At the outset, I must hasten to mention that I am not a sports buff. So if you find anything offensive or inappropriate in this article, please accept my apologies in advance.
If given a choice, I would prefer to curl up with a book than watch a cricket match. But there are certain aspects of Indian cricket that are glaringly obvious in their murkiness. Even disinterested people like me can’t ignore them.
On Sunday, 18 June 2017, India and Pakistan cricket teams locked horns with each other for the second time in the ICC world cricket tournament in UK. This time it was the final round. The Indian team’s entry into the final was very much expected as they had played consistently well throughout the tournament. But the manner in which the Pakistani team rose up from the bottom position to the topmost was really amazing and to a certain extent unbelievable. Was the final match also fixed? It is quite possible, considering the huge amount of money that is being pumped into cricket in this region currently by corporate groups, film personalities, and underworld organizations. The media these days only toes the official line, so this matter was a topic of hot discussions in whatsapp and secret Facebook groups.
In the backdrop of internal politics within cricket organizations in India, cross-border terrorism, and our soldiers losing their lives daily at the Indo-Pak border, one can easily understand the mental state of players of the Indian team in a highly emotional, supercharged, jam-packed stadium with abusive boos and catcalls from the audience constantly falling on their ears. In spite of everyone’s best efforts to remain normal, the venom of political hostility invariably suffuses itself through a India-Pakistan match and the game no longer remains just a game. It takes on sinister dimensions.
An Indian Army officer reported recently that a defeat of the Pakistani national cricket team at the hands of their Indian counterparts generally leads to a violation of ceasefire by Pakistani forces at the border, so the Indian security needs to be extra vigilant in such situations. Was it perhaps to avoid this kind of confrontation that the Indian team ultimately lost so badly to the Pakistan team on 18 June 2017? Was the Indian team threatened or bribed to literally give up on the match and appear as a happy loser? There’s no proof. So you can only keep guessing and speculating.
When playing professional cricket turns into just another ordinary job and day in and day out, that’s the only thing you do, it is perhaps natural to set aside patriotic feelings and blindly follow your superiors’ orders without considering whether they are ethical or not.
Just a few hours before the match began on 18 June 2017, the Indian team captain Virat was asked on TV how his team felt now that they were in the final. He said very diplomatically with a straight face that he has instructed his team to stay calm and composed, since it is easy to make mistakes when you are worried and tense. Winning and losing is all part of the game. You just need to accept the outcome and move on to the next match. Well, nothing wrong with this; it was quite a sensible thing to say. But the manner in which he said what he said introduced an element of doubt and gave me a premonition that the victory crackers being burst outside by my neighbors well in advance were probably all in vain.
As the match progressed from 3 PM onwards, my husband and daughter remained glued to the TV while I carried on with my Sunday chores as usual, washing, cleaning, and cooking. By the time I woke up from my Sunday afternoon siesta, Pakistan had already made a sizeable score of runs and it was clear that India was going to have a tough time catching up.
During the running commentary and panel discussions by Kapil Dev, Virendra Sehwag, and Sunil Gavaskar, a female reporter also participated. Her provocative bearing and physical appearance were in stark contrast to that of the fully suited-and-booted male commentators and gave the impression that her sole purpose of being there was to provide the much-needed eye candy during those boring moments and to grab eye balls for the advertisers and sponsors of the tournament. Why can’t female sports commentators come in as individuals, as experts in their chosen field, just like the men, on their own terms and conditions? Why must they dress to please anyone? Isn’t it enough to sound knowledgeable and look nice and presentable? These were some of the questions that I asked myself that day. Things will perhaps improve in future when women’s cricket also becomes popular and more and more women get the chance to call the shots.
When the match ended, Virat was asked how he felt as the captain of the runnerup team. He declared with a beaming smile on his face that he didn’t feel any shame in losing to the best team and Pakistan team really played well. India also had a great tournament with several wins and that’s fine! Not a single iota of regret or remorse there. Compare this with the scene at the end of a world Soccer final match where the intensity of display of emotions of both the losing and the winning side is always on the extreme corners of the pendulum.
It was for the first time in my life that I saw a losing captain in an international tournament looking so cheerful. It looked very unnatural. That’s why the needle of suspicion points to our Indian team. They have all probably made the kind of money they wouldn’t be able to make in a lifetime of cricket. The only player who displayed some sign of disappointment on the field was Hiren Pandya when he was run out at a time when Indian hopes had just started building up.
A few days after the match, Times of India newspapers reported that the Indian team’s Head Coach Anil Kumble gave his team a sound scolding for their dismal performance and added that he was unpopular with the team because of his ‘high-handedness.’ Some of the players’ injuries during were not ‘cricket-related.’ Kumble subsequently handed in his resignation because of serious differences with Virat Kohli. Kumble had kept a low profile throughout the tournament and had not spoken to any media person whereas Virat did not mention anything about Kumble in any of his press conferences. Kumble and Virat hadn’t been on speaking terms for as many as 6 months! What can be worse than this?
The organizers, we have been made to understand, allowed Kumble to leave because they can’t afford to lose the captain, Thats’s very tragic indeed. A trend has now been set, it seems, for future coaches of the Indian team to be spineless people who would always be scared of taking new initiatives to improve team performance.
God save Indian cricket! Mera Bharat mahaan…
Copyright: Jasbir Chatterjee