March 31, 2017

Mind your manners, it's the IPL

Many antagonists in the India-Australia series are due to play alongside each other next week onwards. Time to be buddies again, then

"See you in a few days, skipper" © Associated Press

And thus, an India-Australia series for the ages ended in the throes of millennial ailments: social-media shaming, fake-news flu, hashtag hernias, brain fades, and finally, even an "unfriending".

Surely, gentlemen, it needn't be this way? The broadcasters reached fresh lowest common denominators (honestly, using "Bully the Bully" as a visual "wipe" to switch from one segment of a cricket show to the next, and a segment featuring mouthy India-Australia confrontations called "Sledgehammer"? #rolleyes). Several journalists burnt their keyboards searching for slights, real or imagined.

For the moment, though, that side of the business is done. What remains from this series for the fans on either side is what was created and fuelled around the cricket - animosity, resentment, and a simmering sense of "Next time, ^%$%*#, just see what we'll do to you." The India-Australia rivalry certainly didn't begin this way, but along with high-quality, high-octane cricket, this sort of thing is now inevitably a part of the package, camouflaged by talk of heat and kitchens and boys and men.

Yet in less than a week, Steven Smith will captain R Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane, Pat Cummins will play alongside Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav, Glenn Maxwell will share a change room with M Vijay and Wriddhiman Saha, and David Warner will captain Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The tenth season of the IPL is almost here, and mateship is set to resume after what Brad Hodge, Gujarat Lions coach and guiding light to Ravindra Jadeja, referred to as a "spiteful" series.

Already Virat Kohli has issued a clarification and Hodge has apologised for stray comments about Kohli's priorities vis a vis the IPL. "My intention was never to harm, criticise or be derogatory towards anyone," said Hodge, "They were intended to be light-hearted comments, with the utmost respect to the Indian Premier League, which I have thoroughly enjoyed through the years."

The next time India and Australia, or anyone else, works themselves up into a rage, it would help fans and their collective blood pressure to channel their inner theatre-goer and recognise it for the role-playing it is

There is nothing like the clear, clarifying context of the IPL (bless its blingy soul) to put every overheated player stoush and national-pride-denting controversy in its place. So, friends, fans and patriots who foam, stomp their feet, spit out profanities on the internet and nurse antipathy and bitterness, you do realise you have been had?

For all their emotional involvement in matters that provoke countries into heightened hysterics, players tend to be far more practical about these matters. Harbhajan Singh, no stranger to run-ins, calls it for the benefit of the one-eyed.

"It all happens in a moment, you're playing to win, it's competition," he says. "Wherever there's sport, raada hoga, [there will be a scuffle]. These things will happen." These moments, he says, are gone as fast as they came. "Because of that moment, do you want to ruin the moments that will come in the future? When you're playing on one team? No, you don't."

The 2008 Border-Gavavskar series is now doomed to be called Monkeygate for a Harbhajan-Andrew Symonds mouth-off. In the 2011 IPL, Harbhajan played alongside Symonds for Mumbai Indians and both men had to deal with the memories. They talked about their skirmish. Harbhajan says, "We were out as a group one evening, for dinner or something, and the two of us just sat down and discussed it. Like two guys who had grown up a bit from those days, we said, let's forget it, what's done is done. You wanted to win for your team, I wanted to win for my team, you did what you felt was right, I did what I felt was right, no hard feelings. Khatam [Over]."

Before IPL and after IPL © AFP, BCCI

It helped that three years had elapsed; had Harbhajan and Symonds been pushed into an IPL team only months after the event, when the matter was still fresh, Harbhajan says, "maybe we would have had some khundak [grudge]. But even then, when you are playing for one team, you can't keep holding things to heart. It's up to you if you want to make it work. If you are in one team and both want to win matches but if you don't want to speak to each other, how is it going to help? You have to pull it together in one direction."

Ricky Ponting's flying catch off Harbhajan's bowling in IPL 2013 and the full-on hugs that followed it proved as much. "As players, when there's a catch coming at you, you don't look at who's bowling or whether you have to take or drop it. You just go for it. Because you have a common cause and that's what you play for in a team. Never mind what's happened in the past but in one team you push for each other." Between international players, he says, matters are settled with this argument: "He was playing for his country, I was playing for my country, dono dum laga ke [both with full force], forget it, now we're for one team."

The script changes a little when two Indian players go at each other - as in the case of Gautam Gambhir versus Kohli in 2013, with Gambhir eventually playing Tests under Kohli in 2016-17. Harbhajan says much depends on how severe the arguments are. "It takes time to adjust." He employs an analogy that is best expressed in Hindi: "Ghar main banda zyada der tak naraaz rehta hai [The anger stoked at home takes longer to subside]." But subside it does and any friction between players, whether from home or overseas can be healthy tussles, as long as they do not flare up through outside intervention.

It is in that respect that the India-Australia series achieved a new low, by way of the sights and sounds of the two cricket boards involved going at each other. Through an army of obedient foot soldiers, there was tweeting and leaking and sniping. Two of the world's biggest and best-endowed cricket boards behaving like bickering on-field prima donnas. What could possibly be the sobering, clarifying equivalent of the IPL for them? (Or wait, was that what the Big Three was all about?)

The next time India and Australia, or anyone else, works themselves up into a rage, it would help fans and their collective blood pressure to channel their inner theatre-goer and recognise it for the role-playing it is. The protagonists in every cricket melodrama fall mostly into these categories: Warrior, Victim, Preacher or Righteous Brother. Enjoy the cricket, revel in it, folks, but know your tribe. Now put away the flags and bring on the pom-poms.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • karan on April 5, 2017, 18:11 GMT

    The first line is pure genius. Such an amazing observation: "And thus, an India-Australia series for the ages ended in the throes of millennial ailments: social-media shaming, fake-news flu, hashtag hernias, brain fades, and finally, even an "unfriending"

  • debbie4992245 on April 3, 2017, 10:28 GMT

    Money ?? that is simply why they all get on when playing for IPL teams. As for some comments here, especially one about how Harbhajan, let me quote.. ''Harbajhan finally gets that the on field stuff needs to stay on field...'' ??? Symonds, Ponting et all certainly forgot about that when they whinged about MONKEYGATE. What happened about the Australians always saying what goes on on the field stays on the field. Gavaskar to his credit even stated that on Australian TV. So don't be fooled by all this talk about team mates, and playing in different teams etc, it is a job they do and when they get paid handsomley they will get on.

  • Terry on April 2, 2017, 8:34 GMT

    As a couple of people have mentioned this isn't an issue in Australia. Can imagine Wade and Smith playing against each other in a Victoria v NSW Sheffield Shield game and I'd expect the same language as in this recent Test series. But they'd meet up the next week for a Test and that would be all regarded as each fighting for their state against the dreaded enemy. Perhaps Indians need to be a bit less sensitive. I imagine now that they are embracing sledging they will eventually learn to take it for what it is. Unless they think its all serious. Surely not?

  • Vaishak on April 2, 2017, 7:16 GMT

    @DUNGER.BOB..Yes very true.The author is spot on.Prior to d series, it was projected like a Mayweather vs Pacquaio bout.Hashtags like bullies and fistfights.She has described beautifully how the media conjured up such an image in d viewers mind, way before it all even began.What we actually saw on d field, was in fact not even worth being called "sledging".But when projected like this, leaves a bad taste in d mouth.Next time round, I wudnt be surprised if they actually display Smith & Kohli in boxing gears before a series.For heavens sake, don't use such hashtags again.

  •   Vashist Avadhanula on April 2, 2017, 0:29 GMT

    I love reading Sharda Ugra's critiques against BCCI, IPL and Indian team in general. This is another brilliant article that left me in splits, while simultaneously highlighting the petty issues that plague the game. Looking for more from her :)

  • rob on April 1, 2017, 22:07 GMT

    I always enjoy Sharda's articles. The lady seems to take the broadest view of all the Indian journalists and looks at things sans the blue tinted glasses. If there is a criticism it's that her works don't come along frequently enough. .. Here she seems to be saying that much of the angst we saw in the series was for display purposes only. Window dressing of a sort. I agree, in principle, with that. There is always drama when India/Oz clash. Some of it is genuine anger but I think a lot of it is contrived. It's almost expected there will be dramas. If there isn't, someone will create one. .. Yeah, well, some people might like that but I don't. If I want to watch a soap opera I'll turn on the TV during the day. When I watch cricket that's all I want to see. All the high horsing and pork chopping leaves me cold. It's just not cricket.

  • Peter on April 1, 2017, 21:35 GMT

    @JOSE...P. Some really good thought provoking posts by you, a pleasure to read them. First the IPL & T20 leagues. Like you, I'm not as big a fan of this format as tests or FC, & nor enjoy playing it, (this year I opted not to play T20 games with my team handing over the captaincy to another while I managed/scored/etc) but cannot deny how many people it has reached who would not be seen at anything resembling a cricket game. I have taken a few international visitors from non cricketing back grounds to some BBL games at the Sixers home games & they have all gone away amazed at the atmosphere, crowd, especially family involvement & the action. The IPL, both successful, have different types of models, multiculturism existing not only within the playing fraternity but the mix of spectators, certainly here in the BBL. I'll refer to your next post in another post. Cheers my friend.

  • Jose on April 1, 2017, 14:09 GMT

    What is the opposite of "gold standard"?

    I really don't know. If there is one, here is the one which takes that tile, when it comes cricketing confrontation:


    At Perth, in November 1981, Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad almost coming to fisticuffs! Does anyone remembers that incident?

    Anyone has seen them together after that incident? My memory seem to have failed on that stuff.

    Compared to that incident, what happened in this series is kindergarten stuff. I'm not condoning it. Just saying that ... we may just move on.

  • Vaishak on April 1, 2017, 8:48 GMT

    Sledging happens everywhere, everytime.And every series.The problem with the current world, is the intense scrutiny and intense tweeting of gibberish.There is extreme glorification  of incidents, many of which we have been seeing since time immemorial. But in the new world, nothing is forgotten or enjoyed with a laugh.Banters r discussed for days on end in d news, sprinkled with tweets from every corner.Aus & Ind have had heated series in d past too.And so too did both these sides with so many others.But I guess when two countries which r media crazy meet, it's all that again..blown out of proportion. To be honest, for me, while MS Dhoni knew extremely well how d media works,& was very careful in every word he spoke,Kohli still is yet to learn that.What u speak on d mike might not be what we are told at d end of day.If we actually look at it, this series had a lot less sledging on d field than d Aus-Ind series we r used to.Most of d banter took place off it.