India Wrestles with Ways to Handle Brash Young Stars

By Vadukut, Sidin | International Herald Tribune, May 11, 2012 | Go to article overview

India Wrestles with Ways to Handle Brash Young Stars


Vadukut, Sidin, International Herald Tribune


Cricket has always been marketed as a gentleman's game, and many fans and commentators still cling to outdated expectations.

It happens every time a brash new talent arrives on the cricket scene.

Having run the gantlet of debut matches, 12th-man selections, one- time picks, slumps and streaks that anoint every new selection, and having settled into the national team as regulars, players like Virat Kohli of India are then evaluated by fans and columnists for their "cricketing attitude." In Kohli's case, the consensus was that he had an attitude problem.

The evidence against Kohli is well documented: an arrogant demeanor after he led the Indian team to the Under-19 World Cup title in 2008 in Malaysia and, more recently, his flashing the middle finger at a hostile crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground. After that episode, Kohli was bewildered, if defiant, about the focus on his temper. "Scoring eight hundreds in one-day internationals can't be a fluke," he said in a news conference. "It's international cricket as well. I don't know why people have been questioning my technique or temperament so much."

It was a fair point: Why should a player's attitude, his demeanor, be of any consequence, as long as his game is unaffected? Why won't cricket fans tolerate a great cricketer who might also be perceived to be a jerk?

One reason is the mythology of the game itself. Cricket has always been marketed as a gentleman's game, and Indian fans and commentators, unlike those in Australia and even England, hold to outdated expectations about the men playing the game.

"It has never been a gentleman's game," said Ayaz Memon, a cricket commentator and broadcaster. "That is a totally Victorian notion of the game that even the English don't believe in anymore."

Cricket history is filled with incidents of brutality and chicanery on the field, and malice off it. Yes, the game was once dominated by the educated elite gentility, but they rarely played gently.

Indian cricket, Memon said, continued to pick college-educated players for the national team, long after rivals had stopped doing so. This changed only after Sachin Tendulkar's arrival in the late 1980s, and Indian audiences have only started to adjust to the idea of a team manned by young, aggressive players eager to prove a point. For an audience accustomed to sedate masters, the boisterous upstarts can be hard to accept.

Venkat Ananth, a cricket columnist, said he believes Indian audiences are prone to confusing the aggressive with the abrasive.

"There is a difference," Ananth said. "Not every fracas on the field needs to be taken seriously. The Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds racism controversy was serious," referring to an incident in January 2008 when Singh was alleged to have used a racial slur against Symonds during a match between India and Australia. "But that doesn't mean every outburst needs to be scrutinized or used as a judge of a player's character. …

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