Cricket is a gentlemen’s game, and while reading Ramachandra Guha or Sujit Mukherjee, I won’t even dare to differ from their opinion. Their descriptions of a Gundappa Vishwanath cover drive or their narratives of flawless Vinoo Mankad’s presence on field, all lead to the assumption and belief that the elite game was always kept at its elitist best by those suave gentlemen who graced the field of cricket for their country.
Now fast forward some four decades, and as I read Andy Zaltman or Boria Majumdar, the gentlemen have been replaced by superstars. Some are called the gentle giants and some deadly. The adjectives like exquisite, majestic or delicate are now fast replaced by brutal, bludgeoning, whirlwind and every other similar word that exemplifies violence.
Now, no one eases himself into a cover drive or gets into place to play the leg glance. Take your front leg out, connect the bat with ball, and at every instant the ball will either fly past the
fielder’s ear or will go like “a trace of bullet”. And as accordingly, wherever the ball seizes to stop, commentators are at the top pitch of their voices, shouting out loud that, “this is the best ever shot they have ever witnessed”. It seems like; you tell your girlfriend you are the most beautiful person I have ever seen, though you know she is not, yet it is said just for the sake of it. So, in a similar sense these commentators probably treat their listeners as their girlfriends.
Anyway, moving on, my basic point in the above written paragraphs is that times are changing and with it, the way we play cricket and the way we perceive it to be. The change is not merely confined to the intrinsic parts of the game but it has in a way transformed the players as well.
And that transformation for me is the shift of loyalties or rather the lack of it. The debate of commitment, country Vs club is not a new thing at all. Think of Kerry Packer and his pack of rebels. There is no denying the fact that Kerry Packer did revolutionise cricket, but the point to be noted is that professionalism in cricket took its root from that incident.
Now, it is players like Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga who are following the professionalism protocol. Current England player Eion Morgan shifted his loyalties from Ireland only because he wanted the opportunity to be in the top brass and display his rather excellent skills. Did he benefit from that? He now has an IPL contract.
And it’s not just cricket, every other sport also has this kind of a dilemma. Lionel Messi, a legend in the making, missed his international friendly, just because he wanted to preserve himself for the upcoming club fixture. Not that he considered the club fixture more important than national duties, but it was the moolah which was taking.
David Beckham too was in the middle of a similar controversy which saw Man U manager Alex Ferguson pitched against the then England coach Sven Goran Ericsson and the English Football Association.
Anil Kumble bowling with a broken jaw at Antigua against West Indies is an iconic image. It is an image which speaks of passion for the game, commitment to one’s country. He could have opted not to come on to the field but he, with that pain searing through his veins, bowled. When later asked about that, he replied that he could not resist not bowling on the turning track.
Not too far in the future, Shaun Tait retired from all forms of cricket except T20 and Lasith Malinga is available for shorter versions of the game only. Chris Gayle has opted to play in IPL over his country.
These are signs of what is to come. IPL has made cricket a form of ‘nautanki’ and the game will evolve itself into a full-fledged ‘tamasha’. The concept of free agents will come into play. Chris Gayle could be regarded as the first ever free agent of the game. Sourav Ganguly, who is in every sense associated with Kolkata, would turn up for the Pune Warriors and if he succeeds in reviving the fortunes, he would become the son of Pune, torn between loyalties but finding solace in the moolah.
Sports is probably the best marketing and advertising tool available today, and a paradigm shift in the nature of the sport is soon beckoning. It will become a sport devoid of all the emotions and passions. Only one thing would remain in it like a cockroach, sustaining itself in the most hostile of all conditions, and that would be
(The views expressed by the author are personal)