What role does criticism play in modern day cricket? Especially when it comes from former players. Those who had donned the very colours and cap the subject wears currently. And, when the fans of the player criticised, troll someone who stands up and calls a spade what it is, it looks like constructive assessment is akin to an unwelcome curse.
There have been a few cases that occurred during the current International Cricket World Cup 2019 (WC19), that has prompted me to ponder and wonder if critics do have a place, in the game, in this day and age. Former England captain and current media person, Michael Vaughan further demoralised the present and struggling English team with his pithy comments.
Vaughan’s piercing words were a result of a disappointing show by England so far, considered by many to be the hot favourites to keep the crown in the British isles. Something they have never managed to achieve since the inception of the tournament in 1975. England, at the point of writing this before their penultimate game against India, sit at the fourth position in the table.
The hosts found a ‘spokesperson’ in Jonny Bairstow who said that pundits are “Not willing us on to win. They are waiting for England to lose so they can jump on your throat.” He also referred to his critics as part of showbiz who are paid to have an opinion. Vaughan, also a Yorkshireman, responded by calling Bairstow ‘negative and pathetic’ adding: “Never has an England team had so much support, but it’s you and your team that has disappointed.”
The English campaign, that began with a huge build up in the media, has certainly been disappointing. Losing to lower ranked teams like Sri Lanka and Pakistan, not to forget arch rivals Australia have left their fans and followers speechless. Depending on the fortunes of other teams in the tournament to qualify is not exactly what skipper Eoin Morgan and the team management had envisaged at the start of WC19.
Pakistan’s threat, after beating Afghanistan, would have made the hosts either a tad nervous or may have given them the adrenalin to take on their next, strong opponents: India and New Zealand. Unfortunately for them, it will be fate rather than ability that will decide wether Morgan will walk out for the toss at Lord’s in the WC19 final on July 14.
Like Vaughan, Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar must also have realised that criticising a current, popular superstar can have serious consequences on his popularity ratings. In a fair critique, the Bharat Ratna commented that he was not happy with the partnership between Kedar Jadhav and M.S. Dhoni. He explained that it was an area where India did not look comfortable and that there no positive intent.
Tendulkar’s just comments received an angry response from fans of Dhoni. The social media was full of reactions that went back and dissed out selected moments in the past when the master blaster had failed in his long and illustrious career. Dhoni supporters reminded Sachin of his 26 ball sojourn to score a mere 7 runs against Bangladesh in 2007 among many other comparatives in his journey. Sad!
There have been many cases, in the past, where cricketers of legendary status may not have accepted criticism but took it well in their stride. From an Indian perspective, three former, successful captains: Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev took punches thrown at them in the way a boxer would — swaying away gracefully.
Wadekar, after winning two back-to-back Test series against West Indies and England in 1971 was called a ‘lucky captain’. He and members of his team never ostracised anyone who propagated the ‘lucky’ thought and mingled with them freely. Gavaskar who was continuously criticised by a former Test player, inspite of his herculean efforts to give India a high head space, never rebuffed his senior. Kapil’s response, to the phenomenal win at Lord’s in 1983 being called a ‘fluke’; is still met with a warm and earthy Haryanvi smile.
‘Times are a Changin’ wrote Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, 45 years ago. His words reeked of protest, much needed in the roaring 60s, filled with political turmoil with peace and harmony being only in the minds of artists and lyrical geniuses. Today, times have changed. Those who question tactics or performances by a cricketer or a team are considered either biased or to carry an agenda.
One does not know where we are headed. Performers versus Critics is an age old battle in sports, arts and literary circles. From a cricketing perspective, the times are certainly changing. Where will they lead? In Dylan’s words: “The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”