By Vincent Sunder
The hot topic or debate is about the Indian players speaking their minds. What Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have spoken has caused great dismay, probably much to the delight of the media. People, perhaps, are overlooking the fact that the statements made by the players was in response to specific questions addressed to them at press conferences, and as in many situations, the context in which a player was speaking is conveniently overlooked.
Whilst on one hand there is a hue and cry for transparency, why is there such dismay when players speak their minds and convey they do not think alike? Do we live in world, be it within the family or the work place or a social environment, where people are completely in agreement on everything? If there can be difference of opinions between children and parents, spouses, colleagues and amongst friends, why can’t there be differing views between cricketers? Why is there an expectation that everyone should think and speak and act alike? Is it humanly possible or even reasonable? Is having differing views a pointer that there is a rift in the team? If a spouse does not subscribe to his/her partner’s habit or liking or preference for something, are they living with a rift between them? Should a parent deny a child’s demand, are they living with a rift between them?
The fact that Team India has not been performing as desired has fuelled this issue to top billing. If one looks at the history of the game, differences between players have existed all along, whether the playing results were favorable or not. The likes of Stan McCabe and Jack Fingleton existed with serious difference of opinion with a man of the stature of Don Bradman, at the height of his playing days. Greg Chappell, unhappy with Graham Yallop replacing Rick McCosker, disagreed with selector Sam Loxton on where Yallop would play in the batting order. All through his reign as Australian captain, Kim Hughes had Dennis Lillee and Rodney March, and even David Hookes, never accepting him as a leader, and not always agreeing with the skipper’s tactics or decisions, irrespective whether the side was winning or losing.
“Grind them into the dust” was Bradman’s call to Keith Miller when Australia played England on a ‘sticky’ wicket at the Gabba in 1946. Miller refused to intimidate the batsman with short stuff in a match where he had seven wickets in the first innings for 60 runs. Miller later related his reasons for not doing what his captain, Don Bradman, had wanted him to do. “A war has just passed, a lot of Test cricketers and near Test ones have been killed and here we are after that war, everybody happy to be alive, and we have to grind them to dust?”
Miller’s final word was, “If this is Test cricket, they can stick it up their jumper….. this wasn’t my way of playing cricket”.
If Dhoni’s way of playing is like a cat and mouse game and keeping it to the end, and Gambhir has a differing view as a batsman, what is wrong if they express that opinion? What really is wrong with his thought process as a captain if Dhoni prefers to only have two of the three he considers to be not up to the mark on the field? The line of thinking may be right or wrong, a different matter altogether, but his expressing that view needs to be welcomed.
As long as these differing views do not lead to actions of conflict of team interest on the field, and the team plays as a unit with a common cause, where is the need for angst that the cricketers are speaking their minds? If deliberate bad balls are not bowled, catches are not deliberately dropped, batsmen are not deliberately run out, and malicious actions of the like are not resulting from the differing personal viewpoints, the cricketers need to be commended for their straight speaking.
How Sobers, Weekes helped Wes Hall get into the West Indies team
Do such malicious events happen on a cricket field? This is an interesting narrative by the great Garry Sobers from his autobiography: “Trials for the West Indies were very much like our trials for the Barbados team; there were players you wanted on the team and players you wanted to knock off. Wes Hall and Frank Mason were competing for one of the places for a fast bowler. At the time Frank was a better bowler than the young up-and-coming Wes, but Everton Weekes and I decided we would take on Mason and knock him out of the firing line to try to get our fellow Bajan Wes in the team. Poor Frank could not believe what was happening to him as the ball flew to all corners of the boundary. Good balls were hit for four and bad balls hit for six. By contrast, we played a straight bat to everything Wes bowled, saying ‘good ball’ as we played a half-volley back down the wicket. I was only a youngster, not yet 21, but Everton wanted out fellow islander in the team and coached me into politics. I was sorry for Frank because he was a darned good bowler, but it was Wes who was picked.”
Were there no differing opinions within this team last April, when the World Cup was won? Would not have there have been differing views on some selections or non-selections involving the likes of Piyush Chawla, Ravichandran Ashwin? Transparency is to be encouraged. If the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) can telecast the auction of Indian Premier League (IPL) players, why not telecast the Indian team selection meetings live? What harm will be caused if we know how the discussions and behavior of the selection committee? No state secrets that endanger the country will be exposed. When people say that what transpires in a dressing room should stay there and not come to public domain, it is a clear communication that there are unsavoury happenings that are intended to be brushed under the carpet. Should not the Indian cricket fan, the stake holder of the game, know what goes on?
This new culture of players speaking their minds even if they differ needs to be looked at in the context of why they are speaking, rather than flay them for having different viewpoints. As long as the team plays as a unit, win or lose, it is time to encourage transparency and openness.
(Vincent Sunder aspired to play Test cricket, but had to struggle to play .gully. cricket! He managed a league side to title triumph in the KSCA tournaments. He was debarred from umpiring in the gully games after he once appealed vociferously for a caught-behind decision when officiating as an umpire! After two decades in the corporate sector, he became an entrepreneur with the objective of being able to see cricket matches on working days as well. Vincent gets his .high. from cricket books and cricket videos and discussing cricket)