network to burn.