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October 13, 2014

Do players have to be role models?

Biswa Patnaik

Foul-mouthed celebrations aren't to be encouraged, but they do not take away from a player's brilliance. Or do they? © Getty Images

My father often referred to Gundappa Viswanath as a gentleman cricketer. He often spoke of the time when Viswanath recalled Bob Taylor after the umpire had wrongly given Taylor out. For him it mattered how a certain individual behaved and often his rating of a cricketer was linked to the personality and on-field behaviour of that player. While I appreciated his sentiment, I often wondered whether it is important for a cricketer to be a role model. Does it really matter how a cricketer behaves on the field as long as he is great player?

When Rahul Dravid retired, a lot of focus and praise was on what a gentleman cricketer he was and for the way he conducted himself. There is no doubt that he conducted himself very well, but what if he hadn't conducted himself the way he had? Would that have taken anything away from his greatness? No, he would have still been the best No.3 batsman India ever had. Unintentionally, we attributed a lot of emphasis to his behaviour and undersold him on his pure cricketing skills. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ricky Ponting. A fine batsman, probably the best player of fast bowling ever, but he wasn't the most "gentlemanly" cricketer around. However, Ponting remains one of Australian greats, second only to the peerless and unsurpassable Sir Don Bradman.

People judge cricketers based on their off-field activities. I have often heard statements like "X loves partying... he is not concentrating on his game" from people who know nothing about the player or his lifestyle. We (media and the public at large) tend to keep an eye out for such cricketers and the moment they fail on the field we pounce and blame their "errant" lifestyle. They are soft targets. Judging cricketers on their off-field activities is like judging regular office-goers on what they do once they go home after work. No employer keeps a tab on what an employee is doing after office hours. Similarly, judging cricketers on what they do after stumps are called is not only intrusive but also unfair.

When the law of averages, coupled with some fine swing bowling from Jimmy Anderson got the better of Virat Kohli in England this year, the problem was attributed to the latter's love life. This was stupid, and insulting to both Kohli and Anderson.

Another topic which gets lot of attention from the pundits is the on-field behaviour of certain players. Sledging and abusing are always looked down upon by the commentators. These experts have had problems with the manner in which some players mouth expletives while celebrating their on-field success. While I do not condone foul-mouthed outbursts from players, I have always wondered if the commentators are there to report on the game, or to perform a behaviour analysis of players. Cricketers like David Warner and Anderson have played all their cricket in a certain manner and that has worked for them. If one asks them to change the way they play, I think that will restrict their style and that will ultimately affect their cricket. Yes, aggression does not mean abusing, but what if sledging or taking on an opposition works for them? Asking Warner to tone down will take away what works for him and that will only be detrimental to him and in turn, to cricket at large.

An average cricketer makes his debut somewhere between the ages of 18 and 25. At that age, most of us are still figuring out what we want to do with our lives, but we expect the cricketer to not only take tremendous pressure of representing his country, play in front of large crowds but also put on a behaviour which is good for the kids watching them on telly. I feel it is all a little too much to ask. Yes, some of the behaviour is boorish and that is not acceptable but some leeway needs to be given to cricketers. If anything, proper training sessions should be organised at a young age to explain what is acceptable and what is not and also to channelize the aggression.

Rahul Dravid was a legend and so was Ricky Ponting, both had different methods to achieve the kind of success they achieved. If walking away from sledging worked for Dravid, then giving it back to the bowler worked for Ponting. There's no need to judge them for their methods. Judge them on their cricket, nothing less and nothing more. So while my father will continue to adore the Viswanaths and Dravids of the world, I, on the other hand will have no qualms in accepting Warne or Ponting as my heroes. Maybe it is just a generation thing.

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Biswa Patnaik is a corporate lawyer based out of Mumbai, but his passion is cricket. He tweets here

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Comments have now been closed for this article

Posted by Dummy4 on (October 20, 2014, 21:59 GMT)

I do generally agree with the article. But just a few points, often in support of your article. 1. I found it deplorable the way Kohli's love life was brought into the 'analysis' of his failure in England. I mean seriously? That's the best they could come up with? 2. When it comes to endorsements and all, I don't think that they should be at all related to their 'moral' behaviour. I am sure there are millions who live very correct lives, 'morally' speaking, around us. They never get approached for endorsement, not even celebrated social activists etc. So endorsement is a different ball-game altogether, dependent on perception of success in an arena that is marketable. 3. This entire trip of vilifying certain cricketers' lifestyles by attributing those lifestyle choices to be the reasons behind their 'failures' is not borne out by cricket history. I think I need to take just three names of cricketers who have been open about these choices: Gary Sobers, Viv Richards and Ian Botham.

Posted by ramachandra on (October 17, 2014, 8:05 GMT)


Of course no one discussed Kohlis personal life when he was in form. As an example, when Ashley Cole was in form, he admitted to having Cheryl Cole as his wife helped his personal life and thus in turn his mind and his game. Critics too counted this as one of the reasons.

But as I said, in my previous post, personal life does affect a players game for the BETTER or worse. So you cant count that out. It MAY NOT be THE reason. But it MAY well be too.

Posted by Sreenivas on (October 16, 2014, 17:13 GMT)

Why limit it to cricket, just extend the logic to any other domain and the lack of perspective clearly shows. Is it fine to throw away decency and good behavior for success !!!

The real point should be where do you draw the line, seems to be stretching the limits in the name of banter, works for me, mental disintegration, .....

Posted by biswa on (October 16, 2014, 15:39 GMT)

@Yashaswi Singh your point on players owing to their endorsements implicitly becoming responsible for their on field persona is a very good one and when you put it that way, I have to agree with you.

Posted by Dummy4 on (October 16, 2014, 4:47 GMT)

Excellent article @patnaikbiswa.

Posted by biswa on (October 16, 2014, 1:42 GMT)

@abhishek first of all a big thanks. To answer your question, I just feel that too much is expected of the cricketer. The matches are not staged, everything that happens is real. In that preassure situation, when you are representing your country, to expect them to behave in a certain manner maybe unrealistic. But yes, some responsibility has to be taken and that is why I had suggested that some training needs to be there to educate them about channelizing the aggression. Also, you cannot change the basic nature of a player. For some aggression works and for others it doesn't. If we try and change the basic nature then I feel their cricket will suffer. Cricketers are often subjected to abuse, hooting and name calling by crowds but very rarely they retaliate. My point being give the cricketer a bit of space.

@ middlestumpmike that is exactly my point.

Posted by Sivaram on (October 15, 2014, 21:31 GMT)

Interesting article but legends have always been humble - across many generations. They might have played the game hard on the field but off the field they had been gems. Kohli is yet to prove himself and Anderson may be a star of the day. Equating them to the likes of Ponting is quite a an exaggeration. Doesn't Ponting commend his opponent's performance in a post match conference when they lose? Isn't that gentleman like?

There's a longer life after they retire which is significantly epitomized by their character. Besides, in today's situation, Kohli, Anderson or any such player gets his due instantaneously when they perform. So, what the point of this article?

Posted by Dummy4 on (October 15, 2014, 21:00 GMT)

Though the article is very well written but a bit biased with counter progressive attitude. It raises couple of mutually exclusive issues and bind them together to prove a point of view. 1. Players don't just play, they also endorse for various merchandise and influence the mass with their off-field media appearances. Hence, if they are entitled to their off-field financial gain, they implicitly become responsible for their attitude and persona which they show on/off field. Your analogy is good, but again counter productive, because no one on their jobs sledge others to promote their ideas or show their skills. We behave like gentlemen inside the rooms and same should be on the gentlemen's turf. 2. As you mentioned, Pointing is only next to Bradman as a cricketer, but his behavior on field, makes him definitely a less as an Icon than Sachin or Dravid.

Posted by Dummy4 on (October 15, 2014, 15:22 GMT)

I would feel a player should be role model, as he represents his own Country and millions watch him and try to emulate him. Apart from being a great player, being a good human being too counts.

Posted by Vikas on (October 15, 2014, 14:51 GMT)

Yes ,it is a generation thing ! For the new generation manners have gone out of the table. Being a gentleman is not the priority ,only success counts. IF this analogy is extended to all walks of life, waiting in a queue is bad enough but getting ahead of everyone adopting all hooks and crooks is commendable and recommended. No wonder the older generation's personal life was a success.But the new generation's personal lives are a failure.One has to just wait for the new generation to grow old to know the repercussions of their earlier actions.

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