Nirmal Shekar

Living in misunderstandings: Indian cricket style

Carefully curated player profiles are required to sell the game, writes Nirmal Shekar

There are plenty of things that may be wrong with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Indian team in England. Perspective changes with point of view — sometimes going so far as to flirt with the absurd — and each of us may have our own take on the issue.

But one of the most important reasons why this team looks mediocre-to-average is that our own expectations may have been unreasonably high; because we blithely ignored plain facts and scripted a story that was never going to be played out this summer no matter the false dawn at Lord’s.

Venturing too deep

Far too many people ventured far too deep into the realm of fantasy in rating the youngsters in this side. And facts are immaterial to myth-making.

Virat Kohli, inarguably the team’s finest batsman — no matter the temporary dip in form — was already put on a pedestal where he was seen as some sort of uber-Tendulkar who would have all the great man’s records in his (Kohli’s) bag in about 10 years’ time.

Cheteshwar Pujara was seen as the perfect successor to another great cricketer, the new wall that would eventually tower above the great wall of Indian cricket. Whether anybody bothered to check Rahul Dravid’s record overseas when he was the same age as Pujara is now, is anybody’s guess.

This was not something that ordinary folk in neighbourhood barber shops and local pubs and college playgrounds believed  vis-à-vis Kohli’s potential or Pujara’s future. Much of the wisdom gushed forth from the not-to-be-easily-ignored mouths of experts who are former cricketers themselves.

The splenetic outrage following two heavy defeats has now once again emanated from not merely the sofa-sunk, drawing room pundits, but from men who ought to know what they are talking about.

Now, suddenly, men anointed heirs to a pair (let’s admit it, there is no shame in this) of possibly incomparable players of the same generation are believed to be having problems dealing with balls outside the off stump — which, when it comes to Test matches in England or Australia or South Africa, is a bit like saying men fighting in the frontlines have forgotten how to load their weapons.

To be sure, it is not as if India outplayed every team abroad when Tendulkar and Dravid — apart from Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman who, I believe, comprised the Fabulous Five — were regulars.

Those five men scored an astonishing 53,788 Test runs with 143 centuries, and the only one who has the chance — however remote it might appear now — to add to that remarkable tally is Sehwag. The other four have retired.

Unrivalled generation

That was the unrivalled generation, which also featured thoroughbred match-winning bowlers such as Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. Right now Dhoni simply cannot dream of such luxurious luminosity when it comes to talent on this tour of England.

Such an array of talent does not assemble itself in each passing decade. Transition-blues have struck other countries in cricket itself; and there are examples of this in many other sports too.

After a great, world-dominating era featuring Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang, winners of 27 Grand Slam singles titles between them, poor Andy Roddick had to shoulder the huge burden of history in tennis in the United States.

And there is no greater, and particularly vivid, example of the vacuum left by an ageing Great Generation than in Spanish football right now. After being spoilt by the tiki-taka geniuses for so many years, an era during which the Spanish team won a World Cup and two European championships, whatever comes next is bound to appear ordinary.

Of course, nostalgia is a narcotic; and never more potently so than in sport, where we constantly reach into the past for the sepia-tinted ideal.

Yet, the fault is not that the Tendulkar-Dravid era and the Sampras-Agassi epoch are hard to match by succeeding generations.

The hard part lies in accepting it. And this is something that doesn’t fit into the scheme of cricket’s snake oil salesmen used to chanting feel-good aphorisms.

For them, every active player has to be compared with some of the best of all time: each passing week, day, even moment, has to be set alongside some of the greatest.

Today has to be as good as, if not better than, all the Yesterdays. Virat will soar past Sachin, you can bet on that. Pujara will push Dravid into the deep realms of history, and you can be confident about that too.

To be sure, it is not as if Kohli and Pujara are losing sleep over whether they would be able to live up to what has been prophesied for them. All they are concerned is about the next match at the Oval.

But that doesn’t make for good television, does it?  We need carefully curated player and team profiles to sell the cleverly packaged product, don’t we?

What about truth, then? One has to invoke the peerless Franz Kafka.

“We all live in misunderstandings; our questions are rendered worthless by our replies,” wrote one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th century, in a letter to his friend and translator, Milena Jesenka.

This is very much true of Indian cricket.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 6:15:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/no-boundaries-nirmal-shekar-column-living-in-misunderstandings-indian-cricket-style/article6309087.ece

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