Cricket was introduced by the British to be played to imbibe the ways of life. The important traits were to learn and develop skills of patience, how to evaluate risks, and to be able to take the ups and downs that the game provides. It taught one not only to compete, but also to appreciate one's opponents and fellow teammates. The values and learning that the royal game of cricket brought about was what made its ardent followers appreciate and recognise performances. Patience was a virtue and five days of Test cricket provided that in abundance.
The present day life has turned the game of cricket completely upside down. Paucity of time in one's everyday existence has propelled the very existence of the conventional way of playing the game into an instant, result-oriented format. The T20 is now by far the most popular form of the game and the cricket leagues being played around the world are most watched and followed by one and all.
Cricket is rapidly becoming a very young man's game and hence fitness, agility, speed and stamina are becoming the essential ingredients for a cricketer. This was quiet evident when the Indian Premier League (IPL) commenced in 2008, as more than the runs and the wickets, players were immediately reviewed by the body mass that they showcased. For the new young viewers of the game, looks and appearance are as important as the performance of a player on the field.
The character of a cricketer has radically changed. Earlier, being cautious was what every coach advised his ward, something that has no relevance today in the dictionary of young cricketers who have completely different personalities and a new approach to the game. There seems to be that air of confidence and self-belief in their attitude that at times does lead to a false sense of bravado. A cricketer today is willing to take that risk in order to achieve quick success. The balancing act between being successful and failing has now narrowed substantially. Therefore, present day cricketers are facing emotional and mental issues that one had never encountered or faced before. Multimedia has brought cricketers right into the frontline. The millions watching them are only looking for entertainment and winners.
A cricketer is definitely earning a much better pay packet today but the area that one is extremely concerned about concerns the psychological issues that many of them are facing as individuals. One does not give much thought to this important issue, as a fit and young cricketer, one feels, should be able to take the adversity that they are faced with. After all, they are young enough to handle it. One can see upcoming cricketers in the franchise-based IPL teams faced with worries. Winning, quite naturally, is the main focus and having procured players by paying handsomely for them, the owners and staff have one specific mission, and that is to squeeze the most out of the cricketers that they have bought.
During our days of playing cricket, one of the most important pieces of advice one was given was to go to England to play professional cricket during the summer. The reasons were two-fold: to experience playing in the difficult and variable conditions that the weather and wickets provided over there and the other was to learn to play as a paid professional.
I recall the very first year that I went to play professional cricket in England, I was fortunate enough to get off to a good start with the ball and the bat and everyone was so friendly and warm. A few failures thereafter woke me up to reality. I was being paid and so I had to perform to substantiate it. The days I failed or the team lost, I was treated like an outsider to be kept at bay. I then realised that when one is paid for one's services, one is expected to deliver.
Unfortunately, young Indian cricketers of today are facing the same dilemma at a much younger age. They have a price on their heads and are trying their best to live up to the expectations of the ones who have bid for them. For most young Indians, one is not brought up to confront such money related equations, as parents and elders have always been there to support them in their growing days.
This change from innocence to becoming a professional is one of the reasons why a present-day cricketer, whether established or not, is so aggressive in his body language and his approach to the game. There is a sense of profound joy on proving one's worth and frustration and anger when one fails. However, the element that one can see missing the most amongst them is the feeling of fun and being carefree.
Paid professional cricket does that to one. The days of a cricket match between the 'gentlemen' cricketers versus the 'professionals' have long been buried.
The BCCI has to come forward with a policy to protect young Indian cricketers playing in the IPL and to make them understand that the bounty on their head is just a number. They are not a bunch of mercenaries out to make a quick buck selling their talent. Life in this delicate age of the pandemic is itself a difficult bubble and to have young, emotionally disturbed individuals would be like a disaster waiting to happen.
(The writer is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)