Saturday, August 28, 2004

Harsha Bhogle on Hayden's comments ...

Earlier in the week, Matthew Hayden commented that the Aussies are able to play for the team, while the players from the sub-continent often get caught up with achieving personal milestones. Here is a response from Harsha Bhogle posted on a BBC Sport bulletin board (actually, i would like to make a clarification here: i could not find any page/column where Harsha made these comments - someone has posted it, quoting Harsha)
It would be tempting, and egotistical, to ignore Mathew Hayden’s remark about players from the sub-continent being selfish. You could call it gamesmanship, and there will be a substantial element of that, but if it hurts there is probably some truth to it.

If he had said all Indian batsmen are bandits, we wouldn’t have read it a second time, we would have called it whimsical, even wild, it wouldn’t have hurt. This one does, and so it merits examination. Sometimes it helps to look beyond initial feelings of outrage!

It is my hypothesis that in over-populated, and therefore insecure, countries the self will always dominate. Feelings of comradeship, of surrendering the self to the wider cause, can only arise in either a highly spiritual phase or where the performer has ascended to a level of personal calm about his achievements.

Where you are in a mob, and we are in a mob, self-preservation will always prevail; whether it is catching a bus, or getting out of a movie hall or getting admission to a professional college.

So too with Indian cricket, where unless you are selfish you cannot make a mark. We have 27 first-class teams and it is impossible for anyone to monitor individual players. At one level lower, it is even worse. Young players learn very quickly that it is their score, and not the manner in which it was scored, or indeed the situation that warranted it, that counts more than anything else.

A 17-year-old is bound to feel tempted to stay 66 not out even if his team loses the match than try to blast a quick 35 which won’t look as impressive when the selectors compare scores. If there were fewer players to look at, a selector could make his own assessment but with the numbers in India that is often impossible. That is why I would go so far as to say that unless you are selfish you have no chance of making it in Indian cricket.

And it is not easy to change, leopards in every profession are stuck with their spots. Actors from folk theatre will remain loud even in serious cinema, batsmen growing up on bouncy tracks will instinctively play the horizontal bat shots, people from gloomy lands will look unhappy even in bright sunshine. Players from our part of the world cannot suddenly become team players when they have survived by protecting their interests fiercely. In times of crisis, you go back to your instincts.

When a team is performing, and therefore settled, and where individuals are secure, they can rise above the self and play for the cause. Indeed, playing for the cause then becomes a greater virtue and we have seen that aspect too in Indian cricket. In Australia they learn that early because there are fewer people playing the game; the difference between being in a side and not being in it is not nearly as pronounced as it is in India.

If Australia had 500 million people, let alone a billion, they would play like a nation of 500 million, they would guard the self before aspiring to enrich the team.

The way out is to have fewer teams playing at the highest level. Apart from intensifying competition, it means only the best can play and with that comfort behind them players can get noticed for putting the team first. 27 first class teams is a recipe for selfishness and poor quality. If we can still put out a fairly good international team, imagine what you could do with only 15 teams. Concentrated solutions are always more potent than diluted ones.

As a result we tend to applaud individual efforts even if the team has collectively been let down. The batting average is a batsman’s badge of honour, the number of centuries his entry to the hall of fame. Even his advertising contracts have bonuses linked to the number of runs he has scored, not whether his team wins.

We dance alone, not in an ensemble, we pray alone, not in a community. We cannot suddenly expect young, insecure sportsmen to become team players when most of us aren’t.

Small, focussed groups can be different if they breathe a different air. In India’s cricket team there are many who are willing to go beyond the self. Now it needs to become addictive, it needs to spread to selectors and administrators. October might be a good time to prove to Matthew Hayden that it can happen."
In spite of the outrage, I think few would disagree with the fact that this players often are "selfish" - especially those from India and Pakistan. Yet, I am not sure that this is as commonplace as its being made out to be ... and too much is being made out of it. And yet, I would be glad to see Team India make Hayden eat his words.

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