Mercenaries of Cricket

Anand was so ecstatic… he was probably bursting with joy along with sutli bombs that he was setting off in the month of September (a good one month before Diwali)… Jash & Umang were dancing tirelessly & gleefully (if not gracefully!!!) right in the middle of the road to the sounds of a dhol (& I thought Navratri was still some days away)… Jay was busy messaging his pride (& fingers) away to every single soul he knew… In a corner Mansukh uncle, Vijay kaka & Iqbalbhai regaled the moment by blissfully musing over how they celebrated the same event 24 years ago… even Shanti aunty & her mahila mandal were busy in gossiping about how this craziness was brewing in their homes over for 2 weeks (no daughter in laws bitching, no bhajan kirtan talks… nothing else was being discussed!!!)…

And while I was observing all this, my sweet little darling Prerna came up to me & said “Jo yu uncle, kidhu hatu ne… aapdi “team” jeete jashe (See Uncle, I told you na, our “team” would win)”…

Yes… I could see… I could hear… & I could feel… feel the enthusiasm of this unscheduled, unplanned & yet the mother of all festivals being celebrated in every single home, office & roads of India… A festivity of exuberance being fittingly celebrated not on the basis of blind emotions… but one driven vivaciously by the thrill of a stupendous & well-deserved achievement…

India had, after all, won a Cricket World Cup (& that too against Pakistan) that day!!!

This was in September 2007… Twenty-Twenty… the much hyped & anxiously anticipated fast food of Cricket had dished out its ultimate delicacy… & it was savored & devoured by more than a sixth of the world in an unprecedented manner… It was heralded & glorified as the new prince of the game that will take the game to even greater heights… Sadly, not many knew that this glory will ultimately bring a disease into the game… that it will turn & lead it towards the path of its own destruction…

It is now April 2008… & when I introspect & deliberate in retrospect about the turn of events & what has happened to the game… I can only sigh in disbelief… It is now no longer a game… with the launch of ICL & IPL, it has now become a tamasha of entertainers in conjunction with a slew of deals with a few business men, assisted by corrupt & sleazy politics, wrangled with the illegal tangles of the bookies…

Yes, bookies convert the game from being played to being staged, the politicians degrade the game as per their votes & corrupt needs, business men & entertainers change the drivers from a game to a special purpose vehicle of earning money…

And now with this, another respectful defense of the game will break… it will now no longer be played by a team of players… but by a group of mercenaries bundled together with only one glue… money…

In case you are wondering what mercenaries are… the definition of a mercenary is one who is motivated solely by a desire for monetary or material gain… used as a noun it means a freelance fighter & as an adjective, it means ruthlessly seeking personal advantage…

For a long time in human history, mercenaries in the form of soldiers have been used by torn & ravaged countries to fuel their inhuman internal wars… this act has never resulted in any good to the country or its citizens… even the warlords who hired or provided these mercenaries have, in the entire lifetime, never won anything definite or long lasting using this tactic… just look at the poor state of Afghanistan & North West Pakistan for example…

And now this ugly phenomenon has entered the game of cricket… now players will be mercenaries, each one of which can be bought for a price… some foreign mercenaries who have no affiliation with the team or the region will represent it (some of whom may even have in the past been disgustingly racist against that teams other members)… Loyalties will be bought in the open market… People with big pockets will now play with the teams & with it, the sentiments of a nation…

The above may sound too harsh & negative… but to me, the whole idea of hiring foreign players has only one positive benefit… to promote the game in a region & build capabilities of your own players (who can learn in the shadows of their foreign teammates)… or if there are no players to play in the region at all… nothing else…

If Sachin Tendulkar & Bret Lee go & play for the team of Dubai today, it will attract the entire nation to the game & inspire their million citizens to take up the game in a zealous manner… their own players who stand shoulder to shoulder with this greats will benefit immensely from the experience…

But what good could this extreme form of commercialization bring to a game like cricket in a country like India… here it is already the biggest religion… here you will find millions of budding cricketers anyways sweating their dreams out in the maidans & on the roads… does cricket need any more promotion… do we lack talent that needs to be developed in the shadow of this borrowed mercenaries?

ICL could still justify this means of using foreign players since it had to establish its foothold… it is after all the David against the big BCCI Goliath… But what is IPL’s justification???

Nothing… It is nothing but shameless exploitation of national sentiments & will do nothing but rob the team spirit & pride associated with the game (if it becomes too popular)…

Can you even imagine the captain of any IPL team removing his T-Shirt & waving it audaciously & belligerently in the air after a tantalizing & hard fought victory… will there be victory laps with the team’s flag being carried by each player in his hand & its anthem in the heart…

Sadly even if it will happen… it will only be for further commercial exploitation… The Indian players will only get new advertisements & bigger paychecks & the foreign ones a better asking price for the next tournament…

It is not even India against a different country, where the nation could pride itself in defeating a different country, even if by using bought players…. Here the game is against cities, the differentiation of which hardly evokes any emotions (it has not so far in Ranji games – but than they were not entertainment – so I could be wrong here)…

But then, stirring those feelings is exactly the job of big shot entertainers & marketers… In the coming days every attempt will be made to entice our hearts into aligning our feelings strongly with one or the other team… our cricket crazy minds will be seduced into blinding the commercialization of the game & channeled towards the wham bam cricket on display… we will be treated with added perks of Bollywood star appearances & their nonsensical jigs & controversies… Cricket now will have new attractions… it will hence forth be “organized” & followed with different drivers in mind…

The old notions of technique, team spirit/pride, love of the game, etc will be diluted… more & more people (including females) will watch it for entertainment… like that of a masala movie… replete with twists, turns, controversies, item numbers, dance, etc… everything in a span of 4 hours… it will even have the foreign models that our Bollywood cinema show cases so fervently today…

I can only hope that this form of “entertainment” does not overshadow the real game of cricket… and my hope rests on very thin support… after all; at least today Vivek’s father seems to be more interested, happy & proud in seeing his own son score 5 runs for their “team” & lose a gully cricket match than see some outside kid score a century & win the match for them…

But then how this will affect little Prerna who is crazy after Deepika Padukone… how will it affect young Nirpeksh’s mind who does not seem to be that interested in a 5 day long or even a day long cricket match right now… What will they take cricket to be… and how many like them are there in India… I can only feed my fears when I think of them…

A person who loves cricket,

Vaibhav

Note: I was tempted to compare this current turn format to prostitution instead of mercenaries… there were too many glaring similarities… but I decided to be “moderate” in expressing my views in this regards… after all cricket in India is so passionately followed that it gives heart attacks to people… & I do not intend to hurt the hearts of any cricket lover like myself…

– Written on 31 March 2008

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