The English Premier League, like its Indian cricket equivalent, is a harsh environment to grow up in. Pots of money, a fancy car a week if you feel like it, an endless stream of faux-celebrity girlfriends and groupies. Parasitic agents and hangers-on. But for every idiot like Bowyer who hits the skids, there are others like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, exemplary professionals who have lasted nearly as long as Tendulkar at the top.
This week, we’ve heard a lot of rubbish about IPL nights and parties and the effects on the Indian national team. Why are we so eager for excuses? When will we accept that each individual has to take responsibility for his actions? Several of the Australians played in the IPL, including the hard-hitting opening duo of Shane Watson and David Warner and Dirk Nannes, the top wicket-taker in the Caribbean. England’s campaign has been built around runs from Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan, both of whom were part of the Royal Challengers squad.
Are you telling me that Australians don’t party? Some of their guys could drink the Indians under a table five times over, but once they cross the white line on to the field, professionalism takes over. Warner is squat enough to be a rugby prop, but he covers the outfield with astonishing fleetness of foot and takes some stunning catches. The fast bowlers, Nannes, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson are all big men, but with athletic rather than stevedore physiques.
And then there’s Michael Hussey. At 35, he’s five years older than Yuvraj Singh, and from a different generation to Rohit Sharma. In the heat and humidity of St. Lucia, he scampered between the wickets like a teenager, gathering his breath only briefly before walloping the six sixes that transformed the semi-final. Hussey was given the baggy green cap at 30, after more than 15,000 first-class runs. Nothing came easily to him.
“The thing about the Australian team is that it’s so tough to get into that you want to perform as well as you possibly can, because you know there are people playing first-class cricket that are desperate to get an opportunity,” he said when I interviewed him in 2008. “You’d never let up on the opposition or cruise through. You don’t want to give someone else the chance to take your place.”
And while he accepted the inevitability of the Twenty20 explosion, he had no doubts as to how players should look to develop. “I’ll be doing everything in my power to pass on to the next generation how important it is to play Test cricket and wear that baggy green cap with pride. I think it’s important that we continue to develop a culture where you have to work very hard – score a lot of runs, take a lot of wickets – to get your opportunity to play for Australia. You’ll never take it for granted then.”
Pietersen went off to England as an unknown, and did his time at Nottinghamshire and Hampshire before breaking through in 2005. Both men, who could dictate the course of today’s final, have a voracious appetite for runs, driven as they are by what they perceive as time lost. How often do we see that kind of desire and commitment from the younger generation of Indian cricketers, especially those that have already banked millions as a result of the IPL?
Bowyer was in his prime around the time Yuvraj made such an impact on debut in Kenya. Back then, Yuvraj was not just the batsman for the future, but also as good a fielder as India had seen. These days, he stands at mid-on, usually reserved for bowlers with one foot in the knacker’s yard, doing belly-flops and watching the ball pass him by. The hunger for success that could have made him a Hussey or a Pietersen has been replaced by appetites of another kind.
* This article was published in The Sunday Guardian on May 16.