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Asking for trouble
by Gulu Ezekiel
May 01, 2008
Asking for Trouble

By Gulu Ezekiel

The IPL head honchos are masters of spin, even better at their craft than Harbhajan Singh. They have now shown how capable they are of making a virtue out of necessity.

There was little choice but to ban the off spinner once he had been caught assaulting S. Sreesanth on camera. In fact, reports indicate the authorities were attempting to sweep the whole incident under the carpet and might have succeeded too if not for the Punjab XI Kings officials insisting strong action be taken. Not surprisingly, two Australians were at the forefront of this move, coach Tom Moody and CEO Neal Maxwell.

In a sense justice has been served twice, at least as far as the Australians are concerned. They now stand vindicated, especially Andrew Symonds who had to pay the price for the BCCI’s strong-arm tactics that almost brought the tour of Australia to a grinding halt early this year.

The bold new face of modern India—as trumpeted by editorials and TV anchors--also stands exposed as hollow following the slapping drama.

With cricket being used as a tool for jingoism, we had been led to believe that MS Dhoni and his brave new boys would give back as good as they got, cheered on by a gloating nation.

The whole country rose in defence of Harbhajan, convinced those bullying Aussies were unfairly labeling him a racist. The Indian cricket board was rabidly supported by millions of ‘fans’ in the cyber world who were convinced that Indians, victims of racism themselves, could never be racists.

Butter, it appeared would not melt in the mouth of our boy Bhajji. This despite the fact that he had a rap sheet the length of his spinning arm.

Now those same supporters have turned on him. It is one thing to abuse an opponent, quite another to slap a fellow-Indian.

As Ricky Ponting rightly pointed out, goodness knows what the fallout had been if the person on the other side of Harbhajan’s hand had been a foreigner, more specifically an Australian. Would the nation have then once again rushed to defend their enfant terrible?

Matthew Hayden and Symonds, two of Harbhajan’s protagonists have sought to hush up the whole thing. It is amazing how money can be used to buy silence, not only from the players themselves but from the pliant media as well.

The IPL we were piously informed would mend fences between cricketing nations. Instead we have a situation where the Australian cricket fraternity is gloating and Indian cricket has been left with egg all over its face.

So is this the real face of the new, aggressive India? One cricketer slaps his India teammate, the ‘victim’ weeps dramatically in full view of the cameras.

Sreesanth is an incorrigible showman who cannot resist performing for the cameras. And he has been encouraged in his insane antics by the myriad TV channels in India who thrive on melodrama and histrionics.

Imagine, one of the icons of Indian TV telling Sreesanth, “keep it up, don’t change, we love your antics.”

The fast bowler himself was candid enough to admit at the start of the first IPL season: “I don’t take this form of cricket seriously, after all it is more entertainment than sport.”

So really, we should have seen this coming. The massive hype built around the IPL has seemingly cast a spell over the nation. And it looks like the players themselves have been sucked in by the hype. The IPL we have been led to believe is more than about cricket. It is a combination of entertainment and war, a strange mix for sure.

This the ads scream at us every day is cricket’s ‘karmayudh’ (crusade) and at the same time, ’manorajan ka baap’ (the father of entertainment).

All the team images stress strongly on the martial aspect of the league. And the players are under greater stress than ever since their price tags are public and they are effectively owned by major business groups.

Well, the organisers have got what they wanted—a soap opera of a situation with melodrama and violence thrown in. Will all this bitterness now seep into the Indian dressing room the next time the national team takes the field?

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