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Life begins after retirement now!

In India, legendary cricketers are life-long heroes who receive hazaar bhaav and huge rewards, writes Amrit Mathur.

india Updated: Jun 26, 2007 05:23 IST

The Bishan Bedi-Gavaskar spat is bizarre considering it places two colleagues who shared a dressing room for years in opposite corners of a boxing ring.

In this dost-dost na-raha episode one has gone public, said his piece in print and spoken on TV channels. The other has maintained silence — coolly walked across the off stump and decided not to play a shot.

Ignore for a moment the reasons for Bedi’s comments, the timing or the merit of his statements. The more interesting part is the insight his outburst provides about the fragile existence of celebrities.

In India, legendary cricketers are life-long heroes who receive hazaar bhaav and huge rewards. And this is the flip side, 24/7 scrutiny as well. Which means they are always under the microscope and every step taken by them is discussed, debated and criticised. Not just by an intrusive media but as demonstrated in this case, also by colleagues.

Strangely, there are compelling reasons for sporting celebrities to remain in the spotlight and invite this searching examination.

Earlier, when a player retired, he simply packed away his spikes and his bat and led a quiet, normal life. Now, retirement is not the end of the journey, it is another road to reach a different destination.

In a sporting duniya exploding with commercial opportunities, why would an ex-superstar sit at home in front of the television when he can make money by being on it?

It is for reasons such as this that Ravi Shastri is required to balance his burning passion for Indian cricket with the clauses in the contract for media engagements. Similarly, experienced players are willing to be selectors/coaches provided the compensation is handsome enough.

Today, the issue is not about players aggressively using their skills to make money because everyone agrees they have a right to encash their skills and experience.

The point is whether they have to step forward for social good and community service, much like the corporate social responsibility burden of big business houses. Are Gavaskar or Bedi under an obligation to promote, develop or fix Indian cricket?

Some think these stalwarts owe a debt to the sport that made them such big stars, others feel we expect too much, players should just play well and if things have to be mended someone else has to do that. Essentially, Gavaskar/Kapil or whoever has to decide whether, and in which way, he wants to contribute.

Extending this argument, Shah Rukh Khan’s brief is to act and perform in front of the camera, why must he petition the Finance Ministry for funding the film industry or join alarmed activists holding a morcha against global warming at Jantar Mantar.

Of course, there are no straight answers to these questions.

What is certain is we all obsess with stars, personalities and celebrities, the game is secondary. Our attention is grabbed by cricketers, past or present, not by cricket.