Every big sport is now a million-dollar business. And those earning in millions should be treated like stars and not schoolboys because big money breeds big egos
So,the cricket world appears to be in a state of shock following the homeworkgate. Shane Watson has walked out of the Australian team,but Mitchell Johnson,James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja have accepted the punishment sheepishly. After the debacle in Chennai and Hyderabad,this controversy has indeed made the Australian cricket a global laughing stock.
Man management,or rather the lack of it,is the root of the problem. Mickey Arthur is an outsider in Australian cricket and he doesnt have the Test pedigree as a cricketer. It is not unusual of him to put more emphasis on the theoretical side of the game,forgetting that cricket matches are basically won or lost by the runs scored and wickets taken. Arthur is in charge of a young Australian team that is going through transition. Still he is struggling in his job. Its a matter of conjecture what he would have done with someone like Shane Warne on board,when there was every possibility that his penchant for wellness report could have been described as literary diarrhoea.
But all the jibes and banters notwithstanding,maybe its time to put things in perspective. A public spat between an individual player and team management that leads to drastic actions like suspension or walkout,are not very common in cricket. Yes,we always had a Lala Amarnath,Roy Gilchrist,Geoffrey Boycott or Navjot Sidhu,but big controversies were few and far between. Also,much notice was not given to off-the-field incidents when cricket was basically restricted to Doordarshans national network and All India Radios running commentary.
But this Watson issue and also the problems with Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen have surfaced in the Indian Premier League (IPL) era. This is a time when we should judge such cases differently. Unlike football or tennis,cricket has always been a country sport. Other options were never available to make a living out of it. A player has had to play Test cricket to make his name and more importantly,to earn a better living. Things have been changing. Club versus country is an ongoing debate in football. Clubs employ the players and they dictate terms. Naturally,loyalty lies with the paymasters.
Alan Shearer turned his back on England in his pomp,when he was just 29,because he wanted to prolong his Newcastle United career. Paul Scholes,too,retired from international football at 29 to keep himself fit and fresh for Manchester United. And the list goes on. There have been many incidents in football when star players in the team didnt see eye-to-eye with their national team manager. While the bust-ups did fill the back pages,they were hardly considered out of place. When Roy Keane walked out of the Ireland team after confronting his manager,Mick McCarthy,during the 2002 World Cup,he never had the worry that the action might end his football career. He came back from the Pacific and slipped into the greener pastures of Old Trafford.
When Patrice Evra led a revolt against Raymond Domenech in the France team during the 2010 World Cup,he knew full well that it wouldnt affect his Manchester United career. Even the great Lionel Messi has time and again been criticised for not playing with full intensity for Argentina. In tennis also,top players pick and choose their Davis Cup matches. They earn big by toiling hard on the circuit,and only the ATP or WTA events and the grand slams matter to them. The IPL is slowly but surely changing the entire approach towards cricket. It is also changing the dressing room dynamics.
This tournament has provided even the fringe players with a platform to become millionaires. Playing for the country no longer remains the Holy Grail. After suspension,Watson said he would consider his Test future. His father was more forthright in saying that the Australian all-rounder could sacrifice his international career and survive by playing in the IPL. Indeed,Watson has an IPL contract with the Rajasthan Royals to look after his lifestyle. He was roped in by the Royals for $1,25,000 in 2008 and his stock has risen sharply since. The ongoing Test series between India and Australia saw the 31-year-old not bowling a single delivery even as MS Dhoni and company pounded his hapless teammates to smithereens. He didnt want to jeopardise his injury-prone career.
However,he will be bowling his heart out for his franchise,when the IPL begins next month. Pattinson,too,has a $1,00,000 contract with the Kolkata Knight Riders. But he is a new kid on the block like Khawaja and had to bite the bullet. Johnson,though an experienced campaigner,is not on solid footing at the moment which has made him vulnerable. Money does make the biggest impact in every sphere. Gayle never lost his sleep over his feud with the West Indies Cricket Board because he was assured of a princely income through his stint with the Bangalore Royal Challengers. Pietersen didnt mind taking on the ECB bosses because he had the very lucrative IPL options. Both were integrated into their respective national teams. The boards had to backtrack in both the cases. Maybe Watson,too,will return to the Australian team but the latest controversy should be an eye-opener to those who are in charge of running the affairs.
Man management has become very important in the changed scenario. Big money breeds big ego and big egos need special treatment. Even the great Sir Alex Ferguson has said he has changed his management style to keep pace with time. Hairdryer doesnt rev up too often these days. Every big sport is now a million-dollar business. And those who are earning in millions are big stars. They should be treated like stars and not schoolboys. This Australian team has a millionaire in Glenn Maxwell. The off-spinner has played just one Test and a handful of ODIs. But that didnt prevent him from becoming the most sought-after man in the IPL auction. Maxwell is now a big player despite the fact that he has very little international experience. As the definition of stardom has changed,so is the method of dealing with the stars. The dressing room becomes restive when coaches and captains forget that.