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‘Whirled’ Cup: urgent sanity check needed

It amuses when people who know nothing of sports sit in judgment, writes KJ Vohra.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2007 23:47 IST
KJ Vohra

How brittle are we? “We” includes the man on the street and the experts. The electronic media cannot even come under the ‘brittle’ category but more of that later. So we have lost the world because of the cup. There is a whirl of comments, reactions, very little of which is making any sense. Overnight, the willow wielders who were gods (undeservedly) are now third-rate mercenaries (equally undeservedly) who are doing nothing worthwhile except posing in front of cameras and gyrating on the ramp.

They are now the butt of cheap sms-es and vulgar and insulting jokes. The best part is that a majority of those passing insane judgments has never themselves stirred a finger in pursuit of any sport. Most of them would perhaps have never run 100 metres in their entire life except to unsuccessfully catch a bus that left a bus stop because they were slow coaches (no pun intended) to get there in the first place.

As someone who has played some sort of competitive sport with some sort of credit at the national level, I am both amazed and pained. Amazed at the sheer nonsense of a commercially conceived and distastefully fabricated hype preceding the world cup that makes fools think we have already won the world until a villain like Dravid willfully dropped it in an act of treason.

The many in a billion, the creators of the hype would be laughing their ways to the bank anyway and since it happens only in India, they could well be chanting – Wow, Aha India, Wow Wow India! And rubbing their hands in glee at the next prospect of creating a circus out of cricket or anything else. Supposedly responsible news channels are whipping up triviality iced with nonsense and poor taste. And I am pained for our cricketers because I understand the pain of losing that a sportsman undergoes.

A good sportsman is supposed to forget the loss, learn from it and move on with a smile with greater determination. Did I say smile? If any of these 15 cricketers were caught smiling by the billion eyes, he would be branded a traitor – we are not even letting our sportsmen be sporting by people who are not sporting themselves and just do not understand the first four letters of sporting. So, let us get the perspective right and back our arguments with some reasoning. We must first understand that there are a million factors that can affect the performance of a sportsman on a given day including luck. And most of these factors are not within his control. Yes, if the attitude is wrong, if approach is careless, and if he has not tried hard enough, sack him without a second thought.

Do any those calling it national disgrace even know that a slight involuntary tenseness of the muscles on a given day can be the difference between being caught in the slips and the ball racing to the ropes? A fractional error of judgment taken in a fraction of a second makes the difference between the ball going for a six and the ball being caught. It is amazing how experts brand the same shot as “reckless rush of blood” or “a glorious shot” depending on whether it is caught or is a six. The poor batsman under pressure for the sake of the team is either “too defensive” or “too reckless”.

I have one basic question to ask those who think everything has gone wrong with our cricket team and cricket. Was it not the same experts and fans screaming that we were one of the main contenders for winning the world cup which means even beating Australia? Interestingly and ironically, it is the same lack of understanding and logic that made them think that India would beat Australia (because Australia had lost a few matches) that makes them now think that Indian cricket team cannot play cricket!

So overnight, after losing an odd match, everything was always wrong, when a few days ago everything was right. Okay, so they said we were one of the top contenders. This means that there was talent in the team and the selection was right. Almost everyone agreed that this was the best available 15. (Though I personally felt at the time of selection that gutsy Ramesh Powar should have been there, as there was not a match I think in which he did not take a few wickets).

So, what went wrong? Before this is answered, let us understand that this very team beat Sri Lanka a few weeks ago, and this very New Zealand team now being projected as potential finalists, were beaten by this very “lowly” Bangladesh team during the warm ups. So, what happened? The same experts had conceded at the start that it was the most “open” world cup ever and any team could beat any team. Well, that’s what happened.

On the given day, things did not quite go right. At best an error of judgment from Rahul Dravid in choosing to bat first to get the rough end of the pitch. This judgment was not an act of treason, but with the best intentions of letting most of the batting line up have a “feel” looking ahead to the “tougher” matches. It just backfired.

Simply, and it happens. And yes, Bangladesh played well on the day, which is what every team is there for. By the manner in which we react in this country, there would be a continuous process of heads rolling, stoning of houses and abuses throughout the year in some part of the world as one out of two teams will always lose! And for the match against Sri Lanka - just not our day. There are days when the rub of the green goes against you. If those plumb LBW decisions had gone in our favour right in the beginning, the story would have been different.

Just one or two things, an odd run out, and luck could have made the difference – that is just what sport is all about, more so one-day cricket.

Without being seen as spoil sports, may be even the format for a world cup should be such that an odd match does not decide the future course. Bangladesh could well have beaten any other team that qualified for the Super 8, and India is definitely better than Ireland! May be there is a case for preliminary rounds being more round “robin-ish” so that truly the best 8 are identified without benefiting from the luck of the draw.

The increased logistics is a matter of detail that can easily be sorted out with some common sense planning. That leads us to two more factors. Was either of the matches fixed? Very unlikely, as there was apparently more riding on India being in Super 8 than not. Did the team try hard enough?

It is well known that Chappell pushed them quite hard and you cannot fault them on preparation. An example of bad preparation where heads may be required to roll would be the Pakistan team but certainly not India. That the results did not match the preparation and the talent is to do with the glorious vagaries of sport. It is not as if there are no warts, and these should be addressed objectively.

My only quarrel with the Indian Cricket Team is to do with their temperament and consistency. At times of selection, therefore, a player with better temperament should score over a more talented player who is brittle.

I would rather have Robin Singh type players than Vinod Kambli. Yes, even I am disappointed with Tendulkar who seems to have become timid with the burden of expectation from himself. But anyone who writes him off does not know enough about cricket. He just needs to assert himself without the burden of delivering. Yes, we do need to adopt Australia type of relentlessness and aggro where self-belief at times outshines talent, and approach negates adversity.

These are the areas to be addressed and, please, you do not need psychologists to do that. A good, basic motivator who can charge up the players into believing in their ability to perform and quietly needling them just enough to show, for example, “the stuff he is made of” and so on.

I remember in a team national squash finals many years ago; one of our players was losing a critical match. During the break between games, we gave him a lot of technical advice on where he was going wrong. He lost the next game more miserably. During this break, we told him aggro stuff in Punjabi like “Chhaddi Naan” (Don’t let it go) and some unprintable words telling him to take the stuffing out of the opponent. He won the next three games on the trot leaving the more talented opponent in bewilderment as to what hit him!

A good, basic Indian motivator speaking Hindi teaming along with Chappell may not be a bad idea.

And of course a more imaginative system to get greater bench strength from a billion people will do us no harm. This setback (debacle is not the right word) has thrown up far more alarming concerns that is harming not just cricket but strikes at the very root of good social behaviour and grace.

When you hear on the electronic media “Chappell ko chappal maro” it causes greater worry than losing an odd cricket match. When a lot of trivial nonsense is being trumped up and weightage is being given to twits declaring a loss as national shame it is cause for worry. When you have the likes of Shekhar Suman commercially capitalising on the loss by indulging in distasteful, black humour over 15 men who worked much harder and in a far more dignified profession than his, it is a cause for worry.

When this distasteful exposition driven by crass commercialism in turn feeds the youth to distort their behaviour patterns, it is serious cause for worry.

Not an odd loss of a cricket match.

Do we realise the damage they are doing to the social fabric? We are teaching people to behave badly, to lack grace and to poke fun at men who went down trying their best. Do you think Tendulkar needs to play at all when he has achieved all that any cricketer can dream of, and all the money that can possibly be made in a sport. Yet, he continues to toil and train with youngsters 15 years his junior and be subjected to warped scrutiny of a billion eyes.

It speaks of his character and the lack of it by those who demean him distastefully. These same people would have quietly hidden themselves after some token achievement, and more importantly after making themselves financially secure. And of course they make you laugh too.

When I see Mandira Bedi in all her frugal splendour, sitting in judgment over a sport she knows nothing about, I laugh a lot! In fact, we need to take those people to task who are whipping up emotions and making money in the process. And then these people mock at cricketers spending a few days in the year doing ads, which incidentally come to them only if they have performed well.

Their adverse and repugnant hype will now force knee-jerk reactions that will harm Indian Cricket even more. More importantly, they will have damaged the social fabric.

When I lost in a competitive match, I was told “well played”. When I won, I said “well played” to the beaten opponent. Can we restore this basic sanity, please? Have we forgotten that sport is basically an extension of education that tells you to try hard and then learn to win and lose with equal grace?

I feel for the men who are now in “blue”. Simply, because some unwise people see “red” in a game for which they tried very hard. Will someone do coach-ie-coo to them?

Our surfer KJ Vohra can be reached at kjvohra@gmail.com.

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