These days, cricket matches are often interrupted by 2 players, walking up to each other, and exchanging angry words and abuses, before a mediator arrives in the form of the umpire, or teammates.
These are scenes we are all used to. Sledging has been a part of cricket for a long time.
When I was younger, and I used to watch cricket obsessively, the Indian team comprised of super-talented men- Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman etc. They played hard, and gave back as good as they received, mostly but their behaviour on field couldn’t exactly be described as “aggressive”; the most controversial incident that happened with them was probably Sourav’s shirt-swinging incident.
That era was characterised by a certain sense of humility, the Indian team still trying to fix it’s position as world-beaters. The players seemed approachable and likeable; people who met them regularly spoke about how normal they seemed, how the fanfare hadn’t gone to their heads; and while I can remember several incidents of sledging and banter on the fields, I don’t remember anything getting so out of hand so as to make the media interested.
All that has changed.
It is ridiculous to try to pinpoint a particular day and time when suddenly, the attitide of the Indian cricket team changed. When the team as a whole become more aggressive, when they started having a strong fighting attitude and when suddenly these boys were all swearing and abusing and disciplinary committees had to get involved and all that. And now, it’s so natural again no one gives a damn anymore.
It’ll be ridiculous to even try to pinpoint a particular date and time when things started changing. And I’m not trying to make a moral judgement or something here (of course I am, I’m an old-fashioned granny). There’s no right or wrong in this, and I’m not trying to privilege one style of playing over another. There are different ways of looking at this.
So while I think of it as a movement from a humble style of playing to a more aggressive (and over-confident) one, it can also be seen as a movement from the quiet and subversive attitudes of a team used to being dominated by the world (cricketing) powers who’s only option was to lie low and hope for the best, to one which is controlling every aspect of world cricket, of ICC decisions and of people who know they can get away with anything they do (it’ll soon become the Spoilt Child Syndrome, but no one other than me cares about that). It could also involve a shift towards the young talent, lots and lots of money and glamour and a constant need for attention, maybe. Fame and paisa and all the side effects of cricket getting to you and making you believe, much like a little child, that it is cool to be “bad” *hint, Virat, hint*.
The earlier generation was humble, they respected the game and it showed. Winning meant much to them, maybe because they came from a time when India didn’t win so often, when India wasn’t taken so seriously. You could see it in the way they raised their bats to the dressing room after a tough century. For example, the way Sachin would raise his head and thank God every single time. Nowadays, people blow kisses to their girlfriends. And while I personally think it’s really sweet and romantic (yeah, yeah, romance novel fan here), it is a sign of how cricket has changed- how there is a lot more belief in oneself and one’s ability, how cricketers have attitude and style, are full of pride and are the ‘cool dudes’ now like never before.
Here is a list of some incidents that have taken place in recent years, that show the marked change in the attitude of the Indian cricket team and that of individual players. This is not an exhaustive list, there are many more examples. I just don’t want to be accused of being biased.
- The Sydney Test and Monkeygate:
In January 2008, India was playing Australia in the Border-Gavaskar trophy and the Sydney test was characterised by terrible and unsporting behaviour on both sides. It was also the test where Harbhajan Singh was accused of being racist, because he called Andrew Symonds a monkey, apparently. They took this to cricketing court and the defence, I kid you not, was that Bhajji hadn’t in fact said monkey but a Hindi abuse, related to one’s mother. Bhajji got off his racism charge (don’t even get me started on how problematic it is that he wasn’t even fined for abusing Andrew Symonds’ mother but let’s not go there). It also marked a new era or whatever with the Aussies claiming that a lot of it was ‘fixed’ by the Indians- the verdict of the case etc that is.
- Virat and his Middle Finger:
In 2012, Virat Kohli got into trouble, again in Australia, when he showed his middle finger to a group of abusive Aussie fans. Now…. I’m not saying that Virat should have taken it lying down, as his predecessors would have… I’m stating a fact. Kohli responded to weird fans by showing them the middle finger.
- Sreesanth gets Slapped:
And well this one was even more problematic because it involved 2 Indian players. Harbhajan Singh, yes, him again, slapped Sreesanth, they were both playing for different IPL teams. It was a clear display of uncontrolled anger and aggression and again, I don’t know what Sreesanth did, to provoke him, but he must have done something clearly.
There are many more such incidents, but my point is… the way cricket is played has changed drastically in the last couple of years. Yeah, I miss the days of Dravid (sigh, I miss Dravid) and sure, the new young team is full of potential and talent. But their attitude doesn’t suggest just a win-at-whatever-cost style but a more sociological and common problem that needs to identified and addressed.
Till then, #WontGiveItBack.
By Shreemayee Das