August 18, 2014

Overfishing outside off stump endangering runs

Ecological crisis brought about by behaviour of Indian batsmen

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Conservationists have warned that constant overfishing outside the off stump by India's batsmen has led to dangerously low reserves of runs.

Latest survey results indicate that despite the best efforts of marine biologists and Duncan Fletcher, runs continue to remain endangered in the face of persistent irresponsible fishing practices outside off by batsmen who refuse to rein in their destructive behaviour.

The problem has become so widespread among poor Indian fisher-batsmen that it is starting to threaten their very livelihood. Take the case of Virat Kohli, a top-order bat who only recently took up fishing outside the off stump to supplement his career as a salesman for a skin-whitening product. Until recently Kohli, or "stink hands" as he's affectionately known in the city to which he used to cycle every day to peddle his wares, could count on getting up early before the sun had risen, setting out on the choppy waters outside off as he had been used to doing for most of his career, and casting his bat, secure in the knowledge that it would bring in a goodly number of runs. But times have changed.

"These days when I hang my bat out to dry outside off, I consider myself lucky just not to get out," he says, exhaling pensively after taking a drag off a beedi. Kohli admits that he had been warned about his ways but shrugged it off. "It's easy for people to tell me not to go fishing outside the off stump when they don't have 11 mouths and a fishwife to feed," he says. "Tell me, where is my next run going to come from?

"Thankfully, I still have my whitening products."

But not everyone has a Plan B they can fall back on. In the same village, just across the way from Kohli's mud hut, is the modest thatch-roof home of Gautam Gambhir, a veteran of off-stump fishing who has similarly fallen on lean times. Squatting barefoot on the ground with his lungi hiked up around his thighs and a desperate, faraway look in his eyes, Gambhir strikes a gloomy figure indeed.

When asked what has brought about the sudden change in fortunes, Gambhir seems bemused. "Maybe the gods aren't on our side anymore," he says, the fisherman's belief in superstition still strong in him. "But I have faith. The runs will return again. They have to."

Batting consultants and marine conservationists, however, aren't so sure, and contend that one of the reasons for the dearth of runs outside off is a lack of proper technique used by the batsmen in casting their bats. "They're not getting behind the ball the way they used to," said Sunil Gavaskar, who, aside from his work with the BCCI is credited with coming up with the term "chicken of the sea" when he first saw Kiran More face up to Patrick Patterson. "And so instead of acquiring runs safely, they start fishing for them, and that's when the trouble starts."

Other experts have warned that at the present rate the Indian team will soon find the lack of runs outside off to be a permanent phenomenon, and will have to make do with the poorer quality, farm-bred variety of run that you get in the IPL.

It is thought that the overfishing is also at least partly due to conditions in which the runs don't thrive. "The natural habitat of runs for Indian batsmen are warm, tropical conditions," says conservationist Claude H Muckenfuss, "but when these fishermen are forced out of obligation and the vagaries of a bilateral series to fish in colder climes, they seem to forget what they are doing."

Despite the obvious problems, however, overfishing-denial continues to raise its ugly head. One of the most vociferous deniers is India captain MS Dhoni, whose name, ironically enough, translates to "sailboat".

"Fishing outside off, like climate change, is just a load of hogwash dredged up by conspiracy nuts," he says. "There's plenty of runs still to be had by continuing to play the way we have been; the earth will always provide."

Dhoni added that he hoped to prove this to be the case by remaining captain of the Indian team for the next seven years.

R Rajkumar tweets here.
All quotes and "facts" in this piece are made up, but you knew that already, didn't you?