Cricket and the Ugly Indian

Excuse me a minute while I brace myself for the pro/anti-India epithets that might make their way to the comments. Because I am about to set aside the premature jubilations that afflicted the Tigers tonight and the hope that comes with fresh talents like Sohag Gazi and Anamul Haque.

Instead, I will write about England’s tour of India. But only to point out an increasingly disturbing trend in the way Indians are coming across to the rest of the world. Captain India MS Dhoni shall serve as our representative Indian. And with England one wicket away from victory this evening , now is the time.

A brief recap thus far. The England vs India test series began in Ahmedabad. India won handily by 9 wickets. But MS Dhoni was not happy.  He made a thinly-veiled attack on the umpires:

They [the bowlers] had to work really hard. It was hard work for them. Especially if you are expected to take more than 10 wickets to get a team out.

He could not bear to look at the pitch:

I don’t even want to see this wicket. There wasn’t enough turn and bounce for the spinners… Hopefully in the coming matches we’ll see the wicket turn, right from start, or as soon as possible so that the toss doesn’t become vital.

He might sound like he has a point that teams batting first should not have an advantage just because the wicket deteriorates. One look at the massive score England posted in their second innings following on, and you know that Dhoni is trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. Maybe even his own. His real complaint is that the wicket did not deteriorate and suit his spinners.

First thing to note readers: false representation of the facts to hide your own motives.

And so on to Mumbai, where one assumes the BCCI bent over backwards to meet Dhoni’s demand because, (1) Dhoni opened with the spinner Pragyan Ojha instead of Zaheer Khan. And (2), the English spinners took 19 wickets between them to see England home by 10 wickets.

More wrangling about the pitch followed. Dhoni stood his ground in adversity, as one expects cricketers to do. He reiterated his call for turning pitches, but the reason changed:

“When you come to India you should know that you have to play on turning tracks. Spin suits the sub-continent and that should be the challenge for everyone to know, otherwise the concept of playing on different tracks goes down the drain,” Dhoni said.

Second thing to note readers: that conflation of India with the “sub-continent”.

Ah the subcontinent. Y’know, that place which produced Mohammad Nissar, Amar Singh, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Javagal Srinath, Shoaib Akhtar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and our very own Mashrafee Murtaza. That’s the place suited for spin and spin alone!

Thank you MS Dhoni for speaking on behalf of every cricketer/cricket team/country in the subcontinent. Please do not be modest about your own abilities to spin out a tale even if you’d have some trouble spinning out a tail.

Anyway, on with our story. The tour moved to that fallen bastion of English power, Kolkata. The BCCI were reportedly agitated. On November 28, they sent a representative to “oversee” the long-time curator of Eden Gardens, Prabir Mukherjee. Five days later, there were rumours that Mukherjee was threatening to take a leave of absence and staying only because the Cricket Association of Bengal had intervened. He called the demand for pitches that turn from day one, “immoral” because you were selling tickets for five days of a test match, not three.

The 83-year old Mukherjee is one of those Indians whose principled stance I admire. This helps too: “Last year, after India beat England in an ODI in Kolkata, Dhoni said the pitch was an “ugly wicket”. Mukherjee then responded by saying, “Pitches don’t score runs, batsmen do.” Alistair Cook no doubt agrees.

The result?

India batted first and lost 6 wickets to spinners and four to pacers. England then proceeded to bat them out of the game. India are currently 9 wickets down with 5 going to pacers, 3 to spinners and 1 run out. Oh, and Indian spinners took 7 of the English wickets too.

I don’t know about you. But it sounds like a pretty fair pitch to me. I wait with bated breath as to what Dhoni will say in the post-match conference.

But on to the bigger point I am trying to make here.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, India had a captain from West Bengal. This man took off his shirt and swung it over his head from the Lords balcony in celebration because England’s Andrew Flintoff (the boxer) had once done so at Eden Gardens. This Indian captain won 11 of his 21 test victories abroad. This was “arrogance” we could get behind even if the sight of shirtless cricketers is a tad unappealing. It does not rely on spinning pitches.

Even further back, there was another Indian captain who is now all but forgotten among the luminaries of modern Indian cricket. He was from Bombay (as it was then) and gave India its first taste of victory overseas. And he won in England with four spinners.

These are Indian cricket captains we and our fathers admired.

To observe the evolution from the modesty of Wadeker through the toughness of Ganguly to the arrogance of Dhoni is to take in the transformation of India post-Nehru. Somewhere along with the BRICs tag came self-assurance and self-confidence. It reached a high watermark with India Inc’s foreign acquisition spree in the noughties. Ganguly was a product of that “Yes I am Indian and proud” mindset, something that combined the toughness of the Tatas and Mittals with the modesty of the Wadekers and Nehrus.

In his place, we are increasingly seeing the emergence of a generation that collectively acts like the Ugly Indian. Spoiled and used to blaming the “uthan” if he doesn’t know how to dance, as events show our representative MS Dhoni.

This generation harbours the two beliefs noted above in MS Dhoni: firstly, that his motives are pure and not at all self-serving. even when facts appear to show the contrary; and secondly, that he is entitled to speak on behalf of the rest of his countrymen/the entire region even when  clearly he has not bothered to learn the history of his own country’s cricket or consulted others in the region.

He is after all a man on a mission to succeed in the world no matter what. In the noughties, the Indian cricket team decided no longer to be the lovable losers of cricket. In the teens, they might find that it’s harder to be loathed and losers.

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