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June 23, 2000


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Tossed and tormented

Harsha Bhogle

The strange predicament of Kapil Dev and Azharuddin tells a few stories. Neither of them would struggle to make any list of the top entertainers of the last two decades. But both cricketers, such good judges of a cricket ball, have shown a most peculiar streak of misjudgement in recent times. Ordinarily they would have been forgiven for they have banked a lot of goodwill over the years but these are strange, vicious times and we sit in judgement over the most minute of observations.

Azharuddin’s reference to the “minority community”, and it came straight off the middle of the bat, was foolish and it tells me two things. It confirms to me that he shouldn’t be talking to the media, for he doesn’t possess the skills needed to work it to his favour, and his inner circle is giving him some terrible advice.

Very often we harbour prejudices, and that is true of the Muslim and the Sikh as it is about the “Madrasi” and the Bengali and the Marwari. It is an underlying part of the country we live, or indeed of the geographical entity that India is. Sometimes latent feelings take flight, I recently read a letter from a very irate lady about clubbing people under the “madrasi” umbrella, and it is at such moments that you need a sane voice in your ear.

It is true that some people have definite thoughts about Muslims (the expression ‘minority community’ is a particularly distasteful one) just as some others have about the Anglo-Indian community but it is important to realize that many many others hold very strong secular views. In his moment of weakness, Azhar should have been reminded that at key periods in his life, it was the likes of ML Jaisimha and PR Man Singh, Chandu Borde and Raj Singh Dungarpur who supported and nurtured him. He wasn’t told that. In cricket, as in all forms of life, you need good friends.

Strangely, cricketers and film stars seem to attract a very strange assortment around them; people who are fawning all the time, happy to run errands at the drop of a hat, people who seem to ingratiate themselves by telling them what they want to hear. It is a wonderful, cozy world but it insulates a person from reality and reason. In the high pressure world of showbiz and cricket, where insecurity rather than confidence is a hallmark, vanity is very easily fed upon.

Such groupies are incapable of talking about harsh realities and as a star gets engulfed by them (vanity can be as deadly as greed), his world becomes smaller and smaller. I suspect, it leads to a false sense of bravado (was that the case with Sunjay Dutt, I wonder?) and I am pretty certain, it was a similar feeling that prompted Azhar to speak of being targeted.

But he said it and he must stand up to it. An apology was a good idea, and we are among the most forgiving of nations, but the word, like the arrow, is an instrument of no-return.

It has all along been held that Kapil Dev is a shrewder human being, coming as he does from a family with business interests as opposed to a very simple middle class upbringing. To some extent that is true for, apart from a few skirmishes with failure, Kapil Dev has been a very successful businessman. But like Azhar, and to some extent predictably, his business interests have revolved around his persona as a very famous international cricketer. To that extent Kapil Dev was always in a seller’s market.

My over-riding impression of Kapil Dev is of a person with great charm and energy. And he was positive, whether playing golf or hosting an evening in front of 500 people. He could carry an audience with him and he invariably did that, in spite of limitations of language. He didn’t care how he spoke as long as he communicated and after a few initial years of ridicule (we and our accents!) it become a source of admiration. But that was a laughing, confident Kapil Dev not someone who, as in the BBC interview, was under siege.

Kapil Dev cannot be a defensive person; not with the bat and not with words. And here he allowed himself to be led, or as the story goes he volunteered, along a path where he did not have enough answers. He was swimming in the wrong pool as he was when he promised Manoj Prabhakar a good clip under the ears. He was looking to play shots in a situation that called for a stonewaller. My view is that he should have stayed in the pavilion though when I suggested that in Dhaka he spoke with great animation for 45 minutes on why he needed to do what he did.

Two great cricketers, they are being tossed in the high seas at the moment. And the whole world sits in judgement. It must be frustrating and cruel but, like with Hansie Cronje, did they take the path of treachery, were they led down it or is theirs the voice of a victimized man?

I do not know and so I cannot add to the fire, but I would like to know as quickly as possible. I find myself increasingly unable to live in a world of doubt.

I do know though, as all of us do, that there is a lot of dirt. And that if the CBI dithers, Indian cricket is sunk. You might think it already has, I think the well is a lot deeper than it seems.

Harsha Bhogle

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