CLOSE-IN: The pride of playing for the nation seems to have diminishing returns (IANS Column)

When one is young and watching sports personalities bring laurels to one’s country, the pride of emulating them is the dream one aspires to when one grows up.

I can still remember the exhilarating moment when, Bishan Bedi, our Indian cricket captain handed me on my debut, the prestigious Indian cap in 1977 at Bangalore. The match being the 4th Test match against England. The idea of representing my country, made me tingle with excitement with a feeling of joy and satisfaction. The one thing that finally dawns on one, is the responsibility that comes with it. This is where pressure plays its part, some thrive in the situation and many succumb to it.

In India, with a population of 1.4 billion people, the rise of a sports person is riddled with plenty of obstacles and severe competition. To finally achieve one’s dream of breaking through the barrier and adorning the national colours is in itself an extraordinary achievement.

Cricket has been a glamorous sport in India from the very beginning. The splendid victory of the Parsi Team, who defeated the touring England side in 1889 in Mumbai, to the Indian side of 2024, the fame and adulation of a successful cricketer or a victorious cricket team have been proud moments for every Indian cricket lover.

The cricketers of yore with passion and perseverance played the game for the love of it, in conditions that today would be deplorable and shoddy. Their only pursuit was to achieve the ultimate dream and the pride of playing cricket for the country.

The game of cricket has grown by leaps and bounds around the world. India has become the capital and epicentre of the sport. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is now the biggest cricket tournament around the globe and one that is attracting the maximum commercial value in every possible way.

This franchise-based league may have been a boon to Indian cricket; however, it has also played a part in diffusing the importance of domestic cricket. Manoj Tiwari, a former Indian International cricketer and presently the captain of Bengal, made a concerning and thought-provoking statement. He said that the Ranji Trophy cricket tournament should be scrapped from next year as many things are going wrong with it. The Duleep Trophy has already lost its importance and to have a former Indian cricketer make such a profound statement is concerning.

An upcoming and established Indian cricketer these days seems to have only one aim and final destination in mind and that is to play the lucrative IPL. One does not blame them for it, as the Indian cricket structure has made them see themselves as professionals rather than amateurs. Cricket from the very junior stage has become a serious business in India, one that has to be pursued with utmost focus and commitment.

The element of playing the game for fun has disappeared. Winning is all that matters and even club sides around India have professionally paid cricketers playing for them. This trend is also prevalent in Tennis ball cricket in large and small cities and villages as well.

The pride and fame that one got playing only when one played for the country is now less relevant. The fame that one gets doing well in the IPL or other such tournaments and the finances that come along with it makes one less hungry and passionate to play for the country. Although one does aspire to do so, it does not become the be-all and end all of one’s cricketing career.

West Indies cricket is a prime example of cricketers finding franchise cricket more lucrative than playing for the country. This is the trend which will soon engulf other countries as well. The mushrooming of franchise-based cricket in every corner of the world will soon affect the domestic leagues and tournaments. Cricketers will go where they can ply their trade and make a life through it.

The absence of Virat Kohli, India’s premier batter, from the 5 Test match series against India is quite concerning. One understands he needs to be there, one gathers, to support his family, however, his absence for such a long period is baffling. Cricket for Virat was his sole passion and one that stood tall at all times. One can still recall how he played a crucial innings for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy as a youngster, after having just cremated his father that very morning. That was a commitment that one admired and spoke highly of when one spoke about Virat Kohli.

One wonders if the pride and desire of playing for one’s country diminishes over time. Cricketers today do go through a busy cricketing schedule with matches being played all throughout the year. Maybe this is the reason why they understandably need rest. The advantage that they now have is that they can regain their position in the team on their return.

The most interesting thought that arises is how the pride of playing for the country seems to diminish. It takes one back to the Economic law of “Diminishing returns”

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal).


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