The famous line, “What do they know of cricket that only cricket know” in CLR James’ book, Beyond the Boundary, has become relevant to Indian cricket as well. Although James may have referred to the days of colonization, class, and national culture during the Colonial rule in the West Indies, it does seem to resonate a fair bit in Indian cricket too.
Cricket, as one popularly defines it, is a religion in India and is followed as a ritual by more than a billion people. One was glad that the Mumbai Cricket Association recognized the “God of cricket”, Sachin Tendulkar, through a life-size statue at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. One gathers there were barely a handful of cricketers present during the unveiling ceremony. An occasion like this should have been flooded with cricketers of all ages especially ones who had played and been involved with him.
The irony of it all is that the very administrators who should be commended for Sachin’s statue, have forgotten that Bombay/ Mumbai cricket has many such legends who have also done yeomen service in the cricket field not only for the country but their Association as well.
The likes of Vijay Merchant, the great Sunil Gavaskar, the legendary figures of Ajit Wadekar, Vinoo Mankad, Polly Umrigar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, and one of the greatest all-round fielders, Eknath Solkar and many more, should have adorned the stadium as well.
However, the MCA has started something good in recognizing a legendary cricketer. One now looks at whether, Haryana will follow suit with Kapil Dev and Tiger Pataudi, Maharashtra with Chandu Borde, Hyderabad with ML Jaisimha, Bangalore with GR Vishwanath, and many other cricket stars as well. The newfound cricket lovers of India, need to know the greats of yesteryears and the history of Indian cricket.
This is where CLR James’ words ring a bell. Cricket in India seems to be recognized only from the year 2000. The colonial years and post-1947 Indian cricket till then have been kept only as paper records. The only worthy contribution recognized from the past is the 1983 World Cup win. This too is looked at as a one-off and lucky victory. Thank God that the movie made about it did give the Indian cricket followers a glimpse of the past.
The late Bishan Singh Bedi was one of the only cricketers who time and again brought up the issue of cricket stadiums recognizing their former greats. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. It would be a great gesture from the Delhi Cricket Association to put up the statue of the greatest left-arm spin bowler whose action was poetry in motion.
It was sad to learn that former cricketers around the country are either denied passes to watch International and World Cup matches in their own towns or are given passes in some obscure Janta stand. One feels sorry for each one of them, as they have given their blood and sweat to keep Indian cricket ablaze and in the end, for them not to be recognized for their efforts is a shame. These are the very cricketers who have been instrumental in the rise of Indian cricket and for them to be now treated as pariahs in their own backyard is unpardonable.
Indian cricket is growing in leaps and bounds. The BCCI has strengthened to become the richest cricket body in the world. The situation is ideal to recognize the contribution of all the former cricketers, 90% of whom have played domestic cricket. To appreciate them through good seats at matches is a small gesture and the least that they can do.
Hours of hard work and dedication are required for a cricketer to reach the 1st Class level. The hot Indian weather and cricket outfields are tough conditions to play in from the junior to the senior level.
Unfortunately, recognising these cricketers is an area that is being completely neglected by the men and women who are running the game of cricket in India. The cash-rich cricket organizations have attracted politicians and rich individuals to enter the fray. The cricket platform has become the ideal opportunity to keep them in the limelight and give them the importance and recognition that they seek.
SK Wankhede, NKP Salve, Sharad Pawar, J Dalmiya, N Srinivasan, and IS Bindra have been a few exceptions. The reason they were successful was because they understood the cause and needs of both the present and former cricketers. However, many of the present administrators need to understand the history of their respective cricket establishments for them to emulate these stalwarts before them.
Earlier cricket in India did not have the wealth it boasts today. The administrators and people involved in the operations did so on an honorary basis. The associations and the BCCI office bearers who came in the evening after a day’s work to keep the office running did so because they loved the game. Money was never their initiative and like thousands of cricketers, they played their part in keeping cricket alive.
In India, Cricket beyond the boundary needs a radical change and people who were instrumental in its growth should be given the recognition they deserve.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)