Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sachin dev Ganguly

In the present world of cricket in India, the sun rises in the east with Sourav Ganguly and sets in the west with Sachin Tendulkar. If the twain should meet in Sachin dev Ganguly will there always be a sun? or will they annihilate each other in a cacophony of dark comparisons?

It sometimes amazes me to see the amount of energy we have spent and will spend trying to stay awake watching some cricket match or other, contributing only to the growth of Pepsi and Coca Cola companies.

As one knows a cricket test becomes interesting only when the result is approached at the end of five days. In the meanwhile one is supposed to appreciate and comment (nowadays there are professional commentators commenting ad nausea) on the cricketing genius on display with the technical terms such as bowling a maiden over, or late cuts (so late as to be posthumous as the Maharaja of Vijainagaram would say), or the Indian word, doosra (made famous by a Ceylonese). In the process sporadic comments on cricket turned into a running commentary.

More than anything else the running commentary has contributed to the popularity of cricket. It is an essential ingredient of today’s cricket. Any local cricket tournament in any village of India would be worthy of its salt only when there is a pandal with extremely loud speakers out of which will blare out a loud commentary of the proceedings on the ground including loud exhortions to the umpire to declare a boundary or to give some body out. Records of all kinds are necessarily mentioned during the commentary alive including anecdotes and events that add mirch and masala to the game sometimes necessarily so because of advertisement revenues that keep a game, or at least players of the game, alive and prosperous.

Sachin Tendulkar’s record must be given its due importance as an important milestone. When Sachin began his career as a lad of fifteen/sixteen facing up to the powerful Pakistan bowlers in the indo-pak grudge series, most of us had our hearts in our mouth watching the young angelic looking lad facing upto the hostile pace of Imran Khan at his best while the rest of the older India collapsed around him. The body language of this young David facing upto the Goliaths charmed everybody. There was no fault in his game or his looks for that matter. His feat with the bat continuously beat all expectations. Advertisers loved him. He claimed easily the spot at the top.

We wonder how much more he would have earned if his voice did not have that decidedly unappealing pitch. His charm has faded a bit as he grows older and he has now a thick-set look of a much-repaired professional fighter.

When Sachin Tendulkar “broke” Brian Lara’s record recently the television channels picked out all kinds of trivia from his life and prepared themselves to be the first to broadcast it so as to increase TRP ratings of the channel. Unfortunately, Sachin took much more time (75 runs from three innings) than that expected from his life-time average of nearly 54 per innings. Much of the trivia and expert comments eventually came out from the well-prepared media before Sachin could actually achieve his mark. The fizz of the eventual celebrations became reduced, thankfully.

Sachin himself got a great line across – “turning stones to milestones”. It may have been a well-prepared and rehearsed statement especially if one considers Sachin’s records to carry as much import as Neil Armstrog’s landing on the moon – one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, remember?

The record itself is the highest number of runs scored in tests. If you look at it coldly and ask what the record was all about, the conversation could go like this:

Q. What is this record all about?
A. Tendliyaaaaa scored 12,000 runs in test cricket. More than anybody else in the world!
Q. What is a run?
A. Aaare! You don’t know? You make a run if you run between one wicket to another.
Q. How long is that?
A. 22 yards, one tenth of a furlong, one-eightieth of a mile.
Q. Come again?
A. 20 metres!
Q. You mean he ran 240 kms?
A. Double that! Because he has to run also when his partner runs, no?.
Q. He must be some athlete! How much time did he take to complete this 500 kms.
A. Nineteen Years.
Q. What?!! Nineteen years?!! For 500 kms? That would mean nearly 25 kms per year or 70 metres per day? Isn’t that too slow?
A. Maybe slow and steady wins the race. But you must understand one thing. He scored these runs in 300 innings so that he would have actually run one kilometer per innings. That is a lot you know. Even if you count the boundaries (because they do not involve running) it will still be half a kilometer per innings! If I run like that for my bus every day my pants will fall down.
Q. Why would your pants fall down?
A. My stomach will become thin, no?. It is very comfortable to have a big stomach to rest on when you have a clerical job, especially when listening to commentary.

Cricket like golf is the perfect game for English gentlemen of yore, controlling and benefiting from the plunder of the vast British Empire (my computer just told me to correct the small e to capital E in Empire). In between the arrival of ships these gentlemen had to while away their time. A five-day time-pass (between week ends with the family) test cricket was a natural process.

The gentleman spectator of a cricket match is supposed to admire the cricket landscape during the five days, partaking of the various old-word victuals and beverages during these days, preferably seated comfortably in an easy chair in the members’ stand and attended upon by bearers with the hot cuppa tea, served in proper tea kettles in their tea-cozies and the accompanying silverware. One could afford long sentences those days.

Most of these gentlemen watched cricket and a few played. Those who played preferred to bat. The stronger lads (blacksmiths, gardeners and so on) bowled to them for which they were paid. These professionals of those days were the players as distinguished from the gentlemen who made very fair rules for themselves. Cricket became associated with gentlemen. While fielding, the gentlemen preferred to stand in the slip cordon where they could observed and comment without doing much else.

This class distinction was naturally very suited to be carried over to India. The game of cricket is very much biased toward the upper classes, which usually translates into an upper caste, usually Brahmins. This class of predominantly babus or clerks was close to the ruling English community correcting their grammar and fudging their accounts. They had probably better access to the cricket know-how. They could excel in the game simply because nobody else knew anything about it or was even interested in a silly time-pass thing. This is how it became a gentleman’s game.

It is important to remember that a Sachin Tendulkar came to fame with his 600+ partnership with Vinod Kambli. Kambli, not a Brahmin, started his test career well. He had averages in the 100s. He became absorbed listening to music with earphones, forgetting to be civil (not servile enough) to cricketing greats. He was properly admonished and dropped for rude behavior. He could have regained his place but he tripped and hurt his leg before his last-chance match.

Was it because Kambli was not a Brahmin? We don’t know. It could well have been the Ekalavya syndrome so familiar to the average Indian. The low-caste Ekalavya acquired excellent skill in archery by practicing in front of an image of Drona the teacher of Arjuna, the best archer of that time and Drona’s favorite student. Arjuna feared Ekalavya’s skills. Drona appeases Arjuna’s fears by demanding Ekalavya’s thumb as a Gurudakshina. Ekalavya makes the supreme sacrifice, cuts his thumb and gives it to Drona. That was not cricketing at any level, but very acceptable as long as one knows who has to win.

The Ekalavya syndrome is easy to see in India. Was Vinod Kambli the Ekalavya to Tendulkar’s Arjuna? Is caste the only bias factor?

Sometimes too much class may not be good. In some ways, Sourav Ganguly’s fate is a measure of this class bias. His family is supposed to be one of the richest Bengali families in Calcutta (one has to exclude the Marwadi community certainly). By all accounts he was a complete sportsman in his younger days winning trophies in athletics, excelling in football, and then taking up cricket for career reasons. He disadvantaged as well as positioned himself by choosing to be a left hand batsman. He may have distanced himself from some team-mates by being rich-like in his behaviour. He did not walk into the Indian test cricket team like Tendulkar did. He got his place only because of an injury to one player and because of a fit of temper in another (Navjot Siddhu who is said to have killed a man with his bat because of a road-rage incident).

Ganguly grabbed the opportunity stylishly. Like Kambli, he scored two successive centuries on his debut. Unlike Kambli he survived for some time. Too long perhaps. Or maybe Ganguly’s aristocracy became an arrogant one. Greg Chappell, insisted perhaps that Ganguly run and practice as much as the other members of the team. When Rajdeep Sardesai asked Ganguly in 2006 after he was dropped from the team even after scoring a hundred in his last test “But would you have liked some of them (team members) to stand up for you, or … come to you …as a player and told you the reason why you have been dropped? Sourav Ganguly’s reply was “I haven’t asked anybody to be honest.”

The travails of Ganguly is worthy of the man as a fighter and his skills with his body and mind. He has surfaced from deep waters to regain his place in the sun. They say you drown after the third time you surface in water. It seems that this will be made true in the case of Ganguly.

Was Ganguly also the Ekalavya to Tendulkar’s Arjuna?

Times have changed and will continue to change. Test matches will die out. One-day matches would also be replaced by 20-20, Test matches and test records would be lost as well as the gentle leisure class.

Will Sachin dev Ganguly then shine brightly?

1 comment:

Amitabh said...

Hi Mama,

I wish your blog a very long life. The 'Kambli listening to music through earphones' part cracked me up : ) I remember seeing a picture of him in Australia with an earphone on and feeling very resentful about it for some reason.

Is there a way to increase the width of your columns ? If you are writing long blogs, then that might look nicer.