On Holi morning, Greg Chappell blew away the solar storm. An astrophysical threat is remote and insubstantial in comparison with the clear and present danger of being disparaged by a turbulent former coach of the Indian team. But closer inspection dispelled all fears. Chappell had sounded off at a book launch. That’s normal. Sport books, even autobiographies like this one, flourish briefly and then vanish into deep-discounted obscurity. They have to be sold fast and hard, and a spot of controversy is just the juice for it.
Besides, in parts, Chappell was actually appreciative of Indian cricketers. Like when he said that Tests are hard on most of them, and that they can only make money in 20-over cricket. It sounded like he was dismissing a bunch of weedy weaklings, but listen carefully and what he actually said is that we’re smart and focused. We grab the goodies and run instead of hanging about in the sun for days. Don’t know why we misunderstood him. Maybe it was the Aussie accent.
Elsewhere, Chappell tells the truth but then wanders into fantasy. We really are obsessed with Sachin Tendulkar’s next record-breaker, as he says. We aren’t half as interested in the team. So what? It means that in the age of individualism and celebrity mania, we’re well-adjusted. And it doesn’t mean that we have no ambitions. We aspire to be a superpower in the teeth of global pessimism.
The very day that Chappell spoke freely in Adelaide, the London School of Economics (LSE) released a study dismissing our superpower ambitions. Ramachandra Guha, who is with the LSE, listed seven substantial reasons why we won’t make the cut, but we didn’t let it dampen our spirits. It was Holi. That helped.
Finally, Chappell blamed our failures on the legacy of colonial rule by the Poms. Apparently, we don’t stick out our necks because for centuries, we lived in fear of having it chopped off. His theory fails to explain the freedom movement, in which lakhs of people stuck out their necks, their tongues and whatever else they could muster up. And by the way, we have turned another Pom legacy to advantage: Twenty20, the abridged Reader’s Digest version of cricket.
What, you thought it was an Indian innovation? That’s entirely understandable, since we’ve taken it to incredible heights. Only US National Basketball Association players make more money than Indian Premier League cricketers. The brand value of the league is inching towards $5 billion. But actually, it’s a Pommie invention. The England and Wales Cricket Board created the format in 2001 in response to a generation of fans with attention deficit disorder. And then, in India, we made it fly.
We can dismiss Chappell’s rant as a sales pitch. Except that one sure-fire recipe for making a Bollywood blockbuster is to feature a sporting event pitting Indians against white people. The Indian side has to be disadvantaged in some way. They can be villagers (Lagaan) or saddled with a discredited coach (Chak De! India), for instance, but they win nevertheless. They’re fine movies, but it’s odd for an aspiring superpower to be so vulnerable to this subaltern formula. Maybe Chappell was somewhere near the mark when he raised the ghost of the Poms.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine
The views expressed by the author are personal