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Sportsmen or gladiators?

The bold new face of modern India now stands exposed as hollow following the slapping drama starring Harbhajan Singh and S Sreesanth, writes Gulu Ezekiel.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2008 22:36 IST

The bold new face of modern India now stands exposed as hollow following the slapping drama starring Harbhajan Singh and S Sreesanth.

With cricket being used as a tool for jingoism, we had been led to believe that MS Dhoni and his brave new boys would give back as good as they got, cheered on by a gloating nation. The whole country rose in defence of Harbhajan, convinced those bullying Aussies were unfairly labelling him a racist. The Indian cricket board used its financial muscle to bring the cricket world to its knees, rabidly supported by millions of ‘fans’ in the cyber world who were convinced that Indians, victims of racism themselves, could never be racists.

Butter, it appeared, would not melt in the mouth of our boy, Bhajji. This despite the fact that he had a rap sheet the length of his spinning arm. Now those same supporters have turned on him. It is one thing to abuse an opponent, quite another to slap a fellow-Indian. The Indian Premier League we were piously informed would mend fences between cricketing nations. Instead, we have a situation where the Australian cricket fraternity is gloating and Indian cricket has been left with egg all over its face. So is this the real face of the new, aggressive India? One cricketer slaps his India teammate, the ‘victim’ weeps dramatically in full view of the cameras.

Then again, we should have seen this coming. The massive hype built around the IPL has seemingly cast a spell over the nation. And it looks like the players themselves have been sucked in by the hype. The IPL we have been led to believe is more than about cricket. It is a combination of entertainment and war, a strange mix for sure. This, the ads scream at us every day, is cricket’s ‘karmayudh’ (crusade) and at the same time, ‘manorajan ka baap’ (the father of entertainment).

All the team images stress strongly on the martial aspect of the league. And the players are under greater stress than ever since their price tags are public and they are effectively owned by major business groups.

Well, the organisers have got what they wanted — a soap opera of a situation with melodrama and violence thrown in. Will all this bitterness now seep into the Indian dressing room the next time the national team takes the field?

Gulu Ezekiel is a sports writer based in Delhi