The year 2019 has started with a bang for Indian cricket. A historic series win against Australia after a long wait of 71 years, is a remarkable achievement. Although the present Australian side is languishing at number 5 in the Test ranking, a victory against them in their own backyard is never an easy task.
The Indian team quite naturally celebrated this win with plenty of Bollywood style gaiety and dancing on the ground and in their hotel thereafter. India, being the top ranked side in 2018, one expected a similar result from them in South Africa and England. Unfortunately, this did not happen and the Indian side came out a cropper. The tour down under was the final opportunity for the Indian side to showcase their ability. Critics had their swords sharpened and one could feel the pressure of them being beheaded if the Indian team had not come through successfully. The celebration and the relief that of every Indian player and their support staff after the victory made one realize how close they were in escaping a final burial. There was a bit of a flutter in the hearts of all the Indian cricket fans and lovers when the Australian side fought to equal the score-line by winning the 2nd Test match. One wondered if the present Indian side had the mental toughness to pull through. They did so with flying colours. The biggest win from the Indian victory has been that of “Test cricket”. Indians, the biggest followers of the game, realised the value and importance of the finer points of the game that go into winning a cricket series overseas.
Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli, both quite vehemently expressed the importance of winning in “real cricket” and quite understandably gave this win a better standing than either the 1983 and 2011 Indian World Cup wins. This may come as a surprise and a shock to many followers of the game, but for a cricketer, especially one from the older generation, a cricket win was associated with playing the traditional form of the game, “Test cricket”. The limited over game is what one popularly refers to as “Pajama cricket ”, although it has a far bigger following and more commercial success, it does not have the depth, character and traits that the royal game of cricket stands for. Cricket is “ a way of life” and the limited over versions took that very sheen away. The most wonderful feat and achievement that emerged from the Australian- Indian Test series, was the batting of Cheteshwar Pujara. His success showed how difficulties in life could be conquered. His patience, determination and concentration in playing through difficult and arduous conditions was heartwarming. His battle against the Australian bowling attack and bringing them down to their knees through some determined batting was a feat to marvel at. The run-rate gave way to technique and patience and watching Pujara bat was as absorbing and wonderful as watching one of Virendra Sehwag’s swashbuckling innings.
Pujara is a true hero in all respects and an example of a man committed not only to the sport but also to his country. The reason being that during his tenacious knock of 193 runs in the Sydney Test match his father was undergoing major surgery in Mumbai and he continued to remain in Australia and play the match. Unlike, Rohit Sharma, who flew into India to see his newly born child and missed playing the Test match. Pujara showed qualities par excellence. One can understand Rohit’s concern and commitment for being with his family on such a happy and important occasion, but to relinquish playing a Test match for the country at a very crucial juncture, shows how he perceives and values his profession. The comfort of retaining his place in the Test side and his wealthy financial status, the majority of it being acquired through IPL, showcases the present mental state of an Indian cricketer.
The Australian cricket board, after the famous ball tampering incident, undertook a study and published a report that brought out the ugly direction that their cricket had taken. The report strongly brought them out to be arrogant and bent on winning at all costs. The present Australian side, therefore, made a constructive effort in changing their attitude and one hopes and prays that the Indian cricket side does not go the old Australian way.
The recent episode of two Indian cricketers, Hardik Pandya and C.L. Rahul ,on a popular Television program is a prime example of the way in which an Indian cricketer has started behaving. They came through as naïve school boys, boasting about their exploits off the field, without an element of decorum or maturity. The sharp presenter tactfully exploited them and they finally emerged as rich, spoilt brats who have no scruples about anything in life. One barely recovered from the crude exploits of the senior cricketers, that there was news about a Mumbai U-16 side that had one of their players “Flashing” at his teammates. The team was also involved in a brawl at their hotel in Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh. Junior cricket, these days, is full of many such incidents and shocking behaviour towards their coaches and fellow cricketers. The way the senior Indian cricketers behave has a major impact on the young aspiring ones. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is a wonderful platform for the young but it can also expose them to the lavish lifestyle of the rich and famous senior stars. One can imagine a Mumbai Indian youngster in the company of a Hardik Pandya, who proudly stated on the television show about his zero performance in education and his desire to possess all the paraphernalia that stands for the rich and famous. He considers himself a woman’s man and his and his family’s attitude towards how disgracefully they perceive women can never be condoled just by an apology. His inappropriate behaviour is what a young cricketer could follow.
The BCCI needs to put in place training programs on how to handle social media, behaviour, as well as, the recent buzzword that cooperates are stressing on, “emotional quotient” (EQ). Managing one's emotions, having respect for Diversity, courteous and mature behaviour is as essential as having cricketing skills.
The test of the present cricketer will be not as to how many runs and wickets he has made or taken but by the “ impact” that he has made to the game of cricket, not only on the field but off it as well. That will be his true scorecard of life.
(The writer is former India cricketer)