India has lost all its one-dayers against South Africa most ignominiously. India has lost in the past; that is part of cricket and one must accept defeat sportingly. The one thing sure about cricket is that there will always be ups and downs. It is an unpredictable game and one has to accept it with grace.
There are so many factors affecting the final outcome of any match that have to be taken into account, that only a great team-and not just a good team-can be expected to emerge victorious most of the time. The Indian Eleven, alas, is not a great team. And we now have evidence of this time and time again. This calls for an explanation.
The Australian coach, Greg Chappell has come for instant blame. The charge is that he has been indulging in experimentation and thereby destroying the morale of the players. The continuing failure of the Indian team has been so demoralising that even the Parliament has been forced to take note of it. Whether the Parliament has any right to interfere in the affairs of the Cricket Board is another matter. The manner in which many Parliamentarians have been behaving at odd times suggests an inquiry into the conduct of some of them would be quite in order. But that apart, cricket, for most Indians, is a national game and media hype has turned many cricketers into national heroes. To see them humiliated in match after match hurts the feeling of the average Indian and he is demanding accountability. And he has a right to do so considering the current earnings of our players.
The highest paid is Rahul Dravid whose total earnings are reported to be Rs 138.50 lakh. He gets Rs 50 lakh as retainer amount. His ODI fee is Rs 56 lakh. The next in line is Virendra Sehwag whose total earnings are Rs 133.70 lakh, the retainer fee is Rs 50 lakh, ODI fee is Rs 51.50 lakh. Sachin Tendulkar'stotal earnings are Rs 102.9 lakh, Test fee is Rs 22.50 lakh, ODI fee is 30.40 lakh. Both Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble get Rs 32.50 lakh as Test fee. Irfan Khan'stotal earnings amount to Rs 119.80 lakh, his retainer amount is Rs 50 lakh, Test fee Rs 25 lakh-and so all the way down the line. They earn during their relatively short membership of the Indian Eleven more than what and average Indian wage-earner makes in a life time. Admittedly they are under pressure but that is the price they have to pay for their high earnings. They have to perform-or get out. It is a cruel world.
Cricketers, like film stars, are in a class by themselves. They are continuously in the public eye. In fact the public is more conscious of cricket performance than the performance of a Bollywood star though the latter may be earning in crores. Bollywood stars don'tperform in the world market, cricketers do. If an Amitabh Bachchan or a Shah Rukh Khan makes crores, no inquiry is held. Their success or failure on the silver screen or in television channels is strictly their business. They may make a fortune by trying to sell a product from a toothpaste to a Honda by appearing for 10 seconds on TV but that doesn'taffect the viewer, while failure on the cricket front in an international match becomes the subject of much debate in practically every Indian home.
If the Indian team performs poorly it hurts the average psche. Shri Chappell may tell MPs to mind their business, but MPs reflect public opinion. And this is a democracy. But who is to blame for the Indian cricket team'sdown slide in recent weeks and months? The coach, of course, is a natural target. Are cricketers overworked and over-played? Possibly. Is the media to be blamed? It is true that they indulge in too much hype. Sachin Tendulkar has been turned into a super-hero when it is probably time for him to graciously retire from the field as did Sunil Gawaskar when the latter was at the height of his glory. There is no question about it: Sachin is a cricket hero. He is modest, unassuming and low-key. But he seems to be fighting a losing battle. May it be remembered that no less than Don Bradman was out for a duck in the very last match he played. And in the last one-dayer Sachin was out for a mere two runs. It must have been galling to him as it was to millions of his fans.
Now increasingly it is asked whether we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Sachin Tendulkar. In fact this question had been raised at the very beginning of the year after the Faislabad Test when a Pakistani cricket commentator, almost for the first time said that ?the more I look back at his (Sachin?s) dismissal, the more convinced I get that the downhill journey for the little champion has begun?.
Writing about Sachin'sperformance that day, Moin Khan wrote: ?The Sachin I saw batting at Faislabad was certainly a shadow of the Sachin who courageously faced and ruthlessly punished the greatest bowlers of the past decade.? In terms of years, Sachin is young. But in cricket, as in so many games where physical effort is called for, one gets over prime time before realisation dawns.
Vijay Merchant was at the peak of his performance when he retired. The decision he took was a wise one. One should quit before the demanding public asks why he doesn't. Cricket is not Bollywood. A film star can age gracefully-and still be in demand. Amitabh Bachchan can still demand a price, as can Jaya Bahduri, though the former is past sixty. Even after a career spanning over 30 years and 115 films he can demand his price-and get it. Cricket is a wholly different game Bachchan had his flops-and who doesn'tknow of them?-but as his biographer Bhawana Somayya has noted, ?as the flops and hits alternated, it became clear that his (Bachchan?s)own stardom was completely unaffected by the success or failure of his movies?. Indrajeet or Insaniyat, Bachchan turned out to be bigger than the films he acted in. Such things, alas, cannot be said of sportsmen.
Time takes a cruel toll of them and the wiser among them take ?retirement? in their stride. Sourav Ganguly was quietly eased out. His total earnings were a mere Rs 60 lakh when his retainer amount was Rs 50 lakh and his Test fee was Rs 10 lakh. There are many admirers of Ganguly who would like to see him back. In cricket as in Hockey or Football, one can'tlive on old memories. Chappell may have been partly responsible for getting Ganguly removed. He must start thinking again.