Pointless controversies

In India, cricket is the ultimate, most powerful and instant ticket to success. But the abrupt shift from Jehangirpuri to Jorbagh is unsettling, the challenge (to borrow an expression from Greg Chappell) can be too hot to handle.

Whenever there is a scarcity of hard cricket news, media space is filled, like reruns of popular films, by recycling old issues. At present, we are caught up with matters of technology (man versus machine), too much money, too much cricket and the annoying inconsistency of the Indian team. Lots have been written on these topics but, as happens with popular TV serials, there are more episodes to be run. Bucknor sparked the umpiring debate by slamming technology and TV networks for deliberately sexing up — and cleverly manipulating — coverage. His rocket was in response to the ICC decision permitting the fielding side to make three referrals, in case of disputes, to the third umpire. So the raging debate now is: Are umpires meant to control the game,or has their role shrunk to that of merely counting balls.

To an extent, this is a powerful case for maintaining the role (also dignity) of the umpire but the counter point is, cricket has evolved, technology is a part of the game and will play an enlarged role down the line. This process of machine assisting man is irreversible — like toothpaste out of a tube it can't be put back.

Today, teams can ask for an over-rule; tomorrow leg before appeals could be settled by the computer or hawkeye.

Take also the `hungama' about too much cricket. Earlier in the summer India played in Abu Dhabi, then rushed to the West Indies, and before the domestic season starts in October will go to Sri Lanka apart from making an appearance somewhere in North America, the last a fund-raising / thanksgiving gesture to the West Indies for backing our World Cup bid.

Is the international schedule too punishing? Are players being exploited by a cash hungry administration? Is there too much cricket. The answer to all of the above: No.

Also, will this lead to drug use by players, as pointed out by FICA? Or is Tim May and Co. screaming their heads off without reason? Whatever the reality, it is unlikely the schedules will be relaxed. This because modern sport is driven by economics and in a commercial world these issues are decided by the market, the boundaries set by the invisible forces of demand and supply. Once this is done, the rest fits in, which means if a player can't take the heat, he simply sits out, his place taken by someone who is not tired or burnt out. As the treadmill of cricket can't be switched off, players must run fast enough to stay on it or drop off. SMG gave this controversy a different spin by saying national pride should make players play 365 days if required. The views of the Master are always spot on, they emanate from experience, wisdom and common sense and, whatever stance one adopts on this issue, the bottom line is cricket, like water in a mountain stream and time, does not stop. As simple as that.

The third pointless controversy is about Indian players minting money, therefore getting distracted, therefore performing poorly. Speculation about what Dhoni makes and what Sachin is worth is interesting — masala — but to connect these figures to the score book is a bit too much.

In India, top cricketers will earn top bucks because cricket is powerful and players will rightly exploit commercial opportunities that come their way.

This is contemporary reality, so why make a noise whenever someone scores a zero or drops a sitter? Players did this, and more horrible things, even when they got hundred rupees for representing the country. Also, please note, there is no reliable study that links inconsistent or unsatisfactory performance to liberal financial returns.

Perhaps the most durable, and popular controversy (besides players being spoilt by money) is about the Indian team's inability to perform consistently. Which also leads to the related point about seeking not just foreign help (coach / physio / trainer) but something stronger, ranging from specialised inputs to divine intervention.

Special inputs can come, for example, from a sports psychologist while super special help is sourced from visits to shrines and pleas to avoid `sarpdosh'. The first certainly helps, the expert mind doctor reminds players to focus on essentials and reject what is peripheral.

Success comes from getting small steps right consistently, good batting is not about the huge cover drive but looking closely at the ball — with head still and eyes focussed on the seam — and not offering a shot.

Come to think of it, the message of most gurus, be it Sandy Gordon/Rudi Webster or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Deepak Chopra, is almost the same. All of them talk about keeping things simple, their messages present easy solutions, they offer normal solutions. At an ordinary level this is what Delhi Police also says when drivers are urged to stick to lanes — it is simple, and self evident, but it is useful to be reminded.

One observer, looking at the Indian team, made a telling point about players becoming a victim of their superstar status. He thought the celebrity status, the enlarged image and incredible adulation, created an imbalance in their lives — at one level they are normal persons in a competitive environment, players under pressure from zonal selectors. But in another world (created by fans/media/sponsors) they are privileged trendsetters and leaders placed much above normal persons, certainly higher than judges who played two Tests 20 years ago.

This mismatch, the double role in real life, is a colossal burden when star status is achieved suddenly. How does a student from a small town, without training or warning, cope with the glare and attention?

In India, cricket is the ultimate, most powerful and instant ticket to success. But the abrupt shift from Jehangirpuri to Jorbagh is unsettling, the challenge (to borrow an expression from Greg Chappell) can be too hot to handle.