India won the Commonwealth Series Down Under to register their first-ever triumph in a tri-series in Australia. What made the victory sweeter was that it came against world champions Australia following a grueling and ill-tempered tour.
On Thursday, Dhoni's Devils returned to a heroic welcome in New Delhi and were felicitated at a grand ceremony at the Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. For the cricket lovers, it was a spectacle but some others though it was simply a case of a little bit too much.
The topic of discussion on CNN-IBN's Face the Nation was: Have we gone overboard with our cricket celebration? The panel included the Director, College Sports Management, Latika Khaneja; Hindustan Times Sports Editor Pradeep Magazine and former Davis Cup player Vishal Uppal. CNN-IBN’s Bhupendra Chaubey moderated the discussion.
The discussion started with the first question being directed towards Latika, who is looked up as a Jerry McGuire of Indian sports for managing the life of many Indian cricketers. She was asked if there is a direct correlation between the money pumped into the sport and the kind of festivities, celebrations that are witnessed every time India does well.
"Celebrations is a groundswell. If the stands were full that's a testimony to the fact that people wanted to be there. Nobody is forcing anyone to go out in the sun to Ferozeshah Kotla to just look at the cricketers. They obviously thought it was good enough idea. It was inspiring enough. I am very surprised that 90 per cent (the initial SMS poll result showed 90 per cent saying that we gone overboard with our cricket celebration) of the people think that they have gone overboard because a lot of them must have been at the Ferozeshah Kotla today. I think this sort of phenomena only comes, its endemic. It is not something that can be created by the BCCI, the politicians of the media," Latika reasoned.
Pradeep Magazine said that it was the media that was responsible for the kind of frenzy witnessed following India's triumph in Australia.
"Well you should have put the question that has media gone overboard with the celebrations? Fine BCCI is a private body, and their team does well so they do these celebrations. But I can't understand that for four-five hours a live programme just showing cricketers. Both print as well as television has gone overboard than people. People would go, as these cricketers are stars. They would go to watch them even if they had lost. If you get these cricketers in a ground and it's a free entry then you can have Frozeshah Kotla even more fuller than this had there been no security and no politician," Magazine argued.
When Vishal Uppal, a tennis player, was asked if as a non-cricketer didn't he feel jealous or left out, he replied that credit must be given where it is due.
"Well it is not a question of feeling jealous. You need to give credit to the Indian cricket team for what they have done. I think by doing all this all you are doing is undermining all other sports in the country. I mean because this is happening no other sports gets a look into any TV channel or newspapers. I think that is the unfortunate bit. There is no harm in applauding your players. They have done well but don't go crazy. Don't go mad doing stuff like this," Uppal said.
So don't the celebrations also show that as we don't expect our teams to do well and so whenever the players do well, we want to make a big grand spectacle out of it?
"I want to make two points. One is as Vishal is saying look the team has done well. We should celebrate that. Why not? The sportsman will celebrate India beating Australia in Australia. But we are going over the top by giving this kind of coverage. Administrators, politicians, businessmen would love this. In fact you cut this live coverage, let the print not give much space and we will see that these thing won't happen," Magazine said.
Latika didn't agree that such celebration could adversely affect the young impressionable players.
"No, I think the importance given to cricket and everyone who has gone into it whether they are 16,17 or 19 see this as something that could happen to them. Probably it's the dream that sustains a lot of cricketers. Whether we are spoiling them or it is money that spoils people or it is adulation that spoils people are all very media related. The media built Australia as unbeatable. We beat them. Why are we now saying that we are giving them too much importance? It's the media that decided that we can't beat them or that we can't win the World Cup or we can't win the Twenty20 World Championship. So we have gone against it. If we win 20,30 or 40 gold medals in the Olympics won't we make a big noise about it?" she said.
But she also pointed out that it was the media, which built up the aura of invincibility around the Australians
"We all know how this works. When there was a India-Pakistan series after many years there was lot of hype. The hype didn't come in the following series. Even though the media and sponsors wanted it to be so. But it doesn't end up being that way. Certain events are top billed and South Africa Test matches are definitely not one of them. Definitely when we have so much anxiety about losing then we should show proportionate pleasure when we win because god knows if they had come back beaten even though we had written them off, there would have been a very quite entry in to the night. That has happened and we know that," Latika argued.
At the end of the day, if we as a nation get so upset if India get knocked out in the qualifying round of the World Cup; then what's so wrong if we as a nation, the BCCI and all other agencies involved want to have a song and dance when India do well?
According to Magazine, the problem is when we project these celebrations in such a big way, it shows as if the whole nation is only obsessed with this. "Your SMS polls seem to be rejecting what you are saying. That means it's the media, which is over-hyping the celebrations. I am sure if you ask them if it was the greatest victory, 100 per cent would have said yes," he pointed out.
Uppal also questioned the media frenzy over the whole affair. "Why is there no media frenzy when a hockey team wins the Asia Cup or the soccer team wins the Nehru Cup? Let me give you a small example. A young boy by the name of Somdev Dev Burman became the first Indian tennis player ever to win the NCAA Collegiate Tennis Championship, the toughest amateur league anywhere in the world. Did anyone even mention his name in the newspapers or in TV channels? Does anyone even know that?" he passionately argued.
But then who should be held responsible for this? Should it be the sports administrators? Or is it that cricket, as a product is just being sold better than any other sport?
Latika squarely blamed the media for the biases. "I would also say that yes cricket has been sold very well. The federations need to look after their players much better in other sports; there is no doubt about it. But at the end of it, the burden of this is on the media. Because when it doesn't come out anywhere, when there is a little side column on the fourth page, you can't expect anyone to know that somebody has done something in any other field."
While it's so very easy to blame the media, isn't it also true that the sports administrators too have failed to project sportspeople associated with other sports?
"We sell sport, we don't sell sportspeople. What makes you think we haven't tried?," Latika shot back
"The point is there is nobody out there giving money. We have tried shooters; we have tried all kind of other people. The point is I can take the horse to the water, I can't make the horse drink. If no sponsor comes forth, how long are we supposed to keep taking other sportspeople to sponsors and say please help? They think at that point they are doing charity, they don't think about marketing. It just doesn't work out. It's not like anyone hasn't tried," she said.
Cricket is like a religion in India. Most Indians today eat, sleep and live cricket. But does that mean we are now entering a scenario where every little Indian victory will be celebrated in such a big way?
Magazine said that when the BCCI makes these kinds of celebrations for every win, you also encourage people to react badly and stone houses when you actually lose. "The media will then be projecting them as if they are soldiers, leaving the room open for extreme reactions," he said.
Asked if it makes him uncomfortable when he sees these kind celebrations, Uppal replied in the negative. "My only humble request to the media is: don't go overboard and give other sports a chance. Because by showing this, you are only stunting the growth of any other sports," he appealed.
Cricket is a religion, is something that most Indians associate with very closely. But maybe the time has come for all of us to look at it very closely and see if we are getting too carried away by these celebrations.
The final SMS poll results:
Yes: 89 per cent
No: 11 per cent