Give them a break!
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Give them a break!

Those who know the man behind Kaif, the cricketer, find him a rather nice, boy-next-door type of Indian guy. Rather shy with outsiders, he likes hanging out with a small group of friends.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2003 01:16 IST

Those who know the man behind Kaif, the cricketer, find him a rather nice, boy-next-door type of Indian guy. Rather shy with outsiders, he likes hanging out with a small group of friends. He likes his Hindi songs and movies, his mother's cooking.

He also has a practical head on his young shoulders and wants to use whatever money he earns— he himself is the first to admit that cricket is unpredictable and the money can dry up any moment— to buy a house for himself and help his family get a better life.

Most of the other men in blue (and those in white), who seem to have been burdened, willy-nilly, by India's expectations, sense of inadequacy and search for a hero, are the same. They have grown up playing everyone's favourite neighbourhood sport in the gullies and mohallas of greater India, just like you and me. The only difference is that they were better at it than you and me.

They have not asked for cricket to be moved from the back pages to the front pages of the papers. They have not asked for songs to be sung in their name, for their giant cut-outs to loom over cities, or for the advertising frenzy that accompanies their every move.

They have not asked for presidents and vice-presidents to refer to them during Budget session opening speeches nor have they asked to be worshipped at mock-Ganesha temples in the greater Tamil tradition of literally idolising cinematic superstars.

And they do not deserve to be vilified in the way that they have been, have their effigies burnt, families threatened and houses blackened by drunken louts flaunting national pride on their sleeves.

But they should have expected it. It's a cultural thing. Indian history is rife with examples of people who are built up by the media and abandoned without a thought. From Phoolan Devi and VP Singh to even Hrithik Roshan.

I mean, c'mon, who wants to be associated with failure?

But one would have thought that cricketers would have been spared this kind of jingoistic ballyhoo that goes by the name of national pride. After all, whatever you might say, in the end, they are only playing a sport. Most of us mess up at work— and our politicians do it regularly with greater impact on our lives— much more often than they do and without a billion-odd eyes watching as we do it.

Cricketers know all about national shame and national pride. How can they not? It's drummed into them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and in any case, they're the ones out there, living it, not the rest of the billion.

Any serious follower of sport would know that any game has its ups and downs. This is the same team who, not so long ago, won the NatWest Trophy in fine style, who would have probably, on their form, won the mini-World Cup outright, instead of sharing it with Sri Lanka if the rain hadn't intervened.

I am not holding a brief for the Indian team. They're going through an unreasonably long bad patch. Nor, at any stage, am I trying to suggest that this group of boys is the best in the business. Criticise them, but don't kill whatever little belief they have left.

They should have made another 50 runs against Holland. They should have applied themselves against Australia. They have got to play with some focus, get out of whatever mental abyss they find themselves stuck in, since New Zealand, and concentrate on the game at hand.

Australia came back in 1999, Pakistan in 1992. And another band of Indian men in 1983.

Sport is about defying the odds, scaling the peaks and doing the unthinkable. It is about transcending the barriers of pain, mental and physical. And it is about those three little words that matter more than anything else. Don't give up.

There are few Indians who know this better than those 15 men who are out there actually trying to do it, all the time, watched by a billion eyes. It is time to give them a break.

First Published: Feb 18, 2003 01:16 IST