With a country as impulsive and sensitive as India — at least when it comes to cricket — a backlash was inevitable when the Indian team’s African sojourn started spiralling out of control.
But few would have imagined that the vitriol directed at them would be of such intensity — besides every Tom, Dick or Harry, even the country’s ‘few good men’ — the Parliamentarians — have join in shredding the team to pieces.
Besides the carping public, the politicians too have got on the team’s case, priming the pump that is spewing chants like ‘Sack Chappell’ and ‘Don’t pay them a penny’.
Though everyone is entitled to one’s opinions, the attempts of politicians to make cricket a national issue have left a bad taste in the mouth for many, including the BCCI mandarins and former cricketers.
“While we welcome any constructive criticism from the politicians, they should also realise that cricket is just a sport, and winning or losing is part of the game,” BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah told HT.
Former India opener Navjot Singh Sidhu concurred, although more sententiously, as expected. “Rahul Dravid does not tell who should be Uttar Pradesh’s PM, or Greg Chappell does not say who should head the BJP! This is transgressing into dangerous territories, “said Sidhu in his inimitable style.
“The politicians, I believe, should stick strictly to politics. That they are so interested in sports does not hold too much water either. Why don’t they debate the deplorable condition of hockey or the lack of Olympic medals in our cabinet?
“I empathise with Chappell as he is being held responsible for the evils of 45 persons, but the BCCI deserves no sympathy as they are the ones who have done nothing, ruining Indian cricket,” Sidhu added.
Former chairman of selectors Kiran More chose the middle path, saying that while there was nothing wrong in the politicians expressing their opinion, the team, at this critical juncture, deserves support and not the brickbats.
“The politicians should not morally finish off the team,” said More. “There is nothing wrong in them airing their views but at this stage, they should be less scathing and more supportive.”
Former Indian speedster and the coach of the team when they toured South Africa in 1997-98, Madan Lal, however, saw nothing wrong in the MPs taking such interest in cricket.
“When everybody is criticising the team, why should they lag behind?” said Lal. “Cricket captures the attention of the nation and everybody speaks his mind on it. Bid deal!”
However, it was Ashok Mankad who, perhaps, hit the nail on the head. “Speaking on cricket gives the politicians recognition, simple,” said Mankad. Interestingly, BCCI’s chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty saw a silver lining in the whole issue.
“At least this shows the undoubted popularity of cricket and how the game has an effect on each and every person in the country,” Shetty said.
“The politicians, like the rest of us, are ardent followers of cricket and when disappointed by the team’s performance, they express their concern. There is nothing wrong with it,” he added, brushing away the whole issue.