The image overshadows reality

Published : Dec 01, 2001 00:00 IST

WHEN king Ashoka surveyed the battle ground in Kalinga what did he see? Well, it is not possible to give you a completely accurate picture because there wasn't any live coverage of the event, but most commentators agree that what met the emperor's eye was not a pretty sight. Ashoka saw carnage, misery, huge destruction and death, all of which left him deeply disappointed and the despair had such a profound impact he resolved to shun violence. His second innings thus started with a firm belief in peace.

Does a person observing Indian cricket also see, like Ashoka, devastation all round? Again, it is difficult to make an accurate comment because the general picture is, shall we say, gloomy. From time to time there are flashes of individual brilliance that gladden the hearts of 100 crore Indians but the team continues to lose. For some strange reason we can't play pace, there are no openers, fielding is hardly a strength and our record abroad remains truly miserable. But these failings are age old, they have been with us from 1932 when the Indians went on their first overseas tour. All cricket gurus (from Vizzy to Sidhu, Navjot Singh to some Symcox) have dwelt on this subject and spoken in great detail.

What is however new and alarming is the rapid rate at which players get injured. Srinath and Kumble broke down because of overuse, both bowled a million overs and in the process pushed their bodies beyond a point. But why does Dighe (who went half way across the world, discovered he wasn't fit and returned) break down? Why should Ramesh hurt his back? Why must Vijay Dahiya's shin give up... how come a gentle spinner like Rahul Sanghvi misses games due to a side strain?

Of course, injuries are part of the game, more so when players play every day and physical strain increases from rigorous training. While this is a fact of cricket life (just as sledging, showing dissent and aggressive appealing), widespread breakdowns reinforce the stereotype that Indian players are unfit, not strong enough to take the wear and tear of non-stop top grade cricket action.

While this may not be a correct assessment it shows that all of us have set notions about Indian cricket and we only see things we want to see. Nothing illustrates this mindset of preconceived ideas more than the business of attaching attractive tags to top players and manufacturing a convenient image for them. Once this is done, a lot of effort goes into sustaining and perpetuating - the myth.

Look at our captain, the so-called Prince from a city which did not have princes. He is projected as an imperious Maharaj, the tough talking, plain- speaking, no-nonsense, I shoot before I think kind of a leader whose blood pressure is inversely related to his batting average. He intimidates umpires, barks at colleagues, battles opponents, bullies selectors. The old jungle saying about the Phantom (even trees tremble when he is angry) could be conveniently used to describe the Indian captain.

Reports suggest he was pampered as a child, and prefers to maintain the same life style in his youth. Which is why the darbari style of functioning, the strong likes/dislikes, the autocratic streak, the flashes of temper, the superior attitude. That is the image. But is it reality? Who knows?

Now, look at the vice-captain, the cool dude from Bangalore whose image contrasts sharply with that of the captain. Dravid is as sensible and serene as a sadhu who took sanyas seven years ago. He is mature, stable, unflappable - he does not shake or move. If told about a raging fire two feet away, he won't scream or panic; he'd just step aside, let the fire pass and resume work. The image? Dravid is always in control, he is a wall/rock/boulder/ something impossible to topple.

Srinath does not have a strong image, his sombre personality is unsuited to fancy designer tags. He is known simply as India's finest fast bowler after Kapil Dev and for taking 200 plus Test wickets. Kumble is the studious, serious type who sends out a signal that you should not mess around with him. He slogged in school but now plays with balls and computers and stays totally focussed on the game. Bowls deadly legspin, is respected more for efficiency than flair and always conducts himself with poise. Kumble does not stray and maintains a steady line, all of which is uninteresting if viewed from a certain angle because there is no whiff of scandal, no alliance with starlets, no partying in discos.

Surprisingly, the biggest player of them all, Sachin, does not fit into a convenient slot, it is difficult to hang a label on this superstar. At number 4, the Little Champion (as the SMG calls him fondly) is in a zone of his own. But as a personality he is a commoner without any special title, he is best described as a cruise missile whose goal is scoring runs and smashing bowlers. That is why all talk about him is centred round statistics, centuries and crores.

Sachin does not talk much but his bat issues strong statements. Does not encourage discussion about cricket, what to say about peripheral subjects such as jeans or colas.

This reticence indicates a natural shyness and a fierce desire to maintain privacy. Still, as India's greatest sporting hero and number one role model, Sachin can't escape the media, everything about him is news. He is an extraordinarily gifted player whose consistent - and relentless - pursuit of excellence is matched only by Lata Mangeshkar.

Just as players have tags attached to them, so does the Indian team. We win at home on designer akharas but crumble abroad. As the ball rises our wickets - and hopes - fall which is why some obscure player by the name of Blignaut knocks us down and we reconfirm our dubious status as tame Tigers who hunt only at home. The final, enduring image of the Indian team? A bunch of enormously talented individuals who succumb under pressure and don't play to potential.

Normally, for players, the image is far removed from the actual. But the Indian team's aks (the reflection) and asliyat (the reality) is the same!

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment