The Fear of the Matrix

Last week, the unveiling of TenVicks’ report on ‘Measuring India’s Cheer Quotient’ in Delhi brought Dilip Vengsarkar, Anjum Chopra, Dhanraj Pillai and Ashwini Ponnappa on the stage together. Talking to players from such a wide spectrum – two former greats with contrasting equations with the establishment, one player on the last leg of her playing career, and one whose journey has just begun – gave an interesting insight on the apprehension and helplessness our sportsmen face when dealing with federations of sporting bodies in India.

Former national captain and former chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar has a contrasting equation with his sport’s board as compared to Dhanraj Pillai. Vengsarkar has sometimes been with the system and sometimes against it. But, through all that, he’s always tried to carve a place for himself within it. Vengsarkar is ebullient in his praise for the IPL and feels that keeping one’s feet on the ground for IPL Richie Rich’s is an individual-level problem, and not something the cricket system needs to address. He does let on, though, that IPL is the stated dream of almost every young cricketer he comes across. So, if players want it, the sponsors want it, and the audience wants it, is it not natural for world cricket move to a predominantly club structure like football? The question seemed beyond his comprehension.

Dhanraj, on the other hand, has been at loggerheads with the system from the time he was still playing for India. He’s vocal about the politics and greed that’s cost Indian hockey dearly, with a fair bit of ‘me-myself-and-I’ thrown into it. He says that ego clashes between the IHF and the HI led to a C-string Indian hockey team went to the Olympics. He said India doesn’t need a foreign coach and talked about how he could have played one more Olympics, if the system had been fair.

Talking to Ashwini Ponnappa is a surreal experience. She’s as talented as beautiful, as aggressive on the court as soft-spoken off it, and despite being fairly articulate, equally apprehensive of speaking to the ‘media’. She was comfortable talking about the Olympic experience, but not about how the sport is run in the country. Without stirring the devil that lies in the detail, one can tell that there are strong under currents in our badminton team, something that can even take Lee-Hesh overtones in the future.

Ashwini did mention, though, that the federation should have lodged a protest against the Japan-Korea match much before the ‘deliberately losing’ controversy exploded on everyone’s faces. Lodging a protest after the other two matches came into investigation made us look like sore losers trying their luck in the new circumstances. It’s a tale not too unfamiliar with what we’ve heard of our Boxing federation this Olympics. Or, ego issues in the Archery team.

If you ask an average Joe to name one woman Indian cricketer, chances are that he’ll say Anjum Chopra. Not because too many people have watched her play, but because she is the only Indian woman cricketer who’s carved a successful media career for herself. Yet, the dread of saying the “wrong thing” is palpable. At 35, this elegant left-handed batsperson’s best cricketing days may be behind her, and that makes it even more important for her to protect her future. And, being on the wrong side of the BCCI never did anyone any good, as more accomplished stalwarts like Kapil Dev and Mohinder Amarnath have realized in the past. On-the-record, Anjum is perfect corporate speak. Off-the-record she can tell you tales of politics, one-upmanship and interference from several quarters in areas such as team selections. Something that Indian cricket fans who’ve followed the Indian men’s team closely over the years should be reasonably familiar with.

Cut-to-the-present.

The Indian Olympic contingent is back. Six medals in total. There’s a feel-good factor that’s hard to miss. Yet, it’s a time for questions. Questions like how to make Olympic champions out of players like Deepika Kumari and Devendro Singh? How do we support the likes of Ram Singh Yadav and Basanta Bahadur Rana? While we laud the likes of Vijay Kumar and Gagan Narang, why we should not relegate the likes of Karmakar who came within touching distance of a medal? And many more.

As for cricket, it’s the familiar old tale. Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla return to the hot cauldrons of World T20 straight from cold storage. And Ishant Sharma returns to the test team after taking 21 wickets in the last 11 matches at an average of 68 and a strike rate of 117.

Yes, that’s the BCCI for you. The saddest part for Indian sport is that it is still the best run sporting body in the country.

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