First, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. What Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul said on the talk show was misogynistic and unacceptable, and warranted the BCCI’s intervention. They are public figures and will, and must, be held to those standards; they are role models for hundreds of millions not only in India but, thanks to live streaming, beyond the regular cricketing world. Reports suggest a two-match ban is on the way and that will be fair enough. It will, hopefully, send out a message that there is a line that cannot be crossed, however big a star you are.
There is, however, a silver lining of sorts to this controversy: by speaking without filters, Pandya has shown us a glimpse, if we needed it, of the conversation and mindset in the wider Indian society. It raises questions about the “surround” – not the statements themselves but the circumstances that prompted them. What made Pandya say what he did? Where was the failure? If Pandya is a symptom, what’s the disease and what’s the cure? Perhaps taking a step back and looking beyond the comments will help explain, and hopefully in the longer run weed out, the problem.
First, whoever on Pandya’s management team – and the focus here is on Pandya because the most execrable statements came from him – thought it was a good idea for him to appear on a talk show that feeds off controversial revelations? Knowing Pandya, they would (must) have been aware of his candour and willingness to open topics others shy away from. Could he not have been prepped better? Ironically, Pandya was refreshingly frank for most of the show. He’s a high school dropout, barely able to read and write by his own admission and, while candid about his lack of literacy, did say it was not the example to follow. That he has made a career for himself despite those failings in the formal structure – and in a country where the formal structure still counts for a lot – testifies to his own character. He loves high fashion, he loves money, he loves women, he loves to talk about it. There is no issue with that.
The problem is with the issue of how he treats, and refers, to women. And with a host as skilled as Karan Johar, once the genie was out of the bottle there was no pushing it back in. Pandya did as he was asked, as he was expected to; lacking the guile of the usual Bollywood guests, he answered questions as candidly as possible. The problem was in the line of questioning; once Johar realised the general drift, he could have moved away from that, it could have even been edited out. There are many ways of dealing with controversial content that isn’t being broadcast live. Ultimately, though, a commercial talk show has to do what it says on the tin; no one but Pandya (and his minders) is responsible for his own fate.
Pandya’s statements should also be seen in the context of his journey, from a family environment in which, as he said, everything is discussed, nothing is off the table, to the over-the-top celebrity and riches of the IPL, the ultimate goldfish bowl – or platform, depending on your personality type. It’s the same IPL that brought in the cheerleader culture to India, the most definitive example of objectification of women in sport. The IPL brought in celebrity, blurring the lines between glamour and sport; of the original franchises, two were wholly or partially owned by some of the biggest Bollywood stars of the day, and a third was owned by the most flamboyant of Indian billionaires. It was a heady world where the after-parties were as entertaining and sought-after as the matches themselves and, though the celebrity quotient has waned (the flamboyant billionaire is now a millionaire, and a fugitive from the law), it is still a world of bright lights.
Imagine Pandya – or any young cricketer – thrown into this cocktail, with the crores of rupees now at his disposal. The IPL took his persona, bling and all, amplified it, put it on the biggest screens across the country and turned him from a player “too shy to even approach ESPNcricinfo to have his bowling style changed on his player profile page” (as one 2015 story put it) to what he is today: despite not being one of India’s top cricketers, he has 11 million friends/followers across the three main social media handles and has made it to the Forbes India 100 list for 2018 (at 27, three spots above Karan Johar). There’s a reason for that and it’s not his cricketing skills alone.
This is usually the part of the comment piece where one pulls up the BCCI for its own errors of omission and commission but their relationship with top players is complicated. Yes, they are the primary paymasters and yes, the primary disciplinarians too. But the task they face here is to change individual mindsets that go back 20 years or more into one’s childhood. There’s no debating that India is a deeply patriarchal country where the average adult male has huge issues with how to treat women. And a top cricketer is the alpha male among alpha males; the BCCI’s list of contracted players has about 25 names on average. That’s 25 cricketers in a country of several hundred million active cricketers. Imagine the privilege, the entitlement.
Of course there’s lots that can be done in the medium and long term, and the BCCI has the wherewithal to be as proactive on this as possible. The world has changed even in the IPL era; social media, barely around in Season 1, now dominates the landscape and there are new rules and norms of social engagement that are no longer optional. The board also has the responsibility to ensure that the playing field – the physical space as well as the wider world of cricket – is treated like any other professional work space, with the same rules and regulations. These are boys who’ve never grown up; help them grow up. Start gender sensitisation at the age-group levels; make it part of the formal structure across the board and especially up the ladder. Train your top players in every aspect of media management – not merely the cricket-focused questions at press conferences but also the googlies they may have to negotiate on talk shows. Make sure that the next time an Indian cricketer goes on a general entertainment talk show it will not be a national embarrassment.
And talk to them about life. Make them not merely the best players but the best ambassadors. The New Zealand Cricket Players Association, in their latest annual handbook for players, has a chapter on consent that is explicit and unambiguous on the situations that will inevitably occur in a professional sportsman’s life. The National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru should have an in-house, full-time professional working on this.
The last time Pandya and Rahul made the headlines together was for their “jersey-swapping” gimmick in IPL 2018. Their latest exploit has thrown up uncomfortable questions not just about them or their exalted bubble. It questions us: those of us who watched the show, those of us who have joked in locker rooms, those of us who have kept quiet when the banter has crossed the line. Those of us who have created the likes of Pandya and fed off his exploits.
It’s possible that Pandya and Rahul will emerge from this with a better understanding of how to deal with half the world. Let’s hope that applies to the rest of us too.
Dhoni, Dhawan should have played domestic cricket before Australia ODIs – Gambhir
Gautam Gambhir believes that the likes of MS Dhoni and Shikhar Dhawan should have been asked to play first-class cricket before joining the Indian team for the ODI series in Australia, so that they could have hit the ground running. He was also sceptical about Rishabh Pant’s chances of making it to the World Cup squad, and said playing in the IPL before the World Cup could be a blessing in disguise for India’s players. Gambhir was speaking at an event in Bangalore. Excerpts:
On playing domestic cricket before the Australia ODIs:
I was a little disappointed because some of the guys should have played first-class cricket. The selectors should have pushed them to play first-class cricket. Because it’s a World Cup year, you’ve got to be in prime form. Whether it was MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu (Rayudu retired from first-class cricket earlier this season)… all those guys who went to Australia.
Why do you skip it? Because ultimately you will get confidence by scoring runs, not by hitting the nets. You can’t be thinking, ‘I’m going to come back into form just by playing international cricket.’ The only way everyone has done it is by playing domestic cricket and scoring runs. It’s a World Cup year, so I think the selectors should have made everyone play domestic cricket.
Does Rishabh Pant have a place in the ODI squad?
I don’t think so. They’ve got MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik. He can wait for his opportunity. Obviously he has done well in Test cricket. He’s doing all the right things. But if you’ve got Dhoni, who got [the] Man-of-the-Series award, he deserves to be there now. And it’s so close to the World Cup, you need someone like Dhoni. Karthik has been in decent form as well over the last four-five months. The good thing is, Rishabh is keeping them on their toes as well, which is always a good sign for Indian cricket, that youngsters are pushing the seniors.
On players potentially skipping the IPL to rest before the World Cup:
I think playing the IPL is a fabulous opportunity for most of those guys to be in peak form. Because you’re only bowling four overs. It’s not like there is a lot of physical burden on you. Plus you’re going to be bowling in difficult conditions as well, whether in the first six overs or the last four. So that will keep you in good shape. You don’t suddenly miss the IPL and say ‘I’ll go to the World Cup fresh and raring to go.’ That is only from the physical point of view, but from the skill point of view, to be at the top of your game, you’ve got to be playing a tournament like the IPL. And if you do well at the IPL, it’s going to keep you in very good stead in the World Cup. Imagine Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowling well in the death overs, how confident they would be going into the World Cup. Or some of the middle-order batters finishing the game for their franchise, they’ll go to the World Cup thinking, ‘We can finish from any situation’. So I think the IPL can be a blessing in disguise. I think MS Dhoni made a very good point when he said that it’s going to be a great opportunity for most of the players to be in prime form from the skill point of view.
On how Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul’s potential absence could affect the team:
One person does not change anything. The core still remains the same. KL Rahul wasn’t even there in the playing XI because we had Rayudu who did fabulously well against West Indies, so he deserved a chance before Rahul in the one-day format. Yes Hardik Pandya [might have made a difference], but you’ve replaced him with Ravindra Jadeja, who again is an allrounder. We only have, what, ten ODIs left before the World Cup? So we should maintain consistency and give people who are going to play the first game of the World Cup these ten games and see how they deliver.
It’s his hard work. I shared it because it was his first international hundred. I wanted to make him feel special because it was his first international hundred. Irrespective of how many you get, I remember my first international hundred till now, even when I’m retired. That always stays close to your heart, it’s a feeling that can never be replaced, even if you get 100 international hundreds, or how many ever. The first is always special, your debut is always special. Whenever he sees that trophy he should remember that. And whatever he’s achieved is all because of his hard work. I hope he continues this form because it’s going to be an important year for Indian cricket.
On what makes Jasprit Bumrah difficult to pick:
People ask me this about Sunil Narine as well, what made him so difficult to pick – and I just said, ‘quality’. Mystery can be solved over a period of time, but he had the quality. People can keep talking about Bumrah’s action, but he’s just a quality bowler. The action can only help you in one format, probably T20 where you have to go after the bowling. But he’s been so successful in Test cricket. He’s probably the best bowler in the world right now in all three formats.
On which spinners India should look at for the World Cup:
I think both wristspinners have done a fabulous job for Indian cricket over the last one year. But I still feel that R Ashwin is someone we should look at. A quality spinner is a quality spinner, irrespective of whether you’re a wristspinner or a fingerspinner. Look at what Nathan Lyon has done in the Test series. He’s probably the best offspinner in the world and he’s a fingerspinner. So I feel we should not differentiate that there’s a wristspinner so there’s no space for a finger spinner. Someone like Ashwin, we should always consider. Looking at the conditions in England during that time of the year, the wickets could be dry and a fingerspinner could have an important role.
Hasan Ali’s counterattacking fifty hauls Pakistan to 203
Pakistan 203 (Hasan 59, Sarfraz 41, Phehlukwayo 4-22, Shamsi 3-56) v South Africa
Only a check of the schedule would tell you it’s an ODI, much less that it’s being played at Kingsmead. The first innings today took Pakistan back to the Test series, where the short ball was an unconquerable demon, and Duanne Olivier and Kagiso Rabada invincible tormentors. A series of dismissals when the ball was pitched short saw Pakistan hampered in their innings early on, before an inspired performance from Tabraiz Shamsi, deputising for Imran Tahir, helped reduce Pakistan to 112 for 8. The left-arm wristspinner, fighting for a World Cup spot, ended up among the better bowlers, taking three wickets, and at one point appeared to have set up his side for a seemingly straightforward chase.
It required the most delightful joie de vivre sort of innings from Hasan Ali – a character who matches that description to the fullest – to keep Pakistan in the contest. They were 59 of the most uncomplicated runs that saw Pakistan recover to 203. Hasan was responsible for 59 of the 90 runs which came in a ninth-wicket partnership with Sarfraz Ahmed, and was last man dismissed after Andile Phehlukwayo returned to remove both Sarfraz and Hasan in the 46th over.
Hasan’s innings remained in spirit the typical knock of a have-a-go hero, but the sweet timing of the strikes against legitimately world-class bowling gave it the air of conventional classiness you might not expect from Hasan. At any rate, it gave Pakistan more than a fighting chance. It was only thanks to career-best figures from Phehlukwayo that it wasn’t even more, his 4 for 22 including those vital last two wickets that finally put paid to Pakistan’s innings.
Faf du Plessis had won the toss again, this time deciding to let Pakistan bat first after much criticism around his side’s failure to pace their innings well. Pace was never a problem for his fast bowlers, though, who accounted for Pakistan’s top four in the first hour with deliveries that grew big on the batsmen. Imam-ul-Haq mistiming a pull shot off a Rabada ball was a harbinger for what was to come, and Babar Azam was dismissed cheaply much the same way. Then came the now-customary Fakhar Zaman dismissal off a short ball, when Olivier got one to rise towards his grille, the batsman fending it off to gully.
The middle overs might have been an opportunity for rebuilding, but Shamsi had other ideas. Brought in to replace Tahir, he had big boots to fill, and he acted like it. The first ball of his spell drew an edge from Malik that first slip would have pouched had one been placed, and off his fourth delivery, he snared fellow spinner Shadab Khan. It wasn’t long before debutant Hussain Talat, curiously promoted ahead of Sarfraz, fell to perhaps the ball of the innings. An exquisite stock ball beat Talat’s outside edge, drawing him out of his crease while Heinrich Klaasen deftly removed the bails.
Sarfraz, who has been shy of batting too high up the order since becoming captain, finally came in at No. 8. While Pakistan fans might have hoped for a valuable partnership with Shoaib Malik to rescue the side, injudicious shot selection from Malik soon left Pakistan eight down. It was after that that Pakistan’s finest moments in the innings were to arrive, thanks to a refreshingly straightforward innings from Hasan. He threw off the shackles, attacked every bowler he faced, seamer or spinner, his 59 coming off just 45 balls. It included five fours and three sixes, taking Pakistan past 200 where once they looked like they might struggle to reach 125.
South Africa still may be expected to chase this; 203 is, after all, well below par. But where once this looked like it might be headed for an early finish, there may now be a contest to be enjoyed after all.
BPL stints put Taskin, Shafiul, Nayeem on selectors’ radar for ODIs
Taskin Ahmed is in contention for a recall to the ODI side on the back of his recent BPL form, according to ODI captain Mashrafe Mortaza. The Bangladesh selectors are likely to announce the squad for the three-match ODI series against New Zealand next month, on Wednesday.
Mashrafe also mentioned Sabbir Rahman among those who are likely to interest the selectors, but his six-month ban will still be in place when Bangladesh play the ODIs in New Zealand, from February 13 to 20.
“I think Taskin and Shafiul [Islam] are doing well [in the BPL],” Mashrafe said. “Sabbir has had one good knock (an 85 for Sylhet Sixers). The hope is for him to keep performing. There is unlikely to be a big change. There are some places which may be up for grabs if these players keep doing well. But there’s still a lot left in the tournament.”
Sabbir is unlikely to play in the first of the three Tests too, with his ban valid until February 28, the same day the first Test starts in Hamilton. The only way for him to play for Bangladesh before that is if the BCB relaxes its rules to make room for a batsman who is seen as a potential No. 6 in the ODI line-up.
“The type of innings he played against us, that’s the sort of batting we have expected from him in the Bangladesh set-up. But it is still early [days] to talk about.
“If we are thinking about an extra batsman, we can also talk about Mosaddek Hossain. Among the spinners that we usually pick as Shakib [Al Hasan]’s back-up, Nayeem Hasan has done well,” Mashrafe said.
Taskin has shown consistent pace, lengths and variation during the BPL so far, taking two four-wicket hauls for Sylhet Sixers among his 14 wickets. He last played an ODI in October 2017 and has been out of the reckoning due to fitness and form issues since March last year. Two other bowlers – Shafiul and Nayeem – too have earned Mashrafe’s mentions, having bowled reasonably well during the tournament.
Among those whose ODI spots could be under doubt for the New Zealand tour are Nazmul Islam, Abu Hider and Ariful Haque, none of whom have so far had impressive performances to show. Nazmul remains a back-up option for Shakib in those conditions, and that position could go to Nayeem, the promising 18-year-old offspinner.
Taskin may take Hider’s place while Sabbir – if he returns before February 28 – could yet be taken in Ariful’s place after the latter failed to come up with a sizeable score despite being kept in the senior side for a considerable period.
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