Sunday, April 01, 2007

When will we learn?

Inzamam poured his heart out at a press conference yesterday and urged the Pakistan media to first sort out the right way to support their own national team and then show the public the way to do it. He asked, "Are we not Pakistanis any more after losing two cricket matches?" At last a captain from the sub-continent has openly expressed his views on the role of media in whipping up mass hysteria, a phenomenon that prevents players of this region from playing cricket as just another game.

Anil Kumble also formally announced his retirement from ODIs yesterday. Even without going into Test exploits Anil is arguably the greatest one-day bowler to serve his country post-1983 just as Inzy was Pakistan's finest one-day batsman since 1992.

Anil Kumble, being a restrained personality, spoke at a much lower pitch than Inzamam's and asked the people to stand by the players in the midst of a crisis. But enough was on show around us yesterday to suggest that that is not going to happen anytime soon in this emotional country where a sensationalist media aims to make a living out of fanning people's baser emotions.

If we look past Kumble's last few years in ODI's, he has served as the go-to bowler for the skippers he has played under. Whenever the team needed a wicket the ball went to him. When the situation demanded drying up of runs he would have to bowl. His average and strike rate are less impressive than corresponding figures of some other contemporary ODI bowling greats. But have we not heard all and sundry complaining these days about Sachin and other Indian players being unable to deliver the goods under pressure? You only need to catch up on the videos of India matches between 1990 and 2000 to believe that none in this Indian team knew that essential part of the international game better than this man Kumble.

But all that we did for him on his day of ODI farewell was dilute his big farewell decision by diverting the attention away from it. Only NDTV concentrated on Anil Kumble and his on field achievements. Most of the other news channels failed to get over their sensationalist streak and instead concentrated on Ian Chappell's suggestion that Sachin Tendulkar should consider retirement. It was more or less the same with print and online media. The big theme for the day was: Should Sachin join Anil and Inzy?

Anil Kumble is without any doubt the greatest ever Test player of India and was also the country's best ODI bowler over a significant period. For such significant contribution to the most popular game in the country he received little or no share of the adulation many of his peers and juniors enjoyed and encashed in the form of sponsorship deals. His achievements are mentioned with muted appreciation rather than gregarious delight. No one mentions his name in any kind of on-the-street opinion polls. Even on the day of his one day retirement it was no different. People were busy answering queries on Sachin's future rather than Anil's past.

Anil Kumble hopes to carry on playing Tests for some time and end his Test career on a high note. He may well do so by cricketing yardsticks ( I hope he does) but chances are he will be an also-ran on the cricket news columns of Indian media even on that day. For he is a cricketer, not a sensation.

Update: Shekhar Gupta writes in the Indian Express:

"It is precisely because our cricket has improved over the years that our expectations have risen. We have recently won 3-1 in
Pakistan, convincingly against England, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and South Africa at home. Not just that, our Test performance has improved a great deal in the past five years or so. We beat Australia in India and came closer to beating them on their home-turf than anybody else had in their decade of total dominance. We won a series in the West Indies just last year, after exactly 30 years, and won our first Test match in South Africa, in our third outing.

And just as an afterthought, can I ask you what was the one common factor in almost all these great victories? From Kolkata to Chennai to Sydney to Jamaica, it was a batsman called V.V.S. Laxman who stood up to be counted, a real match-winner. How come he is not even a fraction of a star
that so many of the others are? "

Shekhar concludes ruefully:

"...if V.V.S. Laxman does not have the same star quality, the same fan following, as so many of the others, it only means one thing: we may be equal to the South Americans in their sporting passion but we don’t quite know our cricket as well as they know their football."

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