On to the front foot, batting for a cause or two

Cricketers expressing opinions publicly could usher in an era of greater accountability


Inside the last month, some of the more respected voices in the Indian cricket-playing fraternity have expressed their dissatisfaction, indeed displeasure, at the manner in which the game is being run at state levels. By going public with strong views that might have been held in private for a while now, men like Anil Kumble (left), Virender Sehwag (centre) and Javagal Srinath and, more recently Virender Sehwag, have triggered a welcome change from the past that could usher in an era of greater accountability and transparency.
There was a time a little under a decade back when India’s international stars tried everything possible to turn out for their state sides in the Ranji Trophy. There are stories of Sachin Tendulkar landing in Mumbai early morning and reaching the Wankhede in time for a 9.30 am Ranji start, as indeed of Kumble, Srinath and Rahul Dravid donning Karnataka colours barely a day after returning from an international assignment.

Cramped international calendars and India’s growing drawing power have combined to make such instances increasingly rare. The perceived danger that international stars might be losing touch with ground reality wasn’t unfounded, what with the premier domestic competition in the country serving merely as a practice-platform for national regulars either seeking to rediscover form or prove match fitness.
It’s against this backdrop that the Kumble-Srinath stance on the Karnataka Premier League, and Sehwag’s outburst against the Delhi and District Cricket Association, assume tremendous significance.
It wasn’t so much the conceptualisation of a Twenty20 competition as the corporate status conferred on it by the Karnataka State Cricket Association that got Kumble and Srinath’s goat. Both men are well educated, intelligent and have no history of shooting their mouths off. They think their words out carefully and have always tended to steer clear of controversies. For them to come out in the open on an issue they must have known was going to raise dust suggests they felt strongly about it, and felt the need to do something.

Unlike the Karnataka duo, Sehwag has seldom believed in keeping his thoughts to himself. There is a certain earthy bluntness about the way Sehwag speaks that is not too dissimilar in style from his breathtaking batting, but even if he doesn’t use it as sparingly as some of his India team-mates, his voice is still one of reason, one that commands attention.

His remarkable and unprecedented tirade against the goings-on and machinations in the DDCA could, therefore, hardly be disregarded or swept under the carpet. In Delhi cricketing circles, at least as far as the players are concerned, Sehwag is the one-stop problem-solving centre, the genuinely concerned benevolent older brother. And while his is the voice that set the wheels turning within the DDCA because it is the most powerful and resonant, it wasn’t one man taking on the establishment, one rebel fighting for a cause.
His open threat to quit Delhi cricket if the DDCA house was not set in order was no empty one, a fact not lost on association president Arun Jaitley. An understanding of sorts has been reached between Sehwag – and the players – and the administration, finally waking up to the reality that in the modern era, there simply is no place or scope for fiefdoms.

Player power. Ah, it’s a wonderful, heady feeling! Kumble and Srinath haven’t achieved much, so far, despite voicing their displeasure; Sehwag has pulled off a huge coup, and not merely because of his stature. It is little short of ironical that in a country where the governing cricket unit has steadfastly refused to acknowledge or encourage the growth of a vibrant player body, individual players are making strong cases for why a player body is such a definite must.
Cricket is what it is in India today not because the game is run supremely efficiently or the facilities provided to fans at the stadiums are impeccable. Its success lies in the quality of play on the park, on the connect between the stars and the players and oftentimes, despite the apathy shown by the administrators. Recent developments indicate that that apathy is unlikely to be taken lying down anymore.

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