The crazy mix of cricket and culture

DAVID BECKHAM gets big bucks for selling T-shirts but what makes county clubs sign Indian players? Runs, of course, but even in these contracts, when examined closely, cash plays a big part though the numbers in cricket are not crazy as in football.

AMRIT MATHUR

DAVID BECKHAM gets big bucks for selling T-shirts but what makes county clubs sign Indian players? Runs, of course, but even in these contracts, when examined closely, cash plays a big part though the numbers in cricket are not crazy as in football. When Leicester contracts Sehwag they do so with one eye on the score book and the other on the potential revenue they will make with his arrival. The decision to hire him is based more on cash than cricket.

Usually, money for such recruitment comes not from normal club funds but as a gift from a generous donor/sponsor. Once the basic cost — down payment between 60,000 to 100, 000 pounds — is met the club looks for other sponsors to provide ghar and gaadi to the overseas player. If these efforts are successful, and marketing efforts bear fruit, the club acquires a commercially hot celebrity cricketer, at practically no direct cost.

Clubs strive to import known players because they stand to benefit enormously by their presence. Sehwag, for instance, is supposed to boost club membership and attract more spectators which, in turn, will generate other financial spinoffs. Just as Beckcham's signing is linked to shirts, Sehwag's contract is connected to the beers sold in the pub, the cars in the parking lot and meals handed out from the eating outlet.

In India, political parties choose candidates in elections on the basis of his winning prospects. In England, counties operate on somewhat similar lines, only they pick players after carefully assessing various financial implications. Of course there is extensive talk about cricket (the argument that foreign players raise the quality of play) but in the end economics matters. In this, even the nationality of the foreign player is a factor because it must match the demographic composition of the county. An Indian player will be targeted by a county with a sizeable Indian population, which again shows that cricket matches politics because candidates are put up on the basis of the caste break up of the electorate.

Players view county cricket as basic education because it exposes them to different conditions. They know the grind is helpful, it teaches them the critical lesson that they must, always, deliver and accept responsibility. The highly paid pro is told he has to contribute more than his less gifted mates. The message is direct: We are paying you good money so we should get good value. This every pro understands, even Indian players realise that the basic relationship of player/administrators is different in England. In India, at least in Ranji, a Test player is king, people look up to him, he gets special treatment and routinely pushes the limits to derive advantage in many ways. A star player may not land up for team training sessions, he will choose matches to suit his convenience and act in a manner that demonstrates his special status in cricket's hierarchy.

Such special treatment is unthinkable in England. Here, players are answerable and accountable, and given the employer/employee relationship between players and officials, the system does not tolerate tantrums, nor does it provide special privileges. In the professional world of county cricket there is no place for favours, no bhaav, no allowances for huge egos.

This cultural reality, based on equality, can be irksome for someone used to being treated like royalty. Perhaps this explains why Indians have not made a mark in county cricket. The challenge can't possibly be cricketing because there is no shortage of bowlers running in to toss up lollipops, and give long hops to put away. County cricket is not a great test of skills for top class players but when seen in the overall context of a way of life for 6 months, it poses a massive burden.

The problem is more cultural than cricket and the real test for Indian players is posed by an alien lifestyle. In this struggle, even small things become big issues whether it is making tea, doing dishes, washing clothes, driving the car or going down to the supermarket to stock up on groceries.

That players are expected to fend for themselves and attend to their non-cricket needs is a difficult task. Specially when they have hundred persons at home in attendance, willing to do anything they might want. What makes it worse is most counties have a tradition where players sit around after a game, chat and have a drink. Which to our boys is exceedingly painful because they are unused to such social contact, they prefer to be on their own instead of hanging around in a pub wasting their time.

There is a lesson to be learnt, however, in all this. Which is that an aspiring cricketer must acquire new skills and develop his personality to cope with the new demands imposed on him. When a young 18 year old is suddenly moved from Kanpur or Cuttack to Kent , he will have problems of adjustment. How does he manage the media, talk business to marketing managers, handle social commitments, and carry on with cricket in the midst of all this?

Over the years , Indians have enjoyed only modest success in England. Bishan Bedi, Dilip Doshi , Engineer contributed to their counties; thereafter SMG, Kapil, Shastri , Azhar had successful but not spectacular stints.

Even Tendulkar did not make the runs everyone thought he would, though Yorkshire was thrilled by his impeccable conduct. Sourav received flak for having an attitude (for which he is now praised), critics alleged he was wrapped up in his own world and some commented adversely on the colour of his sneakers.

Perhaps the only Indian to completely adjust — and succeed — is Rahul Dravid who is remembered as a model player who performed and contributed to team effort.

Also, Rahul struck the right notes with the media and the sponsors, both of whom are terribly important in a commercial atmosphere.

But whatever happens in terms of runs and averages, Sehwag/Yuvraj/Kaif will return from England with a broader outlook and a superior understanding of cricket's professional side.

They would have realised that nowadays it is not enough to make runs, the modern cricketer should be multi-skilled. Every player has to be an all-rounder.