No more Gentleman’s game

Indian cricket has never had such success. The men’s team has won and sealed the one-day series against South Africa and our women cricket team  is all over the South African women’s side. India’s cricket team for the blind won the “Blind Cricket World Cup”, beating Pakistan in a thrilling encounter.

Also, the under-19 Indian cricket team won the World Cup in New Zealand. The way these youngsters performed throughout the tournament was wonderful. There was an air of confidence and superiority in their play in the manner similar to their present seniors.

However, the behaviour they showed during the match was of concern. It was deplorable. One probably attributes this to modern cricket and co-operates function in order to achieve success. Our present Indian captain, Virat Kohli and his team, are also seen showing a similar attitude. Sportsmen and sport teams have become the role models whom the young Indians are emulating, not only when they are playing but also in the way in which they handle their daily life. The aggressive gestures and unruly behaviour of a cricketer, which is seen at the fall of a wicket or after taking a catch, does not augur well for cricket in the future. The players have to realise that their every action on the field, is being beamed all over the world. Cricket does not require any such act of conduct. They might  be doing it because they now want to be seen making an impact in order to get recognition and therefore, do merry song and dance to ensure that they are seen, heard and remembered. There were and are many sportsmen whose conduct after the highest echelon of success one marvels. Recently, Roger Federer set an example after winning 20 Grand Slam title. Similarly, the likes of Bjorn Borg, Michael Schumacher and our very own MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Viswanathan Anand, Prakash Padukone were always seen to be so humble in all their victories. A true sign of greatness.

Cricket, as one called it, was a gentlemen’s game and that is precisely why it differentiated itself from the English games such as rugby, football and many of the other body contact sports played in the British Isles.

In the past, cricket coaches not only taught one the nuances of the game of cricket but were very strict about the way it was played. An Umpires decision was supreme and was never questioned or challenged. Good manners and behaviour was important in a cricketer’s way of life, on and off the field.

But cricket changed in 1932, when Douglas Jardine, captain of England, in his desperation to beat the Australians adopted the “body line” approach. The hard-red cricket ball can be as deadly a weapon as a cannon ball, when hurled at a high speed. The plan to hurt and bruise the batsman was the first ungentlemanly act that rocked cricket. The Australians thereafter, responded with verbal sledging. This unfortunately, became the way to get a player agitated and to disturb his concentration to get him out. This behaviour soon filtered into club, 1st class and even school level cricket.

The success of the West Indian side in the 80s, was a blessing in disguise. They played their cricket in true cavalier style and with a battery of fast bowlers they did not need to use any unfair methods to get a batsman out. The West Indies success was a breath of fresh air for cricket. Furthermore, the commercial gains and interest led to more matches and interaction between players. The atmosphere between players became friendlier and one felt an air of respect and maturity amongst each other.

Presently, however, one can see the trend changing. The atmosphere of pleasantry that had prevailed in the cricketing world is heading towards aggression between teams and players. This is precisely why one was concerned while watching the U-19 World Cup matches. One could see acts and gestures, which in the good old days would have got them a spanking from their teacher or coach.

An incident that happened when I played for Wadia College in Pune still lingers with me. Our coach was the legendry Kamal Bhandarkar, who during his time was a well renowned first-class cricketer. He was a gentleman and disciplinarian. I remember taking a catch and then throwing the ball up in the air and giving the batsman an unwarranted send-off. On returning to the pavilion after our victory, he came up to me. He not only reprimanded me for my behaviour, but punished me with taking three rounds of the ground. This was a lesson that I never forgot, but it left an indelible mark on every other player as well. His views were that once you got a player out, humiliating him by unnecessary gestures is not cricket.

The spirit of playing cricket the way it should be played needs to be injected through talks and educational programs up to all levels of cricketers. One can play it hard but respecting fellow cricketers and opponents is of utmost importance as well.

The media and the television world is making a cricketer into a human spectacle. Cricketers are putting on an act to show themselves. This is why one marvels at sports winners who win with humility. The Indian cricket team, the most popular side in the world, can be true ambassadors of the game, but they need to play it in a gentleman’s way.

(The author is a former India cricketer)