| In the line of fire
Cricket fans in India are a singularly ungrateful lot. Take their vilification of Kapil Dev, just a few months after he took India to its first ever world cup victory in 1983 — no small achievement for an unfancied cricket team, which had a very poor record in one-day internationals till then.
In the two earlier world cups in 1975 and 1979, India had lost all its matches except for one against the very weak East Africans. Hence no one had any hopes of India doing well in England in 1983. This was actually a blessing because Kapil Dev’s men had no pressures on them whatsoever. They began quite precariously and faltered in midstream. But towards the end, India was upsetting one team after another.
It was certainly a mighty achievement. Kapil Dev and his men were hailed as heroes. They could do no wrong. But in a few months’ time, Viv Richards’s West Indies team had the Indians in disarray. To add salt to the wound, all the defeats were in India’s own backyard.
Overnight, the Indian cricket lover had forgotten that it was Kapil Dev who had taken India to the top of the world order. They chastised him and brutally pulled him down from his pedestal.
They did the same to Sunil Gavaskar. Forgetting the fact that he had led India to a stupendous win in the Benson & Hedges World series in Australia in 1985, they brought him down to earth soon after by taking away the captaincy from him.
Today when India seems to be on the threshold of yet another world cup title, the same phenomenon seems to be repeating itself. The country has had to spend 20 years to come this far in the world cup. Was it some kind of punishment for the way cricket lovers in the country treated Kapil Dev in 1983'
Indians should be elated that at last they have found a captain in Sourav Ganguly who is a true leader of men. But Indian cricketers-turned-commentators, who fawn on weak leaders, have always ill-treated our best captains, the ones with the capability, the character and the courage.
C.K. Nayudu was never popular with the media in his time, Lala Amarnath was a headache to them, they hated Polly Umrigar’s uprightness, just as they did Gavaskar’s guts. They disliked M.A.K. Pataudi’s panache as much as they did Kapil Dev’s bravado.
Similarly, they just cannot stand Ganguly who is too independent-minded for most of them. Their principal task, until very recently, was to lambast the Indian team and its captain. Now, of course, with India doing well, they are falling over backwards in their attempts to flatter.
Under the garb of giving their expert comments, most of these former test cricketers-turned-mediamen spread misinformation, and thereby inflame public opinion. The more absurd the view, the higher is their supposed rating on the popularity charts. The problem is that given the mass base that cricket enjoys, their trite opinions incite a lot of immature people into wreaking havoc on cricketers’ lives, reputation and property.
Ironically, all these commentators were fair cricketers themselves in their heyday. And so, presumably, they know their cricket. But, most of them have a chip on their shoulders about the fact that they did not ever get the huge financial rewards that the present generation of players receive. This has led to frustration, the obvious offshoot of which is this campaign against the modern players.
Under the pretense of criticism, these former players-turned-mediamen now all but abuse and ridicule the modern stars. Irrelevant and personal issues are raised to pull them down. Even extremely serious charges like lack of patriotism and fellow-feeling towards teammates are bandied about.
All these charges, ridiculous as they are, would still have been acceptable had the former players themselves been as successful as they claimed to be and if the contemporary players had not been doing well enough. But that is not so.
Krishnamachari Srikkanth was an irresponsible performer with the bat. Under him, India’s performance was extremely poor. Venkatesh Prasad was a mediocre pacer. Navjot Singh Siddhu used to avoid fast bowlers like the plague. None of them ever gave the impression of being a brilliant technician or strategist. Yet they keep making very offensive comments about the Indian team. Who, or what, has given these men the right to say whatever they felt like'
The chief target of their attack is the Indian skipper. Ganguly’s wealthy family background and academic record are causes for much heartburn. That he has been among the top international batsmen has not gone down very well with them. These former players had become so very used to advising Indian captains in the recent past, that they just cannot believe that Ganguly ignores them and has a poor opinion of their views.
Ganguly happens to be the most successful Indian captain in test matches as also the captain with the maximum number of overseas test victories for India. He is articulate and intelligent. He does not suffer from any provincial, communal and class bias. He is the first Indian captain to have received unalloyed support from every player, even those from other zones. He is one captain who has consistently maintained the best of relations with his senior colleagues, and one who has had the guts to fight it out with the selectors and the media on behalf of his teammates.
He is one Indian captain who can see eye to eye with Steve Waugh, Stephen Fleming, and other captains of the world, who is willing to argue with match referees like Cammie Smith and Mike Denness for his team’s rights, even at the risk of jeopardizing his own interests. Ganguly is the only one who can make the Board of Control for Cricket in India see reason and who has the courage and the conviction to say that most expert opinions are a joke. How can former players not be jealous of a man who thus shows up their own weaknesses'
This Indian team has certainly surprised everyone with its fabulous turnaround. Indian supporters always knew that the team had a fantastic batting line-up and a very capable captain. But they did not have much faith in the bowlers or in the fielders. But the youngsters have done the country proud. They have proved the experts wrong.
All that remains is for the Indian cricket fan not to get too emotional over the outcome of the next two matches, provoked by a bunch of mediocre sportsmen who parade about as experts. They can only pray that the “boys” maintain their excellent show. But, more important, they must not repeat the mistakes of 1983. They must not start abusing and attacking the present crop of cricketers at the first sign of failure. For if they do, Indian cricket will be set back by another 20 years. It is high time they learnt the lessons of history.