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April 24, 1999


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And all for one...

Harsha Bhogle

Don't love anything too much, an old relative used to say, for you will cause it harm.

I thought of him last week when I saw how the limitless passion and love for cricket on the sub-continent has put a curse on it and is leading it down a path that can do it no good.

We are proud, aren't we, that nobody packs stadiums like we do; that we don't allow even disgraceful scheduling of ads to turn us away from our television sets; that our part of the world is now the rightful home to what was once a colonial sport. Our cricket matters more to us than the taxes we pay; than the peeling plaster on our roof; even more than those badly behaved politicians we elect.

Then why are we, three weeks before the World Cup is due to start, trying our best to create chaos and uncertainty? Why are we trying to rock those ships that carry our hopes? Why are we inviting the tempest?

In Pakistan, they want to appoint Sarfraz Nawaz as the bowling coach! A scandal-loving rabble rouser to coach a set of bowlers who, without him, are knocking everyone over! Why can't they just sit back and watch their team win? And sure as ever, their coach, their master appointment, sulks and says good-bye and remembers a family that didn't seem to mind his travel till last week!

In Sri Lanka, the retired uncle of the head of state suddenly decides he wants to bowl a few as well! They find a judge who freezes the accounts and, effectively, locks the door of the controlling body. And nobody cares about the fact that their team, the current world champion, needs money and visas, till it becomes major international news.

Ajay Jadeja And in India where, thankfully, the government and parliament have nothing to do with sport, we have created this nice spiked, thorny path for our team by whipping up this completely unnecessary debate on who should be captain! Newspaper editors are playing God over it, giggly television reporters can't wait to get the words out of their mouth in their interviews and everywhere our cricketers go, they are asked who their leader should be.

We are telling a lovely young man and a strong team player that he should be usurping a throne which is going to be awarded to him some day anyway. We are planting in a key player the seeds of rebellion. We are inducing tug-of-war within a team on whose performance we have invested hundreds of crores of rupees. Does that seem right to you? We cut a new album every day, we fall over each other to bless them and yet, with the other hand, we divide them.

Ajay Jadeja, who is a far more sensible person than the people who take it upon themselves to fight for him, has been captain of India off and on for eight games. In three out of those, a mere three, he performed outstandingly as captain. Now, on the basis of those three games we want him to take India to the World Cup.

I am amazed at this obsession with change. Have we caught the fever of our politicians? We want interest rates to change all the time, we even want a new prime minister every year. And we now want to bring this commitment to chaos to our cricket team who remember, are a set of very well-behaved and sometimes world-beating, young men.

It does not matter to us that we do not know enough about Jadeja as captain. We don't pause to think if this is the right time to invest. We are not interested in what it will mean to a person who has, at most times, led India with dignity. Worst of all, we don't care about what it will mean to the morale of the team.

Now let us ask ourselves a slightly uncomfortable question. Doesn't the true measure of our support lie in our ability to back our team when it needs us? In telling them that they are good enough when even they might question it? When the time comes, shouldn't we close ranks and tell our boys, "Go, young men, go. Put shoulder to shoulder and play together and we will be behind you"?

Azhar The time for criticism, for punching holes is gone. This is now our team and if we care for it, we should wish it well. Instead, we create songs and write mushy ads on the one hand, and write vitriolic, divisive stuff on the other. We keep vacillating between two extremes; we either overwhelm with love or with anger.

Let us be patient. Remember even Brian Lara returned from a drubbing in South Africa to a very decent performance against Australia. And let us be realistic. We are not the best team in the world.

But with a bit of luck, and a lot of inspiration, a united team can bring us the World Cup. Let us work towards that. Let us show some dignity in our support. Let us show our politicians that we are different.

Let us love and despair in moderation. My old relative was right.

Your turn...


Harsha Bhogle

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