Man Singh: 'Greed for money and fame can lead to unscrupulous incidents'

Former Team India manager. P.R. Man Singh, feels cricket's excessive commercial pulse has changed the way the game is perceived now.

Man Singh feels the dynamics of the game have changed to suit the audience.   -  V.V. Subrahmanyam

It was a scandal that saw Australian cricket's reputation slip into a downward spiral. The ball-tampering episode, in April 2018, involving former Australian captain Steve Smith, former vice-captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, left the cricketers red-eyed and united the cricketing fraternity in disappointment and anger.

And as Australia locked horns with England in its first tour following the incident, it hardly came as a surprise when the home fans flashed sandpapers, embossed with 4 and 6 on them, ​​in an attempt to get under the opponent's skin.

The issue of ball tampering, however, is as old as the game itself.  Instances of cricketers admitting to altering the condition of the ball with various substances are not new. New Zealand's Chris Pringle, in 1990 against Pakistan, used a bottle top to scratch the ball while England's Mike Atherton resorted to dirt off the pitch. More recently, South Africa's Faf du Plessis was pulled up by the match referees for using his saliva to shine the ball while also sucking on a mint.

A bane for cricket

Former India team manager, P.R. Man Singh, says "Ball tampering has been there since the early 1940s and 1950s."

"I mean, cricket in those days was played in a different manner, in a different spirit altogether. It was pure and simple, it was a pleasure and there was love for the game. However, today it is bread and butter. The competition is fierce," he said.

Citing instances, Man Singh added, "As my knowledge goes, Denis Compton was the first cricketer to model for Brylcreem (hair styling cream) and during matches, he would have applied more of Brylcreem and run his fingers and then shine the ball. What was that, then?"

"We have the 'Vaseline issue' in the Delhi Test (India vs England). Many cricketers have a thick line of vaseline on their lips. And what about the spinners, who lick their fingers before holding the ball?"

"So the question of tampering depends on how you look at it and how serious you think it is. It can be ignored and it cannot be ignored too," he added.

Man Singh went on to explain the role of a manager in dealing with such issues. "To start with, the manager has to have the fullest confidence of the media. With 30 cameras watching you, you cannot deny any wrongdoing, but then it’s up to me, how much do I spell out.

"I mean, you have to be honest with yourself. You can't cheat yourself, you see when you are alone, your conscience will prick, so keep that as the base and spell out the truth. That is the best way to tackle issues when you have a lot of media spotlight," he explained.

The difference in game styles

The 80-year-old lamented the way the game is perceived these days. "It is totally different now. The attitude and approach of the players towards the game have drastic changes," he said adding, "Now you will never see something like that happen in those days — First, a team meeting at the end of the match to discuss the procceedings from that day is almost extinct. Second and most important according to me, is the socialising between two teams which is completely absent."

Man Singh elaborated with an example. "When Mysore and Hyderabad were playing, we had Jai (Jaisimha), Abbas (Abbas Ali Baig), M.A.K. Pataudi, (Erapalli) Prasanna, (V.B.) Chandrasekhar and (G.R.) Viswanath along with some junior player like Nausheed Mehta, Hussain, Sultan Saleem etc and a couple of Mysore players.

"The players started discussing cricket, their experiences on how they play the game and how they tackle the opposition etc. The juniors were closely listening and for them, it was an education," he said.

"Even after we won the World Cup in 1983, I went into the West Indies dressing room and invited them and their manager to come to our dressing room.

"The entire team came, however, they didn't stay for long. They had some drinks, congratulated us and moved on. Unfortunately, we don’t even see that in the Indian domestic circuit," he added.

"Even the Indian team assembles in the morning and in the evening, sometimes, they don't even travel together. Commercial engagements have taken a toll. Earlier, when we had two cricketers sharing a hotel room, whatever may be the time of the day, they will be talking about cricket. Now, that is gone.

"Even if they are together, they are either on their laptops, TV or mobiles but definitely not watching or talking cricket. All these play a major part in defining the behaviour. Since times have changed - it is a fiercely competitive field - there are notable but not good changes," he added.

Cricket is more about entertainment

Man Singh added that the dynamics of the game have changed to suit the audience. "It is simple, if we go to the basics, what is the idea of cricket? For a bowler, it is to get a batsman out and for a batsman, it is to score runs when the bowler is trying to get you out. That is cricket.

"But, today, in the shortest format of the game, each bowler gets to bowl only four overs and that too, you never know, in how many spells. It can be in one, two, three or even four spells. So, the bowler's idea is, out of those 24 balls, how many dot balls can I bowl and it is not how many batsmen I can dismiss. That is how it has changed," he explained.

Man Singh said the commercialisation of the sport started in England. "It was England, who started the concept of T20, keeping the dwindling audience in mind. A family that comes to watch will pay for the entrance and drinks and for what they eat or whatever and for the players, they’ll see some crowd. It is done to create a good outing for the family and not for cricket," he added.

The former Indian manager said fame and competition could bring disrepute to the game. "I strongly feel, no batsman would like to get out neither no bowler would like to get hit. That is human nature.

"But then, if this is overtaken by greed for money and fame, instances like ball-tampering and spot-fixing can happen."