On desire (or a lack of)

Dear Rohit Brijnath,

I have always enjoyed your writing style and your ability to discuss different sports with equal aplomb, be it cricket, tennis or badminton. I read your “Voice from within” and it is a neat little trick you have pulled. By setting on one side the greatness of the “great” players of Basketball and Football, you have implicitly put the Indian team on the other side of greatness and have reasoned it by saying the Indian cricketers do not hear the voice of desire within, and hence are not great, which is alright by me. It is your opinion and I respect it. I just wanted to bring in to discussion some of the aspects of your article that may pass off without scrutiny.

You talk about body language and desire of the professional cricketers. You expect that the players live up to your definitions of what the body language would be – rather, should be – when the players are faced “especially with the inevitability of defeat”. We do not, and cannot, know what goes on inside their heads.

Oh, why did Ishant Sharma not put in the dive at the boundary to possibly save another run? There could be multitude of reasons. We just cannot know. If we do not see on the field (or on the TV screen) the type of effort that we think is “expected” from the professional cricketer to us fans that they are still trying in the match, we question their desire – which questions their integrity.

At the same time, when Ishant Sharma is handed the ball in the 89th over of the day – a day in which his team has been ground to dust and is staring down the barrel in the context of the match – he doesn’t just amble to the crease and bowl something at 70 mph. He still bowls in the 80-85 mph range (we do have to account for the energy sapping that takes place over the course of spending 90 overs in the field. Even Jerry Rice runs that bit slower in the 4th quarter.).

The realms of intent, stomach for a fight, and desire are so nebulous and vague. Not every player reacts to disappointment the same way. You point out to the fact that Rahul Dravid threw his India cap down in disgust, and found it poignant, and as the “picture of a man in pain who clearly hears his voice”. Isn’t it possible that Rahul Dravid, as a slip catcher isn’t as good as he used to be, 3-4 years ago? Lately he has dropped as many catches as he has taken, in the slip cordon. (I have an inherent issue with Dravid throwing the India cap to the ground. I find it disrespectful but that’s an issue for another day.)

There was a lot of hoopla around VVS Laxman keeping his hands in his pockets. It seems that was a definite sign he didn’t really care. Is it possible that a man from South India, who is coming off playing test matches in the balmy Caribbean, is feeling cold in England? It is not as if he had his hands in pockets when the bowler was delivering the ball. In spite of that, I do not remember seeing him drop a catch in this series.

You write of Kobe Bryant (one of my favorite players to watch in the NBA) and how he takes shots in practice till he makes 500 of them. I suppose you forget the ego and the drama that comes with his game. As much greatness is associated with Kobe’s preparation, there is as much ego associated with it, which broke up a successful franchise, and for the lack of a better word, he is a prima donna. I have watched him play for the last 13 years. In games where the LA Lakers are getting blown out, either the coach takes him out (Cricketers don’t have this luxury) or we have seen him refuse to take shots to prove a non-existent point to his teammates and coaches. The stars you have mentioned (Rice, Jordan and Bryant) did not have to play through ignominious defeats where as a cricket player has nowhere to hide.

You point out to the fact Amit Mishra’s batting was “effort” and Sreesanth’s wasn’t. When it happened, I was a bit disappointed by Sreesanth as well. But let us be honest. What chances does Sreesanth have on a turning track against Swann who had already picked a five-for? His chances of surviving were as good as his chances of stepping down and trying to whack Swann. Can we give him the benefit of the doubt that, in his mind, he perhaps thought if he could hit a couple of boundaries off Swann, he might put the pressure back on Swann, like Praveen did in Edgbaston and make his chances of survival a little better? We have seen that from Harbhajan Singh a few times. He comes in to a tough situation; he biffs a few and settles down to play a pretty good hand. So, when I sit back and think through, I am willing to give the benefit of doubt to Sreesanth.

This Indian team did not get to the top, winning matches (if not series) in Australia and South Africa not because they do not have desire or ambition. It is not as if once they got to the top, they relaxed completely. They have fought tooth and nail to be at the top of the charts and were there for the past 19 months. When things happen the way they did in England, missing your most important cog on the first day of the series (Zaheer Khan), playing with an unsettled batting line up for the entire series, and three man bowling attacks, and against an England that was firing on almost all cylinders, it became too much to overcome even for this resilient Indian team. These things happen in sports. And still, I wouldn’t say we lost because of the lack of desire.

Desire is a Praveen Kumar, whose ability to be a test match bowler was constantly questioned, coming out and proving a point or three; Desire is a Gautam Gambhir coming out to bat with blurred vision from a concussion with every stride he took causing a jarring in his head; Desire is a Harbhajan Singh coming out to bat with a stomach muscle tear.

Desire is when you want to be one of fifteen in a country of a billion; Desire is deciding to solely focus on Cricket when you are a fifteen year old in a country where education is preferred as the path to financial security.

——–

A version of this post was sent as an e-mail to Mr. Brijnath and no response has been received.

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5 Responses to On desire (or a lack of)

  1. twofacedhuman twofacedhuman says:

    Very few reservations, in fact. Frankly, this was an England side which were on home turf, on the peak of their game, and proved in the end, too good for us. So, saying had we had the full complement, or lesser injuries, the result might have been different reminds me of a very rude hindi simile, the polite version of which goes ‘if my aunt had moustaches, she would be my uncle’. Taking lack of desire as a suitable yardarm from which we can hang this current team is also not valid.

    The reservations/doubts are more towards two things: the first of which is, of course, related, if tangentially, to the lack of desire bit. It is now very clear that Zaheer, our ‘most important cog’ was not fighting fit when he went on the turf for the first test. Now, I do not blame Zaheer here, because I do not know the facts- did he know he was not fully fit, and was still asked to play simply because he was so important to the team’s plans? Or did he know and still wanted to play? Either way, he was not fit, and that part of the blame must go to him. Same with Sehwag.

    Let me be very clear here that I am not doubting the players or their motivations or hunger, or ‘desire’. I am merely saying that doubts, if such exist in the minds of people, are reasonable. Those who ask these questions are not being paranoid.

    The other reservation is not a reservation, per se. It goes to a familiar refrain: WHAT WAS THE BCCI THINKING!

    • Thanks for the comment. I do agree it was a perfect storm of things – An England side that was far superior in terms of skills, health and ability, and India that was struggling to field a capable playing XI for various reasons. I welcome commentary on the series and India’s debacle from the point of view of ability and skills but to delve in to vague descriptions of desire, leaves us neither here nor there.

      In all fairness, this Indian team had just won the World cup and have been ranked #1 for close to two years. Where was the desire talk? You see my point? Thanks.

  2. Opinions Cricket says:

    haven’t read rohit’s piece but ever since the WC win, I have questioned India’s (collectively players and the board) desire and intelligence in defending their top spot in Tests. To me they mortgaged it for the sake of IPL and everyone treated the WI tour as a social service, extra curricular activity. What happened in England did not surprise me. Called it 0-2 before the series started and revised it to 0-4 after Lords. They have shown no intelligence whatsoever in managing their test standing, they thought the England tour was a street play. To win in WI and Eng, in exactly 40 years we needed to prepare for it full strength with enough rest. Instead they participated in the IPL circus. Consciously. ut no one has the integrity to look test fans in the eye and say that we (players and board) will invest in T20 an IPL because it is the future of the game. Instead everyone including SRT and Dhoni are being pussies

  3. Rohitbrijnath says:

    Hi, nice piece, but I never receieved a mail from you.
    Rohit

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