Wake up India!

Home truths for the Blue Billion… and some.

Here are some of the reactions of cricket fans on the electronic media after the loss to Sri Lanka that sealed India’s fate in the World Cup 2007:

It’s a bloody disgrace. Chappell should be sacked.
Ganguly is the only one who plays for the team.
I am disgusted. I am never going to watch cricket again.
Dravid has done nothing as captain except become a ‘chamcha’ (lackey) of Greg Chappell.
Bring back Dalmiya. Make Ganguly captain.
The whole world must be laughing at us. The richest board in the world. The richest cricketers in the game. And this is how we perform.
It’s scandalous. I am shocked and devastated. It’s a national shame.

India is upset because we lost to Sri Lanka. So am I. But I am not shocked. India is shocked that we lost to Bangladesh. So am I. But I am not devastated and certainly don’t think it’s a disgrace or a national shame.

You know what’s a disgrace? It’s a disgrace that Dhoni’s house was damaged in Ranchi. It’s a disgrace that Sachin’s house and other property have to be provided special protection from ‘lovers’ of the ‘game’. You think the world is laughing at us because we did not proceed to the next round. Well, you are wrong. They are amused at how we react to it.

One can write about what could be done differently by Team India and one intends to on another day. But even that would just be an opinion howsoever well argued and thought out. However, this piece is not about that. This is about some home truths that we, the ‘Blue Billion’, need to confront. As with all home truths, these are harsh to the ears and bitter to tongue. But howsoever painful they are to the ear drums they need to be heard, and howsoever bitter to the tongue they need to be swallowed, nay chewed, and not spat out in rage; for we are in need of strong medicine much more desperately than our cricket and cricketers are.

Here they are:

1. Cricket is played and watched by mortals:

Firstly, cricket is played by mortals, against other mortals. Sometimes these other mortals can play the game as well as us, and some times much better than us. Secondly, it is played in a real world. Deifying your cricket stars does not turn them into Gods. They remain mortals, as much subject to the vagaries of loss of form, poor fitness, poor attitude, bad luck or plain poor skills. Others can and will, sometimes at the very least, outdo them in one or more of these and other areas that affect a team’s performance. At those times we will lose. And it’s not subject purely to a law of averages. Better teams WILL win more often than lesser teams, and if we are losing more often we may simply not be the better team.

I don’t know if Lord Ganesh or Ma Ambe are watching the World Cup, but I doubt if all the havans (rituals where offerings are made to the holy fire and Gods) and jagratas (nightlong religious chanting) are likely to help either. It can’t said if it’s because of indifference of Lord/Ma Ganesh and Ambe towards cricket and Indian cricketers or a problem between Indian Gods and those supporting other countries.

2. A billion dollars can not buy a World Cup… nor can a billion people:

Just because we have by far the richest cricket board in the world, or because our cricketers earn millions from the game and billions from endorsements, does not make our claim to the trophy bigger or our ouster at the first step so staggeringly difficult to comprehend. All that the billions ensure is that they attract all types to the game, its administration and its marketing. Power will, and has, become the primary factor in the running of the game, and we know who are the truly powerful in our part of the world.

The cricketers don’t become better with money, and the administration of the game does become, in fact can become, deficient in some respects when the amount touches such gigantic proportions. That again is another subject for another discussion on another day.

There is another common refrain of the Indian fan. ‘It’s a shame we are more than a billion people and we lose to countries like New Zealand and Australia who are no more, in number, than those in our Metros!’. Having been ruled for centuries by those from very small nations, one would have thought we would have learnt long back that quantity or sheer numbers stopped mattering in the world long time ago.

3. The game is played on 22 yards of grass and not 22 inches of a glass screen:

Just because the jokers on the mushrooming news channels find new heroes, new villains and new conspiracy theories every three and a half days doesn’t mean that anyone wasting his time listening to them is going to become an instant expert in all aspects of the game.

If you believe, with justification, that the BCCI honchos are in it for the money, and neither care for, nor know much about the game, you may be fairly correct. If you believe, with much less justification, that the cricketers care only for the money and not for the game, you are probably right about the money aspect, but a bit harsh about not caring for the game. But does anyone have any view about the electronic media? They are not in it because they care for the game. They are not in it because they understand the game. What most of them know about the game can be written on a TV knob.

They are in it for the money – plain and simple. The SMS message they ask the Blue Billion to send on team selection, the ills of Indian cricket, the remedies for Indian cricket’s illness, who should be captain or coach, who is the real villain etc. etc. are all there to make us feel that you can bat better, bowl better, lead better, coach better, select better, administer better and judge better than anyone else. But all it does is that the millions of messages keep the cash registers ringing and the billions keep pouring in from better viewership.

One has no issues with that. These are commercial enterprises, and they are there to make money. The problem is the power of the electronic media. The number of people who are conditioned by the idiot box (how appropriate that sounds at times) is staggering. It’s a fact that while those who are getting passionate (obsessive may be more appropriate) about the game are growing in numbers, cricket-illiteracy has reached unprecedented levels in our country. This is a fact. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get into a cricket discussion which combines objectivity and knowledge of the game with personal opinions. This was not always the case. That is a huge loss.

The idiot box is reducing the level of cricket debate in the country, as it is in many other areas. The quantity (the many of hours devoted by news channels everyday to cricket) may appear staggering, but the quality is zilch. There are still a few good writers in the print media, but their reach is limited.

4. The coach is not allowed to bat, bowl or field:

Just imagine: we have 11 Gods playing for us and another four waiting on the sidelines. A few dozen Gods rooting for us from the heavens and this devilish mortal from Australia, with an arrogant manner (when compared to his soft spoken predecessor) and an upward pointing middle finger, manages to turn all of them into pygmies and worse. Incredible!

Greg Chappell has not scored a single duck, not dropped a single catch, not missed a single run out, not muffed a single stumping, and not bowled a single long hop or a full toss, for India. That honor belongs to our ‘Gods’ in blue. And irrespective of what that kid on TV might claim, even they did not do it because Chappell instructed them to do so. And yet he is ‘Public Enemy # 1′, and castigated by one and all for Indian cricket’s predicament.

I once wrote an article called ‘Saas Bahu aur Chappell’. For the uninitiated, the title is a spoof on a TV series called Saas Bahu aur Saazish meaning ‘Daughter-in-law, mother-in-law and Conspiracy’ which was a spoof on another atrocious and popular never-ending soap opera on Indian television. In transferring it from my laptop to the desktop I lost the file in an operating system crash. Sheer laziness stopped me from writing it all over again. I mention it here to point to the role played by the media in painting Chappell with the black brush.

This is not to say that the coach has no role to play in the game. Yes he has, and a good coach IS different from a bad coach. Also two good coaches may differ on the process to be followed (not by and large on the technical aspects of the game). However, let’s understand that if you switched Whatmore and Buchannan around, the fortunes of Australia and Bangladesh would not change dramatically. Both are good coaches, and both may bring about some new ideas in their jobs. But at the end of the day, Bangladesh cricketers would have to make a massive improvement in their skills to be under Buchannan what Australia would be under Whatmore. And, more pertinently, Whatmore is not going to bring Australia down to the Bangladesh level. Only terrible cricket by Australians will do that.

One may not agree with Chappell on some issues, but he is not responsible for Indian cricketers performing poorly. We may change him, and in all probability will, but Indian cricket will not necessarily improve just by changing the coach.

Pakistan continues to flounder not because of the departed Bob Woolmer’s stint as their coach, but in spite of it. If cruel hands had not taken him away so tragically, he would surely have been humiliated and sacked by the Pakistan cricket establishment. Don’t lend even a partial ear to all that is being said today in that country about how great a coach he was and how much he did for Pakistan cricket.

India and Pakistan need to look at how they treat their coaches and captains. Look at the successful teams around the world and look at how they treat them, and we may have a better idea about what’s wrong with our cricket.

By the way, a good coach is a good coach. He is not white or colored – indigenous or foreigner. Whatmore is not a Bengali, Wright wasn’t an Indian, Sandeep Patil wasn’t a Kenyan and Woolmer wasn’t Irish. India needs a good coach, and if it is an Indian – great. If it’s a South African – so what? To say that we must have an Indian coach is as stupidly parochial as saying that Wasim and Waqar are traitors to Pakistan for allegedly considering coaching Indian bowlers.

5. Believe it or not – but it really is just a game:

Just because we invoke the Gods to help us get the World Cup doesn’t make it religion. Just because we fight over a single player’s selection in the country’s parliament doesn’t make it a matter of national importance. Just because we burn effigies of captain and coach on our streets, damage the houses of cricketers, issue threats to their families, doesn’t mean we love the game and our country’s prestige and image more than those who don’t. All it does is to show to the world at large that we do not understand a simple basic truth about cricket. That it’s just a game. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Remember this, and we can discuss the game, Indian cricket and what should be our team for the next series. It is great fun doing that, and remains one of the most enjoyable aspects of this beautiful game. Ignore this fact, and all we can do is rave and rant. The enjoyment is lost both from watching the game and discussing it. Remember then that your frustration, dejection, disgust and feeling of apparent disgrace are purely of your own making.

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