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Monty Panesar and cricket’s ‘moral’ hypocrisy

At the end of the day, cricketers are professionals who on bad days, can have emotional turmoils. Monty Panesar just had a one of those days © Getty Images
At the end of the day, cricketers are professionals, who on bad days can have emotional turmoils. Monty Panesar just had one of those days © Getty Images

Monty Panesar was once again in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Abhishek Mukherjee tries to explain why the media has been unusually harsh on him.

Monty Panesar has made the news again, this time for a reason that could not exactly be classified as renal. Hours after their humiliating defeat in the recently concluded Ashes Test at MCG, Panesar had apparently chatted up an American backpacker (who goes by the name of Alison) using Tinder, a mobile dating app, and had invited her to his room.

Much has been made of the issue since, which leads us to the obvious question: Has Panesar really done anything wrong?

India in the 1960s used to be a different place. “India’s first great spinner [Subhash Gupte] – if we classify [Vinoo] Mankad as an all-rounder – ended his career because he happened to share a room with a man who wanted a drink with a girl. Only in India could it have happened,” were Mihir Bose’s exact words in A History of Indian Cricket.

Kripal Singh, who had been sharing room no 7 with Gupte at the Imperial Hotel in Delhi, had asked the hotel receptionist out for a drink. A misunderstanding ended Gupte’s Test career (it should have ended Kripal’s instead), but what stood out were Gupte’s words: “Kripal [Singh] had not raped the girl or assaulted her, he just asked her out for a drink.”

The media had been after Ian Botham after his encounter with Lindy Field (former Miss Barbados) and a broken bed during a 0-5 “blackwash”. He had received a three-month ban as well, but that was for smoking cannabis. Cricketers, as sporting icons, have had their share of glamour and attention as far as the fair sex is concerned, and romance and other personal aspects of cricketers have often been dissected by and commented upon by the public.

Botham was neither the first nor the last cricketer to be involved in a relationship. Much has been made of Shane Warne’s affairs, real or otherwise, and whether Virat Kohli had met filmstar Anushka Sharma on his return from the defeat in South Africa.

Let us consider, for example, a computer engineer (to select a random profession). Let us assume that he has failed to meet a deadline, and has caused his organisation a heavy financial loss. While the organisation has suffered, the person in concern is not expected to be in the best of moods either.

Would we really blame a person if he, out of exasperation or for some other reason, decides to date someone on an evening when he has been in utterly fragile state of mind? If not, should we actually point fingers at poor Panesar? He wasn’t, after all, trying to do something illegal or immoral: he was merely trying to find a companion who might have turned his woeful evening into a better one.

What we are trying to say is this:

 

Normal person after a bad day: Will you come up to my room?

 

Other person: No.

is correct, while

 

Cricketer after a bad day: Will you come up to my room?

 

Other person: No.

is not.

How can a cricketer ask a woman out after he has lost a Test? Should he not be focusing on the sport instead? Now, had he been a salesperson or a programmer, it would have been a completely different aspect, since there are certain things in life a failed cricketer is not supposed to do but people in other professions are perfectly eligible to.

A year back, Panesar had been instrumental in England’s first series victory on Indian soil after 28 years. With Graeme Swann’s exit, one might have expected him to be the frontline spinner for England, but he was axed, somewhat brutally, after the MCG debacle. Coincidence? Maybe. Logical, given that Panesar was the automatic successor to Swann? No.

We sometimes tend to forget that cricketers are human beings, just like any of us. They toil as hard as any of us and go through the same emotional upheavals as we do throughout our careers. They are almost always under severe pressure – from the opposition, from competing teammates, from the Boards, from the fixtures, and from a life lived out of suitcases.

We can choose to like or dislike them. That is entirely our choice. Everyone has their players of choice. There is nothing wrong with that. Even Don Bradman had his critics. What is perhaps not right is the exercising of our rights to pry into their personal lives as long as they do not do anything illegal (which is something Panesar has himself done earlier in his career).

Till then, let us at least give them the privacy to spend a tormented evening the way they want to. Would we have liked if we have been bashed by the opposition, had a bad day ourselves, were under the pressure of being axed any moment, and then – when we sought solace for the evening, a big mess had been created about it?

That is perhaps a question we would not like to answer.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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