Never in the history of cricket, now fighting a desperate battle to retain its reputation as a gentleman's game, have players made so much money in so short a span of time.
Six weeks is all that the Indian Premier League (IPL) season will last. No grudging them their earnings in this latest forum of gladiatorial cricket that has opened up a market where cricketers were bought like prized animals in a cattle fair, considering their sweat and toil in the scorching heat in the armour of Kings and Superkings, Daredevils and Royals and Knight Riders and Chargers.
But even before the show has reached the halfway stage it has been indelibly scarred by a number of incidents it could have done without.
The day Harbhajan Singh is alleged to have thwacked S. Sreesanth will be remembered as a day when Indian cricket itself received a stinging slap on its face, a misdemeanour that promptly earned him an 11-match suspension from the IPL commissioner costing him Rs.30 million, with more punishment likely when the cricket board is through with its own inquiry. It is the same board which, blinded by jingoism, threw its weight behind the off-spinner from Jalandhar on the Australian tour marred by charges of racial abuse, swear words like "teri ma ki..." and boorish remarks like "obnoxious little weed," and threatened to fly the Indian team home should any action be taken against the man.
But what is it that leads the Harbhajans of cricket to repeated violations of the game's code, the latest slapping episode leaving the man appointed by the board "shocked" by the video footage? Psychologists would call it poor impulse control. But the layman would blame it all on poor breeding and parental indulgence, or as they would nonchalantly say in Harbhajan's Jalandhar, "phir ki hoya" (it doesn't matter). Parents, doting on their children's special talents, forget there are other, equally important, aspects that need attention like civil behaviour.
We've not known, say, a Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid guilty of uncivil behaviour, although they too must have faced stresses and strains and provocations in their long careers as cricketers. All those who applauded when Harbhajan made brash statements to the effect that he would give it back if anyone sledged must be wondering if they did the right thing. What if Harbhajan had thumped a white or black cricketer and not Sreesanth? Maybe again many of us would have allowed jingoism to get the better of out better judgment.
Board president Sharad Pawar is keen, rightly so, to show that any good cricket administrator will place discipline above everything else. After all, he is the president-in-waiting of the International Cricket Council. Even as the slapping incident is being inquired into, there are reports that Harbhajan Singh has written a letter of apology to the board. So had Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan whose five-year ban was suspended for a month to enable him to play in the IPL.
Even lesser infractions like Ishant Sharma kicking the stumps or Sourav Ganguly showing dissent, both being fined 10 percent of their match fees, are ugly marks on the IPL. One should be worried more about young Ishant, a fast bowler still in his teens. The aggro attributed to fast bowlers, far from being applauded, should be strongly disapproved. Gestures like pointing to the dressing room after dismissing a batsman and angry appealing constitute rude behaviour.
Boys like Ishant subconsciously acquire such traits from the seniors they have been watching in an impressionable age. Gentle giants can bowl just as fast and effectively as huge hulks of bullying looks who dramatise their feelings for effect.
(K. Datta is a veteran sports writer and commentator. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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