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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