Has the IPL made cricket a gentleman’s game again?
Adjectives like a ‘pack of wild dogs’ were once thrown for teams in scathing reviews from top cricket writers like Peter Roebuck. However, a strange phenomenon is taking over Indian cricket these days. A lot of commentators, Harsha Bhogle in particular, have remarked over the over-friendliness between the Indian and Pakistani players in the recently concluded ODI series.
It was incredible to watch the camaraderie which almost sucked the entire edginess out of the traditional India-Pakistan rivalry. It was delightful. I, for one, have never been a huge admirer of ‘sledging’ or ‘animosity’ during games. True, the McGrath-Sachin contests, the Gambhir-Afridi duels got the TRPs soaring. But deep down it irks me to watch gentlemen playing a gentleman’s game with unnecessary heat.
However, the trends are changing and how. Glenn Maxwell, who picked 4 wickets in the recently concluded Test match, on debut, made headlines sometime earlier by getting a million dollar deal in the IPL. What are the chances, one would ask, for such a player to give an Indian batsman a send-off, like the traditional send-offs we have been used to seeing from Warne or Lee? Michael Clarke during the first Test of the ensuing series did the now-famous ‘pat the dog-screw the bulb’ dance and literally had the Chennai crowds eating from his palms.
As if that was not enough, Cowan and Dhoni, in the course of the second innings, were constantly chatting with each other, exchanging smiles. The grumpiest bowler in the line-up, and probably the fiercest competitor – Peter Siddle – could be seen smiling at Indian batsmen too. The icing on the cake was watching James Pattinson take Pujara’s wicket and then actually come running behind him to shake hands with him. When did we last see a tall, genuinely quick, fast bowler do that?
Some might feel these dulcet undertones rob cricket of some of the excitement, especially in Tests. In the past, captains like Steve Waugh have used ominous-sounding strategies like ‘mental disintegration’ to torment batsmen beyond the obvious tricks of the pitch and the leather. But international captains like Clarke can hardly risk relations or get carried away by a high-adrenaline moment. Mahela Jayawardene, Virendra Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen are almost bosom buddies, after just one season together. A lot of analysts talk about how the switch-hits and doosras have changed the game.
Well, T20 leagues like IPL and Big Bash have brought about a paradigm cultural shift too, a cultural sensitivity into the players that was hitherto unseen. In other words, the possibility of rubbing shoulders with players across the world at some point of time in one T20 league or other has softened the current generation. Shane Bond, in a recent interview, sums this up beautifully, when he mentions that after his stint in the ICL, he could go to any part of the world and still have someone to call and catch up with. Enough has already been said and written about Symonds and Harbhajan sharing the same dressing room.
There was always mutual admiration between great players, like Sachin and Warne or Sachin and Lara, who share great friendships outside the game. However, amicability is slowly percolating into entire teams and the results look fascinating on screen. There is a charm about cricket that has made it a gentleman’s game – batsmen walking, bowlers calling batsman back, opponents applauding a milestone achievement.
Whether it is the lure of big T20 money, reputation or mere need for socialization, the present crop of players seem well-mannered on and off the ground and that can only augur well for the game. It is, after all, a beautiful game that doesn’t need newsroom gimmicks and cheap antics to get the desired TRPs; a game that can easily hold its end of the bargain, as far as sportsmanship is concerned. Can we use the ‘Sinatra Handshake’ as a metaphor here?