Monday, January 30, 2012

Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ January 29, 2012

Power & Politics

Cricket Barons and Faded Legends Protect Pockets at India's Expense

Success has many claimants, failure none. Surprisingly, political leaders, glamour-infected corporate scions, struggling-to-survive Bollywood entertainers and shaky satraps are outshouting one another to extend support to a failed cricket icon, despite his pathetic performance on the field. Having failed to set a superlative record of 100 centuries, Sachin Tendulkar—fading cricket star and the youngest aspirant for the Bharat Ratna—is still against the idea of retirement.

Undoubtedly, Sachin has done India proud. He has broken many of his own records. However, his success has always been more about personal achievement than leaving behind more Tendulkars. He has been a mighty miracle at the crease. But of late, he seems to be playing only for more fame or to add to his brand value. In the process, neither he nor cricket have gained.

Unlike in the past, when they return to India from this Australian tour, Sachin and his teammates would face the ire of many of their admirers for placing self-interest before the nation’s. During the past two decades, Indian cricket administrators have been making players and the cricket body very rich indeed. According to brand management companies, the net worth of top five Indian players exceeds `500 crore. While the game is controlled by a coalition of just a dozen politicians and corporate leaders, these stars represent India. They are equally accountable to the country and their billion admirers. However, even when they fail to deliver, instead of punishing the non-performers, the self-appointed owners of the game are keeping brands like Sachin and others to retain their own valuation and to assert power over international cricket. Indian cricket is no more a gentleman’s game. It’s like a fading scrip whose price is being manipulated by cricket speculators and profiteers.

Since March 12, 2011—the day Sachin scored his 99th international ton against South Africa in World Cup 2011—no less than 115 centuries have been scored in international cricket. Of these, 76 were in Tests (including Virat Kohli’s in the 4th Test at Adelaide), 38 in ODIs and one in T20. In the same period, Australian captain Michael Clarke hit six international centuries, and Kumar Sangakkara and Rahul Dravid five each. Sachin’s highest score in this period: 91. Look at Ricky Ponting’s performance in the current series: like Sachin, he is also 38. He scored 587 runs against Sachin’s 287. Ponting’s highest score was 221 against Sachin’s 80. But the Australian has been allowed to play because of his performance record, and not connections or regional affiliations.

All over the world, players are included or dropped on the basis of their consistent accomplishments. In India, however, most are included, thanks to regional connections and corporate patronage. Ever since IPL became the real money-spinner for cricketers, Indian teams have been chosen on the basis of their IPL showing than in regional tournaments like Santosh Trophy or Ranji Trophy. These are ignored by the BCCI. The chief selector seems to be selecting his IPL team first and India’s later. Players like Sachin, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, M S Dhoni have been paid almost `10 crore each by their respective IPL team owners, and around `2 crore each by the BCCI. But their inclusion and retention as Team India players brings them more moolah through endorsing various brands, from motorbikes to shampoos. If a player is dropped from the national team, he suffers a huge monetary loss, as the advertiser doesn’t want to invest in a player who isn’t visible any more. Similarly, each IPL team gets money from sponsors depending on the number of likely Team India players in its 16-member brigade. It is no coincidence that Ravichandran Ashwin was first discovered by Chennai Super Kings and then selected to play for India. Most of the players who let down India Down Under are pampered by IPL owners; and if they don’t represent the country, they will suffer financially big time. Can Mumbai Indians or Royal Challengers allow their team valuations to erode if their star players don’t play for India?

However, when it comes to cricketers like Harbhajan Singh—hailing from the weakest state in the cricket lobby, Punjab—BCCI rulers drop him for his failure to deliver in just one season. One of the world’s most outstanding spinners, he is now left to entertain in wrestling shows. Earlier, Sourav Ganguly was disgracefully dropped just when he had started exhibiting his awesome talent once again. Dada’s fault: he was again from a state whose cricket boss Jagmohan Dalmiya was on the wrong side of the establishment.

Dravid has indicated he may hang up his bat and boots after the Australia series is over. Sachin represented a glorious era of Indian cricket. It seems he is now willing to bat in the darkest chapter of the game as well.
Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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