Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dark side of a 'First Class' cricketer

At a time when a former cricketer has got into legal problems for alleged domestic violence it strikes a sense of fright among the country’s cricketing community and raises a few questions instantaneously. Are the country’s cricketers good human beings? Does fame permit them to take things for granted? Are their head at the right place? Is their off field conduct not important? These are delicate and debatable topics with far reaching implications in a country where cricket is a religion and cricketers are worshipped and looked up to. Out of all the revered only a handful go on to represent the country while majority of them end their career with staggering performances at the first class level. In spite of being domestic giants there is a sense of frustration written on their face for having failed to make it to the level that really matters and many a times they make it visible through the way they carry themselves. However the sliding self esteem is soon uplifted by the neighbourhood who celebrate the established status of the cricketer as if it is a collective effort of the local chaiwallah to the corner grocery shop owner to the doctor residing two houses away. These ‘first class’ cricketers are pampered with rich provincial status and everything, from the car they drive to the T-shirt they wear becomes a sign of status. These peripheral indulgence enjoyed by the cricketer influences five out of ten youngsters to be one of the seekers of luxury in spite of limited cricketing abilities; after all fame is such an easy lure and a fresh brain picks up what it senses in the air.

These first class cricketers are very much knowledgeable about their role as opinion leaders and impact in their geographical stretch and love being role models as their inner self reminds them of the childhood days, when they were on the other side of table filled with awe and respect for their seniors. Being public figures much of their appearances are stoic but the grin when amongst their peers affirms how much they relish their success. All is well as long as on field statistics of runs scored and wickets taken are being talked about but not long after the discussion shifts to character and mannerism many of the collars that were fluttering with pride come down and shame surrounds the background.

What goes wrong for such exceptionally gifted craftsmen as soon as they step on to the other side of the white line calls for thorough research but a little bit of probing delivers answers that are not out of the world. The Indian set up is such that, very early in their career kids are told whether they have it in them to make it big as a cricketer or not and if they are on the right side of the judgment then being fast tracked into the talent pool is the obvious next step. Unfortunately with that the basic necessity of completing quality formal education becomes a secondary objective, which remains unattained till the player becomes successful and uses his string in the system to obtain the certificate; by which time the value of that esteemed paper would have nullified. Early access to independence courtesy their on-field machismo and subsequent accolades subconsciously trap their egos and slowly the false sense of being bigger than life and getting away with wrong doing takes over. Much before they realize resentment would have become their best companion and on being questioned or told about subjects much beyond their specialization they welcome it with volatile behavior and unreasonable attitude.All this breeds the fear of being rejected which like a venomous snake poisons the player’s thought process and gradually closes the door on good days. How much ever a cricketer learns about values, culture and team work by being on the field yet there are still a few elementary lessons to pick up from within the four walls of a classroom.

Unlike any other profession, a cricketer’s life is much different as his entire career is an unedited format of a reality show. The pressure to perform or perish is humongous and every time he gets out of his shed to fetch the family’s bread and butter he attunes his brain to thrive on the adrenalin rush that comes along with the job. Entering the zone is much like being high on an abandoned substance and as the game gets over or career terminates, the kick fades. Immediately withdrawal symptom sets in as all the adulation and recognition that were routine grants are swapped by blankness and a mirror to look at. However big the performer might be on field, this is his toughest test and the blatant truth is that far from few have managed to undergo the transition without showing any signs of conflict.

For anyone who knows such cricketers at a personal level will vouch for the fact that the childlike innocence that had sparked the journey many years back still drives them but it cannot be denied that somewhere down the line their minds have been allowed to elude from the real world and get lost as clowns in the circus of vicious circle. Every time a ‘first class’ cricketer makes it to the news for wrong reason it threatens the country’s lifeline and brings into the discussion of who should be monitoring the timeline of the young kids coming off the block who are absorbing the good, the bad and the ugly with equal intensity? As much as it is the responsibility of the cricket clubs where careers flourish, the primary ownership lies with the parents to ensure that cricket does not become an obsession to be possessed at any cost but an alternate mean to enjoy just like any other good thing in life. Lives of many on field stalwarts have been dismantled and any more casualties will not only be a bad advertisement for the game’s legacy but will also shatter a generation of dreams. Indian streets need more ‘first class’ cricketers.

Sidhanta Patnaik

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