Hate and anger on the cricket field
By C.N.S
There’s a lot of hate in our country (as in the rest of the world); there’s a lot of anger too. We optimistically thought just last December after the tsunami that we were enjoying our finest hour when the nation was overwhelmed by waves of goodwill and generosity. But that was a naïve hope, for a tsunami of anger and hate has resurfaced at many levels in our land.

People are killing each other as never before, bus drivers are massacring pedestrians and passengers without compunction, undergraduates are demonstrating and protesting about anything and everything, workers are striking over many matters, nurses are keeping off work and allowing patients to die because they would not give the keys to the operating theatre, participants in TV talk shows fret and fume, and parliamentarians are at each other’s throats. The list of such instances of inhumanity is inexhaustible. The hate-dimmed tide would not ebb. And now they have killed a hero of our time, Lakshman Kadirgamar.

Sadly, hate and anger invaded the cricket field, too, where the Indian Oil Cup was being battled for in a series of exciting and tense triangular encounters. Why should hate and anger rather than cheers and applause accompany the celebration of victory? The face of Ifran Pathan, the Indian fast bowler, when he took the valuable West Indies wicket of R. Morton, was oozing with anger as he clenched raised his fist in a gesture of hate.

As if this were not enough, our Chaminda Vaas, who is wont to make the sign of the cross as he opens the attack, gesticulated crudely with his hand in a piston movement when he took the important wicket of Virendra Shehwag, who had put up a stunning score of 26 runs off a single over from Dilhara Lokuhettige. Who was this might-have-been Catholic padre, now turned high priest of seam bowling, imitating? Much pleasanter would it have been to see him imitating an eagle in flight after capturing a wicket, which was what he used to do in the early days of his illustrious career. Too many scenes of anger and contempt, shown in TV close-ups, distort the soul and corrode the spirit of victory.

Sledging by the wicketkeeper is another unseemly feature that disappoints and disgusts. Two past wicketkeepers Alex Stewart and Ian Healey of England and Australia respectively were past masters at bullying the batsman from behind the wicket. Our amiable and cultured Kumar Sangakkara has not been totally above reproach in this regard although he recently told a sports writer, tongue in cheek, that “sledging does not belong on the field”. Tongue in check because Wisden Asia Cricket reported that his sledging had become legendary and had been picked up by the stump microphone. Daryl Harper had warned him.

There was a time in those days when a bowler who took a wicket looked seemingly shy and subdued rather than blatantly belligerent and outrageous. There was hearty cheering from spectators in the stands over a wicket or catch taken but never hysterical howling, whistling and hooting on the middle of the field. The batsman who scored a fifty or a ton did not swing and flail his willow in a war-like frenzy although naturally there was rejoicing. But then those were the spacious days when cricket was not a mini-war but a friendly encounter, indulged in “not for the sake of a ribboned coat or the selfish hope of a season’s fame” but to “play up, play up and play the game” and certainly not for mind-boggling financial gain.

Shades of such innocence and self-effacement can mercifully still be seen as, inter alia, in the case of Muttiah Muralitharan, who generally smiles benignly when he takes a wicket with his wizardry with the ball. Navjot Singh Sidhu in his interesting commentaries that added colour to cricket called him, in oxymoron fashion, “the smiling assassin”. During the Indian Oil Cup final at the R. Premadasa Stadium we also witnessed Asheesh Nehra’s subdued joy over capturing all of six Sri Lankan wickets. (The others were run-outs).

Like many among the 30,000 spectators and countless TV viewers, former Indian test cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar and former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja, now commentators, watching the faces of anger from the commentary box, were appalled. One of them asked the other why our cricketers of today could not show restraint when they took a wicket. “Why can’t they show joy on their faces instead of going wild with anger? Why can’t they celebrate instead of flushing with anger?” The other replied, “Only a psychologist can explain. And, I am not one!”

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