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Saturday, February 22, 2003

Our society, culture and tradition always preach the values of equanimity and restraint. ‘Sthitapragnatva’ is our ideal. But sadly our public discourse, posturing and actions often betray short-term emotionalism, irrational exuberance or uncontrolled anger. Take for instance the developments in the sports arena. Tuesday’s papers carried headlines of Mohammed Khaif’s house being attacked by people who smeared the walls with black oil. The terrified family had to seek protection. The papers also carried photographs of Saurav Ganguly’s picture in flames. Many effigies and posters of leading cricketers were burnt in many places. These are not acts of madness one sees during communal riots or of terrorists destabilizing the country. Nor are these acts of vandalism committed by some ideologues protesting our craze for an elite colonial sport. Remember the occasion when supporters of Shiv Sena went on a rampage to protest the ‘pollution’ of our Indian culture by introduction of western traditions like Valentine’s Day? Or when enraged ‘patriots’ opposed the ‘invasion’ of multinationals by setting aflame a Pizza Hut, or bringing down a McDonalds or a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.

This burning of Surav Gangulay’s picture and the vandalizing of Mohammed Khaif’s house were done by people who adore these players and happen to be ardent lovers of cricket. I cannot resist pointing out that both hatred and love – hatred leading to anger and love leading to frustration - have managed to induce very similar acts of destruction. I am not going to philosophize on how much better it would be if only we could constructively channelize our anger or love.

I too enjoy cricket very much and always try to find time to watch it, particularly if India is doing well! Like most Indians I too am very disheartened with our team’s performance. But after every such disappointing performance I have learnt to look at the positive side – “ now we can get more work done in our offices!”

Jokes aside – let’s remember one thing. Most of these players are practically kids. The average age of the team must be around 25 years. There is bound to be some unpredictability and inconsistency. And this could very easily be aggravated by lavish praise and uncontrolled adulation. Excessive limelight and fabulous rewards at such an early age easily lead to complacency, blunting the hunger for success and quest for excellence. In earlier days our sportspersons were not given much recognition and many great heroes lived in ignominy and poverty. Now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.

Its important to have perspective and not allow the players to lose a sense of balance – about their own performance, their position in India and on the world stage. Instead of condemning them for a few failures, maybe we should introspect and acknowledge that with excessive praise and extravagant rewards for modest successes we did more damage than good. And now with excessive criticism and mindless anger and abuse, we are doing even greater harm by demoralizing them. Only a thin line divides success and failure at the top level. In world sport, there are scores of persons with comparable talent. What distinguishes a champion from the also-rans is grit and determination, and character. Ultimately success is a matter of the mind. By violent and unwarranted attacks on our cricket heroes we are severely undermining their confidence and increasing the chances of failure.

Fortunately, long years of training does make sportspersons tough and perseverant. In the face of severe criticism and in spite of their own disappointment – they managed to pull themselves together and secured the much needed victory over the Zimbabwe team. They now have a chance of moving up to the Big Six. Let us learn to relish their victories, and understand their shortcomings. But no matter what, let us have some patience and charity. Above all, let us exercise restraint in victory and exhibit dignity in defeat.

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