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Make hay while the sun shines
by Suresh Menon
Mar 11, 2008
Most commentators tell us that it is not the money on offer in gimmicky versions of cricket that they have objections to. It is what the money stands for. And when market value is decided by events outside the field (if the auction were to be held today, for instance, it is likely that Harbhajan Singh might have fetched double his price), there is something to be said for that argument.

But there is an interplay here between another set of forces that hasn’t been highlighted. Yes, the fan ultimately decides value – with the promise of filling stadia, buying products the players endorse or recommending (even if only indirectly) those promoted by the franchisees. Yet players know enough about fan activity in India to understand that making hay while the sun shines is an effective way of making up for the days when they are caught in the rain without an umbrella.

There will be days when their houses are stoned, when biased and politically-motivated selectors will drop them from the national side, when injuries might take them out of the game, when the hordes that charge at them with pens and autograph books will make the same short journey carrying stones and burning effigies. The same impulse that inspires individuals to vie with one another to reward the players beyond their dreams also punishes them for falling short. The hand that cradles the rock rules their world.

Thanks to such inconsistencies, we have succeeded in making our players insecure, conscious of how everything can end in a second. They are therefore unwilling to let go the chance to suck in more money from the system in preparation for the days when the supply dries up. Even Sachin Tendulkar, our most celebrated player and one of the highest-earning in the history of the game, has been through phases when the corporates have kept away, when talk of his retiring has driven the moneybags in the direction of younger players. This does something to your mind.

In the last few days after India’s tri-series win in Australia and its sickening celebration in the media, I was tempted to suggest that what India needs now are a couple of measured defeats to restore the balance. Yet, the image of our players suffering while losing to Bangladesh and crashing out in the last World Cup kept interfering. These modern greats, experts at hiding their emotions on the field struggled to keep that combination of despair, disappointment, and desolation from showing on their faces. Rahul Dravid’s face was a study in anguish; the hopelessness on the faces of his colleagues would have turned even the most stone-hearted.

Yet their fans handled their own private disappointments by stoning players’ houses, by demanding their heads on a platter both literally and figuratively.

Dravid, a sensitive individual might never have recovered from that blow. So when a billionaire businessman rolls up to him and says he is willing to pay huge money to play a form of the game Dravid is not particularly enamoured of, what should the response be? “Sorry, I hate Twenty20”, or “Thanks a million.”?

In our country, cricketers grow up unnaturally fast. A lifetime of highs and lows is compressed into a decade. Considering the odds they are up against, it is facile (and convenient) to say that money is the root of all evil. Actually, it is just the reverse. Evil is the root of all money. The evil of a system that swings from one extreme to the other very quickly, making it difficult to strike a balance.

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