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When on-field abuse drove me to blows

Hindsight is wonderful. But sometimes, it's current that matters: Not what happened yesterday, nor what will happen tomorrow, writes Aakash Chopra.

india Updated: Jul 22, 2006 15:28 IST


Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But sometimes in life, it's the current moment that matters: Not what happened yesterday, nor what will happen tomorrow.

All that matters is now.

I have no idea what Zinedine Zidane, beloved of millions and darling of the World Cup till that eventful final moment, was thinking (or wasn't) when he reacted in anger and headbutted Marco Materazzi; but like millions around the world who watched that incident with a mixed bag of emotions - disbelief, anger, bemused comprehension and maybe even a tugging approval - at some level, I can empathise.

We all do things we shouldn't. Please don't get me wrong: I'm not justifying that moment of anger, but we tend to judge legends like Zidane (and Sachin Tendulkar, for instance) far more harshly than we would others because we expect them to be superhuman. We make them gods and, along the line, forget that in most ways, they're like the rest of us. They feel.

As a sportsperson, and to a much smaller degree, I can relate to what could have caused Zidane to do what he did. I played a Twenty20 game last Friday against our arch-rivals, Longton. It was an important game, for the winners would have topped the pool and hence hosted the finals - which meant making the club richer by a few thousand pounds. However, more than the money, pride was at stake. Everything was fine till we bowled them out for 120, a rather low score for this format of the game. What followed for the next 90 minutes left me stunned and furious.

It started with the umpire rightly judging a couple of wides against the opposition bowling, but it didn't go down well with the Longton skipper, who started swearing at the umpire. I was amazed as the umpire didn't react at all. On the contrary, he stopped calling wide balls after that and my polite inquiry about it got the umpires together to tell me to let them do their job.

Standing at the non-striker's end, obviously, I had asked: How could I be ticked off for a polite question and how could they completely ignore being sworn at? I got no answer. I've had a fairly happy time in England and people have been very affable, so I didn't want to believe this was racism at work. But as the game progressed and the taunts directed at me became louder and more pointed and the umpires kept silent, I got pretty worked up.

The game was hostile, every run had to be completed by pushing the bowler out of the way, every mistimed shot was fol lowed by a verbal bouncer. At 36, I edged one and didn't walk, waiting for the umpire to do his job. He didn't (was it guilt or genuine embarrassment? I don't know) and I stayed on to face verbal abuse of the kind I have rarely heard anywhere, forget on a sporting field.

My partner (and I must say my fantastic teammates, all white, have helped me keep my faith) repeatedly asked the umpires to step in. The umpires replied that sometimes it was best to ignore things. That logic made no sense to me or my partner. I also realised that it was one thing communicating in an alien language in an alien land, but it is difficult to fight a verbal war in a language which is not your own.

Having being sledged on the cricket field before (frankly, who hasn't?) I am normally calm but this time, I was tempted to hit one of the opposition players and would've probably done that if it were a 50over game. Everyone has a threshold and mine had almost been breached. We eventually won, I hit the winning runs and was animated in happiness and triumph. And as I walked back to my cheering teammates, I felt at home but it took me a good couple of hours to regain my composure.

You know, mine was only a game for a club, the stakes weren't high and neither were the expectations. If this tiny event could get one's adrenaline pumping beyond control, I can imagine what must have been going through Zidane's head when Materazzi reportedly insulted his mother and sister and cast on him a racial slur about his roots.

Sometimes, in extraordinary circumstances, even extraordinary men act in an ordinary manner. Often, it just serves to prove that behind the face of genius they are just men. And for me and many others, I suspect it also makes them more beloved - by the fact of being so human.

This is the third year running that the writer would be writing for HT about life in England over the cricketing summer. He can be reached on googly1909@yahoo.com