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Glenn Maxwell joins the list of players who’ve bounced back after being written off for the smallest of reasons, writes Karthik Parimal.
Admiration and criticism — two nouns at the either end of a spectrum — have been an intrinsic part of sport since its existence. In this era of social networking, not only have they become more conspicuous, a few of us bandying them jump from one opinion to another rather nonchalantly, too. When Neymar Júnior, the 22-year-old Brazilian forward who also represents Futbol Club Barcelona, was asked in one of the post-match conferences what he thought of his naysayers, he replied: “It doesn’t matter if I’m criticized or praised. In football one day you’re the best player and the next you’re the worst.” His statement could not have been more forceful, for the rate at which the players, regardless of sport, are put on a pedestal or knocked off from one is alarming.
There has been no dearth of such examples in cricket, and we don’t have to dive too far into the past for concrete evidence. Eighteen months ago, Yuvraj Singh’s return to the field after battling a rare germ cell cancer was looked upon with great revere. He characteristically cleared the boundary in his initial games then, and predictions were drawn as to how good a comeback it was bound to be. And then came along a downward spiral, which prompted the selectors to wield an axe. Yuvraj trekked back to the drawing board, scored runs in the domestic format and duly earned the right to don the Indian colours again. He rightly did, too. But, two sects, one housing supporters and the other detractors, had been formed by then.
In the recently concluded ICC World Twenty20 2014, Yuvraj mustered 11 runs from 20 deliveries over the course of the first three matches before thwacking a 43-ball 60 against Australia. That one innings brought about a dip in the number of cynics, but it was only a matter of time before it surged after his toil against Sri Lanka in the final. “Past master?” read the title of an article penned by one of the authors in a leading newspaper who a week before had detailed how Yuvraj managed to “rediscover the magic.”
Ravindra Jadeja was another player who was derided after one insipid performance during the 2009 edition of World T20. In due course of time, forums wondered if he was “the worst cricketer of all time.” He amassed triple-hundreds in the domestic circuit, but it was attributed to the presence of mediocre bowlers in the league. The prefix ‘Sir’ to his name (which is now considered banter) emanated owing to a few low scores. Criticism for lack of performance is by all means justified, and it is what makes sport intriguing at times, but how prudent was it to write off a then 21-year-old player? Currently an integral part of the Indian team in all formats of the game, Jadeja must have the highest rate of ‘converting’ crucifiers to followers.
The latest cricketer to emulate that is Australia’s once-favourite whipping boy: Glenn Maxwell. Like Jadeja, Maxwell was known for his athleticism in the field, and his aggressive batting and off-spinners were considered handy T20 traits. When he was offered a million-dollar Indian Premier League (IPL) contract by the Mumbai Indians (MI), derision kicked in. Did he deserve the splurge was an apt question, but an uninspiring outing in Test cricket ensued just before the commencement of last year’s IPL and conclusions were solidly drawn that Maxwell was going to be a quack. Time on the bench for MI was somehow used to provide credence to this apocryphal theory.
Maxwell was only 24, yet, he was at the receiving end of statements to the following effect in opinion pieces: “Actually, I don’t think it’s fair to say he’s done nothing [to be paid a million dollars]. It must take some effort to warm a bench for 10 games, deliver the odd bottle of water to the men on the field and bat and bowl badly in the nets to boost the morale of the players.” There was another which labelled him as “Mumbai’s million-dollar waste.” It’s unfortunate how quickly his heroics for Victoria and Hampshire that led to his inclusion in the Australian limited-overs side was forgotten, and how his epitaph was etched based on a few poor performance; but it didn’t take long for the reversal of tide. From being mentioned under the hashtag ‘#EasiestMillionDollarsEverMade” on twitter last year, his swashbuckling play this season has seen him classified as ‘#Beast’. MI may be poorer for his absence, but it’s the speed with which players are written off that’s appalling.
“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots,” said writer Frank A. Clark. If only we can remember that before censuring a young sportsperson, for it’s not over till the fat lady sings.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)
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