Monday, March 19, 2018


B-Team (PC: NDTV)
The opposition was Bangladesh, not Sri Lanka. The occasion was the final of the tri-nation Nidahas Trophy, not the Cricket World Cup.

Even as Dinesh Kartik, DK as his cool moniker goes, hit a six off the last ball of a tremendously exciting match to win it, healing (at least partially) the scar left by Javed Miandad on the Indian cricket fan’s psyche, I couldn’t help being reminded of the parallel stories of the two Indian cricket team wicketkeepers.

M. S. Dhoni, his contemporary and modern-day legend had had such a different trajectory, flat and fast to wicketkeeper batsman greatness. Announcing his radical hairstyle and swashbuckling batting to the world via that mother of all cricket battles, an India tour of Pakistan, he kept moving from honour to honour – Captain of India, 2007 T20 World Cup, Champions Trophy and finally that winning six in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

During the same time, from around 2004, DK also happened to be in the running. In any other Indian cricket team from any other era, DK would have been a shoo-in. But fate cruelly made him a talented wicketkeeper batsman in the age of Dhoni.

The result was an international career spent waiting on the margins, for injuries and opportunities. In nearly every sporadic chance given to DK, he made a good fist of it. However, as soon as Dhoni returned, fit and available, it was DK’s turn once again to be back-up. With skills and reputation like Dhoni’s available, it was hard to contest this DK-Dhoni swap.

The hard-nosed might say that that’s just professional sport with no room for sentimentality… DK just wasn’t the best option. In opposition, the anti-Dhoni camp would say that Dhoni used his BCCI connections to hang on for much later past his expiry date.

I tend to disagree with both camps.

As a devout supporter of the 90s Indian cricket team and of present day Arsene Wenger guided Arsenal, I feel that this reliance on statistical performances and expiry dates for professional sportsmen is only half the story – the boring mechanical half of the story.

Sport is about the human element for me - the quirky, the stylish and the unpredictable. One bad series, one bad match, one bad decision is all it takes to instantly reduce would-be legends to highly visible public failures. Being someone committedly bad at most sports, who makes at least 2-3 critical errors per rare appearance on a sporting field, I tend to be more forgiving.

If sportsmen were to make zero mistakes, they’d be programmable robots and in effect, we would be watching a simulation. But they are not and that’s what makes watching them so enthralling. The pressure, the emotion and the heartbreak – it is a mind manipulating live drama of a level that no script could ever hope to achieve. No wonder that tens of thousands spend their lives trying to break into to the top levels of sport and billions more hitch their dreams of glory onto their chosen heroes.

Sportsmen like DK or Wriddhiman Saha, both forever second fiddle to Dhoni, occupy a special place.

They are not promising talent who did not make it due to lack of discipline, nor are they guilty of letting things slip once they had a glimpse of the peak. They are destined to be at the most torturous point of all – where they have been judged, by circumstances and in particular opinions, to be very very good, just not the best.

That is what makes nights like yesterday's very special. With the truest of smiles lighting up his face in the post-match interview, DK acknowledged that the Indian cricket team was currently a very tough place to retain a position in and added “I am happy to be where I am”. A team of mostly second choice sportsmen, there only because the big boys needed a break, coming through to win in the grandest of fashions.

Last night was not about the biggest stage and the bad-dest opposition. Last night was about all those sportsmen who would have made it to the big league of fame but for a little twist of fate. Last night was about them declaring “Look. Given the chance, I can do it too.”