One of the most engaging aspects of cricket is the banter that often takes place between players on the field. There are many delectable tales involving both players and commentators alike. For instance, Ian Chappell once remarked as a commentator: “The other advantage England have when (Phil) Tufnell is bowling is that he isn’t fielding.” Some of the better ones were, however, delivered by players on the field. Like the Aussie legend Dennis Lillee telling Mike Gatting, “Hell, Gatt, move out of the way, I can’t see the stumps.” Or the time when Sunil Gavaskar once took a break from opening the innings but had to come in soon enough as India lost its first two wickets without scoring. Vivian Richards, who was standing at the slips, did not miss the opportunity to rub it in: “Man, it don’t matter where you come in to bat, the score is still zero.”
But, as it’s clear from the vintage of this selection, this aspect of the game is all but lost. The deeper cause for concern, however, is the yobbish behaviour that is slowly taking root among cricketers and this is something that is surely going to erode the deep rooted traditions, that the guardians of the game want its cricketers to adhere to. The name that is possibly most synonymous with this behaviour today is Virat Kohli, the current Indian captain. The evidence against Kohli is well known: His flashing the middle finger at a hostile crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground and, more recently, his furious punching of air and a less-than-subtle sendoff to a lower-order Proteas batsman in the fifth one-day International between India and South Africa. Often enough it is both exasperating and puzzling to see Kohli gesticulate after almost every delivery and with much viciousness. It is not even the case that he does so only on the spur of the moment. Perhaps the beginning of the end of the gentleman cricketer is underway.
Kohli’s aggressive mannerisms are seen almost inseparable from India’s growing dominance in international cricket. A whole generation of cricket lovers is now growing up believing this is the norm. Many upcoming players appear to be consciously cultivating this tastelessness. It is as if there is no other way to be competitive, dominant even, other than abusing fellow players. To be sure, even though Kohli stands in stark contrast to the likes of Gundappa Vishwanath, Dilip Vengsarkar, or, more recently, V V S Laxman and Rahul Dravid, he does mark a natural progression from Saurav Ganguly’s dogged and sometimes pugnacious approach. In fact, Kohli’s India is closer to Ricky Ponting’s Australian team than it is to Ganguly’s India.
But therein lies the rub. Even though the great Australian teams of the recent past, including Steve Waugh’s Invincibles, lay down the marker for cricketing calibre and achievements, yet the grudging respect they enjoyed was in stark contrast to the immense popularity of the great West Indian teams led by Clive Lloyd and Richards. In fact, none of that admiration came at the cost of dominance on the field — the West Indies remained unbeaten in a Test series for a mind-boggling 15-year period from 1980 to 1995. Their pace battery was lethal and made the best batsmen of their generation tremble at the thought of facing them. The same applied to their batsmen; Richards’ carefree swagger and Lloyd’s floppy-hat notwithstanding, they could single-handedly decimate any bowling attack on offer. Yet, few would recall them resorting to abuses in order to show dominance.
Of course, cricket is not just about being liked; one has to be good enough to compete and win. But it is also equally true that cricket isn’t just about winning; it is almost as much about how you win.