Talking Shop: Last sporting chance

The India men’s cricket team and its major players are toggling their minds, for the end may well be nigh. Two World Cups beckon, or their world is kazoomba

Talking Shop: Last sporting chance

“You have to expect

things of yourself

before you can do them.”

Michael Jordan

I generally don’t write about sports. I am doing so today only because the bells are a-tolling for the Indian men’s cricket team and its players, particularly the celebrated ones. They have but a few months to pull the (c)parrot out of the proverbial hat. I am not mentioning cucumbers, rabbits, pigeons and other paraphernalia that can be mysteriously hidden inside magicians’ head-gear and pulled out for a clear cheer; I am forgetting those for a bit.

What I do remember is what transpired just this last week, which makes the immediate future look dismal and abysmal for Indian cricket. In the third 50:50 ODI against a gritty Australia in Chennai, India was cruising most of the way, but our stalwarts suddenly decided to display needless bravado and reckless abandon, abject indiscipline and sporting immaturity, handing the platter to a till-then dejected yellows, who within an hour trounced our mighty ‘Men in Blue’.

Remember that our blue(eyed) sportsmen make more in a month than most of us shall in a lifetime, but the nation worships them nonetheless. The point is this—the rope is stretching thin for some of these undeserving heroes, for it has perhaps been strung too low for too long. It is time to pray, not for you or me. Let them now prove their worth to continue living in their chosen, self-anointed and immaculate world. Don’t get me wrong. When any game happens, be it in sports, politics, economics or Corporate, someone wins and there’s a loser. But let’s not metamorphose part-time wannabes into self-ascertained and proclaimed high-achievers, zealots who look in the mirror and see superheroes in the shiny reflection.

Dangerous times

I will be trolled for writing this, but so be it. Before you reach for your mobile devices to damn me for my words, do think of our fathers, mothers and former generations, most of who struggled to provide for us, give us a good education. In the process, they buried their own personal dreams of owning a Bajaj scooter or an Ambassador car. Such was life, and such is life still. The average Indian Premier League Player (IPL) earns around Rs 3-4 crore per year through his three-year contract, with the Board also paying the sportsman handsome amounts. Luckily, the women’s teams have also started making delectable money, and I am glad. It is about time we moved above mere lip-service, sloganeering and started implementing the equality of rights and achievement, sporting or otherwise.

Let’s speak of hockey, kho-kho and football players in India, who still earn next to nothing, unless you are a Baichung Bhutia in football. In sports such as gymnastics or javelin, unless you are a Dipa Karmakar from Tripura or a Neeraj Chopra from Haryana, respectively, you are subjugated to dingy practice areas and dirty rest-rooms; mere second-hand treatment. Remember ‘Chak De India’—a reiteration of the Indian victorious women’s hockey team at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, which inspired screenwriter Jaideep Sahni to create a film about the team and its achievements? Sahni modelled Kabir Khan (played by Shah Rukh Khan) on hockey coach Maharaj Krishan Kaushik.

Let’s accept it. Life’s like that. That is perhaps why the earners of today have to provide an answer to the yearners of yesterday, if only to justify and explain away their blossoming fortunes. They can do this by simply living up to their belayed promises of being superhuman. Tattoos and fringe-haircuts are nice; performance on the field would be nicer. Or the end is nigh. It is time to make the bat the bait, and a ball a bail, if we talk cricket.

Yesterday’s superstars

Think of the sporting superstars of yesterday, and I shall not take their names, for I revere them way too much to demean them in such a mediocre column. I have seen former test cricket openers standing in line for milk at 6 am in the morning at Mother Dairy outlets. I have watched benefit matches held just to help raise funds for life-saving medical treatment, which they cannot afford anymore. I have interviewed a few who are now selling vegetables and plastic mugs in Delhi’s slums to provide for their families.

I spoke to a celebrated Indian wrestler in 1989, one who competed for India in two categories at the 1964 Summer Olympics. At 11 in the morning, I found him drunk, sleeping in front of his abandoned fruit cart in a Delhi slum, sporting less than a quarter of his once-impressive musculature. Woken up, he started weeping and told me he was heartbroken and devastated—he knew he had a road named after him in Delhi, but no means to fend for his family. A year after I interviewed him, he passed on to a better place. Good for him, given the circumstances.

For that same story in 1989 for a leading newspaper, I interviewed India’s then leading horseman, a former Asian Games contender who had been reduced to being the manager of a seedy hotel in Delhi’s Pahar Ganj area, bang opposite New Delhi Railway Station. For those in the know, this is an area marred by drugs, shady deals and shadier living. He cried too. In the Year 1989 and for that same story, I found only one sportsperson who was well off—a lady Badminton champion who was then a Professor of Sports at Jawaharlal Nehru University. I played with her at JNU and beat her by a whisker (perhaps only because she was, by then, more than double my age). Such are immortals born, but yet, such is how they spend their golden years. I can share their names with anyone who wants deeper insights.

Why this thought?

Well, because the mismatch is heart-breaking and unacceptable. Our old sporting stalwarts should not be forgotten, much as the new wannabes should not be celebrated before they create an indelible and unforgettable mark on their own chosen turf. Since we started the column with men’s cricket, let’s close with our men too. I wish our ‘Men in Blue’ the best of luck in the next two upcoming World Cup encounters; the Test World Cup Finals and the One-Day International World Cup. In ODIs, Kap’s Devils and then Dhoni and his mad-hatters got us through, once each in 1983 and 2011. In the Test Cricket World Cup arena, we have the Oval opportunity beginning 7 June 2023 to make amends.

Either way, the celebrations shall begin—win or lose, so long as we play and do things with poise, dignity and grace. After all, it is just sports. An old Japanese saying called Kintsugi says join anything that breaks with gold, if only to create something bigger, better, valuable and more respected. We now need Kintsugi in our ranks; be it political, spiritual, religious or moral, and to believe in ourselves. For as Lady Jessica Ennis-Hill once said: “The only one who can tell you (that) you can’t win is you and you don’t have to listen.” Don’t.

The writer is a veteran journalist and communications specialist. He can be reached on Views expressed are personal

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