Commonwealth Games 2018: Remembering the time when cricket let India down at CWG
Asian fans and Indian fans, in particular, have previously argued whether or not the game of cricket should be included in multi-sport events. Since team events have always been a part of such competitions, fans have often wondered why the sport has not even been considered when deciding the roster. To include the sport in the Commonwealth Games makes even more sense as the nations participating in the Games were once under the rule of the British Empire, the inventors of the sport.
And yet, very few people do remember the time when cricket was part of the Games. The year was 1998 and the Games went to Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur was the chosen destination. For the first time, cricket was on the roster and fans were ecstatic. Yet, what happened in Kuala Lumpur was inglorious and would be talked about for years.
In 1998, India were heading to Canada to play Pakistan in an ODI series. The series overlapped with the CWG and thus the cricketing board decided to send two different teams, after much persuasion by Suresh Kalmadi. One team headed to Canada under the captaincy of Mohammad Azharuddin, containing several experienced players. The other, more youthful side was sent to Malaysia, containing players like Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, V.V.S. Laxman, Harbhajan Singh and Ajay Jadeja. Players who would go on to become cricketing legends for the country.
India were expected to challenge for a medal at least, drawn in a group containing Australia, Canada, and Antigua and Bermuda. Much to the surprise of the public and dismay of the fans, India failed to even step out of the group stage. A loss in the final match against Australia meant that India came back home empty-handed.
Elsewhere, in Canada, India went up against Pakistan. Jadeja and Tendulkar soon joined the squad in Canada and would eventually play the rest of the series.
During their stay in Malaysia, S.M. Bali accompanied the athletes as the Assistant Chef-de-mission. After India's exit from the cricketing events, Bali accused the players of disregarding the CWG and throwing the matches on purpose. A move which would make sure they reach Canada in time to play against Pakistan. Bali claimed that the players only wanted to play for money, disregarding their duty to their country.
The accusations didn't stop there. The Indian cricketers were accused of behaving improperly in Kuala Lumpur. They were accused of behaving like V.I.Ps, not even lifting their own luggage, calling on porters and even a wrestler to do it for them. Needless to say, their behaviour didn't sit well with the rest of the Indian contingent.
Kalmadi was the president of the Indian Olympic Association during that time. He was the one who had persuaded BCCI to send a team to Malaysia. This incident seemed to have some effect on Kalmadi, who fiercely claimed that he would try and make sure that cricket never made it on to the roster of any multi-sport event in the future.
This story brings to the fore a different side of Indian cricket. Players who would go on to achieve legendary status were once shrouded in controversy. In retrospect, those were indeed some of the darkest days of Indian sports.