The incident I am writing about comes to mind after the recent happenings when the Australian cricket team misbehaved with Sharad Pawar. It happened in the early Fifties at one of the leading tennis tournaments in the UK.
It was close to noon and the president of the club was standing imperiously at the top of the stairs leading to the dressing rooms, dishing out lunch tickets to the amateur players like they were nuggets of gold. In a brown tweed coat with leather patches at the elbows and striped tie, the president looked like the epitome of British aristocratic colonial snobbery.
I collected my lunch ticket with an appropriately servile ‘thank you’, keeping in mind my next year’s invitation with free hospitality. Behind me bounding up the stairs, bubbling with energy, came a pretty, blonde Australian girl Daphne Seeney, who was on her first trip abroad.
Daphne was not fazed by the president’s haughty demeanour. ‘Hey you,’ she said to the president. ‘Give me a couple of tickets for lunch.’ Suppressing a smile, I saw with much amusement as the president was taken aback by this ‘uncivilised’ approach. He looked her up and down and icily stated, ‘you are allowed only one ticket for lunch.’
He handed the ticket over and was about to walk off when Daphne gave him a more than robust two-fingered prod in the stomach and said, ‘oh, come on, don’t be mean, it’s only one extra ticket.’
Shaken by what he considered to be a barbarous assault on his dignity, and apprehending a more vigorous physical follow-up request, the president — purple with rage — handed over the second ticket and quickly walked away licking his wounds.
That was 50 years ago. Damien Martyn’s shepherding of Pawar was gentle compared to Daphne Seeney’s Shaolin-type of prod. Yet, it shifted the tectonic plates of Indian cricket causing violent tremors. The Australian team’s frolicking on the stage reeked with smug arrogance and unacceptable ignorance of the importance of the occasion and the stature of the president of our Board. Officials, players and the public were outraged.
Sachin Tendulkar, who never puts a foot wrong, stepped out of his reclusive verbal crease on to the front foot and let fly with a cross bat at the Aussies’ behaviour. Australian captain Ricky Ponting and the manager must be taken to task. A letter of apology is not enough. An Indian brand advertising ban may bring about an added measure of respect.
Hats off to Sharad Pawar. He handled the humbling experience with aplomb and dignity, and avoided what could have become a major shoot-out. “Uncivilised behaviour’ is how Pawar summed it up. A barb too sophisticated to make any impression on the Aussie team. Pawar went on to say that he does not need an apology and as far as he is concerned, the matter is closed.
Nevertheless, Ponting and the Australian Board have sent in their apologies.
In a manner we are to blame for such excesses of foreign teams and prominent foreign players. Hospitality in India is always over the top. The pampering starts at the airport with garlands, tilaks and showering of rose petals. Every wish of the visitors is taken as a command. The visitors exploit this to the hilt and soon start throwing their weight around and making unreasonable demands.
In some sports we need to pamper the stars, but certainly not in cricket. Jagmohan Dalmiya, a visionary, amongst other things, broke the colonial shackles of cricket and has put India in an unassailable position in the cricket world. The mantra of ‘votes and money’ is omnipotent.
Three visits to Australia for Davis Cup matches and my close association with the tennis greats of the fifties and sixties such as Hoad, Laver, Emerson, Fraser — both on and off the courts — have made me an admirer of Australian sportspersons.
All the tennis players were rough and tough, but well-behaved, fun-loving and friendly. Their mentor Harry Hopman, a close friend of mine — and possibly the greatest tennis coach ever — disciplined them with an iron fist.
That is what the Australian cricket team needs — a strong dose of discipline with an iron fist.