When he leaned in closer, Best looked up and told the man to **** off. “Make me,” he snarled. Best, who had never shied away from a challenge on the field, stood up and socked him one flush on the jaw. The man didn’t flinch. “That the best you can do then?” he sneered. “Oh, alright then. Get me another half!” said Best.
I was reminded of that anecdote when I read the non-story about the eight Indian cricketers inside Tequila Joe’s in St. Lucia. Show-cause notices were issued when they returned to India, despite the fact that all they had done was back up a mate subjected to vile abuse by fans who thought that paying their way to the Caribbean gave them some sort of entitlement to treat the players how they wished. Sure, Ravindra Jadeja had a bad tournament. But techies write rubbish code sometimes. Journalists deliver poor articles. No one takes a pop at us in a pub because of it.
It gets tiresome to hear that this comes with the territory when you’re an Indian cricketer. Are we actually condoning idiots pelting players’ houses when they lose, or drunken morons practising their upper-cuts in bars and pubs? Apparently, the board was unhappy that a couple of the players were “drunk” [probably had a couple of drinks]. Why? The tournament was over. They were heading home. Since when was it a crime for someone off duty to head out, and that too in a place like the Caribbean?
A couple of weeks ago, I heard one of the organisers of the now-infamous IPL parties saying that they provided an opportunity for the fans to get closer to the ‘stars’. Why would you do that, especially in a country like India where the concept of personal space is non-existent?
I recall sitting in the departure lounge at Nagpur Airport, the day after Australia had annihilated India to end 35 years of pain on Indian soil [October 2004]. It was just a few months after Virender Sehwag got married, and he was chatting to his wife. A ‘fan’ found his way to where they were sitting, put his arms around both seats and leaned his head in so that he was literally kissing distance from both husband and wife. His friend snapped away happily. Sehwag looked appalled, but said nothing, probably fearing “Arrogant Indian star” headlines in the next day’s tabloids. Not once had our friend asked him or his wife permission to take a picture. An Indian cricketer. Public property. Has no rights.
I asked Suresh Raina, who will lead the team to Zimbabwe, how much the excessive criticism affects him when the team loses. His expression was halfway between a rueful smile and a grimace. After all, these are players who care only about the next ad campaign, and not about playing for their country. “You can’t think about such things,” he said finally. “Whatever endorsements or shoots I do, it’s only because I score runs for the team. If that stops, they will too.”
As Julia Baird wrote in Newsweek in the aftermath of the Tiger Woods scandal: ‘Why do we even pretend that sports-people are models of propriety? Or rather why do we need them to be? They are physically gifted, driven, and disciplined. That’s what you need to excel at sport. Not moral strength, courage, decency, or fidelity. These virtues are admirable, but are a bonus: they should not be an expectation. Yet we continue to project an irrational desire for the physically perfect to be spiritually strong.’
In India, we are world leaders at that sort of hypocrisy. The board, with several individuals of decidedly dubious moral quality, tends to lead the way. It’s resulted in the gulf between players and fans, the two most important stakeholders in any sport, growing wider by the day. And as long as we don’t respect personal space, that’s perhaps just as well.
*This appeared The Sunday Guardian on May 23.