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Indian Petulance License

The Harbhajan-Sreesanth fracas is the most idiotic thing most people have seen in years of watching cricket. It really started with Sreesanth curling his lip and petulantly behaving like a spoilt Upper KG adolescent whose chocolate has taken away from him because he hasn’t brushed his teeth in the morning. The media gleefully captured it and ran it on loop for hours and hours, with background music and provocative headlines to go with it. Apparently, Harbhajan had physically struck him in anger when Sreesanth commiserated with his team’s 3rd straight loss. No doubt there is considerable baggage in their relationship, and no doubt Harbhajan’s transgression is unpardonable, but it does seem a little bizarre that no one is actually wondering what is going on with Sreesanth. The guy gave an interview a few hours later where he said all is forgiven and they are a family, and Harbhajan is like his older brother, and IPL is basically for entertainment and not serious cricket, and these things happen in such places. Hello? This is precisely the kind of low IQ behaviour that will actually cause the IPL to be taken non-seriously.

Harbhajan should no doubt be given the strictest punishment (and this time there is proof too) – his IPL this year is most certainly over. His previous record of offenses might get him even more serious censures, and he is not likely to ever repeat any of this ever again. The media is speculating on him getting a life ban, but that would be bizarrely disproportionate to the crime. Sreesanth should also be punished, severely enough to cure him of his mindless behaviour for life. He is considered the most unpopular cricketer in the Indian team, thanks to his loose tongue and general levels of peskiness. This is, in that sense, a great opportunity to tame both these loose cannons in one go.

The less said about the media the better. It is repulsive to see the glee with which they grab things like this and blow them out of proportion. And when it comes to low IQ, the media is the finest practitioner of this in these times. Sample this – a reporter (from a Hindi news channel asking Sreesanth – “So how were you feeling when Bhajji (sic) was slapping you?”  The general levels of petulance the media whips up on issues makes one wonder if there are advertising sponsors for that as well.

The idiocy regarding cheerleaders was one such example. By giving disproportionate importance to a pretty mindless and irrelevant element of the event, the fringe lunatics’ (who are sometimes in power to ban something) petulance, and the indignation generated from their moronic pronouncements, kept the media wires buzzing for quite a while. But does it really take a lot of imagination or a higher IQ to wonder why something as culturally irrelevant as cheerleading has found its way in an Indian cricketing event? Could the same excitement not have been generated with some kind of indigenous item, directly taken from the ethos of the eight cities, as Sivamani’s drums showed in Chennai, for example? Even the tasteless Bollywood item number is at least more relevant than blonde women dancing American style in a cricket event.

There were reports initially that the BCCI was trying to cajole the Kings XI management to withdraw the complaint about Sreesanth. This was shocking and extremely stupid given the magnitude of ill-will the BCCI’s petulant muscle-flexing in the Harbhajan-Symonds episode had caused in the international cricket community. Thankfully, this is not being swept under the carpet now, and a proper enquiry is being conducted.

As an event though, the response to the IPL from the public has been better than many expected. Loyalties have been formed, as is evidenced from the majority crowd reactions when it comes to cheering their home team (as Dravid said, it is disconcerting to be not cheered in Mumbai when you hit a four, takes the Indian players some getting used to). Traffic on the roads has thinned down off and on during matches, families have been watching the matches together, usually things that only happen during the World Cup.

I took a direct flight from Chandigarh to Mumbai on Saturday and the Mumbai Indians team traveled in the same flight (the first thought when I saw them was that if the plane crashed, what a high profile death even I would have – for generations relatives would know that I died in the same flight as Tendulkar and Pollock and Jayasuriya). Not knowing about the Harbhajan-Sreesanth incident yet, I did not pay special attention to Harbhajan, though he did seem very isolated and sulky, waiting near the terminal door without looking at anyone for almost forty minutes. But then, the mood in the team was not upbeat at all. You could tell the power centre very emphatically was Tendulkar, and though he looked relaxed and posed for people wanting to take pictures, he too seemed a bit low key. The decision to make Harbhajan captain because of Tendulkar’s injury had seemed a bizarre one, and perhaps it had not gone down well with senior pros like Pollock and Jayasuriya, who knows? Both of them did look particularly solemn. Perhaps they were feeling vindicated.

But even otherwise, one of the vibes you can feel during the IPL is how seriously the players are taking it. Despair and exaltation are being expressed with the kind of intensity (and from unexpected quarters like Dravid and Laxman) we only get to see during the most important international games.

A lot of players seem to under a new kind of pressure here, and perhaps, not a particularly healthy one. It is the vibe you get in a big corporate company (a feeling I got at the airport too) with distinct hierarchies and power centers. It is logical because this is the first time cricketers are getting different and very highly publicised fees as per their perceived “market value”. As in the corporate world, this could be a major pre-occupation with a lot of cricketers perhaps as they feel their true value is greater. Perhaps it is creating a competitive edge in them for the wrong reasons, and this financial bee in their bonnet is absorbing far more energy than what it perhaps would in a regular international career, where there is a gradation payment system.

Couple this with blatant discrimination and you could have the makings of a far more serious problem. In my flight there was no business class, so democratic equanimity prevailed, but there are at least two reported instances (both in the ICL and IPL) where foreign players have been traveling business class and Indian/ sub-continental players in economy. Apparently hotel reservations showed this bias too.

No doubt the IPL (and even ICL) have helped struggling Indian first-class cricketers financially, but it’ll be interesting to see how it impacts Indian cricket on a mindset level in the months to come. The presence of cricketers from all around the world gives the Indian cricket culture an opportunity to evolve enormously – there will be no excuses if they fail to do so.

Shane Warne’s involvement has been the most encouraging in that context. Not only has his incisive captaincy been a revelation, but his very inclusive, passionate style of leading seems to be a superb influence on an Indian sporting ethos dominated with lone ranger superstars and individualistic motivations. It is not a coincidence then that, despite being considered underdogs initially, they are now looking like one of the most promising sides – reminding one of the same vibe that Sri Lanka was giving in the 1996 World Cup. Warne never fails to mention the youngsters in any post-match interview, and most of them have very well-defined roles in the team.

Captains do play a big role in T20; there is so little time to react that instinct and passion must be the most important strengths here. So, it is not a coincidence that Sehwag and Dhoni are the other two captains who look impressive. Sehwag’s positive demeanour is a great influence on his side, which seems as positive and fearless as him, and radiates a similar lightness of touch. It must help to have perhaps the best lot of talented and tightly-knit local youngsters balanced by the IPL’s most experienced bowling attack. Amongst other captains, Ganguly and Yuvraj have looked solid, but Laxman and Dravid somewhat shaky. Harbhajan was poor, but that’s not relevant any more.

At the end of the day, T20 cricket has one thing going for it that no other format in the game does. It makes cricket a more “in-the-moment” sport than any other format. Past records hardly matter; reputations don’t carry the same weight as they do in both tests and ODIs. There is an opportunity for a new cricket culture to emerge from here, especially in the Indian context. It’ll be interesting to see if that familiar petulance continues to be a part of it.
(Click here to know more about Jaideep) 

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