April 22, 2022: One does not want to compare cricketers of today to the ones who played earlier. Cricket has evolved and progressed on all fronts and it does get impossible to analyse and compare the performances of players even going back a decade ago.
The protection for ones’ head, legs, arms, fingers, face, thighs as well as chest guards has made the modern cricketer wear an armoury, similar to the warriors of yore. The shoes and clothing are made for utmost comfort. The eye wear to enhance sighting the ball while fielding has become a standard equipment for cricketers at all levels of play.
However, the most meaningful progress has been in the quality of the bat. The piece of wood may not have changed in its length and breadth, but the thickness and the well pressed and compressed bat has made batters hit the ball into the stands, at will. It reminds one of the famous “mace” that one sees in the hand of the mighty Hanuman. The bat is whirled around in every direction as the batters are playing shots never imagined before. Progress is inevitable and is very important in the development of the human race.
Cricket too has grown by leaps and bounds; however, one questions whether the present cricketers are mentally tougher and more resilient than the ones before.
One feels they are at present, as one would describe them in the days gone by, as “Namby-Pamby”. One has never seen so many cricketers getting this injured both mentally and physically. Yes, they do look far slimmer, leaner, more agile, stronger and fitter, but only a few of the present cricketers barely complete the year without having had a major injury or a mental issue.
This takes one back to two recent incidents relating to two former Indian cricket captains. One being the courageous Nari Contractor and the other being the darling of today’s cricketing world, Virat Kohli. Both Nari and Virat have done some extraordinary deeds for Indian cricket and one holds them both in high esteem.
Nari Contractor, at the age of 88 was forced to remove the steel plate in his head due to complications. This was inserted to protect his brain after he was hit by a short ball from the West Indian fast bowler, Charlie Griffith.
Nari, is a man of immense character. Where he stood out shoulders above most cricketers was that he never held any grudge or hatred towards the bowler and always blamed himself for the mishap. His love for the game was so intense that on recovering from one of the most traumatic injuries and with a steel plate in his head, he was back on the field playing first class cricket for Gujarat.
He also showed a similar sign of bravery when India played at Lords in 1959. He broke a rib when he got hit on the chest, but remained on the wicket to compile 81 runs. He kept the Indian innings afloat when they were in a dire state with wickets crumbling at the other end.
The reason that Nari Contractor and others had such an attitude was because they were mentally tough. They were taught that encountering and enduring the ups and downs of the game is what the challenge is all about.
On the other hand, one is seeing the mental deterioration of one of the modern greats of world cricket, Virat Kohli. He is going through a phase that every cricketer encounters in their journey. The game of cricket is the greatest leveller and even the best go through a period where the hand of God leaves them.
Virat, unfortunately, is going through a rough patch psychologically rather than on account of his skills and capabilities. Many have suggested that he takes time-off from the game to recoup and recover. The pressure of the multi-media and digital world is too great for him to overcome, is what they say. One then tries to reminisce on what the likes of Nari Contractor or a Sunil Gavaskar would have done. Running away from the field of battle or the game of cricket would be the last thing on their mind.
They would have continued to play to prove themselves without bothering about the brickbats that they would have received. This is what made them great cricketers, as accolades are only won on the field and can only be achieved by playing more cricket. Virat Kohli has already etched his name in cricket history and the only way forward for him is to respect the game that he loves and play it in the idealistic manner that he enjoyed.
The question of injuries and mental breakdown that seem to be a common factor in the lives of the present cricketers makes one wonder as to why there were fewer, earlier. An abundance of cricket, the bio-bubble and travel seem to be the main reasons stated for mental and physical problematic issues. However, one has to remember that these issues occur even when the players live and travel in 5 -star comfort and occur at a time where families are allowed to travel along with them.
Maybe, the comfort of life and money are making them soft. Earlier, one travelled by bus and train and were lucky to get the comfort of a 3-star hotel. Families were not allowed and players had to sign a contract to abide by it. The only people one had then to talk to and to calm one’s anxiety or depression were fellow colleagues. This is what made cricketers tough and resilient.
The present cricketer needs to face up to the truth that he is not a movie superstar hoping to get a superhit at the box office but a cricketer who is playing against the uncertainties of the game. Cricket is their passion and their success to life. The initial 6 months of the pandemic was a good example of how lonely life can be without their sport.
They need to break out of their namby-pamby attitude and turn into being tough nuts to crack. They should be grateful that they are still being able to ply their trade, unlike many unfortunate ones, who are whiling away their time at home.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)