Monday, February 26, 2007

When push came to shove

Kunal Diwan

Damien Martyn’s gentle nudge to Sharad Pawar, President, BCCI, to indicate he was unwanted on stage for the team photograph was metaphorical to say the least. It said more about the Australian and Indian mindset in general than reams of sociological texts.

India as a nation was outraged – “How could they push Mr. Pawar like that? Don’t they have any respect for him!” said a friend, and “Don’t they know who he is.” cried out another. It was all over the papers, from arm-chair pundits to State Cricket board officials, no one lost an opportunity to demand an apology from the Aussie team and the ACB. This seemed the only way to get back at a team which appeared pretty damn unbeatable in matches of consequence.

It’s almost certain that Martyn would not have given the ‘incident’ a passing thought until reminded of his ‘crime’ by a media drunk on the frenzy of its commerce-savvy but skill-deprived cricket team. Martyn’s deed was something one had come to associate with the ‘Ugly Aussie’ image engrained in our psyche, what with Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh forsaking social niceties on the cricket field while being perfect gentlemen off it. Border was instrumental in procuring hard-earned respect for his team after it was left in shambles by the tearful departure of Kim Hughes. It took the better part of twenty years to turn results and mindsets on their heads and to reinvent a spent outfit into lip-shooting world-beaters. What nudged Mr. Pawar that evening was not an individual or a team but a culmination of the ‘Pushy’/ ‘Go-getting’ behavior that had become symbolic of an island of convicts (Remember Botham saying how it would be fun to win the world cup in front of 50,000 convicts, before the ’92 WC final).

It was unimaginable that any Indian cricketer would have meted out similar treatment to an official, either at home or away on tour. But then Indians have different sensibilities salient to their cultural environment. For instance, calling a person elder to oneself by name would be sacrilege in our country while it is an accepted practice in most western societies. The ‘push’ was a cultural phenomenon unworthy of large-scale attention that it was showered with. It was merely an act of a schoolboy’s overzealousness getting in the way of his manners, and Aussies had never been known for their manners anyway. By way of punishment this schoolboy deserved a rap from mommy but little else.

In the larger scheme of things it was a minor issue, like Becker said after losing a match – “Nobody Died”. This was just a post-match presentation ceremony glitch similar to Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the superbowl, sans the skin-show but voyeuristic nonetheless. It was a group of juvenile and highly gifted sportsmen trying impatiently to get their hands on a trophy they had never won and which the presenter, in a bout of boredom induced amnesia, had forgotten to award.

Society, especially in the realm of televised international sport where sports-persons functioned as emissaries of their nation, imposed norms which should be compulsorily upheld by respective administrative bodies. Consequently, an apology to our politician turned cricket administrator was warranted, if for no other reason then for the sole purpose of paying respect to senility in a country where age and wisdom are deemed synonymous and held in high regard.


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