October 1, 2011

Akhtar's book (and why BCCI is wrong again!)

After a vacation of sorts from this space, during which time I did pen paeans for Dravid elsewhere (among other things for fear that if they were penned here my lovely friend, co-author and critic would ambush me!), Shoaib Akhar's Controversially Yours and the media circus surrounding it has given me something to write about. In this connection, I find myself mostly in agreement with Kamran Abbasi when he says Akhtar is the victim of his own inferno, despite his lines that hardly veil his attempts to show Indian batsmanship as second to others'. More on that though for another day.

The former Pakistani paceman from 'Pindi has evidently said in his book that Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are not match-winners in their own right. As far as statements in general go and as far as Shoaib's words, not very different in consistency from Shahid Afridi's retirements or Ijaz Butt's decisions, go, that is hardly a shoulder-high bouncer let alone a beamer. Others have said similar things in the past and truth is seldom judged by the loudness of the chorus anyway. But what made the Indian spectators, BCCI, the fans and their uncles - and also Wasim Akram - irate is the reference to "fear" in the eyes of the little master at a test match in Faislabad. As absurd and foolhardy as the claim seems, lifting it out of context and aggrandising Akhtar's stature as cricket's primordial bete noire is a media stunt intended either to make the book sell or to attract more prime time viewership given that there is no bigger idol in India than SRT. Thus what should have been treated as a joke, an attention-seeking ruse or at the very least a rather parochial opinion has been blown out of proportion. I can bet that half of the bandwagon, comprising media personnel, ex-cricketers, garrulous cricketing pundits and others participating in opinion polls, would not have even seen the book cover before delivering their "expert" opinions on the matter.

As always, Harsha Bhogle's tweets on September 26 about Akhtar's book breathed commendable moderation and commonsense. I completely agree with Mr. Bhogle when he says that Akhtar, much like you and I and the rest of the world, is entitled to an opinion albeit "[he] is not a saint". I also tend to concede that there is, in our part of the world, an almost tetchy wait to feel offended and at the slightest of provocation we get ready to hurl our verbal repertoire against any opinion that is in discord with our own. Admittedly, a headline like "Akhtar says Sachin feared me" is not something that will go down well, even as an opinion, in a cricket-mad nation like India. And yet when Tendulkar himself said that it is beneath his dignity to respond - a response arguably as clean and firm as his back-foot cover drive - I fail to understand the ambient fuss.

Of all responses to Akhtar's remarks, what surprised me most, however, was BCCI's demand for an apology from him, as if his remarks have hurt the reputation of a young tyro, or have devalued and brought down Dravid's and Tendulkar's colossi of runs overnight, or have hurt BCCI's fiscal underbelly. From a board which does not allow its selection committee (or coach) to be accountable - by gagging its members from speaking to the media - whose selection committee does not know the difference between a raw fledgling and an emerging player, or even between a fit and an unfit one, which thinks there is no need for an inquiry into the Indian team's zero-international-win debacle in England recently, and which acts holier-than-thou at the slightest sign of governmental or other interference when its internal structure seems more daunting than the notorious iron curtain, the reactions to a controversial character's rants and the demand for an apology are as befuddling as they are amusing. If BCCI's response is out of anger, and there is little to suggest that, the anger is as misplaced as its priorities are. No wonder the board is headed by a hardliner whose interests in cricket seem like a mere extension of his business interests. 

I am not making a case for Akhtar or his book. However, the fact that we spend loads of vocal decibels, paper and new media space and television hours on a remark made somewhere in a book is quite annoying even if the tendency is not new and may be a sign of the times. I will close with yet another remark made by a former player about Sachin Tendulkar a few years ago in his autobiography titled True Colours: the  substance of it was that Tendulkar would never be around for "shake hands" whenever India lost a game. We could have said, "I see" or politely interjected with a "So what? He plays only to win which is not criminal!". Instead, we and our media again blew the issue up, throwing in the reference "loser" for good measure and attributed it to the author who, at least in my opinion (even with his flaws during Sydneygate which he acknowledges and which he provides an unapologetic perspective on), is among the fairest gents to have played the game: Adam Gilchrist walked - and not just his talk - and we blamed him for his observations about "our" Little Master. I would in no way liken Akhtar to Gilchrist - or their books to one another - but the upshot is this: if every response we have to an opinion is coloured deeply with our own -isms (among them nationalism), how is it that we feel self-righteously fair in criticising others for their opinions, the way they play the game or their lack of sportsmanship?

The jury, Ladies and Gentlemen, is still out.    

No comments: