The Tortured Eleven

It was immoral to see eleven mature men, a fusion of superb spirit and individual brilliance, pummel a patchwork coalition of Dad's Army and Mum's Brats with ruthless ease and consistency.



The historic moment has arrived for a radical revolution in the rules of the game. There is no other option, if we want to protect hapless Indian masses from severe bouts of depression, leading directly to loss of national vigour and collapse of carefully nurtured pride. Cricket must now be played according to the laws of boxing.

Compared to cricket, boxing is a humane and civilised sport. It knows when to stop. If the referee feels that a contest has become a one-sided exercise in hammering, and infers that while a boxer might remain technically on his feet but his brain has become softer than an election candidate's morals, he arbitrarily stops a bout. By all norms of decency, the Australia-India series should have been halted. It is immoral to see eleven mature men, a fusion of superb spirit and individual brilliance, pummel a patchwork coalition of Dad's Army and Mum's Brats with ruthless ease and consistency. One of the significant successes of 20th century diplomacy was the Geneva Pact. It has banned torture. Why then does this callous world permit such unbridled torture on the cricket field? Why doesn't the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Amateurs) intervene in such a humanitarian crisis?

Purists will argue that India lost its way when Rahul Dravid dropped Mike Hussey at Melbourne in the first Test, and Australia recovered from 27 for 4 to an unbeatable 240 in the second innings. That sort of comment might, at best, fetch you a free coffee from naive friends. Wars are not lost because an officer dropped a flag. Every Indian journalist on tour has by now met the Australian taxi driver who asked the question, "What's gone wrong with your team, mate?" That question misses the point as inevitably as Indian batsmen miss the ball. India does not have a team. It has half-a-dozen players who are punishing their ageing limbs in search of even more cash from an indefatigable lottery. Some batsmen are more anxious about the prospect of free land from chief ministers under the spurious excuse that they are setting up cricket academies, than about their next score. A heretical question is circling around even the finest we have seen: are you playing for Bharat or for the Bharat Ratna? The formidable patrician Dr W.G. Grace, whose beard was as long as his wit was sharp, once told an uppity bowler who had the temerity to get him out that the British spectator had come to see Grace bat, and an upstart bowl. He continued at the crease. We should now apply that useful principle to Sachin Tendulkar: let him get his 100th 100, and get on with stitching together a totally new team, including at least one 17-year-old who can become our next Sachin.

Perhaps it is wrong to get harsh with Sachin Tendulkar, who still has runs to offer. Cricket is not a game you can play alone. But Sachin might yet want to recall what Vijay Merchant, the great Mumbai sportsman, once said: You should retire when the public still asks why, not when. But Merchant belonged to a generation when a Test player got one pound sterling as spending money per day on a foreign tour. Those players didn't know how to spell a five-letter word called 'crore'.

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Don't get me wrong. There is nothing unethical about the wealth that now dominates the game. But money increases accountability. Indian cricket is, instead, controlled by a crony system in which administrators, selectors, players and their chosen commentators protect one another. Australia became invincible in my book on the day its captain Michael Clarke refused to cross Don Bradman's score when he could have easily done so. That was not merely team before self; it was homage to Australia's history, and a young genius telling us, with astonishing humility, that he would not break an implicit honour code.

If there was a Border-Gavaskar trophy for alibis, however, Indians would have returned with heaps of silver. Gautam Gambhir's throwaway accusation that the hosts had fixed the pitch was beneath contempt. Lose, but don't cry. It was not defeat that shamed India, but the manner in which the side crumbled repeatedly. Of course the players never allowed their performance to affect their camera-perfect preening. These guys are professional. After all, they spend more time on television than soap opera stars. Even a newcomer grimaces with distaste at the umpire after having pitched four balls short and one full in a single over. Nothing is ever his fault. And he either already has or will soon get an advertising contract to prove it.

The majestic Dr Grace had some useful advice for fellow cricketers faced with columns such as this one. "Never read print, it spoils one's eye for the ball." If India's present eleven had any eye left for the ball, there wouldn't be such print either.

Reproduced From India Today. © 2012. LMIL. All rights reserved.

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