Cricketers behaving badly
If you start paying football-style salaries, then it isn’t long, I suppose, before you get football-style behaviour. If you start hyping cricket tournaments with the hoopla of a Las Vegas world heavyweight title match, then soon you get the same pre-bout posturing and verbal pyrotechnics. Perhaps the lesson of the past week or so is that vulgar cricketing auctions quickly get followed by vulgar cricketing actions.
In the latest instalment of ‘Clash of the Cricketing Titans,’ the Australian opener Matthew Hayden has called Harbajhan Singh "an obnoxious little weed".
The Indian spinner has responded in kind, saying that Hayden is an unpopular figure in a world game which Australia no longer dominates with anywhere near its old menace or authority. "Maybe they realise that they no longer are the undisputed champions of the world,’ says Harbhajan, slipping into boxing parlance. "Maybe, they feel the crown is slipping," he added, continuing in his pugilistic vein.
All that’s missing from cricket these days is a weigh-in and pre-fight photo-call, where a barrel-chested Hayden would go nose-to nose with India’s famed Turbanator. Back during my time in India, someone once told me that cricket became so popular because it was the perfect sport for a caste-based, Brahmanical society, since no player ever had to touch another. Now it is close to becoming a full-on, contact sport - a "sledgefest", if not quite yet a slugfest.
Just listen to the Indian captain Mehandra Dhoni, who this week revealed to reporters his philosophy on what were once genteelly called the "niceties" of the game. "Cricket can never be friendly," he said. Only last weekend, the Indian one-day captain was reprimanded for wearing wicket-keeping gloves with too much webbing, which breached the rules of the game. Curiously, they also featured a militaristic camouflage design, which at least seems more in keeping with its current spirit.
In escalating what is drearily called an ongoing "war of words", Dhoni was merely echoing Andrew Symonds, who said much the same thing when he appeared in a federal courthouse in Adelaide to press the case that Harbhajan had called him a monkey. A "Test match is no place to be friendly with an opposition player", said Symonds, with bristling belligerence.
These, remember, are powerful and opinion-forming voices in the fast-changing game. At auction last week, both Dhoni and Symonds commanded over a million dollars each for the upcoming Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament. Is not their thinking on the behavioral requirements of the modern game so very bankrupt that it can be measured only in pennies?
The velocity at which cricket has changed over the southern summer is perhaps best illustrated by the short career trajectory of the 19 year old Indian bowler, Ishant Sharma. Few had heard of the gangly rookie outside of the subcontinent until this past test series in Australia, during which he delivered the fastest ball ever recorded by an Indian bowler.
Partly on the strength of that, at the IPL auction he was snapped up for $950,000 by the Kolkata franchise owned by the Bollywood mega-star, Shahrukh Khan.
Then, just a few days later, at the one-day international in Sydney, he was fined 15% of his match – peanuts, in the new scheme of things – for goading Andrew Symonds (who else?) with a most ungentlemanly gesture.
Since gliding onto the international scene, Sharma has exhibited talent, wealth and boorishness. He is clearly destined for a great future in a greatly changed game.