Ishant Sharma’s aggressive posturing during the final test between Sri Lanka and India caught everyone by surprise. There were many who found it funny, while others found it distasteful.
Not surprisingly, the number of the latter exceeded the former, as suggestions poured in about how the team’s competitive spirit was being channelled in the wrong way, and how the Indian cricket team needed to cut down on such incendiary antics and focus on improving their game, and so on and so forth.
All these issues are absolutely valid. They also meet the check-list of idealism that the sport – or the various administrative bodies enforcing the laws and by-laws – brings up at regular intervals, in a bid to remind every cricketer and follower about how gentlemanly cricket is. But these all-encompassing maxims and idealistic pointers have, somehow, only seen fit to bring attention upon Indian cricketers rather than the rest of cricketdom.
It’s quite odd to hear about Indian cricketers losing respect for the sport and the opponent even as other cricketers play with heightened emotions and display equally belligerent reactions. The good-natured intent of gentlemanliness seems to disappear when it comes to the other leading cricketing nations.
The Ashes have long seen conflagrations of Aussie spirit and English instinct, though throughout the recently ended series, both teams were mindful of not crossing the line. However, as ugly and brutal as the past Ashes encounters have been, the reactions about the players’ misbehaviours – both on and off the field – died down after a short while, thrusting the actions into a remote (yet unforgettable) corner of the Ashes’ trivia compilation.
Be it the Monkey-gate incident, where conspicuously only Harbhajan Singh’s actions are promptly recalled to mind, or the Lord’s ODI, where Sourav Ganguly waving his jersey aloft is looked down upon sanctimoniously. Perception of the Indian cricketing past seems to be blatantly blurred and rewritten.
Not much is spoken about how the entire Sydney test was marred by the Australians’ unsportsmanlike behaviour. No one recalls how skipper Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke told the on-field umpires to declare batsmen out, and no one certainly wants to talk about how provocative Andrew Symonds was before the Indian spinner lost his cool.
Speaking of the Natwest series, there’s no reminiscing about the prologue-like actions of Andrew Flintoff, which led to Ganguly demonstrating what his team were capable of.
Two wrongs never make a right. In this instance, going back and revising these incidents isn’t to justify or clarify the past, but draw a parallel upon the differences between idealism and realities.
The current debate about Indian players needing to be better-centred is also a harsh measure of reality. As it’s a paradox, with attention being spent on moderating – or trying to – the players’ behavioural patterns rather than the issue being sorted out by the players and the team management on their own.
As it should be.
Though not lacking in experience in the test squad, the current Indian test team is still nascent at best as it attempts to shrug off the vestiges of MS Dhoni’s captaincy. The players are still trying to emerge from the shadow of their recent past, where drawing a match seemed the most probable outcome, even if the team was in a commanding position, with good chances of winning.
When Virat Kohli took over the reins after Dhoni decided to retire during India’s tour to Australia last year, the change was thoroughly welcomed. Kohli’s aggression spilled over onto his team-mates. It felt good to watch the Indian team coming out to the middle with the intent to win rather than traipse about the field unimaginatively, trying not to lose.
Each of its captains has gone on to lend some distinctiveness to the Indian team. This is a facet that has depended on the duration of a skipper, as well as the longevity of the team members under the skipper. Asking the team to change its approach now is therefore unhelpful. It’s also akin to demanding the team to alter its inherent individuality and identity.
With South Africa due to tour India at the end of this month, it’s important that the hosts don’t lose sight of what’s needed from them against their rivals. This is the right time for them to prove that they can transfer their aggression, as is expected of them, into assertion, and bring to the table an alternate reality to the tall-order norms of idealism.