Gaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
Flogging a dead horse is fraught with danger. After all, the line between opinion and missionary zeal can be a tricky one. Keen as I am to avoid the trap, none of the arguments against sending a side to the Asian Games have cut much ice with me. First the ones the BCCI have branded about. 'Our calendar is set, we can't change that'. If the BCCI can't change its calendar, why did they attempt to bully the English Board (who have a published one as opposed to the BCCI!) asking them to tweak theirs so counties could play in the Champions League? 'We have the Ranji Trophy on at the time and that is equally important to us'. Right, am I the only one chuckling at that one? 'The ICC hasn't resolved the WADA dispute for us yet'. Yes, but the deadline is November 2011. NOVEMBER 2011. The Asian Games are in November 2010. None of this of course is in the form of a press release. Just an animated phone conversation that ended with this interviewer being brusquely cut off by the head of the Board's media committee Rajiv Shukla.
But let the BCCI be. After all an organisation littered with strongmen seeking to secretly purchase IPL teams can't be burdened with the task of maintaining the sanctity of our game. I was particularly amused by <a href='http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2010/jun/02/india-asian-games-dileep-premachandran' Dileep Premachandran's eloquence in The Guardian, who accused the media of 'patriotic indignation and frothing at the mouth': Dileep asks: 'Does cricket belong on the Olympic or Asian Games stage? Or will it be an imposter, as football and tennis are? An Olympic medal should be the pinnacle of your sport. If it's not, you really don't have any business being there.'
Hmmm, I wonder what the pinnacle of a Tennis player's ambitions are? The Wimbledon title you would think? Ahh, Leander Paes already has that. So why does he drive a body ravaged by 20 years on the international circuit for another shot at the Olympics in 2012? When he will be pushing 40 and younger men will be better placed to shatter his dream? Why is it that his stated goals for 2010 are medals at the Commonwealth and Asian Games? Try telling Leander his sport is an imposter when he shows up at an Asian Games or Olympics.
Infact, try making that argument to any Tennis player worth his salt. Olympic Tennis was reintroduced only in 1988 after being shunned out in 1924. And the greats of the sport jumped at the opportunity. Steffi Graf won a golden slam in 1988. Adding an Olympic gold to her four Grand Slam titles. Roger Federer, so upset at being dumped out of the singles competition at Beijing, turned his wrath on Leander and Mahesh on the doubles court. Federer rarely, if ever, plays doubles on the ATP tour. Yet counts his Beijing Gold as among his greatest achievements in the game. The Williams sisters won Gold medals at both Sydney in 2000 and Beijing in 2008 and squealed with excitement both times. Please could someone ask Rafael Nadal, who won gold at Beijing, if he felt tennis was an imposter at the games?
Is Saina Nehwal's Olympic dream foolish. Badminton was only introduced at the Barcelona Games in 1992 as an Olympic sport. So has no great tradition of being at the Olympics. Must she then devote all her energy at becoming the first Indian woman to win the All-England title? The Olympics can be a side show. Silly Saina, all she speaks of with a glint in her eye is achieving that one moment in London in 2 years time. Her agony at falling just short in Beijing still gnaws at her. Her quest for a medal is the PINNACLE of her sport. Golf will be played at the Olympics in 2016. Guess who led the move to push for its inclusion. Tiger Woods, who wrote a personal letter to the International Olympic Committee. The heritage of his sport expects him to win the Masters and the Ryder Cup. Yet he greedily covets an Olympic Gold. Imposter?
Cricket was never designed to be an Olympic sport. Until Twenty20 came along and presented cricket an opportunity on a platter to find its place in the family of world sport. Instead of embracing that chance, must we spurn it with such arrogance. Sure the IPL produces ordinary standards of play at times, but between well matched international teams does that argument hold for T20 cricket? Was Mike Hussey's stunning innings in the World T20 semi-final against Pakistan ordinary? Were England ordinary in their thrilling run to a first ever World Cup? Was the first world T20 final between India and Pakistan an inferior cricket match? Is it not a golden chapter in our cricket heritage? Is its place lower than winning a Test match at Perth? Or a series in England?
Can Cricket not showcase the excellence of its T20 platform at an Olympics or an Asian Games? And once that is done return to its core strength of Test matches. Where a four man battery and 4 slips can be relished again? All it takes is 15 days every 4 years. Now how does that digress from the priority of what matters. Is the argument that sending a team for the Asian Games will derail preparation for the 50 over World Cup? Will it scupper our shot at regaining the Number One Test ranking? Perhaps Dileep could have asked Suresh Raina what he preferred if he were not in the Indian Test XI that will face New Zealand at the time of the Asian Games. Batting for Uttar Pradesh in Kanpur against Railways, or attempting to win a gold medal for India in China? Tradition is created over years. Maybe this was the sapling that needed to be planted for a tradition to take root and ultimately flower.
Infact, it is scandalous that nothing is known of what the players think. I am willing to concede that those of us frothing at the mouth could be wrong. And the players don't give a damn about winning a medal. But could we hear that from them please? Could the BCCI organise a press conference where we can ask M S Dhoni, 'So Mahi, would you like to play at the Asian Games'. But we simply don't know. And those grotesque media networks that alleged players prefer dancing at award functions and making money over playing for India must really introspect. How can the players be condemned? Have they been allowed to express a view? If they do, won't the same players be issued a show cause notice. After all, the board made them explain why they were around when a bunch of bozos abused them in the West Indies. This is a board where dissent isn't tolerated. A contrarian view is frowned upon and silenced.
One final word. The reason to 'contrast the careers of Sunil Gavaskar and his son Rohan' was because the story was told by the great man himself. It isn't a concoction. Gavaskar spoke on record on a CNN-IBN show of his deep regret at never experiencing a games village atmosphere. Of never having the opportunity to do so. When the opportunity came along for this generation of players we brushed it away. Why does a century in front of 90,000 at the Eden Gardens and an Asian Games gold medal need to be mutually exclusive? Why can't we have both? Just like Federer has a Wimbledon trophy and an Olympic Gold Medal. I'd rather frankly be frothing at the mouth if that in anyway can force a rethink and a team can play in China. Nationalism on the sleeve looks rather nice!