Cricket kaleidoscope

Ignorance of Hindi is only a partial symptom of failing to commit totally to the Indian cause. The foreign instructor who coaches national Indian teams must empathise with things Indian: the culture, and the philosophies, as well as the language.


B. S. Chandrasekhar... the medium-paced top-spinner is in a class of his own.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The colourful diversity of the Indian sub-continent; its geography of the high Himalayas and the flood plains of its mighty rivers; its contrasting scenery and its people; their customs, governance, languages, vivid garb, unique religions and their intriguing history; all constitute the ineffable charm embodied in centuries of tradition and civilisation. Equally, certain aspects of its national game of cricket possess a peculiar "Indian-ness" not to be found in any other part of the sporting world.

Has there ever breathed a batsman with the deftness of touch to play the leg glance as did Ranjitsinhji, HH the Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar: the India maestro who practised his favourite stroke with his back foot pegged to the batting crease and who could entice the ball sometimes from outside the off-stump to fine leg and with such a surety of touch and eye-defying speed that it was said that the ball seemed to scorch the turf on its way to the boundary?

Has there ever bowled a bowler with the oriental magic in his fingers of another Bishen Bedi: a spinner who could impart a hanging flight to his deliveries, such that they inevitably dropped a metre short of the length anticipated by the most nimble footed of batsmen? Or a medium-paced top-spinner like Chandrasekhar whose ability to make the ball hurry on to the batsman rivalled that of Shane Warne? Who could cut later than Viswanath, coax the ball so productively into the square-leg area better than Azharuddin, blunt the West Indian pace attack more effectively than Gavaskar, bowl inswingers off the wrong-foot more accurately than "Lala" Amarnath or bowl more variations of left-arm spin more accurately than Vinoo Mankad? Each of these men were endowed with skills which were as quintessentially "Indian" as a sitar or wailer echoing over the waters from the Lake Palace at Udaipur. They displayed an intelligent assessment of their capabilities, patience, a punctilious exactitude of performance, a willingness to accept their "karma" and both a practical and aesthetic appreciation of their skills and an eagerness to enjoy them. These were indefinable talents: inexplicable in the modern biomechanical terminology of the sports scientist alone. They are uncoachable qualities: accomplishments naturally acquired from birth and applicable to many aspects of cricket — playing, coaching, even administrating.

Psychologists claim that they are able to induce the Ideal Performance State in the minds of players: a mental preparedness incorporating the exact proportions of relaxation and arousal needed for an excellent performance of their skills. They design mind exercises aimed at maximising focus, concentration, relaxation and mental toughness. Indian players have been using yoga to produce the same effects for hundreds of years. Nothing is new in the world today. Yoga has also been employed since time immemorial to stretch muscles and increase the range of movement in players' joints. Today they have just given the stretches a new name: "proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation."

Indian cricket has added much to the game's storehouse of information: and I believe that it has much more to add in the future, particularly if it trains and employs coaches whose native tongue is not English but Hindi. Communication is one of the key elements of effective coaching and I am of the opinion that a coach who instructs Indian players mainly in English, runs the risk of his nuances of meaning on the finer points of the game not being understood clearly on matters of technique and tactics by players under his command — most of whom speak and understand, as their primary channel of communication, one of the 15 major Indian languages or one of the hundreds of Indian dialects to be found on the sub-continent. Simple communication is essential to the coach's job and if he fails to get his message through at the first attempt he must try other approaches and further mediums. The presence of foreign coaches on the national cricket field I find to be an ironic paradox in a country, which denied the right to an Italian lady to lead a political party in the Lok Sabha and become Prime Minister — on the basis that she could not speak Hindi!

But ignorance of Hindi is only a partial symptom of failing to commit totally to the Indian cause. The foreign instructor who coaches national Indian teams must empathise with things Indian: the culture, and the philosophies, as well as the language. He must bond with the individual players, sharing their camaraderie and friendship; he must rejoice in their successes and be sad when they disappoint. He is of the team and for them. And there is no such thing as partial commitment to the cause of "Indianness".