April 9, 2010

Gambhir got a raw deal

Reprimanding players for honest observations will just lead to more boring, vanilla statements than we already get

The IPL reprimanding Gautam Gambhir for calling his opponents "ordinary" was unfortunate and unnecessary. He was not abusive, he did not insult them, there was nothing racist about it. He used a word that all of us do, and most important, he was absolutely right in his assessment. The Rajasthan Royals were ordinary against the Delhi Daredevils that day and I'm sure they knew it. Their captain often admits to his team's deficiencies and on his Twitter page is quite open with his thoughts. Politicians, of whom many aspire to positions in the BCCI, are far more unforgiving of opponents and incomparably more scathing in their choice of words.

Indeed, Gambhir's comments in his column the next day were quite refreshing if a bit vitriolic. He was entitled to feel that way, and a man is allowed to stand up for his views. He admitted that his team were called ordinary too, after their performance against the Mumbai Indians, that they accepted it and came back strongly. Indeed, the irony is that the Royals themselves came back a better team, and by showing what they were capable of, only reinforced Gambhir's assessment of their performance against the Delhi Daredevils.

I found the response to Gambhir baffling. A lot of us played as much sport as we did, and invited many others to play it, because it was unforgiving and brought us face to face with reality. It is such a magnificent activity because you have to take criticism on the chin and bounce back; and bounce back on the field of play, where, once again, there are no favours handed out, no quarters given. To reprimand someone for a perfectly legitimate opinion is to miss the essence of all sport. Respect is earned on a field of play and it is earned in both dressing rooms, not only your own.

The irony is that the Royals themselves came back a better team, and by showing what they were capable of, only reinforced Gambhir's assessment of their performance against the Delhi Daredevils

And it strikes me as particularly baffling that players seem to get away with abuse on a field, with insulting language, but cannot make an honest observation off it. It has wider implications. I fear it could only lead to more boring, vanilla statements of the sort we now get at press conferences. The audience, who are the real owners of a sport, want to know what a sportsman is thinking, they want his assessment, and they have a right to that knowledge. Otherwise we will get what passes for cricketer-written columns in our newspapers: bland, insipid and flat statements that do not tell us why the owner of the byline is an exceptional performer, do not allow us a little window into his mind. Gambhir allowed us that and was told to stand in a corner.

And while on the subject of quotes, here is one of the most delightful ones you will hear. While reading an obituary of the great Alec Bedser, I found this comment attributed to his mother. When asked by reporters about her son's achievement of taking 11 wickets in a game, she said, "But that's what he is in the side for, isn't he?" Fair lady, you allowed us a mighty chuckle. If you were to return to our media-driven world 64 years after you wondered at the excitement over your son's performance, you would find us going gaga over two balls bowled well, about one four-over spell decently delivered. Thank you, ma'am for putting things in perspective in our quote-a-minute world.

Bedser's craft, though, is struggling in the country against whom he first showed his prowess. It might only be Twenty20 but a new-ball bowler is as difficult to find as a good avial. Two of our best, Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth, can't get a decent game with their franchises; Ashish Nehra is injured; Praveen Kumar, like a thermostat, keeps going off and on; RP Singh can't pull his weight for the Chargers; Sudeep Tyagi and Manpreet Gony and Lakshmipathy Balaji flit in and out of their team; Dhawal Kulkarni can't get a game; Abhimanyu Mithun is rarely in the scheme of things for the Royal Challengers; Irfan Pathan is looking underdone in spite of being kept on the flame for so long; and we go "wow" over one or two performances from Umesh Yadav. No surprise, then, that the slow bowlers are doing comfortably better than the faster bowlers in the first six overs at the IPL.

It is an issue of far greater importance than a comment by Gambhir about his opponents.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. He is on the commentary team for the IPL