The story of cricketer Manish Mishra, who committed suicide last August, is a reflection of everything that’s wrong with Indian sports. Mishra, a left-arm spinner, had made it to the India under-19 team on sheer merit and was at the crease of a successful cricketing career when the world turned black. Selectors mysteriously dropped him from the Ranji squad. Disappointed and frustrated, and apparently with nowhere to turn to for advice, he took the extreme step. Yesterday, this paper reported the tragic tale of another cricketer, Subash Dixit, who ended his life when a dubious system slammed its door on him. We may well shrug and consider these incidents as isolated examples of sporting careers going awry. But that would be turning a Nelson’s eye to scores of similar cases that apparently dot India’s sporting landscape — of promising sports careers cut short by an uncaring system.
Also to blame, however, is a mentality that sees success as something that is non-negotiable. This is evident in the way families push a youngster to the brink so that he can make the academic grade which, in turn, will open up a path towards social mobility. Sports — read: cricket — is seen as the latest tool for such social mobility by an increasing number of parents. And woe betide the child who fails to reach the magic crease. It is no secret that India’s sportspersons more often than not achieve success despite the system, overcoming hurdles with sheer enterprise — be it a sprinter running barefoot on sandy beaches to increase speed. But sometimes, under the singular pressure to succeed, a Mishra or a Dixit encounters a wall and snaps.
There is a genuine lack of a sports culture in this country. In most schools, sports is still an ‘extracurricular activity’. Parents — and teachers — are still too focussed on academics to consider sports a profession. And if there is encouragement, it is in the form of an obsession to succeed. Society, on its part, should not put unnatural pressure on youngsters to emulate, say, a Dhoni or a Pathan. Sport, like academics, should not be a matter of life and death.