Talking Sport Harsha Bhogle
I am writing this soon after watching the Rajasthan Royals,rocked by intrigue and glued by commitment,make a heartwarming entry into the final eliminator of what has,from a purely cricketing point of view,been an outstanding IPL. They have added drama,largely unwanted,and as a result have demanded newer skills of its players,the ability to play under the shadow of false media allegations for example. But while the action,even the emotion,was riveting,the backdrop,sombre and depressing,was impossible to ignore. This hasnt been just another week in Indian cricket,this wasnt just another tournament.
And so,I find myself in an emotional cauldron; in a sport I love,in a tournament whose cricket I genuinely believe in but in an atmosphere,even if created by a few,tinged with moral decay and danger. I feel sadness and fear,I am angry very often but from time to time expectation wells up within; that my sport might emerge stronger; that out of pain a nicer sport will evolve.
I am partly in denial,I want my sport to be embody everything I have experienced within it; beauty,bravery,flair,everything that brings a smile. I want to be happy,I want to shout out that good vastly overwhelms bad. But another part of me is hoping that whatever has to tumble out must,that cricket reaches its deepest caverns so even those conspiring there can be exposed; that cricket feels so much pain that it will do what it takes to ensure it doesnt happen again. Neither emotion is viable for I know cricket will continue to exist,like everything else,with the nicest and the bravest alongside the cowardly and the machiavellian.
One thing we must accept though; that the events upon us now are not only about cricket and cricketers,they are about insecurity,temptation and a desire to keep up with joneses. Let us look at each.
Cricket,like all sport,offers glory to few and a lifetime of it to even fewer. For the investment it demands it offers short careers,an end when people in other professions are starting to flourish. In that limited time a player must achieve all that he can on the field of play and earn as much as he can on and off it. But not everyone can earn enough to sustain themselves for the rest of their lives. That is why insecurity resides in very close proximity to most sportspeople. If they dont make it,they dont have too much to fall back upon.
That leads to temptation and when it is married to the awareness that it is virtually impossible to police the sport,the mind seeks out opportunities. Admittedly temptation is not the exclusive preserve of those that earn less but combined with insecurity it makes for a particularly vulnerable combination. And then there is the third factor that no one is willing to talk about.
Gadgets and girls
In sports teams,apart from talk of sporting prowess and the imparting of inspirational thought,an extraordinary amount of time is spent in discussing,and flaunting,material possessions. And even more so,of testosterone fuelled activities which,thus glorified,are seen as accomplishments; why,they almost become a rite of passage. Young players will gawk at gadgets and cars and eavesdrop on conversations that centre on the company of beautiful women.
Like records,this too becomes aspirational. And you can see why they become easy targets for those that offer what these younger,and lesser earning,players are led to aspire for. You can educate people but just as children instinctively do what their parents do,as opposed to what their parents tell them to,younger players get carried away by the environment they are in. They become easy targets for honey traps. That is the beginning of deeper pitfalls. And that is why,while I am in all in favour of educating and mentoring people,Im aware of its limitations especially when keeping up with the joneses is so natural and widespread.
This is not to condone what happens,this is not a boys will be boys explanation for young cricketers today know exactly what not to do. This is my hypothesis on why sportsmen all over the world are particularly easy targets. Some might argue that this is a more universal phenomenon,and they wont be wrong,but there seems to be a sense of accomplishment attached to it in sport all over the world.
But let us stay with cricket and India. Can we then educate at all? Yes we must for not to do so will be to accept defeat. But education must be accompanied by fear and I am increasingly convinced that fear will be a greater deterrent. And that is why I was so disappointed that the probe of 1999-2000 was never made public. By burying it,Indian cricket was let down. It cannot happen again. 1999-2000 now exists in whispers. 2013 cannot and that is why,painful as it might be,a greater churn will produce long term gain. It might lead to better systems,greater transparency,maybe even a law against fixing. Scams made systems more rigorous in the money markets,they could in cricket which,I suspect,is still much cleaner than stock market activities are!
Best IPL yet?
The timing of what has happened is particularly painful too because,looked at purely from a cricketing point of view,this was the best IPL yet. Power hitting went to a new level,leg spinners won matches in a format that few believed was made for them,catching was ridiculously good,some of the captaincy was exceptional,city loyalties were strengthened and we re-discovered,to our great joy,that the richest teams need not be the best.
Hopefully by staining it,these weak-willed will end up doing cricket a favour.