Love thy cricketers, but don’t make them bigger than the game
A few months back, one of the greatest fast bowlers from India made a gracious exit from World Cricket. The guy was none other than Ashish Nehra, the lanky left-arm seamer who debuted under the captaincy of Mohammad Azharuddin way back in 1998 and finally hung up his boots in November 2017. Ashish Nehra can certainly take pride in his illustrious career and for being associated to the Indian cricket team for close to two decades. The only regret, Ashish would probably keep within himself is the fact that his career was marred by several injuries which took as many as 12 surgeries. If you ask him about his biggest regret, he would smilingly say, ‘Probably I could have performed a lot better in the finals of ICC World Cup 2003.’
As he announced his retirement, BCCI went another extra mile to give him a grand farewell on his last T20 match against the New Zealand that was to be played at Nehra’s hometown in Delhi. And so, Ferozeshah Kotla stadium was prepared with a giant corporate box where Nehra could reserve seats for his family members and friends, hoardings at different parts of the stadium portrayed visuals of the speedster and the ‘Farewell Nehra tag’ was smartly used as a part of the branding exercise across different parts of the stadium.
India, after setting a target of 203 runs comfortably won the match. Every time Ashish Nehra came to bowl, a jubilant crowd roared their lungs out. Skipper Virat Kohli reserved the last over of the game for the retiring pace bowler. As he finished his spell with impressive figures of 4-0-29-0, the 38-year old received a standing ovation from the crowd. Post that; Nehra was taken on the shoulders of his teammates to complete a whole lap around the ground. Every accomplished cricketer would want to end their career the Nehra way and the way things were planned out on his last match.
For Indian cricket, this was a moment to be cherished. One of the most prolific seam bowlers of our country was bidding adieu to the game. As a result, the outcome of the match held little to no importance in the context of the series. This is precisely what we Indians had been doing for a very long time. More than the game, we tend to love our players and ideally it should be the other way round.
‘Nehraji,’ as we fondly call him definitely deserved every bit of this grand farewell in front of his home crowd and teammates.
That match is now history, but it will be forever bookmarked as a brief moment in history when Ashish Nehra made his last appearance wearing the Indian jersey. We make our cricketing heroes really big, sometimes bigger than the game itself. Every great player acquires his fair share of fan followers because the game has given him an opportunity to showcase his talent on the international stage.
Had the grandiose of Nehra’s farewell been the same if India lost that crucial 2nd T20 match against New Zealand? But since India won the series 2-1, nobody is raising a question.
Hero worship is a fair thing to do in today’s world. Be it any sport, it’s the presence of heroes or iconic players on the side that makes the game so interesting to watch. Their names add value to a side, make a team look more competitive and to some extent evoke patriotic sentiments to look forward to an upcoming encounter. For some reason, if the outcome of the match doesn’t tick in our favor, we tend to forgive our heroes and still continue to cherish their track record. The hope is then reserved for future matches.
In short, it’s our general tendency to create heroes with a larger-than-life imagery – we like to see them as entities who run the show. The great Sachin Tendulkar once refused to shoot for a soft-drink advertisement that made him look bigger than the game.
As Indians, we must learn to absorb the game of cricket and not just simply soak in the glory of its players. Glory is a personal achievement which is added to the player’s statistics, whereas cricket as a game represents a larger universe. When young Rishabh Pant struggled to score some quick runs in the Nidahas Trophy, he was badly trolled by devout fans of MS Dhoni. Is it unfair on BCCI’s part to look up to a player who can fit into Dhoni’s shoes after a while? As one of the greatest cricket playing nations, we Indians can certainly spare a thought for newbies and be little considerate when it comes to commenting on their failures.
A similar instance happened in 1996 when Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid were inducted into the Indian team as replacements for Sanjay Manjrekar and Vinod Kambli. Our nation roared with fury. The general public and cricket lovers across the country felt a guy like Vinod Kambli is simply irreplaceable. People already tagged Sachin Tendulkar as the ‘God of Cricket,’ and Kambli was also considered as an ‘epitome of class’ after having graduated from the former’s cricket academy. As time passed by, Sourav and Rahul proved their worthiness in the side. Their disciplined approach, modern cricketing instincts and ability to perform at the highest level made them true legends of the game. India could produce Dravid and Ganguly coz the team management and panel of selectors remained patient with their initial failures. It was speculated that Dravid cannot score at a fast pace, while Ganguly is too weak to play shots on the leg side. Their epic partnership at the 1999 ICC World Cup match against Sri Lanka showcased their versatility. In short, Dravid and Ganguly did not become overnight legends.
The current Indian side is undoubtedly one of the best teams in world cricket. Credit to BCCI for identifying the finest talent pool of our country in the past decade. Some cricketing pundits even believe to the extent that our current talent pool is so vast that we can field two fearsome teams capable of beating any side in the world. Just a few months ago, two of our world class spinners – Ravichandra Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were ranked as top two bowlers in ICC Test rankings. Now they are finding it hard to cement a place in ODI fixtures as two relatively inexperienced Chinaman bowlers in the form of ‘KulCha’ (Kuldeep and Chahal) are doing a better job than Ashwin and Jadeja.
To become an international cricket star, one needs a slice of luck too. Many cricketers get an extended run and still fail to perform. Some make an impression in their early appearances but still remain glued to the bench strength in every tournament. For instance, from the current lot, Hardik Pandya is one of the emerging cricketers who was lucky to get an extended run. Call it his X-factor or something else, but he certainly gives a glimpse of Boom-Boom Afridi. Manish Pandey who made his debut way back in 2009 is simply running out of age in our bench strength of cricketers. He is the guy who was expected to be the replacement for Sourav Ganguly.
We, Indians had been privileged enough to get enthralled by the game of cricket for so many decades. Starting from the era of Lala Amarnath, the first captain of independent India, we have always been a fairly competitive side. The Indian team had never been regarded as minnows. So, as natives of a great cricket playing nation, if we really have to give something back to cricket, then consider treating the game with due respect. It will be wonderful if we act a bit rationally and enjoy the game of cricket just like the Englishmen do. They quietly sit at the stadium and clap at all the best shots played in the game. It doesn’t matter if the shot is being hit by a player of the home team or the opposition. If it’s a good shot, it deserves some admiration.
To sum up, love thy cricketers but don’t make them bigger than the game.